Luke uses several men to date the ministry of John the Baptist (Luke 3:1 – 2):
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Let’s examine the lives of three of Herod the Great’s sons. A “tetrarch” is the ruler of a fourth part. When Herod the Great died, the Romans divided his kingdom and gave parts of it to three of his sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip. The Bible says this about the first brother, Archelaus:
But when [Joseph] heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there, and being warned in a dream he withdrew to the district of Galilee, Matthew 2:22.
Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather, had good reason to be afraid. These were tumultuous times. When Herod the Great died, two of his sons – Archelaus and Antipas – made claims to the throne. They went to Rome and appealed to Caesar Augustus to decide the case, but before Archelaus left for Rome, a riot broke out in the Temple during Passover. Archelaus had 3,000 worshippers killed to quell the disturbance! While the two brothers were in Rome, Judah was overwhelmed in violence. (See Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2.) Eventually Caesar divided Herod the Great’s kingdom into four parts. Archelaus was given half the kingdom (two parts), while Antipas and Philip were each given one part. Thus, the latter two brothers were correctly called “tetrarchs.”
However, Archelaus was such a brutal ruler that after nine years, the Jews and the Samaritans, who normally hated each other, sent a delegation to Caesar asking for his removal. Archelaus was banished to Vienna and his territory was ruled by Roman governors such as Pontius Pilate (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 2, 111).
Philip the Tetrarch was given the northern most territories of his father Herod the Great. According to the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, “A reasonable assumption places Ituraea northeast of the Sea of Galilee and south of Mt Hermon, but its location and boundaries have been much disputed.” Trachonitis on the other hand was one of five Roman provinces on the far side of the Jordan River. Again. the encyclopedia tells us “Trachonitis was an extremely desolate region northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Its name in Aramaic was Argob, which signified that the region was a ‘heap of stones.’” That doesn’t sound very appealing does it? However, “Ituraea’s location on the lucrative, vital trade route that extended from Tyre through Damascus to the Euphrates made it crucial for the economic stability of the Roman Empire in the east” as well as providing a buffer between the Parthian and Roman Empires (The Lexham Bible Dictionary).
In the New Testament, two places in Philip’s territory play important roles. Bethsaida on the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee was the home to three of Jesus’ disciples (John 1:44; 12:21). Jesus healed a blind man there (Mark 8:22-26) and, according to Luke, Bethsaida was the location for the feeding of the 5,000 (Luke 9:10-17).
Philip’s territory also included Caesarea Philippi – the headwaters of the Jordan River. It was here that Peter confessed Jesus was the Christ (Mark 8:27-33; Matthew 16:13-23).
We know little about Philip’s personal life. He was born in 26 B.C. to Herod the Great and his wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Salome, the famous dancer/daughter of Herodias, Herod Antipas’ wife, married Philip, even though he was 39 years older than she!
Philip, in contrast to his brothers Herod Archelaus and Herod Antipas, seems to have been a humble man. He did not use the title Herod (although many commentators and Easton’s Bible Encyclopedia call him Herod Philip), and his territory provided Jesus a place to escape the watchful eyes of “that fox,” Herod Antipas (Luke 13:32). We’ll look at him next week.
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