I must admit, I still get confused by all those Herods mentioned in the New Testament. To keep them straight, I find it helpful to read the biblical text with a genealogy of Herod’s family at my side (here’s one from the Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible).
Well, so much for simplicity. Even this chart looks more like an engineering schematic than a family tree. To boil it all down, there are four key members of Herod’s family mentioned in the Gospels…
Herod the Great. This is the original Herod of them all. The very name sent shivers up the spine of ancient Jews. Son of Antipater, he was a cunning politician, ruthless dictator, and brilliant architect. He was responsible for constructing the temple mount in Jerusalem, fortress palaces at Herodium and Masada, and a harbor at Caesarea — all which continue to astound archaeologists and engineers today. In addition to killing several kin who threatened his throne, Herod murdered all the young boys in Bethlehem at the news that a baby king named Jesus had been born (Mt. 2:16). Herod died a short time later, splitting his kingdom between three sons.
Herod Philip – son of Herod the Great through his wife Cleopatra. Ruled over a vast area of NE Palestine until AD 34. The city of Caesarea Philippi up in the foothills gets its name from this man.
Herod Antipas – son of Herod the Great through his wife Malthace. Ruled over Galilee and Perea until AD 39. Antipas is the one who stole Herodias from another half-brother named Philip (Mt. 14:3) and was responsible for executing John the Baptist (Mt. 14:10). He’s also the Herod who appears during the Roman trial of Jesus (Lk. 23:7).
Archelaus – Another son of Herod the Great through his wife Malthace. A vicious and inept king who ruled for about a decade over Judea and Samaria, but was de-throned while Jesus was still a child (he is mentioned only in Mt. 2:22). By the time Jesus began His public ministry, this region had long been taken away from Herodian control and assigned to Roman procurators/governors.
There are even more descendants of Herod mentioned in the book of Acts, but I won’t take time to discuss them now. Here’s a map from the Holman Bible Atlas showing the political boundaries right after Herod the Great’s death. This is how Israel looked when Jesus’ family returned from Egypt and settled up in Nazareth.