Archelaus, the Ruthless Ethnarch
WITH Archelaus, son and successor of King Herod, the proverb held true, “like father, like son,” for he is described as “cruel and tyrannical, sensual in the extreme, a hypocrite and a plotter.” His policies resulted in his being banished by the Roman emperor, thus bearing out the Scriptural principle that “he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”—Prov. 11:17, AS.
Just a few days before he died King Herod made a final will in which he designated Archelaus instead of Antipas as heir to his throne and willed him half of his dominion, two other sons being given each one fourth. But due to opposition the best that Archelaus could secure from the Roman emperor Augustus was the title of ethnarch, a title considerably inferior to that of king although more honored than that of tetrarch, or territorial prince. However, he did receive, with the exception of a few important cities, the territory his father had willed him, namely Judea, Samaria and Idumea.
The rule of Archelaus was marked with turbulence even before he left for Rome to get the terms of his father’s will validated by the emperor. Like Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, he had inherited a land whose people were seething with discontent because of the burdens placed upon them by his much-married and construction-minded father. (1 Kings 12) And like Rehoboam, Archelaus handled the matter unwisely. Failing to sense the temper of the people, he soon had such a disturbance on his hands that before it was quelled the bodies of some three thousand Jews defiled the temple pavements. And after Archelaus left for Rome matters went from bad to worse. An armed uprising spread throughout the land, which was put down at the cost of the lives of thousands of Roman soldiers and of so many Jews that their tradition records it as one of the worst massacres in their history.
On his return Archelaus continued his unwise policies. His oppressive measures caused him to be summoned to Rome to answer charges made against him by the Jews and the Samaritans, who suffered even more at his hands. Caesar Augustus, after giving him a hearing, had him banished.
In view of these facts we can readily understand why Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, ‘upon hearing that Archelaus was ruling in Judea became afraid to depart for there but instead, upon being given divine warning in a dream, withdrew into the territory of Galilee [over which the tetrarch Herod Antipas ruled] and settled in a city named Nazareth.’—Matt. 2:22, 23, NW.