Categories: Gospel of Mark, Gospel of Matthew, The Gospels
In several places in the Gospels we read about Herodians. Who were these people?
Herodians are mentioned twice in the Gospels and always in connection with the Pharisees. The first mention of them in Mark 3:6 takes place in Galilee. Jesus had just healed a man who had a withered hand. The only problem is that it was on the Sabbath and the Pharisees were furious. Following this healing, they went out to consult with the Herodians about how they might plot to kill Jesus. This healing in the synagogue is the culmination of five conflict stories with the Pharisee
The next time the Herodians are mentioned is in Mark 12:13. "Someone" (we don't know who) sends them, along with the Pharisees, to see if they can trap Jesus in his words. Now they are in Jerusalem and the issue is one of paying tribute to Caesar. Matthew 22:16 also describes this incident. These are the only times they are mentioned prior to the second century CE.
So who are these people? Scholars have various guesses. One has it that the Herodians were a priestly party under the reign of King Herod and his successors. Presumably, they came from a family named Boethus. One of the daughters of Boethus was married to King Herod and several of the sons of Boethus were appointed to the high priesthood. The origin of the family of Boethus is also subject to speculation. It seems to be an offshoot of the Sadducees – perhaps a variation of it. They shared several theological understandings, denying most notably any concept of immortality or resurrection of the dead. Many scholars think they were among the very wealthy, living lives of luxury, using gold and silver in their everyday lives. Needless to say, the Pharisees were in complete opposition to them. The Mishnah (Jewish writings) contains several disagreements between the Pharisees and Boethusians on various points of the law. But there is simply a dearth of information on this sect.
Another option is that the Herodians were a political party whose main goal was to further the Herodian dynasty. A writing attributed to Tertullian (but known to be false) claims that they believed Herod was the Messiah. This, however, has not been generally accepted
The most likely possibility is that they were a disorganized group that simply supported the Herods, which means they existed from about 40 BCE until 100 CE – the length of time the Herods were in power. And since they seem connected to the Herods, it is likely that at least some of them might have originated from Idumea. They might have been among those who Herod brought from home to serve in various capacities in the Jerusalem government. How they served in Herod's capacity or what they actually did remains unknown.
It is quite interesting, though, that scholars believe they did not get along with the Pharisees. Every time they are mentioned, it is in connection with the Pharisees. Is this another example of enemies joining forces to combat a greater threat? And if so, why weren't they more connected to the Sadducees, who maintained the actual religious power in Jerusalem? Answers to those questions remain speculative, but some scholars have suggested that the Herodians were of the same cloth as the Sadducees. Some have even claimed that the groups were virtually interchangeable. Again, there is so much that we do not know.
Just as information about their origin is difficult to determine, so is information about their demise. They simply disappear from the pages of history without any further details. Outside of Josephus and the Gospels, there is no additional information about them.