What does Mark 6:17 mean?The family history of Herod the Great is twisted and confusing. This is especially true given that "Herod" means "king" and seems to have been used as a family name by several members, whether they were recognized as kings by the Roman emperor or not. Herod Antipas is one of at least eight sons. Upon the death of Herod the Great, the kingdom was split into four tetrarchies, and Antipas the Tetrarch was given rule over Galilee, north of Samaria, and Perea, across the Jordan River from Judea. Antipas married the daughter of the king of Nabatea, a nation which bordered southeast Perea, and settled down to a life of irritating the Jews.
When Herod Antipas first meets Herodias, he is visiting his half-brother in Rome. Mark calls him Philip I and history calls him Herod II, but it is unclear who exactly this figure is. It is not Philip the Tetrarch, son of Herod the Great and Cleopatra of Jerusalem. Philip the Tetrarch actually goes on to marry Herodias' daughter, Salome. This Philip is married to Herodias, the daughter of Antipas' and Philip's half-brother Aristobulus (making her their niece), and Antipas quickly falls in love.
We are not given Herodias' motivations for marrying Antipas. She and Philip live as private citizens in Rome, but she is apparently unsatisfied. With Antipas, she has a chance to live up to her name and act as queen. Herodias agrees to divorce Philip and marry Antipas if he will divorce his current wife, the woman who is ensuring the peace of his southeast border.
John the Baptist threatens Herodias' position by his public insistence on this point. Their marriage is considered incestuous, from a legal standpoint, because Herodias' first husband, Antipas' brother, is still living. If the Jewish leadership comes to agree with John, Herodias could lose her marriage and Antipas could face outright rebellion from his citizens. But Antipas likes John and wants to keep him safe from Herodias, so he holds him in prison.
Antipas will live to regret the decision to leave his first wife for Herodias. In addition to suffering major losses in a battle with Nabatea, Herodias' prodding leads to trouble with Rome. She pushes Antipas to request the title of "Herod." Several political intrigues later, Antipas and Herodias find themselves without a kingdom, exiled in Gaul.