Who was Archelaus in the Bible?

Updated: May 5, 2021

Archelaus gets one mention in the Bible, in the book of Matthew. Who was he? Why was Joseph afraid of him? What was his rule like? Let's find out!

Archelaus in the Bible

We read about Archelaus in Matthew 2:22. Shortly after the visit from the Magi, Joseph is warned in a dream that Herod wants to kill Jesus. Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt to keep Jesus safe.

Sometime later, Joseph has another vision that Herod is dead and that it is safe to return. But when they get back, they discover Archelaus is reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, and so Joseph is afraid to go there. Joseph takes his family to Nazareth in Galilee, which is under the rule of Antipas* instead.

Archelaus in history

The ancient historian Josephus gives us a good look at who Archelaus was and what he did. I will include the references from his writing at the bottom of the post.

Archelaus was one of the many sons of King Herod, the son of Malthace, and full brother to Antipas. (You can see a family tree and marriages in my post: Herod's Family Tree: Lies, Power, and Incest.)

King Herod was a jealous ruler and fearful that his sons would rise up to usurp him. Because of his suspicious nature, he had his son and prospective heir killed. This meant he had to draw up a new will with a new heir.

The first will named Antipas as the sole heir. Later, when Herod was very ill, he changes his mind and draws up another will, dividing his lands between three of his sons: Archelaus, Antipas, and Philip. (1) However, no matter what King Herod's will says, no one can take over ruling the kingdom unless they are blessed by Caesar.

King Herod dies in about 4 BC and Archelaus plans a sumptuous funeral. He arranges that his father should be carried to his tomb on a golden bier that embroidered and covered in precious stones. Herod is draped in purple cloth and adorned with a golden crown and a scepter. A huge procession is arranged around him with guards and soldiers from various parts of the land, all in full war attire. 500 servants bearing spices follow. They travel in pomp from Jericho to the Herodium, which was near Jerusalem. (2)