Acts 26 – Who was Agrippa?

Marcus Julius Agrippa was the great-grandson of Herod the Great and son of Herod Agrippa (Acts 12). Born in A.D. 28. Agrippa II was raised Rome and was friends with both Emperor Claudius and the future emperor Titus. Although Agrippa is well-known for his role in the Jewish War, there is little known about the details of his reign. As Fred Dicken comments, Agrippa was “a shrewd politician, though his legacy is tainted by his loyalty to Rome during the war.”

Agrippa’s sister Bernice was also the sister of Drusilla, Felix’ wife. Bernice had been married twice and was now a widow living in her brother’s court. Rumors were that they were having an incestuous affair (Ant 20.145) The Roman satirist Juvenal referred to a gift “given as a present long ago by the barbarian Agrippa to his incestuous sister, in that country where kings celebrate festal sabbaths with bare feet and where a long-established clemency suffers pigs to attain old age” (Juv. 6.158). To stop this rumor, she married for a third time, but quickly returned to her brother. Eventually Bernice moved Rome and was the mistress of Titus. Agrippa himself never married nor had any children.

Agrippa’s father died when he was 17 and Claudius thought he was too young to take control of the kingdom. Like the others in the Herodian line, he sought favor from Rome and was eventually given the title king in A.D. 53. In addition, he was given the title “custodian of the Temple Treasure.” meaning he had the right to appoint the high priest. He expanded Caesarea Philippi, renaming the city Neronias to honor Emperor Nero.

Agrippa was known to have been sensitive to Judaism, even to the point of debating points of law with the rabbis (Anitq., 20.179, 194-196). He purchases expensive metals and timber for the Temple which was repurposed during the Jewish war for the defense of the Temple (JW 5.36). But he was also very pro-Roman, having been raised in the Imperial court itself.  When the rebellion began, more he and Bernice sought to stop the rebels, knowing that Rome would not tolerate a rebellion in a minor province.  He is, therefore, the highest ranking political authority in Palestine.  It is appropriate that he present himself before the new Roman procurator Festus.  What is more, he provides Festus with the information he needs in order to write a report explaining Paul’s case to Rome.

He was in Egypt when the Jewish revolt broke out in A.D. 66. He returned to Jerusalem and attempted to stop the rebellion. When this failed, he stayed with Vespasian and Titus during the war (JW 2.426). He was given a sizeable military force (JW 2.500). He used this force to lay siege to the town of Gamala for seven months. Josephus himself was in charge of defense of the town (JW 4.1-10; Life 1.114-121).

Josephus reports a lengthy speech by Agrippa (JW 2:345-401), although it is likely this speech is as much Josephus’s own view of Rome some twenty years after the war.

“Have pity, therefore, if not on your children and wives, yet upon this your metropolis, and its sacred walls; spare the temple, and preserve the holy house, with its holy furniture, for yourselves; for if the Romans get you under their power, they will no longer abstain from them, when their former abstinences shall have been so ungratefully requited. I call to witness your sanctuary, and the holy angels of God, and this country common to us all, that I have not kept back anything that is for your preservation; and if you will follow that advice which you ought to do, you will have that peace which will be common to you and to me; but if you indulge your passions, you will run those hazards which I shall be free from.”

Agrippa was rewarded for his loyalty with additional territory and was permitted mint coins in 73-74 in Caesarea with the words “For Emperor Vespasian Caesar Augustus.” He died about the year 100 after a 47 year reign.

 

 

 

Bibliography: David C. Braund, “Agrippa (Person),” ABD 1:99-100; Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ 2:191-204; Frank E. Dicken, “Agrippa II,” The Lexham Bible Dictionary.

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