Sergey E. Rysev


Herod and Agrippa


       Beginning from Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 260 - c. 340), King Herod in New Testaments Acts, chapter 12, has been identified with Judaean king Agrippa I (41-44). Here is what Eusebius says in his Church History (2,10,10): But if there should seem to anyone to be a disagreement in respect to the name of the king, the time at least and the events show that the same person is meant, whether the change of name has been caused by the error of a copyist, or is due to the fact that he, like so many, bore two names. This identification of Herod with Agrippa I was automatically accepted by all subsequent commentators of New Testament who were not in the least embarrassed by difference in the kings names. And now, in theological and historical literature, Agrippa I constantly appears with a double name Herod Agrippa. Moreover, the second name, Herod, was attributed also to his son, Agrippa II, or the Junior.

        Nevertheless careful analyzing of data given in the Acts and comparing them with information present in Josephus Antiquities show that Eusebius made a mistake equating one king with the other. At first, let us refer to the Acts and make a chronological selection of events described in 11:27-12:23:
        About that time some prophets went from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and by the power of the Spirit predicted that a severe FAMINE was about to come over all the earth. (It came when Claudius was emperor.) The disciples decided that each of them would send as much as he could to help their fellow-brothers who lived in Judaea. They did this, then, and sent the money to the church elders by Barnabas and Saul.

       About this time King Herod began to persecute some members of the church. He had James, the brother of John, put to death by the sword. When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he went on to arrest Peter...

      After this, Herod left Judaea and spent some time in Caesarea.

      Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon They went and asked him for peace, because their country got its food supplies from the kings country.
On a chosen day Herod put on his royal robes, sat on his throne, and made a speech to the people. It isnt a man speaking, but a god! they shouted. At once the angel of the Lord struck Herod down, because he did not give honour to God. He was eaten by worms and died

        Barnabas and Saul finished their mission and returned from Jerusalem.

       And now let us look at what Josephus reports in 19th and 20th books of his Antiquities: 19,8,2: Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea (44 AD), he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from anotherthat he was a god A severe pain also arose in his belly Accordingly he was carried into the palace And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh of his reign

       19,9,2: He [Claudius] was therefore disposed to send Agrippa, junior, away presently to succeed his father in the kingdom But those freed-men and friends of his, who had the greatest authority with him, dissuaded him from it Accordingly he sent Cuspius Fadus to be procurator of Judea, and of the entire kingdom

        20,1,3: HEROD also, the brother of the deceased Agrippa, who was then possessed of the royal authority over Chalcis, petitioned Claudius Caesar for the authority over the temple, and the money of the sacred treasure, and the choice of the high priests, and obtained all that he petitioned for.

        20,5,2: Then came Tiberius Alexander as successor to Fadus (46 AD)... Under these procurators that great FAMINE happened in Judea... But now HEROD, king of Chalcis, removed Joseph, the son of Camydus, from the high priesthood And now it was that Cumanus came as successor to Tiberius Alexander; as also that HEROD, brother of Agrippa the great king, departed this life, in the eighth year of the reign of Claudius Caesar (48 AD).

         Comparison of the above two texts, each mentioning a great famine, suggests an idea that Eusebius confused two brothers, Agrippa and Herod of Chalcis, being misled by short span of time between deaths of both and by supposedly similar circumstances of their decease. Both Agrippa and Herod of the Acts died in Caesarea and were likened to a god before their demise. However the reader can notice obvious differences in those circumstances: Agrippa felt pain when he was in the theatre watching shows but Herod fell ill when receiving delegation from Tyre and Sidon.

        Apparently, the lapse of Eusebius was also due to the fact that the founder of the last dynasty of Jewish kings, Herod the Great, did have a few sons bearing the name of Herod. Among them, the most famous is tetrarch Herod Antipas. But it should be taken into account that all these sons were born by different wives of Herod the Great. On the contrary, Agrippa and Herod of Chalcis, being grandchildren of the notorious king, had the same mother and father (Aristobulus and Bernice), which excludes identity of the children names.

         Here is another evidence for wrong identification of Herod with Agrippa. Nowhere in his works does Josephus call the latter Herod. At the same time, he labels Herod Antipas one way or another (e. g. Ant 17,1,3 and 18,4,5), and, in one instance, he directly indicates, Herod who was called Antipas (War 2,9,1). In Acts, Agrippa the Junior is also called just Agrippa (25:13,22ff.). The name of Herod isnt attributed to Agrippa I by other early historical sources either, such as Philo (Flaccum 5,6; Legatio ad Gaium 28,35ff.), Tacitus (Annals 12,23) and Jewish Mishnah (Bikkurim 3,4; Sotah 7,8). For that matter, we can rely on the British Encyclopedia that says that Agrippa is called Herod only in New Testament!

       As to Herod of Chalcis, only one ancient source, except Josephus, mentions him, namely Dio Cassius. This is what the 60th book of his Roman History reports (60,8,2): He [Claudius] enlarged the domain of Agrippa of Palestine and bestowed on him the rank of consul; and to his brother Herod he gave the rank of praetor and a principality. And he permitted them to enter the senate and to express their thanks to him in Greek.
In his turn, Josephus cites an edict of Claudius which contains the following: Upon the petition of king Agrippa and king Herod, who are persons very dear to me, that I would grant the same rights and privileges should be preserved to the Jews which are in all the Roman empire And I will that this decree of mine be engraven on tables by the magistrates of the cities, and colonies, and municipal places and to have them exposed to the public for full thirty days, in such a place whence it may plainly be read from the ground (Ant 19,5,3). Hardly could the author of the Acts who must have read this decree confuse Agrippa and Herod!

        Herod of Chalcis is also mentioned in another official paper of Claudius written after the death of Agrippa: and this I do also because I shall hereby highly gratify king Herod, and Aristobulus, junior, whose sacred regards to me, and earnest good-will to you [Jews], I am well acquainted with (Ant 20,1,2).

       The Acts of the Apostles casually inform us about special relations between king Herod and population of two Lebanese cities, Tyre and Sidon (12:20). Incidentally, Chalcis, the kingdom of Herod, brother of Agrippa, was situated exactly under Mount Libanus (Ant 14,7,4). The Acts report that inhabitants of these cities asked the king for peace because they got food supplies from his country. This indicates a period of famine once again and simultaneously means that the kings country couldnt be Judaea which suffered from lack of food at the time (see above).

       Finally, king Agrippa had a gentle disposition and treated his subjects with benevolence. Josephus praises his virtues and doesnt mention any persecutions during his ruling. Disturbances began shortly after his death when Judaea was again turned into a Roman province and Herod of Chalcis was given the authority over Jerusalem temple. Under procurator Fadus, Theudas was beheaded (Ant 20,5,1; cf. Acts 5:36). Under the next procurator Tiberius Alexander, sons or disciples (paides in Greek) of Judas the Galilean, James and Simon, were crucified (Ant 20,5,2; cf. Acts 5:37). In the Acts, king Herod executes James, brother of John, and imprisons Peter. It should be noted that apostle James and his brother John had quite a belligerent temper (Luke 9:54). Jesus gave them the nickname Boanerges which Mark explains as sons of thunder (3:17). In fact, Boanerges is an obscure spelling of Jewish words bnei regesh translated more accurately as sons of tumult or sons of rebellion.

         It must be said in conclusion that the correct identification of king Herod of the Acts is important not only because it removes a stigma from Agrippas biography but also because it allows to specify the time of Paul and Barnabas visiting Jerusalem which synchronizes with Herods repression against Christian church and his demise.


Dio Cassius, Roman History.
Eusebius, Church History.
Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews.
Josephus, War of the Jews.
Philo, De Legatione de Gaium.
Philo, In Flaccum.
Tacitus, Annals.




| | | | | | | | | |

Rambler's Top100

, 2002-2007