THIRD MILLENIUM LIBRARY
 

A HISTORY OF NEW TESTAMENT TIMES IN PALESTINE 175 BC-70 AD

CHAPTER XV

HEROD AGRIPPA I AND HEROD AGRIPPA II

 

The early years of Christianity had little or no influence upon Judaism. The community of those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah, the church, remained loyal to the temple and the synagogue, and was in fact a sect of the Jews. But before any considerable time had passed there sprang up within the church a new group headed by Stephen, one of seven men chosen to relieve the twelve of a part of their rapidly increasing work. This group saw that if Jesus really were the Christ, Judaism was no longer final, and with this conviction its members attacked the exclusiveness of Pharisaism in much the same spirit as Jesus himself. As might have been expected, Judaism was enraged. Stephen met his Master’s fate, and there broke out a fierce attack upon the new sect. This persecution, however, but intensified the Christians’ zeal, and wherever they were scattered they organized new communities. The persecution was doubtless Sadducean in part, but its chief agent was a Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus. In him religious persecution had its most conscientious agent, and Judaism its most consistent representative. Yet when the persecution was at its height Saul himself was converted, and immediately took Stephen’s position more distinctly than had Stephen himself. Although his first work is not clearly recorded, it seems that from the moment of his conversion he saw that others than Jews would share in the Messianic kingdom, and that therefore the good news should be preached to them. His work as a result lay outside of Palestine, and the churches of Jerusalem and Judea remained Jewish, the mass of their members as devoted to the oral Law as before their acceptance of Jesus as the Christ. None the less, the religious authorities of Judea seem to have been suspicious of them, even if persecution for a time was stilled.

While thus the new fraternity was spreading in all directions, the history of Palestinian Judaism developed along the lines already set by Pharisaism. The administration of Pilate was brought to a close by events that very well represent the power of the rabbis. As if in imitation of Jesus, there appeared a prophet in Samaria who promised to reveal the hiding place of the sacred vessels Moses was believed to have buried on Mount Gerizim. The Samaritans assembled in large numbers in answer to his call, all with arms. Pilate, fearing a revolt, attacked the gathering, killing and imprisoning many of the crowd. Thereupon the Samaritans complained to Vitellius, then on a special mission to Syria, and by him Pilate was compelled to go to Rome for trial, Marcellus being made procurator in his stead.

The downfall of Pilate is only one evidence of the more friendly attitude of Rome toward Judea that characterized the later years of Tiberius. Even before this event Pilate had been obliged by the emperor, in answer to the urgent petition of the sons of Herod, to take down some votive shields he had hung up in the royal palace at Jerusalem. Vitellius now apparently attempted still further to conciliate the Jews. He attended the Passover at Jerusalem, where he remitted taxes upon the sale of fruit, and gave up the high priests’ robes, which, since the beginning of the procuratorial administration, partly because of an ancient custom, partly as a sort of pledge of good conduct, had been honorably kept by the Romans in the castle of Antonia. He still kept control of the appointment of high priests, however, but probably used it also in such a way as to please the people. A further act of conciliation was shown, when, in his expedition against Petra, he marched through Esdraelon and Perea, rather than carry his standards through Judea.

The death of Tiberius enabled Caligula to do Pharisaism an even greater service by appointing Herod Agrippa, son of Aristobulus, and grandson of Herod I, as king over what had been the tetrarchy of Philip as well as the small tetrarchy of Lysanias (37 AD).

Agrippa I

The account of this man’s life reads like a romance. Educated, like the other Herodian princes, in Rome, he had there acquired the habits of the early empire, and at the age of forty found himself in disfavor with Tiberius, bankrupt, and a fugitive from his creditors. He succeeded in reaching Palestine, where he shut himself up in a tower on the border of the southern desert, and would have committed suicide had it not been for his energetic wife, Cypros. As a last resort she went to Agrippa’s sister, Herodias, who had already married Herod Antipas, and through her obtained from the tetrarch the appointment of Agrippa as superintendent of markets in Tiberias. Such a humiliating position could not long satisfy the man, and, because of a quarrel over their cups, Agrippa left his uncle-brother-in-law to get aid from his friend Flaccus, the propraetor of Syria. With him he remained until his brother, Aristobulus, detecting him accepting bribes from the citizens of Damascus, reported him to Flaccus, who forced the unhappy man again out upon his wanderings. Reduced to the last extremities, Agrippa determined to go once more to Italy. With the aid of his freedman, Maesgas, he succeeded in borrowing a considerable sum of money and started for Egypt, barely escaping arrest for debt as he was leaving Anthedon. At Alexandria he borrowed a much larger sum from the brother of Philo on his wife’s credit, and thus equipped, sent his family back to Judea, while he went on to Rome. There he became intimate with Caius, who, with all the empire, was waiting impatiently for Tiberius to die. Unfortunately Agrippa expressed this desire before a charioteer who, in revenge for some injury, repeated it to the old emperor, and Agrippa was promptly thrown into chains. He was not released until Caius was finally seated as emperor. Once appointed king he seems to have spent much of his time in Rome, where his friendship with the emperor won him also the territories of the unlucky Herod Antipas (39 AD), and enabled him to render the Jews service at an important crisis.

The accession of the mad Caligula was an occasion for a new outburst of anti-semitism, and Agrippa was unintentionally its occasion. For his presence in Alexandria was made the occasion for a considerable outbreak against the Jews, who would not join with the other provincials in paying divine honors to the emperor. The Jewish quarter was pillaged, men and women abused, and statues of Caligula were placed in the synagogues. The governor of Alexandria had even taken from the Jews the rights of citizenship in the city. The outbreak finally became a genuine persecution, and the Jews appealed to the emperor. But their embassy, although headed by Philo himself, accomplished nothing; for Caligula, instead of listening to their petition, asked them why they would not eat pork! At the same time, the monomania of Caligula as to his divinity, brought even more serious difficulties upon Judea itself. The heathen citizens of Jamnia erected an altar to the emperor, and the Jewish citizens immediately destroyed it. The deed was reported to the emperor, and immediately he gave orders to have his statue erected in the temple at Jerusalem, and Petronius, the legate of Syria, was sent with a strong force to see that the command was fulfilled. The Jews were overwhelmed with despair, and begged Petronius to kill them rather than do their temple the indignity. Fortunately, the legate was a considerate man, and at the request of Agrippa and other prominent Jews in various ways delayed the fulfillment of the order until he had personally appealed to Caligula. Agrippa was himself in Rome when the legate’s letter arrived, and was able, at a banquet, to win from the emperor a reversal of the command. Petronius, however, was directed to commit suicide, but escaped his fate through the assassination of the emperor.

Claudius 

With the accession of Claudius (41 AD), a new era seemed to open for the Jews. Singularly enough, Claudius was under considerable obligation to Agrippa for his elevation to the empire, and promptly met it by giving him all the territory that had belonged to Herod I, together with the right to appoint the high priests. In addition hegave Agrippa’s brother, Herod, the little kingdom of Chalcis, returned to the Jews of Alexandria their old privileges, and extended equal rights to Jews throughout the empire (41 AD).

This revival of the kingdom of Judea, under an Asmonean-Herodian, gave a new impulse to Judaism. Far more than his grandfather, Agrippa, though by no means unfriendly to Hellenism, was regardful of his subjects’ religious convictions. From the first he observed the customs and ceremonies enforced by Pharisaism; lived in Jerusalem; kept all portraits off the coinage of Jerusalem; guarded the sanctity of Jewish synagogues, even in Phoenicia; appointed an acceptable high priest; compelled a prospective son-in-law to be circumcised; and himself took part in the services of the temple, where he was saluted by the people as their true brother. He also attacked Christianity, killing James and arresting Peter. There are even indications that he had ambitions to build up Judea into the head of a confederacy of allied kingdoms, for he strengthened the fortifications of Jerusalem greatly, and would undoubtedly have made the city impregnable had Claudius not commanded him to stop the work. He also held a conference of five kings at Tiberias, although this was broken up by the legate of Syria before it had accomplished anything.

Yet, while thus careful to maintain the best relations with his people, Agrippa was enough of a Herodian to be fond of the amusements of the Greco-Roman world. One of his coins, struck by Gaza, represents a temple of Mama, and at Berytus (Beirut) he built baths, colonnades, a theatre, and an amphitheatre, at the opening of which fourteen hundred criminals were made to slaughter each other. He also celebrated games at Caesarea, in honor of the emperor. It was, in fact, at these games that he was suddenly struck down by a mysterious and fatal disease, just as he had allowed his courtiers to address him as a god (44 AD).

With his death the second short halcyon age of Judaism closed. It had been the first intention of Claudius to make Agrippa II, the only son of Agrippa I, then a boy of seventeen years, king in his father’s place; but his court had persuaded him to do otherwise, and for a short time the entire kingdom of Judea was under a procurator. Agrippa, however, was soon to enjoy something of the good fortune that belonged to his house. The procurator, Fadus, though clearing Judea of robbers, had marked the return of a Roman administration by seizing the vestment of the high priest, and putting it again into the castle of Antonia, where it might be under his control, as it had been under that of the earlier procurators. The Jews bitterly resented the act, and with the consent of Fadus, and Longinus, the propraetor of Syria, they sent an embassy to Claudius, asking that the vestments be left in their own keeping. Agrippa lent his influence to the petition, and was able to gain a favorable decision from the emperor. As a further proof of his regard, Claudius gave Agrippa, in the eighth year of his reign (49-50 AD), the kingdom of Chalcis, which had belonged to his uncle, Herod. With this little kingdom went the authority over the temple and the sacred money, as well as the right to appoint the high priest, all of which Herod had obtained from Claudius. About this time Agrippa was again of great service to the Jews in bringing about the acquittal of the high priest Ananias, and Ananus the commander of Jerusalem, both of whom Cumanus had sent to the imperial court, under the charge of fomenting rebellion. In 53 AD he exchanged the kingdom of Chalcis for the tetrarchy of Philip, to which were added, by Nero, portions of Perea and Galilee, including, among others, the city of Tiberias. A much weaker man than his father, Agrippa II maintained friendships with Pharisee and heathen alike, but succeeded in winning considerable favor from the rabbis themselves. Yet his long reign (50-100) resulted in nothing of importance, and when the Jew and Roman were at last at war, Agrippa II was found fighting against his countrymen.