Acts Wednesday: Chapter 25, Agrippa and Berenice


Proconsul Porcius Festus had agreed to send Paul to Rome for the tribunal before Emperor Nero, but the governor’s decisive style seems to have flagged, for


After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus.

Acts 25:13

Berenice

Berenice
StAnselm / Public domain

Berenice was the great granddaughter of Herod the Great (who had ordered all the baby boys of Bethlehem to be killed), born a Roman citizen with the royal name of Julia, to Herod Agrippa I (who had arrested Peter and killed James) and his wife Cyprus, before her father became ruler of Judea in 36 A.D.

After her father gained his throne, she became a favorite of Emperor Caligula who saw to her betrothal (at the age of thirteen) to Marcus, the son of Alexander who headed the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt. It is not clear whether they actually married, for Marcus died when Berenice was sixteen.

Her new betrothal was now arranged with her father’s older brother, Herod, who had been appointed king of Chalcis—a tiny principality in Lebanon—by Emperor Claudius, in 44 A.D. They were married for four short years, when Herod died and Berenice became a widow at twenty.

Berenice retained the title Queen of Chalcis for the rest of her life, and her older brother, Agrippa II, was given Chalcis’ throne in succession to their uncle. It seems they set up house together, brother and sister, hosting events as a couple, and officiating at ceremonies and public functions.

Two ancient sources, Josephus and Juvenal, recorded the growing rumors about their relationship, openly hinting they were incestuous lovers. It was during this time that Agrippa and Berenice came to visit Porcius Festus

Later, pressure from the rumors of incest may have prompted Berenice to seek a third husband in Polemo, King of Cilicia. The marriage didn’t last, and Berenice returned to her brother Agrippa II, later finding herself in Jerusalem, in 66 AD, trying to negotiate peace during Jerusalem’s violent revolt. Ultimately, Berenice chose to ally with the Romans and became lovers with the much younger victor and soon-to-be-emperor of Rome, General Vespasian’s son Titus.

Agrippa II

Agrippa
StAnselm / Public domain

Julius Marcus Agrippa Was Berenice’s full brother, sharing both the same father and the same mother. He had also been born in Rome, just one year before his sister. When their father Agrippa I fled with his family from Rome to Palestine, just ahead of debtors’ prison, little Julius was five years old, and his sister Berenice was four. Three years later, when Agrippa returned to Rome he left his young family behind. When Julius was fourteen years old, his father died, and he found himself disinherited by Rome from the consolidated commonwealth of Palestine his father had succeeded in reuniting under his own rule.

By happenstance, his father’s brother Herod of Chalcis had also died, so emperor Claudius appointed Agrippa II governance of that tiny province in 48 A.D. while also allowing him to retain oversight of the temple in Jerusalem. Five years later he was given the territories his great uncle Phillip had ruled, the Golan Heights and surrounding area. A year after that, and the new emperor Nero added Tiberias, the capital of Galilee, and parts of Peraea, east of the river Jordan, to Agrippa’s growing kingdom. However, to keep Palestine, and the Herodian dynasty, in check, the powerful procurator Marcus Antonius Felix was appointed as Agrippa’s overseer.

In Jerusalem, the young king renovated the temple, and enlarged the royal palace on the temple mount, raising the top floor high enough to see into the temple courts. (The temple priests promptly built and even higher wall to block that view.)

Compared to his father and grandfather, King Agrippa II was a relatively benign ruler. He lived through the sacking of Jerusalem, and managed to stay on good terms with each of the rapidly succeeding Roman emperors. Though his kingdom was savagely reduced, there is evidence Agrippa reigned over what was left of his territories until at least 98 A.D.

It seems, having only just begun his post as Proconsul two weeks before, Governor Festus was unsettled over Paul’s situation. Grateful for the Agrippas’ visit, he confided everything to them, later saying, “it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.” and found them both knowledgeable about Judea’s religion and culture, but also sympathetic to Paul’s case. They agreed to have Paul speak one more time.


So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city.

Then Festus gave the order and Paul was brought in.

And Festus said, “King Agrippa and all here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here.

Acts 25:23-25 (NRSV)

Nikolai Bodarevsky / Public domain

God says that when someone looks for Him, and really wants to find Him, He will make sure that person sees Him, as the prophet Jeremiah famously promised, in the voice of God, saying,


When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,

Jeremiah 29:13 (NRSV)

And

Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.

Jeremiah 33:3 (NRSV)

Philosophers have managed to prove God exists through logic – Aristotle, Plato, Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Pascal, and many others. Some of their proofs are famous. But in the case of faith, God is not an argument, or a concept. The Lord is a living being Who desires relationship with you and me. The question is, do you and I desire relationship with God? 

What happens when someone prays “God, show me you are there”?

God had sent His own Son to Pontius Pilate, and Pilate’s wife Claudia sensed in a dream Who Jesus was. God sent His emissary Paul to the Sanhedrin—one of their own, whom they could have trusted. Then, God sent Paul as the ambassador of Christ to the tribune Lysius, to the centurions and soldiers of the Italian legion, to the royalty of Judea, to the procurator Felix and his wife Drusilla, to Proconsul Festus, to King Agrippa and Queen Berenice, all of whom had become familiar with the ways and Way of God.

Just see what God will do when you ask Him to show Himself. But, when you ask, you must also look.


[Paul before Festus, Agrippa, and Berenice | Vasily Surikov / Public domain]

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