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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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No information is forthcoming concerning Porcius Festus, who succeeded Felix in the procuratorship of Judaea , other than that supplied by Acts 24:27; Acts 26:32 and by Josephus, Ant. xx. viii. 9f., ix. 1, and Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) II xiv. 1. According to Josephus, Festus set himself with vigour and success to restore order to his province, which he found distracted with sedition and overrun by bands of robbers. ‘He caught the greatest part of the robbers, and destroyed a great many of them.’ More particularly it is added that he ‘sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to fall upon those that had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly, those forces that were sent destroyed both him that had deluded them and those that were his followers also.’ The only other incident in the administration of Festus which Josephus relates shows him, in association with King Agrippa II., withstanding ‘the chief men of Jerusalem’ (Ant. xx. viii. 11), and permitting an appeal to Caesar-an interesting combination in view of the narrative in Acts. The circumstances, as stated by Josephus, were those: Agrippa had made an addition to his palace at Jerusalem, which enabled him to observe from his dining-hall what was done in the Temple. Thereupon ‘the chief men of Jerusalem’ erected a wall to obstruct the view from the palace. Festus supported Agrippa in demanding the removal of this wall, but yielded to the request of the Jews that the whole matter might be referred to Nero, who upheld the appeal and reversed the judgment of his procurator.

Josephus evidently regards Festus as a wise and righteous official, affording an agreeable contrast to Albinus, his successor, of whom he says that ‘there was not any sort of wickedness that could be named but he had a hand in it’ (Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) II. xiv. 1).

Turning to the Book of Acts, we find that there, while justice is done to the promptness with which Festus addressed himself to his duties and to the lip-homage he was ready to pay to ‘the custom of the Romans,’ he appears in a less favourable light, and the outstanding fact meets us of the estimate which St. Paul formed of him. St. Paul preferred to take his chance with Nero to leaving his cause to be disposed of by this fussy, plausible official. ‘I appeal unto Caesar,’ is the lasting condemnation of Festus. He was persuaded that the Apostle was innocent of the ‘many and grievous, charges’ brought against him, yet he was quite prepared to sacrifice him, if thereby he ‘could gain favour with the Jews’; hence the preposterous proposal of a re-trial at Jerusalem. The noble use which St. Paul made shortly after of the opportunity given him by Festus to speak for himself before Agrippa and Berenice should not blind us to the callousness of the man who planned that scene with all its pomp and circumstance, and deliberately exploited a prisoner in bonds for the entertainment of his Herodian guests. Festus died after holding his office for a brief term-‘scarcely two years’ (Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] I. ii. [1890] 185). See article Dates for discussion of the chronology of the procuratorship of Festus.

Literature.-S. Buss, Roman Law and History in the NT, 1901, p. 390; C. H. Turner, ‘Eusebius’ Chronology of Felix and Festus’ in Journal of Theological Studies iii. [1901-02] 120; G. H. Morrison, The Footsteps of the Flock, 1904. p. 362; M. Jones. St. Paul the Orator, 1910, p. 212; A. Maclaren, Expositions: ‘Acts, ch. xiii.-end,’ 1907, p. 322.

G. P. Gould.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Festus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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