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Herod Agrippa I

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Herod Agrippa II
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King of Judea; born about the year 10 B.C. ("Ant." 14:9, § 2); died suddenly in 44. His career, with its abundant and extreme vicissitudes, illustrates in a remarkable manner the complete dependence of the royal family of Judea, even for the means of subsistence, upon the favor of the Roman emperors of the first century. His descent and posterity are shown in the following table:

Early Career.

When six years of age he was sent to Rome for his education, and there enjoyed the companionship of the gifted Drusus Cæsar, son of Tiberius. The extravagance of court life accustomed him to splendor and luxury, and his prospects, which were brilliant, were the means of furnishing him with a never-failing supply of money, of which he availed himself in the style of a spendthrift. But his circumstances were changed in the year 23, when his friend and patron, Drusus, died suddenly. From that hour the emperor declined to receive the high-spirited young man, and very soon his boon companions also forsook Agrippa. Destitute of all resources, he meditated suicide; but at the request of his wife, Cypros, his sister Herodias, who had been since about the year 25 the wife of the tetrarch Herod Antipas, took pity on Agrippa and secured for him the appointment of market overseer in her new capital, Tiberias. But even this new fortune did not last; his brother-in-law took every opportunity to make Agrippa feel his dependent position. This Agrippa found too much to endure. He resigned his post, and, after many adventures, returned to Rome in 36. Here, once again, he succeeded in overcoming ill fortune by securing the patronage of the heir apparent, Caligula. With this return to prosperity his extravagant ideas resumed sway over him and brought him to want. Deeming himself free from listeners, he was one day thoughtless enough openly to wish for the time when Caligula would ascend the throne of the Cæsars. When this remark was carried to the aged Tiberius, he had him loaded with chains and cast into prison. He suffered here for six months in constant terror of death, until Caligula, having become emperor, freed him with his own hands, and appointed him to the tetrarchy of his uncle Philip, and to that of Lysanias, giving him the title of king. To these honors the senate added the rights and title of pretor.

This wonderful change in his fortune excited the undisguised envy of his sister Herodias, and led her to urge her incapable husband to secure for himself at least equal rank and titles from the emperor. But Agrippa defeated her purpose. Her petition to the emperor was forestalled by a message from Agrippa, containing half-veiled intimations that his brother-in-law was meditating treason and independence. This was sufficient to destroy Herod Antipas. Land and throne were taken from him, and the districts of Galilee and the south of Perea, administered by him, were transferred to the charge of Agrippa (39).

Agrippa and Caligula.

The king soon found opportunity to gain the gratitude and good wishes of his coreligionists. Caligula, whose extravagant desires and cruelty savored of insanity, conceived the idea of ordering thathis statues be set up in all temples and receive divine honors. The Jews alone dared to offer resistance to this decree. They induced the Syrian governor, Petronius, to postpone this desecration of the sanctuary for a long time, and he at last determined to inform the emperor that the execution of his order would be impossible without terrible massacres. Agrippa happened to be in Rome at that time, and had succeeded in getting from Caligula a repeal of his odious edict (Philo, "Legatio ad Cajum," §§ 30-43). But when Petronius' report arrived that the Jews would rather suffer death than permit the erection of the imperial statues in their Temple, the emperor canceled his repeal, and ordered the forcible execution of his command. Fortunately, the tidings that the imbecile tyrant had been murdered by his body-guard arrived before his instructions to put his commands into effect (41). His successor, Claudius, showed himself grateful to Agrippa for important services rendered him, and upon his accession, placed under his rule the remainder of Palestine, the territories of Samaria, Judea, and Idumæa, formerly governed by Archelaus. Loaded with honors and titles, Agrippa returned home, and the few remaining years of his benevolent sway afforded the people a brief period of peace and prosperity. The evil consequences of a ruler's unbridled passions and tyranny had been sufficiently evident to him in Rome, and they had taught him moderation and strict self-control. His people regarded him with love and devotion, because he healed with tender hand the deep wounds inflicted upon the national susceptibilities by brutal Roman governors. He ruled his subjects with compassion and friendliness. Like the ancestral Asmoneans from whom he sprang through his noble grandmother Mariamne, he honored the Law. Like the merest commoner, he carried his basket of first-fruits to the Temple; with the people he celebrated appropriately the Feast of Tabernacles, and he devoted to the sanctuary a golden chain with which Caligula had honored him. On one occasion, while in the street, he met a bridal procession which drew up to let him pass, but he halted and bade it take precedence. He sought to lighten taxation, remitting the impost on houses in Jerusalem. On the coins minted by him he carefully avoided placing any symbols which could offend the people's religious sentiment. Thus, prosperity and comfort seemed to be dawning anew for the Jews.

Copper Coin of Agrippa I. Celebrating Treaty with Rome.
(From Madden, "Coins of the Jews.")

The Romans, however, became jealous of this rising prosperity, and—sometimes covertly, sometimes openly—laid all manner of obstacles in his way. When he began to repair the fortifications of the capital, he was abruptly bidden to cease. His attempts to fraternize with neighboring peoples—vassals of Rome—were construed as portending rebellion. His sudden death at the games in Cæsarea, 44, must be considered as a stroke of Roman politics. His death, while in the full vigor of his years, was deeply lamented by his people, notwithstanding the fact that he had made many considerable concessions to heathen manners and customs. The Christians looked upon his death as a judgment for his undisguised hostility to their young community (Acts, ).

Copper Coin of Agrippa I. Showing Royal Umbrella.
(From Madden, "Coins of the Jews.")
  • Josephus, Ant. 18:6, 19:5-9;
  • B. J. , , et seq.;
  • Philo, In Flaccum, 55, 56;
  • Acts, For Talmudical references, see Derenbourg, Essai sur l'Histoire et la Géographie de la Palestine, pp. 209-219;
  • N. S. Libowitz, Herod and Agrippa, 2d ed., New York, 1898. Coins, in Madden's Coins of the Jews, 1881, pp. 129-139;
  • Inscriptions, in Zeit. f. Wissenschaftliche Theologie, 1873, pp. 248-255;
  • Grätz, Gesch. d. Juden, 3:318-361;
  • Keim, in Schenkel's Bibel-Lexicon, 3:49-56;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 1:459-471;
  • Haussleiter, in Herzog and Hauck, Realencyklopädie, 1:255 et seq.;
  • Dessau, Prosopographia Imperii Romani, ed. H. Dessau, 2:162;
  • Reinach, in Rev. Ét. Juives, 31:161 et seq., 32:160, 34:196.
M. Br.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Herod Agrippa I'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​h/herod-agrippa-i.html. 1901.
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