A New Theory on the Death of Herod Agrippa I

Have you ever thought that some ruler/king/president/official was just so evil that the Lord should strike him down?  Of course not.  But there was a king whose life was ended by God not long after Jesus’ crucifixion.  The book of Acts describes the failure of Agrippa I to give glory to God with the result that he was eaten by worms and died (Acts 12:20-23).

The New Testament records that the episode occurred in Caesarea, but Josephus is more specific and writes that Agrippa was in the theater.  For that reason, I’ve always read the story of Acts 12 with my students while in the theater.  Now, however, I think I was wrong.  Josephus, it seems to me, undermines his own presentation.

I make my case in an article posted this week at The Bible and Interpretation.  I’d be happy if you’d read it and note in the comments if you’re convinced or not.  As far as I know, no one has made these observations before.


10 thoughts on “A New Theory on the Death of Herod Agrippa I

  1. An interesting suggestion, particularly since Josephus' terminology for theater buildings is rather imprecise. I'm particularly intrigued by the idea that the whole affair may have occurred in close proximity to the Temple of Roma and Augustus. But did the Herodian hippodrome-stadium at Caesarea have seating along the Western, coastal side? I seem to remember that it was originally constructed with rows of seating only along the East only, with the West left open for the seaside view. The pulvinar, the likely spot for Agrippa to have been seated, was also located on the Eastern side.

  2. Todd, your article was very good and thanks for writing it. On top of all else, what convinces me most is the seating capacity, cited in your 6th footnote.

    For Agrippa's purposes, he'd no doubt have wanted the largest crowd possible. Also, the circus (chariot track) atmosphere was probably more suitable for conveying strength and power, as opposed to a theater, which is for leisurely entertainment.

    Great work.

    Another example you may want to look at in Josephus: just before his death in 4 BC, Herod meets with Israel's chief men "in the theater" of Jericho, but a week later they're still being held "in the amphitheater [hippodrome]".

    In that case, the political forum may have convened in the odium-shaped theater, but the horse track was more suitable for the necessities of imprisonment. They may have been moved. On the other hand, if this was another instance of Josephus switching terms, it would be awfully close together in the text (Antiquities). That proximity could be interesting, given your arguments.


  3. Thank you for this very interesting study, Todd. I had understood that Herod's palace became the residence of the governors rather than the Herods during this time. Felix lived in "Herod’s Praetorium" (Acts 23:35); would not the governor in AD 44 also have lived there? Not sure if it relates, but Pilate, not Herod Antipas, stayed in the Praetorium (Citadel) in Jerusalem when they were both in town for the AD 33 Passover. Just thinking out loud. Thanks again.

  4. All – thanks for the good feedback.

    Lospielman – good question. My recollection is that there were seats on the western side but they have not been preserved because of the erosional work of the waves. I am unable to verify this right now.

    Bill – thanks for the tip. My memory is that the structure at Jericho was unique. It was a combination track and theater, with the latter situated at one end of the course. Thus it may be accurate to use either term for this building.

    Wayne – Agrippa I was the one "break" in the line of Roman governors. He was appointed by Claudius and given charge over nearly all of the lands his grandfather had once controlled. His reign might have been more illustrious if he hadn't died so soon. Upon his death, Roman procurators again governed the land, including Felix and Festus about a decade later.

  5. Yes, I understand the comments but the bible says in the book of Peter we have a more sure word of prophecy. Josephus is a good Jewish historian , but the word of God supersedes him, in Acts 12 it seems Herod was struck immediately, but in Josephus account he says he (HEROD) said something to the effect you who call me a god dont say that, something to that effect,and Herod died 3 days later, Now who you gonna believe God,s Word that he died immediately or Josephus 3 days later, see Herod was edumite and sucked up to the jews, remember when he killed James with the sword, it PLEASED the jews, why, cause these jews hated Jesus, and the apostles were the only ones in Jerusalem at the time besides a few faithful, remember Herod was going after the aposltes, it said certain of the church,remember Peter was also captured, but released,

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