Herod Agrippa, shrewd ruler
People in the story:
Herod Agrippa, brother of Herodias: ambitious, brought up in Rome, friends with Roman ‘royals’. Borrowed heavily, always in debt. Main friend and patron was the Emperor Caligula.
- Caligula, ruthless patron of Agrippa and Emperor at Rome.
- Peter the Apostle, imprisoned by Agrippa who supported conservative Judaism.
Bible reference: Acts 12
Herod Agrippa, the spoiled Prince
There are four different men called Herod in the New Testament. All are descendents of the founder of the dynasty, Herod Antipater.
- Herod the Great, son of the founder of the dynasty, made procurator of Judea by Julius Caesar in 47BC, ruler at the time of the birth of Jesus
- Herod Antipas, ruled Galilee at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Married Herodias and executed John the Baptist
- Herod Agrippa I, friend of the emperors Caligula and Claudius, killed James and imprisoned Peter
- Herod Agrippa II heard St Paul’s case and said he should be acquitted
Agrippa, the brother of Herodias, was a spendthrift and a scoundrel, but he ended up with everything.
He was the grandson of the beautiful Mariamme and through her he inherited the prized Hasmonean blood.
He had been sent to Rome as a small boy to escape the bloodbath that engulfed his family as Herod the Great lapsed into insanity, and also to receive a Roman education.
There he grew up as a friend of the emperor Tiberius’ son Drusus (see right).
After his mother’s death he quickly ran through his inheritance, keeping up with the lifestyle of the young blades of the imperial family. Then he went into serious debt, which meant that when his patron Drusus died, he was forced to leave Rome and go back to Judea.
Herod Antipas, now his brother-in-law, gave him a small income and a minor official post, both of which Agrippa despised.
Judea could not compete with the sophistication and splendor of Roman society
Agrippa’s friendship with Caligula
Desperately unhappy in the back blocks of Judea, Agrippa secured a sizeable loan and returned to Rome, where he secured a post as tutor to Tiberius’ grandson.
He also became a friend of Caligula, Tiberius’ heir (see the portrait bust of Caligula at right).
Agrippa was foolish enough to make a rash remark about how good it would be when Tiberius died, and his words were reported to the Emperor by a servant.
Agrippa landed in gaol
But Tiberius was ailing, and one year later Agrippa, now close friends with the new emperor Caligula, came into his own. Caligula made him king of the former realm of his uncle Philip, and when Antipas was banished to Gaul Agrippa got his territories as well.
When Caligula was assassinated Agrippa supported Claudius, who in gratitude granted him the entire kingdom of Judea.
Agrippa and the early Christians
In Judea, Agrippa carefully supported conservative Jewish policies and repressed the Jewish Christians. He wanted the Romans to see him as a positive, steadying influence on their troublesome province.
He imprisoned Peter the Apostle and beheaded James, son of Zebedee – who was said to be the first of the apostles to be executed.
Luke, writing in the Acts of the Apostles, believed that Agrippa’s early death in 44AD was the result of his pride.
Famous quotes about the four Herods
- ‘When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16, King Herod the Great)
- ‘His head (John the Baptist’s) was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother..’ (Matthew 14:10, Herod Antipas)
- ‘About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He had James, brother of John, killed with the sword. He proceeded to arrest Peter also.’ (Acts 12:1-3, Herod Agrippa I)
- ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ (Acts 26:14, Paul reporting to Agrippa II)
Bible Stories: People of the New Testament: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, Herod Agrippa: Bible Study Resource