Agrippa I and the Gilded Statue of Caligula

When Agrippa arrived in Palestine, his sister Herodias was envious of his title. This new King of the Jews had been obliged a few years before to ask for help from her husband Herod Antipas, who had been serving as tetrarch since his father's death in 4 B.C.E. Hoping that Caligula would recognize her husband as king, Herodias urged Antipas to go to Rome and petition a royal title for himself. Instead of rewarding him with a title, however, Caligula deposed Antipas, banished him to Lugdunum in Gaul, and, in 39 C.E., added his tetrarchy to Agrippa's already substantial territory. Later that year, when Agrippa was in Rome, a situation similar to the one he had experienced the year before in Alexandria came to a head in Palestine.

In Jamnia, near Jerusalem, Jews destroyed an altar that a group of non-Jews had erected so that they could perform rites associated with emperor worship. In retaliation, Caligula ordered that a large gilded statue of himself be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem, a defilement that recalls the abominations of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Anticipating a response like that of the Maccabeans to Antiochus, Caligula took the precaution of ordering the governor of Syria Publius Petronius to be ready with troops if any Jews resisted. The Jews heard about the emperor's plan to install his effigy in the Temple and went en masse to Petronius to beg him not to allow Caligula's effigy in the Temple. Agrippa knew nothing of the events in Palestine, since he was traveling to Rome to meet the Caligula who was returning from a campaign in Germany. Consequently, when he met the emperor, he was shocked and bewildered to find the emperor enraged about a fractious situation in Jerusalem. Upon learning the cause, he dissuaded the emperor from going through with his planned profanation of the Temple. But it was only Caligula's death in January 41 C.E. that forestalled the outbreak of more hostilities in Jerusalem, where he had ordered altars to be erected in several localities so that he could be worshipped.

Agrippa was still in Rome at Claudius' accession (41 C.E.). In the hope that King Agrippa would be able to pacify tensions in Palestine, Claudius added to his territories so that he now ruled the same kingdom that his grandfather Herod the Great had ruled. Agrippa returned to Jerusalem in May of 41 C.E. and revived the former glory of the Jewish Temple state. Josephus tells us that he observed the Mosaic law in Jerusalem and defended it abroad by demonstrating every act of piety and that he performed the appointed sacrifice for each day in the calendar. For the duration of his brief reign (41-44 C.E.), he seems never to have left Judea again but to have been a beneficent and obliging ruler and an advocate for the Jews.

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