Agrippa II and the Meeting with Paul

We read in Acts 9.3-8 that in about 35 C.E. when he was on the road to Damascus where he intended to persecute Christians, Paul encountered a vision of the resurrected Jesus and was converted. He began to preach a Jesus-centered eschatology to Jew and gentile alike. His first mission was in Antioch, Syria, where the followers of Jesus were called Christianoi for the first time. There, Paul taught that non-Jews were not compelled to keep the law of Moses, that is, they did not have to follow the food laws, the laws of purification, and, most importantly, they did not have to undergo the rite of circumcision. His interpretation opened Christianity to everyone who had faith in Jesus as the savior. These new beliefs held that after Jesus' sacrifice for mankind there was no need for blood sacrifices; his death was considered a victory over death and it was recalled each time Christians met for commensality. Transcending powerful traditional categories, Jews and gentiles, slaves and free men and women, educated or not, were all bound together in this new faith.

When Paul returned to Jerusalem in 58 C.E., he had been engaged in missionary activities among the gentiles for over a decade. The church leaders there insisted that Paul conform to their own brand of Christianity. He was forced to perform a ritual test in the Temple to prove his orthodoxy. When he invited gentile converts to accompany him, he was charged with the capital crime of defiling the Temple since no gentile could enter the Temple. Roman soldiers rescued him from an angry mob and brought him before the Sanhedrin for a hearing, which was inconclusive. For his own safety, the Romans decided to transport him to Felix, the procurator in Caesarea Maritima, to get him out of Jerusalem. There he preached to Felix and Drusilla about the coming judgment, an apocalyptic vision that frightened Felix, who sent him back to prison. To many historians, the fact that Paul stayed in prison for two years in Caesarea is indicative of the fact that Felix could not maintain order among the religious and political fanatics terrorizing Palestine. Though typical legal proceedings under the procurators suggest that Felix was waiting for Paul to offer him a bribe for his release, the situation in Palestine was quickly devolving into a full-scale revolt against the Romans. Paul was considered another pseudo-messiah portending the end of Roman rule, and he had as large a crowd of enemies as followers. In 60 C.E., Nero recalled Felix realizing that the situation was beyond his control.

Porcius Festus (c. 60-62 C.E.) was the new governor, appointed by Nero in the hope that he would quell this near anarchy. Paul was charged with taking gentiles into the Temple and with undermining the authority of the emperor in his preaching. When he had heard the charges, Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem for a trial, but rather than return to Jerusalem to stand trial, Paul invoked his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to the emperor (Acts 25.12). "You have appealed to Caesar," Festus responded. "To Caesar you shall go."

According to Acts 25.13-27, Agrippa II and his sister Berenice were attending the festivities associated with Festus' accession when they heard about Paul and his dissension with the Jews in Jerusalem over a certain Jesus who had died, but who, Paul contended, was still alive. Agrippa and Berenice were both intrigued and wished to meet Paul. The next day Agrippa and Berenice entered the court in great pomp and heard Paul present his defense. Agrippa's response, as reported in Acts 26.28, was curious and may refer to the popular charge that he was more Roman than Jew: "Paul, you will soon persuade me to play the Christian." Festus and Agrippa agreed, in opposition to the Jewish priests, that Paul had done nothing to deserve prison or death. Though he might have been set free if he had not requested a hearing from the emperor, in the event, he was sent to Rome, to the emperor.

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