Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book II/Chapter 10
Chapter X.—Agrippa, who was also called Herod, having persecuted the Apostles, immediately experienced the Divine Vengeance.
1. The consequences of the king’s undertaking against the apostles were not long deferred, but the avenging minister of divine justice overtook him immediately after his plots against them, as the Book of Acts records. For when he had journeyed to Cæsarea, on a notable feast-day, clothed in a splendid and royal garment, he delivered an address to the people from a lofty throne in front of the tribunal. And when all the multitude applauded the speech, as if it were the voice of a god and not of a man, the Scripture relates that an angel of the Lord smote him, and being eaten of worms he gave up the ghost.
2. We must admire the account of Josephus for its agreement with the divine Scriptures in regard to this wonderful event; for he clearly bears witness to the truth in the nineteenth book of his Antiquities, where he relates the wonder in the following words:
3. “He had completed the third year of his reign over all Judea when he came to Cæsarea, which was formerly called Strato’s Tower. There he held games in honor of Cæsar, learning that this was a festival observed in behalf of Cæsar’s safety. At this festival was collected a great multitude of the highest and most honorable men in the province.
4. And on the second day of the games he proceeded to the theater at break of day, wearing a garment entirely of silver and of wonderful texture. And there the silver, illuminated by the reflection of the sun’s earliest rays, shone marvelously, gleaming so brightly as to produce a sort of fear and terror in those who gazed upon him.
5. And immediately his flatterers, some from one place, others from another, raised up their voices in a way that was not for his good, calling him a god, and saying, ‘Be thou merciful; if up to this time we have feared thee as a man, henceforth we confess that thou art superior to the nature of mortals.’
6. The king did not rebuke them, nor did he reject their impious flattery. But after a little, looking up, he saw an angel sitting above his head. And this he quickly perceived would be the cause of evil as it had once been the cause of good fortune, and he was smitten with a heart-piercing pain.
7. And straightway distress, beginning with the greatest violence, seized his bowels. And looking upon his friends he said, ‘I, your god, am now commanded to depart this life; and fate thus on the spot disproves the lying words you have just uttered concerning me. He who has been called immortal by you is now led away to die; but our destiny must be accepted as God has determined it. For we have passed our life by no means ingloriously, but in that splendor which is pronounced happiness.’
8. And when he had said this he labored with an increase of pain. He was accordingly carried in haste to the palace, while the report spread among all that the king would undoubtedly soon die. But the multitude, with their wives and children, sitting on sackcloth after the custom of their fathers, implored God in behalf of the king, and every place was filled with lamentation and tears. And the king as he lay in a lofty chamber, and saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, could not refrain from weeping himself.
9. And after suffering continually for five days with pain in the bowels, he departed this life, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign. Four years he ruled under the Emperor Caius—three of them over the tetrarchy of Philip, to which was added in the fourth year that of Herod—and three years during the reign of the Emperor Claudius.”
10. I marvel greatly that Josephus, in these things as well as in others, so fully agrees with the divine Scriptures. But if there should seem to any one to be a disagreement in respect to the name of the king, the time at least and the events show that the same person is meant, whether the change of name has been caused by the error of a copyist, or is due to the fact that he, like so many, bore two names.
- See Acts xii. 19 sqq.
- Acts xii. 23.
- Josephus, Ant. XIX. 8. 2.
- 44 a.d. Agrippa began to reign over the whole kingdom in 41 a.d. See above, chap. 4, note 3.
- Cæsarea lay upon the Mediterranean Sea, northwest of Jerusalem. In the time of Strabo there was simply a small town at this point, called “Strato’s Tower”; but about 10 b.c. Herod the Great built the city of Cæsarea, which soon became the principal Roman city of Palestine, and was noted for its magnificence. It became, later, the seat of an important Christian school, and played quite a part in Church history. Eusebius himself was Bishop of Cæsarea. It was a city of importance, even in the time of the crusades, but is now a scene of utter desolation.
- The occasion of this festival is uncertain. Some have considered it the festival in honor of the birth of Claudius; others, a festival in honor of the return of Claudius from Britain. But neither of these suggestions is likely. It is more probable that the festival mentioned was the Quinquennalia, instituted by Herod the Great in honor of Augustus in 12 b.c. (see Josephus, Ant. XV. 8. 1; B. J. I. 21. 8), and celebrated regularly every five years. See Wieseler’s Chronologie des ap. Zeitalters, p. 131 sqq., where this question is carefully discussed in connection with the date of Agrippa’s death which is fixed by Wieseler as Aug. 6, 44 a.d.
- The passage in Josephus reads: “But as he presently afterward looked up he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of evil tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him.” This conveys an entirely different sense, the owl being omitted in Eusebius. As a consequence most writers on Eusebius have made the gravest charges against him, accusing him of a willful perversion of the text of Josephus with the intention of producing a confirmation of the narrative of the Acts, in which the angel of God is spoken of, but in which no mention is made of an owl. The case certainly looks serious, but so severe an accusation—an accusation which impeaches the honesty of Eusebius in the most direct manner—should not be made except upon unanswerable grounds. Eusebius elsewhere shows himself to be a writer who, though not always critical, is at least honest in the use he makes of his materials. In this case, therefore, his general conduct ought to be taken into consideration, and he ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. Lightfoot, who defends his honesty, gives an explanation which appears to me sufficiently satisfactory. He says: “Doubtless also the omission of the owl in the account of Herod Agrippa’s death was already in some texts of Josephus. The manner in which Eusebius deals with his very numerous quotations elsewhere, where we can test his honesty, is a sufficient vindication against this unjust charge.” And in a note he adds: “It is not the substitution of an angel for an owl, as the case is not uncommonly stated. The result is produced mainly by the omission of some words in the text of Josephus, which runs thus: ἀνακύψας δ᾽ οὖν μετ᾽ ὀλίγον[τὸν βουβῶνα] τῆς ἑαυτοῦ κεφαλῆς ὑπὲρ καθεζόμενον εἶδεν[ἐπὶ σχοινίου τινός] ἀγγελόν[τε] τοῦτον εὐθὺς ἐνόησε κακῶν εἶναι, τὸν καί ποτε τῶν ἀγαθῶν γενόμενον. The words bracketed are omitted, and αἴτιον is added after εἶναι, so that the sentence runs, εἶδεν ἄγγελον τοῦτον εὐθὺς ἐνόησε κακῶν εἶναι αἴτιον κ.τ.λ. This being so, I do not feel at all sure that the change (by whomsoever made) was dictated by any disingenuous motive. A scribe unacquainted with Latin would stumble over τὸν βουβῶνα, which had a wholly different meaning and seems never to have been used of an owl in Greek; and he would alter the text in order to extract some sense out of it. In the previous mention of the bird (Ant. XVIII. 6, 7) Josephus, or his translator, gives it as a Latin name: βουβῶνα δὲ οἱ ῾Ρωμαῖοι τὸν ὄρνιν τοῦτον καλοῦσι. Möller (quoted by Bright, p. XLV.) calls this ‘the one case’ in which, so far as he recollects, ‘a sinceritatis via paululum deflexit noster’; and even here the indictment cannot be made good. The severe strictures against Eusebius, made e.g. by Alford on Acts xii. 21, are altogether unjustifiable” (Smith and Wace’s Dict. of Christian Biog. II. p. 325). The Greek word βουβών means, according to Liddell and Scott, (1) the groin, (2) a swelling in the groin. The Latin word Bubo signifies “an owl,” and the word is here directly transferred by Josephus from the Latin into Greek without any explanation. A scribe unacquainted with Latin might easily stumble at the word, as Lightfoot suggests. In Ant. XVIII. 6, 7 where the bird is mentioned, the name is, to be sure, explained; but the alteration at this point was made apparently by a copyist of Eusebius, not of Josephus, and therefore by one who had probably never seen that explanation. Whiston in his translation of Josephus inserts a note to the following effect: “We have a mighty cry made here by some writers, as if the great Eusebius had on purpose falsified this account of Josephus, so as to make it agree with the parallel account in the Acts of the Apostles, because the present copies of his citation of it, Hist. Eccles. Bk. II. chap. 10, omit the words βουβῶνα …ἐπι σχοινίου, τινος, i.e. ‘an owl …on a certain rope,’ which Josephus’ present copies retain, and only have the explanatory word ἄγγελον, or ‘angel,’ as if he meant that ‘angel of the Lord’ which St. Luke mentions as smiting Herod, Acts xii. 23, and not that owl, which Josephus called ‘an angel or messenger, formerly of good but now of bad news,’ to Agrippa. This accusation is a somewhat strange one in the case of the great Eusebius, who is known to have so accurately and faithfully produced a vast number of other ancient records and particularly not a few out of our Josephus also, without any suspicion of prevarication. Now, not to allege how uncertain we are, whether Josephus’ and Eusebius’ copies of the fourth century were just like the present in this clause, which we have no distinct evidence of, the following words preserved still in Eusebius will not admit of any such exposition. ‘This [bird] (says Eusebius) Agrippa presently perceived to be the cause of ill fortune, as it was once of good fortune’; which can belong only to that bird the ‘owl,’ which, as it had formerly foreboded his happy deliverance from imprisonment, Ant. XVIII. 6. 7, so was it then foretold to prove afterward the unhappy forewarner of his death in five days’ time. If the improper word αἴτιον, or ‘cause,’ be changed for Josephus’ proper word ἄγγελον, ‘angel,’ or ‘messenger,’ and the foregoing words, βουβῶνα ἐπὶ σχοινίου τινος, be inserted, Eusebius’ text will truly represent that in Josephus.”
- Josephus (Ant. XVIII. 6. 7) records that while Agrippa was in chains—having been condemned to imprisonment by Tiberius—an owl made its appearance and perched upon a tree near him. A fellow-prisoner interpreted the event as a good omen, prophesying that Agrippa would soon be released from his bonds and become king, but that the same bird would appear to him again five days before his death. Tiberius died in the following year, and the events prophesied came to pass. The story was apparently implicitly believed by Josephus, who relates it in good faith.
- The text of Josephus, as well as the majority of the mss. of Eusebius, followed by Valesius, Stroth, Burton, and Schwegler, read ἐπὶ τῆς μακαριζομένης λαμπρότητος, which I have adopted in preference to the reading of Heinichen, who follows a few good mss. in substituting μακαρί& 231·τητος for λαμπρότητος
- This shows the success with which Agrippa had courted the favor of the Jews. A far different feeling was shown at his death from that exhibited at the death of his grandfather, Herod the Great.
- He was born in 10 b.c., and began to reign as successor of Philip and Lysanias in 37 a.d. See above, chap. 4, note 3.
- Herod Antipas.
- Luke always calls the king, Herod, which was the family name, while Josephus calls him by his given name Agrippa. He is known to us under the name of Herod Agrippa I. It seems strange that Eusebius should not have known that he bore the two names, Herod Agrippa, instead of expressing doubt in the matter, as he does. In the heading of the chapter he gives the king both names, without intimating that he entertained any uncertainty in the matter.