Friday, August 13, 2010

Paul, Agrippa II, and Josephus

I enjoyed this paragraph on Paul's hearing before Festus and Herod Agrippa II, narrated in Acts 25–26. Mason's book overall is very good and well worth reading, especially if you're taking my World of the New Testament course (since it's one of your assigned texts!!).
But the story of Paul's hearing before Agrippa II matches Josephus's account in its repeated reference to his companion Berenice (Acts 25:13, 23; 26:30). Acts does not explain that she is Agrippa's sister, nor does it divulge why she is there, since she does not figure int he exchanges with Paul. The modern reader might easily suppose that she is his wife. But once we know Josephus's account, the episode takes on a sharply sarcastic tone. Here is the great king in all his pomp (25:23), brought in by the Roman governor Festus because of his purported expertise in things Jewish (25:26), which the governor lacked. INdeed, Paul repeatedly appeals to the king's familiarity with Jewish teaching: "With all that I am being accused of by the Jews, King Agrippa, I consider myself fortunate that I am to defend myself before you today, about all because you are expert in Jewish customs and issues" (26:2–3, 26–27). But if the reader knows that this august Jewish leader, who presumes to try Paul, is all the while sitting next to the sister with whom he is reportedly having an incestuous affair, in violation of the most basic Jewish laws, then the whole trial becomes a comedy. Paul's appeals to Agrippa's Jewish knowledge are, in that case, devastating barbs.1

1 Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament (second edition; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 164.

No comments:

My Visual Bookshelf