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Agrippa I

(10 B.C.E. - 44 C.E.)

AGRIPPA I (10 B.C.E.–44 C.E.), tetrarch of Batanea (the Bashan) and Galilee, 37–41 C.E., and king of Judea, 41–44 C.E.; grandson of *Herod and *Mariamne the Hasmonean, and son of *Aristobulus and *Berenice . Agrippa was educated in Rome with other princes at court, and became friendly with Drusus, son of the emperor Tiberius. After a period of dissipation

Agrippa I

he became saddled with debts, and in 23 C.E. had to return home and he stayed on the family estates in Idumea. He was subsequently appointed agoranomos ("market overseer") in Tiberias by his brother-in-law, the tetrarch Herod *Antipas . After a quarrel with Antipas, he went to Syria, where he again became involved in debts, and to escape from his creditors went to Rome where he became friendly with Gaius, later the emperor Caligula. While drunk, however, he was caught off guard expressing a wish that Caligula were emperor instead of Tiberius, and was sent to prison for his indiscretion. Caligula on his accession released Agrippa and appointed him to the tetrarchies of *Herod Phillipus and Lysanias consisting of Bashan-Trachonitis, Gaulanitis, Argob, and Abel, with the title of king. In 39 C.E. he was granted the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, who had been exiled by Caligula, consisting of Galilee, Tiberias, Sepphoris, and Perea. During this period Agrippa used his connections in Rome to intercede with Caligula on behalf of the Jews. They wished Caligula to retract an order to erect his statue in the Temple in Jerusalem. Shortly afterward Caligula was murdered. Agrippa, who was in Rome at the time, was among those who supported the succession of Claudius. He was rewarded in 41 C.E. by the addition of Samaria and Judea to the area under his rule. The event was celebrated with great ceremony, and an official covenant of friendship was concluded between Agrippa and Claudius, the deed of the covenant being placed in the Capitol. With the acquisition of these territories, Agrippa now reigned over the whole area of his grandfather Herod's kingdom and the procuratorship of Judea was temporarily suspended.

There was little to differentiate Agrippa's foreign policy as a client king of Rome from that of other Hellenistic monarchs. Agrippa gave financial help to foreign cities, and built several public buildings, including a theater and amphitheater in Berytus (Beirut). Because of his connections with Rome, Agrippa was regarded as the leading vassal king of the East, and once managed to bring several other kings together in Tiberias. The meeting was broken up by Marsus, the governor of Syria, possibly because he suspected a conspiracy with the king of Parthia.

The three years of Agrippa's reign were a period of relief and benefit for the Jewish people of Judea. The residents of Jerusalem were exempted from the impost on houses. Agrippa also made an attempt to fortify the walls of the city, until prevented by Marsus. He omitted the patronymic "Herod" from coins minted for him and followed a markedly pro-Jewish policy when he was required to arbitrate disputes between Jews and non-Jews, as in a dispute with the citizens of Dor (Dora). He was also mindful of the welfare of Jews in the Diaspora. His most important achievement was the attainment of an edict of privileges for the Jews of Alexandria from Claudius.

Agrippa made frequent changes in the appointment of the high priest. He was highly sympathetic to the *Pharisees and was careful to observe Jewish precepts. He married his daughters to Jewish notables, and withdrew his consent to the wedding of one daughter to Antiochus, king of Commagene, when the latter refused to be circumcised. His close association with the Pharisees is attested in the statement of Josephus that "his permanent residence was Jerusalem, where he enjoyed living, and he scrupulously observed the ancestral laws." Apparently, it is Agrippa I who is referred to in the Mishnah which points out that when celebrating the festival of the first fruits, "even King Agrippa carried the basket [of fruits] on his shoulder" (Bik. 3:4). He is also apparently mentioned in Sotah 7:8 which states that contemporary rabbinical sages accorded him particular regard when he made a special point of standing up to read the Torah, even though it was permissible for a king to do so while seated. When he reached the passage, "one from among thy brethren shalt thou set a king over thee; thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee," his eyes filled with tears, since he was not of pure Jewish descent. The sages, however, called out, "Agrippa, you are our brother! You are our brother!" Agrippa died suddenly when in Caesarea, possibly as a result of poisoning by the Romans who feared his popularity with the population. After his death, Judea reverted to the status of a Roman procuratorship.


Jos., Wars, 1:552; 2:178–83; 11:206–20; Ant., 18:142–204, 228–55, 289–301; 19:278–361; Sehuerer, Gesch, 1 (19014), 549–64; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 4 (19502), 287–305; Dubnow, Hist, 1 (1967), 728–57.

[Edna Elazary]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.