Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Death of Herod

The death of the man we know as Herod Agrippa is described by Luke in Acts 12:21-23:

"On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and made an oration to them. And the people shouted, "The voice of a god, and not of man!" Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied."

And by Josephus in Ant. 19.344-345:

"On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. 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 ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner." [translation by Whiston].

Herod Agrippa was regarded by some as a divine being, maybe because he had reunited all Jewish territories under his rule.

Luke is probably more accurate in his presentation of the facts than Josephus, particularly in stating that Herod was eaten by worms and died. Secondly, Herod as a ruler would render his decisions from his throne, not at the theatre. Herod Antipas, uncle of Herod Agrippa, did travel about his territory bringing his throne with him so that he could hold court and render decisions from his throne wherever he may be. Furthermore the messenger in Judaism is an angel not an owl. The Romans regarded an owl (bubo) as an ill omen, unlike the Greeks. Owls were considered by Romans as funerary birds (funebres) who inhabit the night, the desert, and "inaccessible and awesome" places. "As a result of this," Pliny says (Natural History X. 34), "it is a direful omen whenever seen inside the city or at all in daytime." Natural History was probably one of the sources used by Josephus. Josephus has tailored his message to his audience.
Although Steve Mason gives Josephus the benefit of the doubt on historical matters, there are serious questions about his writings. According to Cohen, "When one compares the major writings of Josephus to each other there are contradictions in names, numbers and the order in which events are reported. When one compares Vita to War, there are differences in the order of six important episodes."

Luke ends his account by stating "But the word of God grew and multiplied" affirming that the power of the word of God in the face of opposition will prevail. This statement, which forms an inclusion, is based upon the beginning of the chapter where Luke tells us "About that time Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church."

According to Talbert, "God will not allow anyone, even the greatest ruler, to usurp His place." Although Talbert does not state so explicitly, the suggestion being made is that Herod by his behavior elicited the adoration as evidenced by his failure to condemn it. This pericope is a warning against self-deification and should be understood as part of the anti-idol polemic.

Copyrighted 2006


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