Felix and Festus
Categories: Men in the New Testament
- Marcus Antonius Felix was the Roman procurator of Judea from ca 52-58 CE.
- Felix was thought to be a freedman who reigned with “the authority of a king and the instincts of a slave.” (Tacitus Histories)
- He was married to Drusilla, the youngest daughter of Agrippa I. According to Josephus (1st century historian), she was married to Azizus, the king of Emeza, at fourteen years of age (ca 50 CE). Her husband was known for his cruelty.
- Within a year of her marriage, Felix employed a Cyprian sorcerer, who enticed her away from her husband. Felix married her around 54 CE. They had one son.
- Felix was also known as a corrupt and evil man.
- He presided over the first trial of Paul, which took place in Caesarea (ca 56 CE).
- This occurred within a few days of Paul’s being brought to Caesarea under the cover of darkness.
- Several members of the Sanhedrin, the high priest, and their spokesman (Tertullus) appeared before Felix.
- Paul was accused of profaning the temple and agitating all the Jews throughout the world.
- Felix had the presence of mind to allow Paul to speak in his own defense.
- Essentially, Paul said they had no proof and that it would simply be their word against his.
- Felix decided to wait for the arresting officer, Lysias, to come to Caesarea (that never happened) to provide impartial information.
- He kept Paul in custody (in the palace at Caesarea), but allowed him some liberties – his friends could visit and take care of his needs.
- Periodically, Felix and his wife sent for Paul. According to Luke, Felix was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe.
- When Felix was relieved of his duties in 58 CE, he did not adjudicate Paul’s case.
- Felix was accused of fomenting disputes between the Jews and Syrians, at which point the army would go in to “keep peace” and plunder the inhabitants.
- His brother interceded on his behalf and so, Felix escaped punishment.
- Felix’s successor was Porcius Festus, who was appointed by Nero. He inherited a very troubled region.
- He only reigned for two years, dying in office in 60 CE.
- Upon his arrival, Festus went to Jerusalem (the hot spot of his region) to meet the Jewish leaders.
- They immediately asked him to extradite Paul back to Jerusalem to stand trial on their previous charges. (Their intention was to kill Paul on the way.)
- Festus had been in office a few days at this point, but he tried to buy himself some time. He said he would be returning to Caesarea shortly, and he would take up the issue at that time.
- When he got there, he reopened the case.
- The Jews had no more evidence two years after the fact than they had had previously. It was still a matter of Paul’s word versus theirs. (Because they always intended to assassinate Paul, they apparently never worked on gathering real evidence.)
- Since it was obviously a religious matter and not a political one, Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem to face his accusers. The Sanhedrin would be a more appropriate venue than a Roman court.
- Paul knew he would never get a fair trial at Jerusalem, so he appealed to Caesar – a right granted to Roman citizens.
- “Appealing to Caesar” was rarely done, but it was allowed by law. To go to Rome was obviously very expensive and rarely did the emperor disavow a previous decision. Yet, in this case, no decision had been granted.
- Festus had no choice but to grant Paul’s request.
- Yet, people were not likely to send petty cases before Caesar, and Festus was quite new at his post. He had no interest in portraying himself as incompetent.
- He needed to write a letter of explanation to Caesar and he was at a loss for words.
- To his great delight, Agrippa II and his sister, Bernice, came to pay a state visit.
- He explained to them how he had inherited this messy case, and that the evidence against Paul was weak, but that he had appealed to Rome.
- Agrippa and Bernice listened to Paul speak and were very impressed.
- Festus interrupted the proceedings at one point by shouting to Paul, “You are mad! All your learning has made you mad!”
- Festus might have thought Paul was (harmlessly) delusional, but both he and Agrippa agreed that Paul had done nothing worthy of death or chains.
- Paul went to Rome and Festus continued to govern the province. He freed the country from many robbers and problems, but, during his short reign, he was not able to undo all the wrongs committed by Felix.
- Festus was succeeded by Lucceius Albinus, who also reigned a short time and about whom little is known.