Bernice, from the Greek name meaning victorious, was the eldest daughter of Agrippa I, the Herod Agrippa who was killed by an angel in Acts 12:21-23 (see The Herods). After the early death of her first husband (according to the historian Flavius Josephus, his name was Marcus), she married her uncle, King Herod of Chalcis. After his death in approximately 40 AD, she began another incestuous relationship, this time with her brother, Agrippa II. It was before that brother/sister/husband/wife couple that the apostle Paul made his defense at Caesarea. Bernice was later briefly married to King Ptolemy of Sicily, before returning to her brother. She thereafter also became the mistress of the emperors Vespasian and Titus (see New Testament Roman Emperors and Ancient Empires - Rome, and Emperor).
Paul Before Agrippa and Bernice
After being arrested in Jerusalem on false charges brought by the religious authorities who opposed him, Paul, knowing that he would be killed otherwise, demanded, using his rights as a Roman citizen, to be brought before a Roman court. Ironically, the Romans, who later killed him when he became a political challenge to them (an economic and military superpower feared a single man whose only "weapon" was the Truth that he spoke and wrote - much of which survives, along with the historical record in the book of Acts, in his Epistles), saved his life from those who wanted him dead for preaching the Gospel.
"But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar."
"Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, "You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go."
"Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him."
"I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up any one before the accused met the accusers face to face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed; but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until I could send him to Caesar."
"And Agrippa said to Festus, "I should like to hear the man myself."
"Tomorrow," said he, "you shall hear him."
"So on the morrow Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then by command of Festus Paul was brought in." (Acts 25:10-23 RSV)
At the end of Paul's testimony, they could find no guilt in him.
"To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles."
"And as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad."
"But Paul said, "I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe."
"And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time you think to make me a Christian!"
"And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am - except for these chains."
"Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them; and when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, "This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment." (Acts 26:22-31 RSV)
Fact Finder: Did the apostle Paul ever claim to be infallible?
See Paul's Mirror
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