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Unholy seed

Meet the family

The entire family of Herods were Idumeans, having descended from Abraham and Isaac through Esau. Historically some tension existed between the descendents of Esau and Jacob, since Esau’s line did not experience the Egyptian captivity, nor was it part of the group entering the Promised Land. The Herods tended to side with the Romans rather than the Jews in most secular and even some religious matters.

“The Herodian princesses were not themselves Jewish rulers, but were married to those who were. They belonged to the royal family by birth. Though there were others, Herodias, Bernice, and Drusilla are the only Herodian princesses mentioned in the New Testament.”[1]

Agrippa II: 27 A.D.-100 (?) A.D.

Named Marcus Julius Agrippa, he was just a toddler when Jesus was crucified. He was born to Herod Agrippa I and Cypros (the daughter of Phasael, Herod the Great’s nephew, and Salampsio, Herod the Great’s daughter).

His father was the Herod responsible for executing James (Acts 12:1-2), and for having Peter imprisoned (Acts 12:3). He met a horrible end as described in Acts 12:20-23. His uncle, Herod Antipas, ordered the death of John the Baptist. Jesus appeared before Antipas on orders from Pontius Pilate prior to His crucifixion (Luke 3:1).

He had three sisters: Mariamne, Drusilla, and Bernice (aka Berenice or Pherenika).

Agrippa II, seventeen when his father died, was deemed too young and inexperienced by Rome to assume the vacated throne. As a result, Palestine became a Roman province to be governed by provincial governors.

Eventually he was appointed king over several tetrarchies, and curator of the temple in Jerusalem “with power to depose and appoint the high priest and the responsibility of preserving the temple’s treasure and priestly vestments” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 548).

Though this king was quite knowledgeable about the Jewish faith, law and customs, his private life did not reflect any religious influence.

Herod Agrippa II was the seventh and last king...

Herod Agrippa II was the seventh and last king of the family of Herod the Great, thus last of the Herodians. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bernice (Berenice):

Bernice, the eldest daughter of Herod Agrippa I, first married at age thirteen. When her husband died, she married her uncle, Herod of Chalcis, and bore him two sons.

Her life did not get any better. The Woman’s Study Bible notes the following: “Widowed again about A.D. 48, Bernice was the subject of incestuous scandal when she became a consort to her own brother, Agrippa II. Years later, she married a third time to Ptolemy, king of Cicilia” (see topic, “Bernice”). Barnes Notes further comments, “After his death she proposed to Polemon, king of Pontus and part of Cilicia, that if he would become circumcised she would marry him. He complied, but she did not continue long with him.”[2]

She resumed an illicit life with her brother only to leave him once again for a most shocking affair.  Bernice became a mistress to both Emperor Vespasian and his son, Titus, the conqueror of Jerusalem. The latter was so smitten with her that he promised her marriage, a proposal which proved intolerable even to the Roman Senate with all its depravity.

Regional Art Museum, Uzhgorod, Ukraine

Regional Art Museum, Uzhgorod, Ukraine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bernice is mentioned three times in Scripture: Acts 25:13, 23, 30. Each has to do with legal proceedings involving the fate of the apostle Paul. She appears at the side of her brother, unabashedly as his consort.

She died in Rome after the fall of Jerusalem

Any redeeming qualities?

Did she have any redeeming qualities? The Woman’s Study Bible (“Bernice”) says, “Bernice, a woman of strong opinions, was once a dauntless defender of the Jewish people. Some sources report that she even risked her own life to intercede on behalf of the Jews. So strong was her faith that at one time she shaved her head and walked barefoot in keeping a vow to God. But her lifestyle pulled her away, and Bernice evidently abandoned her Jewish faith.” (No sources are given regarding this comment.)


Drusilla was the youngest daughter of Agrippa I—ten years younger than Bernice. She was only six years old when her father died in A.D. 44. Already beautiful, she had been promised in marriage to Epiphanies, son of the king of Comangene. When Epiphanies refused to go through a prerequisite of circumcision, the agreement was rendered void. However, another suitor, Azizus, king of Edessa, was willing to comply, and obtained her as his wife.

True to her heritage, Drusilla was enticed away by a man named Felix. Josephus says, “Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla, and fell in love with her; for she did indeed excel all other women in beauty.” According to the historian Tacitus, Claudius Felix was a base man. He “had been a slave, in the vilest of all positions, at the vilest of all epochs, in the vilest of all cities.” [3] As a procurator he “exercised the prerogatives of a king, with the spirit of a slave, rioting in cruelty and licentiousness” (Tacitus, Annals 12:54).

“He sent a Jew to persuade her to forsake her present husband, and marry him,” promising he would make her a happy woman. She accepted, in part to get away from her jealous sister, Bernice. Eventually she bore him a son, whom Felix named…Agrippa. According to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, this son perished under Titus in an eruption of Mt. Vesuvius (see article, “Drusilla”).

Mentioned once

Drusilla is mentioned only once, in Acts 24:24-27:  “And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’ Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him. But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.”

The end of the matter

With the death of Herod Agrippa II, the Herodian dynasty came to an end. All that is left is the sordid account of a brutal, ruthless, dysfunctional family that left its mark on the lives of Jesus, his disciples and apostles, believers, and the very fabric of Palestine itself.

[1] The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (1988), “Herod”
[2] Barnes’ Notes, Acts 25:13, Electronic Database Copyright © 1997, 2003 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.
[3] The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary (1988), “Drusilla”

About womenfromthebook

Mine is a life-long interest in the women of the Bible, and I enjoy exploring the world in which they lived, and discovering the challenges that they faced. I have enough curiosity about them to last the rest of my life.

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