Damien F. Mackey
“To this list, I believe the name of King Agrippa II should be added.
Why he has not been suggested before is a mystery”.
Dr. Werner G. Marx
That the Herodian era of early AD history needs to be radically revised against the context of the (supposedly entirely BC) Maccabean era was the basic thrust of my article:
A New Timetable for the Nativity of Jesus Christ
This revision, that threw out a large slice of what I considered to be Roman Republican pseudo-history – as opposed to the true Roman history given in the books of the Maccabees – must naturally effect also the history of the Jewish priesthood, bringing, as it does, the early Hasmonaeans right into contact with the early Herodians.
Luke’s early historical account of Jesus Christ in his Gospel, his ‘Infancy Narrative’ phase, is now to be situated, as I have newly proposed, in the Maccabean era of Judas and his brothers.
See also my article:
With this background in mind, for whom was Luke the Evangelist writing?
Who was Luke 1:3’s “Most Excellent Theophilus?
Some have suggested, most plausibly, that “Theophilus” was a high priest of that very name, a son of Annas. I especially like this version of that particular identification:
December 10, 2006
Luke addresses his two-part story to a man named Theophilus. This name was relatively common among both Greeks and Jews in the first century. Because the title preceeding his name resembles those of other Roman officials’ named in Luke’s writings (Acts 23.26; 24.3; 26.25), “most excellent Theophilus” is generally assumed to have been a Roman official.
Consider this: Luke’s Theophilus was the high priest of 37-41 A.D.. Some clues supporting this notion follow.
Josephus, a Jewish historian from the first century, catalogued the high priests of the second temple period (Wm. Whiston’s editorial note in his translation of Josephus, War, n.635). Among them are Annas (8-15 A.D.); his five sons: Eleazar, Mattatthias, Annanas, Jonathan, and Theophilus (37-41 A.D.); his son-in-law (brother-in-law to Theophilus) Caiaphas (the high priest during Jesus’ life); and his grandson (son of Theophilus) Matthias (65 A.D., the second-from-the-last high priest before the fall of the temple). An archaeological fact, this same Theophilus had a granddaughter named Yohannana, or Johanna (engraved on an ossuary, a bone box). Several of those named above are mentioned, whether overtly or by implication, in Luke-Acts. Among NT writers, only Luke mentions or alludes to Theophilus, Johanna, and Matthias. Annas is only elsewhere mentioned by John (18.13,24).
Johanna is mentioned in Luke 8.3 and 24.10. In fact, she holds a position shared by no other in Luke’s writings: the key eyewitness in the climactic resurrection story. Luke makes certain his reader(s) recognizes Johanna’s important eyewitness testimony by using a rhetorical device called a chiasmus. (A chiasmus is a rhetorical tool commonly used by ancient writers, and Hebrews especially. Sometimes there is a center-point for emphasis; other times it is used as a memory device, and there is no center point: for example, Matthew 6.24; 7.16-20.) Johanna is at the center (designated by the letter F) of Luke’s chiasmus, a position normally reserved for key data:
A They remembered his words (rhematon).
B Having returned from the tomb, they reported all these things (tauta panta)
C to the Eleven
D and to all the rest/others (loipois).
E Now there were Mary Magdalene
F and Johanna
E’ and Mary the mother of James
D’ and the others (loipai) with them.
C’ They were telling the Apostles
B’ these things (tauta).
A’ But these words (rhemata tauta) seemed nonsense to them, and they did not believe them.
This construction is no accident. Because of her place at this crucial point in his story, Luke must have assumed that Johanna was an important eyewitness to his intial reader, Theophilus. Archaeologically verifiable, she was Theophilus’ granddaughter.
For these reasons, and others which shall surface in time, it is safe to conclude that Luke’s Theophilus was the high priest of 37-41 A.D., the son of Annas the high preist, the brother-in-law of Caiaphas, the grandfather of Johanna, and the father of one of the last high priests, Matthias.
Luke writes to Theophilus: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me…to write an orderly account…that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1.1-4). Theophilus was “informed” by his granddaughter Johanna, an “eyewitness…from the beginning”. Apparently he was skeptical of her testimony. Luke therefore sought to confirm it, that Theophilus might come to believe it. This is why Luke wrote his Gospel.
Read Luke’s prologue as a declaration of certitude and confidence pitched to a skeptic. Imagine how you might articulate the story of Jesus to those informed yet unbelieving. Consider why, or if, it is significant that Theophilus is identified, or identifiable. Would such an identification change your present understanding of Luke’s Gospel?
Some relevant details involving Acts:
Theophilus’ son Matthias was the high priest in 65 A.D.. Phinneas followed him as the last high priest before the fall of Jerusalem. The priesthood was extremely corrupt in the first century. The Romans often appointed whomever they desired in official positions, such as high priest. Phinneas was chosen to be high priest by the casting of lots (Josephus, War 4.3.6 [147-8]; 4.3.7-8 [153-6]). While there is no evidence that Matthias was likewise chosen, it is ironic that Luke in Acts 1.21-26 briefly mentions the Eleven’s selection of a man named Matthias via the casting of lots. This is not to say that Luke considers the newly selected apostle to be Theophilus’ son. Rather, Luke shows that this new Jesus-movement is God-ordained, for in Acts they prayed to God and asked for his intervention – a detail lacking in Rome’s selection process. Here, Luke is demonstrating the corruption of the priesthood and promoting the Jesus-movement to the high priest, Theophilus.
In Acts 4.6, Luke writes, “[gathered were] Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John[athan] and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” Alexander aside and otherwise unknown (even in Josephus’ list), everyone mentioned here is a member of Theophilus’ family. The priesthood was seeking to condemn Peter and John for their healing of the lame man at the gate Beautiful (3.1-26), asking by what authority they performed this miracle (4.7). Peter’s answer silences the high priestly assembly (4.13-17). Unable to find fault in the actions of Peter and John, the authorities release them with a mild warning (4.18-21). Here is another example of the priesthood’s inferiority contrasted with to the work of God through the apostles’ ministry. The apostles are victorious, the priesthood defeated. Theophilus would have taken notice here, no doubt recalling the story, received either through family tradition or as himself an eyewitness present in the events of Acts 4.
Luke makes much of Paul’s persecution-mission as having been [sanctioned] by the priesthood (Acts 9.1-2,14; 22.5; 26.12). Yet, Paul was converted to the cause which he persecuted. Again, here Luke demonstrates the corruption of the priesthood in contrast to God’s victorious campaign through the apostles. What better way to make an example of this than by telling of Paul’s conversion from the priesthood’s cause to this new Jesus-movement, and in great detail, taking up more than half of Luke’s story in Acts.
[End of quote]
Dr. Werner Marx, however, is convinced that Herod Agrippa II fits as Luke’s Theophilus:
A New Theophilus
Dr. Marx, formerly Principal of the Moravian Bible Institute in Nicaragua,
presents an exciting new suggestion about the identity of the “most excellent
Theophilus” for whom Luke composed his twofold history.
An interviewer asked Saul Bellow, the Nobel Prize winner, “How much are you conscious of the reader when you write?”
“I have in mind”, he said, “another human being who will understand me ….”
When Luke wrote his Gospel and Acts he also had one person in mind. He wrote for Theophilus. The question of who Theophilus was has intrigued students of the Bible for nineteen hundred years. Moreover, we now know that to understand any piece of literature we must know the readership for whom it is intended. A paragraph taken from a technical journal can be easily differentiated from that of a literary magazine. So too, the kind of person for whom he wrote would influence Luke’s choice of words, his selection of subject matter and even the turn of his sentences.
The dedication to Theophilus in Luke’s two prefaces must not be confused with the dedication of a present-day book. His was not a gesture of gratitude, the recognition of some family or ideological kinship. Nor is it like the prefaces written by Horace, Vergil, Cicero or Josephus who dedicated their works to a famous patron expecting him to underwrite the cost of publication. A shadow hung over the author always reminding him to avoid anything that might seem offensive to his patron.
Luke’s preface, on the other hand, does not betray even remotely such a mercenary intention. His was a far more profound purpose. …. Howard Marshall, reviewing New Testament literature says, “The central theme in the writings of Luke is that Jesus offers salvation to men. …”.
As he writes, the image of Theophilus is ever before him. To win this man to a real faith in Christ is his primary objective …. Theophilus was a real person. The name was a very common one. It means “Friend of God.” Some writers interpret the Preface to mean, “This book is written for every reader who is a friend of God.” …. However, this Theophilus is addressed as κράτιστε Θεόφιλε (Luke 1: 4) and fellow Christians in those days never addressed each other as “Your Excellency” – κράτιστε. It was the correct way to address Roman officials such as Felix and Festus (Acts 24: 3; 26: 25), but a Christian official would have been called “Brother.” ….
Who might this “Excellency” have been? A very important authority in the Roman government had shown an interest in the Gospel. Persecutions were becoming more frequent. Regular citizens called Christians “atheists” because they did not reverence the images. They were “divisive” and “anti-social.” …. But if this man Theophilus (his real name probably protected by this pseudonym) could be convinced of the rightness of the Christian faith, his influence would help immensely in the furtherance of the message of salvation, and in the alleviation of suffering due to persecution. For his sake Luke says he has researched the life of Christ. He has personally interviewed eye-witnesses and read all available manuscripts. All this so that His Honour Theophilus may be convinced of the authenticity of what Jesus taught and did.
Since earliest times until the present seven names have been suggested in trying to identify Theophilus. Without using a definite name others have thought that this person must have been a Roman official, a resident of Rome, someone from Alexandria, or someone from Syrian Antioch. The seven names are:
- Theophilus, brother-in-law to Caiaphas, was high priest A.D. 37-41. ….
- Theophilus, an official in Athens, convicted of perjury by the Areopagus. He had no known Christian connections. …. However, because of a tradition which says Luke wrote his history in Achaea and Boeotia, it is thought that this man may be Theophilus. ….
- Theophilus of Antioch was a wealthy and distinguished Christian who converted a large hall in his home into a church. He is mentioned in the Clementine …. Recognitions (10.71), and is favoured by many because the anti-Marcionite Prologue to the Third Gospel (c. A.D. 170) states that Luke came from Antioch. ….
- Again, Luke could have given Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, the name Theophilus as a pseudonym (Acts 13: 7-12).
- Lucius Junius Annaeus Gallio. This brother of Seneca was perhaps the most eminent Roman that Paul met (Acts 18: 12-17).
- B. H. Streeter nominates Titus Flavius Clemens, heir-presumptive of the Emperor Domitian, even though he does not appear in the pages of our New
Testament. He is roughly a contemporary of Luke and the fact that he may have been executed because of his interest in Christianity (his wife, Domitilla, was a baptized Christian) makes Streeter’s suggestion attractive. ….
- Philo Judaeus. J. A. Bengel, following Bar Bahlul’s arguments that Theophilus was an Alexandrian, believes that Philo was Theophilus. His Hebrew name was Yedidyāh, the equivalent of Theophilus. ….
- To this list, I believe the name of King Agrippa II should be added. Why he has not been suggested before is a mystery. Possibly it may be because so many have sterotyped him as a rascal or, at best, an inconsequential princeling.
He deserves a much better evaluation. Of all the Herods he was the best. …. But because of the “negative press” that Agrippa Il has received, it is necessary to remind the reader in some detail of the positive and excellent qualities this king had.
- HISTORICAL SUPPORT
Agrippa Il qualifies as an official in good standing with Rome. The Herods were always loyal to Rome and Agrippa I’s son, called Marcus Julius Agrippa, grew up a member of Caesar’s family. Neither Moses in the Pharaoh’s household nor Daniel in Babylon had better opportunities for a first-class education.
Nor was Agrippa ashamed of his Jewish background. At the early age of seventeen, soon after his father’s death and still sharing the intimacy of Claudius’s family, he was able to influence the Emperor in favour of the people of Jerusalem in a delicate matter which had to do with the priestly vestments. The Jews were pitted against the Governor of Syria and the Procurator of Judea, but Claudius ruled in favor of Agrippa and the Jews. ….
Agrippa was made King of Chalcis at the age of twenty-three. …. Three years later he was given the territory of his uncle Philip: Trachonitis, Batanaea, Gaulanitis … Abilene (the tetrarchy of Lysanias) and the tetrarchy of Varus. Soon thereafter Nero became Emperor and added four toparchies (townships) to Agrippa II’s domains. One of these, Julias, in Perea, consisted of the city and fourteen surrounding villages … undoubtedly some of those visited by Jesus and his disciples.
In addition, ever since his twenty-first year, this young prince was put in charge of the high-priestly vestments in Jerusalem. He appointed the high priest and he was treasurer of the temple. …. No position among the Jews of that time ranked higher.
Perhaps nothing shows more how successful a ruler Agrippa Il was than to compare his rule with that of his neighbours to the south who sought to administer Judea. Agrippa governed a scattered territory made up of mixed races but he maintained unbroken control for fifty-one years, while Judea was racked by strife. Procurators came and went until the Jewish state ceased to exist in A.D. 70. By contrast Agrippa II’s holdings grew after that date.
A good measure of Agrippa’s imperial stature is to study his speech when he (temporarily at least) dissuaded the Jews from rising up against the Romans. He was returning from a visit to Alexandria when a delegation of chief priests, the Sanhedrin, and high ranking citizens went as far as Jamnia to welcome him and to inform him that great numbers in Jerusalem were at the point of open rebellion, because of the atrocities committed by Procurator Gessius Florus. …. Agrippa hurried to Jerusalem, called together the populace and delivered a speech which for rhetoric and logic is one of the best antiquity has preserved for us …. Agrippa II’s breadth of knowledge of contemporary history and of the organization of the far-flung Roman Empire shows that he was no petty courtesan but a true ruler. That he was able to conjure up such a speech on so short notice shows why this man was respected in Alexandria, in Antioch and in Rome as well as in Jerusalem.
Much more could be cited from Josephus and from the Talmudic literature ….
Thus Agrippa II qualified in a historical sense as the “Most Excellent” in Luke’s Prologue. We now turn to the internal evidence in Luke’s writings which also supports this identification. ….
- INTERNAL SUPPORT
At the very beginning of Paul’s career, the Holy Spirit had promised that he would witness before kings (Acts 9: 15). Sixteen chapters later in A.D. 61 Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea. He had appealed to Caesar to avoid being remanded to Jerusalem. Quite unexpectedly King Agrippa came to town to welcome the new procurator, Festus, to Judea. And equally unexpectedly Paul was given the opportunity of explaining his case before the king (Acts 25: 23-27). This was Paul’s greatest opportunity. Agrippa’s influence extended far beyond the boundaries of his own kingdom. He was well known in Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Rome.
All government authorities were aware that he was an adviser of emperors-of Claudius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian in turn. For Paul at this moment, and for Luke years later, to persuade Agrippa of the truth of the gospel and of the benevolent nature of the Christian movement, was of supreme tactical importance.
For the uninitiated, Luke’s repetition of Paul’s conversion story in Acts 26 is hard to understand. After recounting the event itself (Acts 9: 13·25), Paul again speaks of it on the steps of the Temple (Acts 22: 1·21) and then one more time before Procurator Felix (Acts 24: 11·21). Another recapitulation (Acts 26: 2·23), especially since it has already been decided that Paul is to go to Rome, seems excessive.
A satisfactory answer to this problem could be that Agrippa II is Theophilus. All of Luke’s writing seems to be leading up to this final, most dramatic and most eloquent moment in the lives of both men. King Agrippa enters the Judgement Hall in Caesarea together with his sister Bernice and Procurator Festus in the midst of a great display of pageantry, followed by military commanders and lastly by the notables among the civic population. …. Agrippa, in keeping with his eminence, takes charge of the proceedings and Paul speaks as if he alone were in the presence of the King.
It is conceivable that years later, as Agrippa read these words at the end of the second volume dedicated to him, he was strongly reminded of that moment of truth when he had said, “A little more, and your arguments would make a Christian of me!” (Acts 28: 28-Jerusalem Bible). …. A Jewish writer on the New Testament says:
The idea is, “thou persuadest me a little (or in some degree) to become a Christian,” i.e. I begin to feel the force of your persuasive arguments, and if I hear you any longer, I do not know what the effect may be. This is neither sportively nor bitterly ironical, but complimentary and courtly, no doubt expressing a sincere admiration of Paul’s eloquence and logic. . . but not a genuine conviction of the truth of Christianity, as may be gathered from the later history of this man ….
- The first piece of evidence that King Agrippa II very likely is Theophilus rests, then, upon my explanation of why Paul’s conversion story is repeated in Acts 26.
The weightiness of this chapter has puzzled many commentators. But if Agrippa II is Theophilus, then this Apologia pro Vila Sua of Paul comes as the climax and capstone of Luke’s literary work. …. All of the Gospel and all of Acts were written to supply that “little more or much more” that was necessary to make of the king a convert to christianity. Chapter 26 is for Agrippa a grand refrain, reminding him and bringing him back to this Moment of Decision. ….
Part Two: What about Philo Judaeus of Alexandria?
“It appears that Philo and his brother Alexander the Alabarch were not only high ranking Princes of the Hasmonean/Herodian dynasty … but Roman magistrates working as Alexandrian customs agents and ambassadors to the Judeo/Claudian Imperial Family of Rome … and intermarried with the family of King Herod Agrippa …”.
Can the potential best candidates for Luke’s “Theophilus” considered in Part One of this series (https://www.academia.edu/36855684/_Most_Excellent_Theophilus_) perhaps be merged together through the agency of yet a third important character, Philo Judaeus – he having possible Hasmonaean and Herodian family connections?
Dugan King, contributing to the Bible Hermeneutics site, has written the following intriguing comment arguing for Philo Judaeus as the biblical “Theophilus”:
I have been doing research in theological history and philosophy of the first century and stumbled across another strong theory as to whom Luke may have been addressing as Theophilus. I believe it could have been the full name of Philo Judaeus of Alexandria also known as Jedidiah HaCohen. Jedidiah was Philo’s Hebrew name … meaning friend or beloved of God … and this hints at the possibility that Philo was a shortened version of Theophilus … having the same meaning. Combine this with the fact that Philo was the greatest religious philosopher of the first century … perhaps the Great Teacher mentioned in the writings of the Essenes … for it was clearly the eclectic teaching and exegesis of Philo and his “Logos” that laid the spiritual foundation upon which Christianity, Gnosticism, Rabbinical Judaism, Islam, Theosophy and Hermeticism are outgrowths. Philo’s teachings created the various streams of religious philosophy that have rained down upon civilization with such force as to replace pagan polytheism with Abraham’s monotheism all across the world. Jesus taught the Logos … the Word of God … and declared it to be “The First Begotten Son of God” … an idea originating with Philo [sic] and stated with such eloquent force that the Roman Emperors had to quit fighting it and embrace it in order to get their grip on it and change it from within … so as to make it more conducive to Roman Imperial designs.
I have also discovered hundreds of allegorical clues hidden in the works of Philo that suggest he had a very close relationship with Jesus or Yeshua of the Nazarenes … who very likely grew up in Alexandria during his flight from Herod. Because Philo was a Roman magistrate … he was not able to come forward with what he knew about the early life of the historical Jesus without drawing Imperial attention to himself … but the Life of Jesus is mirrored and traced throughout Philo’s writings … especially in his theology and focus on the Essenes. It appears to me very likely that … Philo [was] descended from the last Hasmonean Princess of Judea … King Herod’s captive bride … Queen Mary or Mariamne I.
It appears that Philo and his brother Alexander the Alabarch were not only high ranking Princes of the Hasmonean/Herodian dynasty … but Roman magistrates working as Alexandrian customs agents and ambassadors to the Judeo/Claudian Imperial Family of Rome … and intermarried with the family of King Herod Agrippa … also a descendent of Queen Mary/Mariamne I … the captive bride murdered by Herod.
We can see Philo’s teachings in the Book of Hebrews … in the writings of Luke, in the first paragraph of John’s Gospel and in Macabbees IV.
If Luke was addressing Philo Judaeus as Theophilus … or perhaps Jedidiah … then it means that Luke was writing prior to the time of Philo’s death … possibly around 50 A.D.
The works of Philo Judaeus and Flavius Josephus are important supplements to the New Testament ….
Combine this knowledge with the archeological discoveries of the past 300 years … and artifacts such as the shroud of Turin … it leaves no doubt that Jesus … Yeshua the Nazarene … was and is a historical figure who impacted the world in many ways … a spiritual/intellectual/philosophical tour de force with the One God of Abraham at the summit. Exactly what Philo intended.