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Bernice the Obscure Jewish Queen

Bernice the Obscure Jewish Queen

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She is obscure in the Bible, but very famous in the secular world of Rome. Most people would not even know she is in the Bible and heard Paul in person.
She is obscure in the Bible, but very famous in the secular world of Rome. Most people would not even know she is in the Bible and heard Paul in person.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Apr 02, 2010
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By Glenn PeaseBernice is a name that most people would not even guess is a woman in the Bible. She is obscurein the role she plays in the ew Testament, but she was quite famous in ew Testament times, forshe was the wife of a number of famous men. We will look at her Bible role first, before we look at her secular life, which is not a pretty picture. Her name appears three times in the book of Actswhere she is the sister of King Agrippa who was asked to hear and give a ruling on the chargesagainst the Apostle Paul. Here are those three texts-Acts 25:13-14, “After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea towelcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul's case before theking, saying, 'There is a man here who was left in prison by Felix."Acts 25:23, “So on the next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered theaudience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then Festus gave theorder and Paul was brought in.”Acts 26:30-32, “Then the king got up, and with him the governor and Bernice and those who hadbeen seated with them; and as they were leaving, they said to one another, "This man is doingnothing to deserve death or imprisonment."In these three texts we see Bernice with the King hearing the Apostle Paul defend himself. If youread the entire account you will see that Paul gave a tremendous testimony of his conversion toChrist, and so this woman sat hearing the gospel message of Jesus as Lord and Savior. Herhusband was not convinced at that point, but there is no word from her, and so we do not knowhow she responded to Paul's message. She and the king did agree, however, that Paul had notbeen guilty of any crime. She walks out of the hearing with a positive view of Paul as a good andinnocent man. That is the only role she plays in the Bible.ow as we go to secular resources we discover she played a much larger role in those Bible times.Bernice was the oldest daughter of Herod Agrippa 1, who ruled Palestine A.D. 37-44. These werekey years in ew Testament history, and Bernice was a part of that history. She had one brotherwho became the next king after her father died, and two sisters named Mariamne and Drusilla .This youngest sister Drusilla grew up to be one of the most celebrated beauties of that day. Therecords indicate that Bernice was envious of her sister's beauty. Bernice was just 16 when herfather died, and was already married to king Herod of Chalcis, who happened to also be heruncle. She was a queen at 16, and was famous for her heroic act of presenting herself barefootedbefore a tyrant procurator who was killing the Jews, and pleading for their lives.It is good that she had this one good thing going for her because most of the record of her life isnot commendable. She was quite beautiful herself, and she used that beauty to seduce one manafter another. It was, of course, the way things were in Rome at that time, but one author wrotethat Bernice was, “..was one of the most profligate women of a profligate age, exceeding even
Cleopatra in her sensuality and shamelessness.” She was a perfect example of the truth in thefollowing imagined conversation.Satan said to the Almighty, " I wish for a subtle snarewherein to entrap men "; God showed him silver and gold andhorses ;Satan said, " Yes, these are good," but did not seem satisfied.Then God showed him mines full of jewels, but he said,"Give me more, Generous One." Then He showed him costlycloths and silks and wines ; but he said, " I require more thanthese, for men can break these chains." Then He showedhim the beauty of women, which deprives men of reason and self-control. Satan began to dance with joy and said, " Give me that !now I shall succeed ! "In Hastings, Greater Men and Women of the Bible we read this account of a portion of her earlylife. “Her beauty, her rank, the splendor of her jewels, the interest and curiosity attaching to herrace and her house, made her a prominent figure in the society of the capital; and a diamond,however lustrous and valuable, was enhanced in price if it was known that it had once sparkledon the finger of Bernice, and had been a present to her from her brother. The relations betweenthe two gave rise to the darkest rumors, which gained credence because there was nothing tocontradict them in the bearing or character of the defamed persons.Such scandal was caused by her conduct, that even Rome, the Paris of the first century, began tocry, " Shame." And it was arranged that she should contract a third marriage. A husband wasfound without difficulty, in Polemo II., king of Cilicia, the last independent prince in Asia Minor.She was still young and beautiful, and, what seemed more to the purpose in the estimation of Polemo, she was wealthy. With some still lingering remnant of religious feeling, she insisted uponher husband submitting to the outward rite of the Jewish religion, which he was quite willing todo, and accordingly became nominally a Jew, though St. Paul, writing a few years after, andbearing such cases in mind, would have said, " He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly ;neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh" (Rom. ii. 28). It is possible thatPolemo and Bernice were in Asia Minor about the year 52, when St. Paul was traveling inthe same region.”This marriage did not last and Bernice moved on to her next catch. The name Bernice means"victorious." and when it came to men, she was that. Few women ever rose higher in rank thanshe did. We need not explore others of her involvements with men, but history tells us Berniceeventually became the mistress of Titus, who commanded the Roman army against the Jews, anddestroyed Jerusalem in A.D.70, and later became emperor. She was married to the man whofulfilled the prophecy of Jesus that Judaism as it was in the Old Testament would be destroyed,and his Lordship would be over a new Israel which would include both Jews and Gentiles. Herewas a woman who truly married her way to the top. It could be said she slept her way to the topas well.An inscription found in Beirut mentions the following: “Queen Bernice and the great King
Agrippa in regards to King Herod, their great grandfather, who constructed the marbles as wellas the six columns.” The value of this information is that it makes Dr. Luke look like a truehistorian in his writings, for what he describes in the book of Acts can be shown to be validhistory. Many reject the Bible as fantasy and myth because they refuse to examine the facts. TheBible did not fall from heaven, but is a a true historical document, and what we learn from thishistory outside of the Bible confirms our trust in the accuracy of it. A scholar named Kraemerwrote, “Bernice is on a statue in Athens that honors her as a “great Queen”.Adding to the interest of this women is the fact that her sister Drusilla is also mentioned in thebook of Acts, for she also became the wife of a top leader by the name of Felix. We read of her inActs 24:24, “Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent forPaul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.” Her sister also heard thetestimony of Paul and had the gospel presented to her. Her husband knew the way of Christianswell, but he wanted Paul to pay him a bribe, which he did not do, and Felix left Paul in prison. Sowe have these two sisters from the Herod family who heard the Apostle Paul share the gospel,and we will not know until heaven if they let it sink in and repent of their immoral Roman lives,and open their hearts to the Christ Paul preached.Hastings wrote, “St. Luke significantly informs us that Drusilla the wife of Felix was a Jewess,connecting this statement with the fact that the Roman governor " sent for Paul, and heard himconcerning the faith in Christ Jesus." The implied suggestion is that the nationality of the wife of Felix prompted his interest in his prisoner. Perhaps Drusilla was drawn to the Apostle at firstonly from the idle motive of curiosity. We have no information as to any impression he may havemade on her. Since her dissolute husband was deeply affected by the Apostle s trenchant wordson the great moral principles of temperance and righteousness, and alarmed to trembling at thewarnings he heard of coming judgment, it can scarcely be that they meant nothing to Drusilla.And yet no permanent effect was left on Felix, and we have no ground for supposing that his wifeyielded to the truth in which she had shown some interest.”When Felix was sent back to Rome, the man who took over as governor was Festus, and Berniceand king Herod had a practice of honoring every new governor with a royal visit. This is what wesee them doing in the book of Acts in the text listed above. Hastings again wrote, “The Herodswere fond of show, and Festus gratified their humor by a grand processional display. He woulddoubtless appear in his scarlet garment, with his full attendance of lictors and bodyguard, whowould stand at arms behind the gilded chairs which were placed for himself and his distinguishedvisitors. We are expressly told that Agrippa and Bernice went in state...., she, doubtless, blazingwith jewels, and he in his purple robes, and both with the golden circlets of royalty around theirforeheads, and attended by a suite of followers in the most gorgeous apparel of Eastern pomp. Itwas a compliment to the new governor to visit him with as much splendor as possible, and bothhe and his guests were not sorry to furnish a spectacle which would illustrate at once theirimportance and their mutual cordiality.”Hastings wrote, “It is some years later, in the spring of 66 A.D., that we find Bernice inJerusalem, influenced apparently by some revival of womanly feeling. She had undertaken a vow,probably the vow of a azirite, under the stress of sickness; and for thirty days she wentbarefoot, and at the end of the period sacrificed the locks of her head. While this vow was inprogress, the Jewish war had broken out, through the high-handed action of Florus, the last of 

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