In response to our recent post on the theater at Caesarea Maritima (here), a friend asks, “I was wondering, do you put any stock in Todd Bolen’s contention that the Agrippa I death event happened in the sea side amphitheater, rather than in the theater?”
Boy, am I embarrassed. It is great to have knowledgeable friends, though. I read Todd’s insightful article at The Bible and Interpretation site in July 2010. I was impressed with the article and intended to call attention to it on this blog. For a variety of reasons I failed to get to it, and then let it slip my mind.
The Bolen article challenges Josephus’s location for the place of Herod Agrippa’s death. Here is the synopsis of the argument.
The death of Herod Agrippa I occurred in Caesarea according to both Josephus and the book of Acts. Josephus writes that the king was in the theater when the crowd hailed him as a god and he was struck down. Details in Josephus’s account, however, indicate that the episode occurred in the city amphitheater next door to the temple where the emperor was worshipped.
The article is already too concise and well documented for me to recount the arguments. Bolen believes “that Josephus’s designation of the location was inaccurate. Analysis of his account indicates that the amphitheater, rather than the theater, was the setting for Herod’s public address.” There are four indications showing the Josephus was inaccurate.
- The time of day.
- The occasion of Agrippa’s death.
- An encounter between Pilate and a large crowd a decade earlier.
- Josephus’s imprecise use of terms designating buildings of entertainment.
The article may be read in its entirety here. Several informed comments have been added by readers. There are several nice aerial photos with identifications.
The photo below shows the amphitheater (commonly called the hippodrome) running parallel with the coastline. I note that Murphy-O’Connor refers to this as the “Herodian amphitheatre.” At the right (south) bottom of the photo you will see the upper level of what he calls the “Palace of the Procurators.” The Roman theater, which is pictured in our previous post, is to the right of this scene.
Along the top of the photo, under the wing of the plane, is the later amphitheater (or hippodrome) dating to the late Roman period. A line of trees provides a good outline of the structure.
Here in 306 the emperor Maximinus had Christian martyrs executed before him. Its stones were robbed out when Christianity suppressed such bloody and brutal entertainment. (Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, 5th ed., 248)
The Herodian harbor is located to the left (north) of this photo.