TWO SISTERS : BERNICE & DRUSILLA (Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.)

The two Sisters, Bernice & Drusilla are mentioned in passing only in The Acts in the Bible. But we know a little more than their names from their contemporary historical sources. The biblical scholar Herbert Lockyer in ‘All the Women of the Bible’ says about the two sisters, “If heredity stands for anything, its lessons are forcefully taught in the history of the Herodian family. For instance, Bernice and her sister Drusilla were two of the most corrupt and shameless women of their time in Roman history” (p. 37).

The two sisters are the daughters of Herod Agrippa I and great-grand-daughters of Herod the Great. Bernice was the eldest of the two. Herbert Lockyer says about Bernice, “Josephus (Jewish historian) says that she was first married to Marcus. After a while she married her uncle Herod, King of Chalcis. When he died, she was suspected of evil relations with her own brother Agrippa, with whom she always appeared as his consort. In company with Agrippa, Bernice visited Festus when he became Procurator of Judea” (p. 37).

The Acts refers to this event. “Some time later King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to pay a visit of welcome to Festus. After they had been there several days, Festus explained Paul’s situation to the king… Agrippa said to Festus, ‘I would like to hear this man myself.’

“ ‘You will hear him tomorrow,’ Festus answered.

“The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and ceremony and entered the audience hall with the military chiefs and the leading men of the city. Festus gave the order, and Paul was brought in” (Acts 25, 13-14; 22-23).

In the portrayal of Bernice’s character Lockyer further says, “Leaving Agrippa (her brother), she married Polemon, king of Cicilia who for her sake embraced Judaism by the rite of circumcision. She soon left Polemon, however, for a future period of intimacy with her brother. Subsequently she became the mistress of Vespasian, then of Titus, son of Vespasian, but when Titus became emperor, he cast her aside” (p. 37).

John L. McKenzie, SJ, author of ‘Dictionary of the Bible’ says that Bernice died about AD 79 at the age of 51.

Drusilla’s personal story is not much different from that her sister Bernice. She was born as the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I in AD 38. McKenzie has described her personal story. “She was betrothed by her father to Epiphanes, son of king of Commagene, but the marriage did not take place because he refused to be circumcised. She was then given by her brother Agrippa II to Azizus, king of Emesa. Felix, who was himself married twice previously, persuaded her to desert her husband and marry him in AD 54, when she was 15 or 16 years old. Their son Agrippa died in the eruption of Vesuvius in AD 79. The couple was an apt audience for Paul’s discourse on righteousness self control, and the coming judgement” (Dictionary of the Bible, p.206).

Drusilla’s name is mentioned only once in the Acts. The passage says, “After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he talked about faith in Christ Jesus. But as Paul went on discussing about goodness, self control, and the coming Day of Judgement, Felix was afraid and said, ‘You may leave now’ “ (Acts 24, 24-25).

According to McKenzie, “A Syriac text of this passage implies that Drusilla herself was interested in Paul, and induced Felix to have Paul brought to him.

When Felix was recalled to Rome to answer for his misgovernment, Drusilla accompanied him there. Jewish historian Josephus has recorded that 20 year after Paul’s transfer from Felix to Festus the Vesuvius erupted terribly and Drusilla underestimated her danger and was slow to evade the disaster. So she and her son Agrippa got buried beneath the lava.

If the two sisters had listened to voice of reason, the voice of God, as explained by Paul, the early Church history would have been quite different. (contact the author : यह ईमेल पता spambots से संरक्षित किया जा रहा है. आप जावास्क्रिप्ट यह देखने के सक्षम होना चाहिए. )

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