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Antonius Felix

FELIX, ANTONIUS ăn tō’ nĭ əs fe’ lĭks (Αντωνιος Φη̂λιξ). Antonius Felix was a freedman of Antonia, the mother of the emperor Claudius, and brother of the same prince’s freedman and favorite, Pallas. A social reject through the formative years of his life, Claudius had fallen into the company of the freedmen of the imperial household, and it was inevitable that they should play a large part in the affairs of the principate, a situation which naturally roused the aristocratic scorn of such writers as Tacitus. It was the influence of Pallas which secured the appointment of Felix to the governorship of Judaea. Tacitus’ dislike for both freedmen betrayed him into carelessness over detail in two vital chapters of the Annals (12:53, 54), and raised a problem of dating which at present defies final solution. Felix would naturally have been appointed to the governorship of Judaea after the recall of Ventidius Cumanus in a.d. 52. Tacitus, prob. misinformed, and finding closer research in a context so repugnant distasteful, seems to suggest some overlap between two procuratorships with Felix in authority in Samaria and Cumanus in Galilee. There is certainly a discrepancy between the account in Tacitus and that given by Josephus (B.J. 2:12; Antiq. X:6.8), a discrepancy which ampler detail might easily remove.

Unreliable though Tacitus’ account is, it is worth examining in some detail for the lurid light it throws on Felix’s character and reputation. After some acid comment on honors paid by the Senate to Pallas, Tacitus proceeds in his next chapter (12:54) to show how Felix found protection from the consequences of his corruption and misrule under his powerful brother’s shadow. The Jews, says the historian, were still in a state of excitement and resentment over Caligula’s narrowly averted plan to defile Jehovah’s Temple with his own statue. The situation was wantonly exploited by Cumanus in Judaea, and Felix in Samaria. The pair of scoundrels had connived at an almost open conflict between the rival communities, and to have claimed a share in the loot. The situation so cynically permitted got out of hand, and savage repression by both governors provoked the intervention of Quadratus, the governor of Syria, and in consequence the nearest commander with sufficient military strength at his disposal to impose a forcible solution on the distracted area. It was a further illustration of the difficulties which beset the Romans’ persistent attempt to hold Palestine with the token force which was based at Caesarea, and of the fumbling and too often corrupt rule, of the minor officials who filled up the sorry list of procurators. Quadratus himself was heavily impeded by circumstances. Hesitating to deal with the influential Felix, the legate placed the full blame on Cumanus, with the result that Felix succeeded to the vacant procuratorship. Details and dating may remain uncertain, but Tacitus’ laconic account is illustration vivid enough of another comment he made concerning Felix as a governor. He described him in the Histories (5:9) as “a master of cruelty and lust who exercised the powers of a king in the spirit of a slave.” Such is the truth which emerges from the garbled story. According to Josephus, Cumanus was sole procurator in a.d. 48, and Felix in a.d. 52, which is an oversimplification. It is a fair guess that Felix, by his brother’s favor, exercised some commission in Pal. under Claudius, and perhaps used his position to entangle Cumanus in administrative difficulties, and replace him. Such was the stage-setting of corruption and misrule in Pal. in the decade before the savage outbreak of the Great Rebellion. The state of the country under the rule of Felix is illustrated by the fact that the military commandant of the Jerusalem garrison found it necessary to provide an escort of 470 troopers to secure the safe convoy of one political prisoner down the guerillaridden mountain road from Jerusalem to Caesarea. The countryside must have been in a state of near anarchy. In Luke’s account of the examination of Paul by Felix in the Rom. garrison town, the procurator appeared true to form. With him was Drusilla, the Herodian girl whom he had enticed from her royal husband, Aziz of Emesa. His disregard for Rom. justice and his avarice are visible in the story. Such was the scoundrel before whom the apostle to the Gentiles preached of “righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come” (Acts 24:25 ASV), and who put the consideration of such matters off until a more “convenient season.” Nero recalled Felix in a.d. 57 or 58. Dates again become a difficulty. Nothing is known of his subsequent fate.