Porcius Festus

FESTUS, PORCIUS pôr’ shəs fĕs’ təs (Φη̂στος, G5776). Of Porcius Festus’ life prior to his appointment to Antonius Felix’ vacant procuratorship nothing is known. The date is variously given as a.d. 57, 58, 59 and 60. The discrepancy can manifestly be much narrowed. The time of the year is nowhere mentioned, nor is any gap specified between official nomination and taking office. Months of traveling time are also involved. If the date was more certain, valuable aid toward a firm chronology for Paul would be given. Nothing more than this is involved. Festus died early in his tenure of office, so the one glimpse afforded of him is the scene of his examination of Paul at Caesarea, and his consultation with Agrippa II. It is an interesting view of a minor Rom. governor at work in a most difficult situation. Festus, a welcome contrast, according to Josephus (Jos. Antiq. XX, viii, 9; XX, ix, 1), to his vicious predecessor, and to the equally corrupt Albinus who succeeded him in the procuratorship, had inherited a load of trouble from Felix’ maladministration. There was a shocking breakdown of law and order in the countryside, and open armed hostility between the rival factions in the hierarchy. It was the first foreshadowing of the fearful internecine strife which was to add unprecedented venom to the ordeal of the coming rebellion, now a brief six or seven years away. Festus knew that he could not afford to alienate or offend any collaborating elements in the Jewish population, and the problem presented him by the priestly elements who were determined to be rid of Paul must be weighed and appreciated in this context. Any perceptive governor could see that tension in Pal. was fast mounting toward some sort of climax. Herein lay the difference between Festus’ position and that of Pilate some thirty years before, when the same hierarchy had sought to do away with an obviously innocent man. Events had seriously deteriorated in Pal. Nor was Festus damagingly compromised by past mismanagement of the difficult Jews, as Pontius Pilate was. He was none the less under orders to do his utmost to contain an explosive situation, and, in the light of this, A. P. Gould’s contention that “Paul’s appeal to Caesar is the lasting condemnation of Festus,” is without validity. More fortunate than Pilate in his similar conflict of duties and considerations, Festus was offered a way of escape by the prisoner’s own action. He offered Paul an acquittal on the major and relevant charge of sedition, and added the proposal, not unreasonable in normal times from the point of view of the occupying power, that the ex-Pharisee should face a religious investigation before his co-religionists. It was a crisis for Paul. Perhaps with fuller information and sharper apprehension than the procurator’s, Paul saw the peril of the situation in Judaea, the deepening anarchy, and the looming crisis. He cut the knot, to Festus’ relief, by the exercise of his Rom. citizen’s right of an appeal to Caesar. Festus was obliged by law to accept the appeal, and did so with alacrity. It solved his major problem, Paul’s security. On the other hand, as a new arrival in Pal. Jewish law and Jewish religion were unfamiliar to him. He had a career to make, and the lucidity and correct terminology of a document over his signature addressed to Rome’s highest court might have been a matter of deep concern to him. Hence, the eagerness with which Festus availed himself of the aid of Agrippa II, an able man, an indispensable ally of Rome in the mounting difficulties of her rule, and a person with a close acquaintance with both Judaism and Christianity. To honor where convenient the old Herodian house was also a policy as old as Augustus himself. Nowhere else in the records of 1st cent. history is so authentic a document of the empire in political action to be found.


E. M. Blaiklock, The Century of the New Testament, ch. 6 (1962).

See also

  • Festus