Historical Evidences of the Gospel: Death of Herod

Josephus (Please Refer to the previous article for information on who Josephus was), a non-Christian historian from the first century, unwittingly became a significant source by corroborating with events also found in the biblical account of the beginning days of the gospel. In this article we will examine his account of the death of Herod, and parallel it with what the bible has to say about these events.

How God Killed Herod.

Acts chapter twelve records a short term persecution when King Herod Agrippa, possibly wanting to gain favor from some influential Jews, “stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.” At this time, Herod slayed James (the brother of John, the son of Zebedee), who was one of the twelve apostles. He also seized Peter, but seeing that the Passover had come, he placed him in prison, waiting for the feast to end before deciding Peter’s fate. While in prison, an Angel of the Lord came and freed Peter from his chains. When it was realized that Peter was missing, Herod blamed the unwatchfulness of the guards and had them all put to death.

After these things, Herod went to Caesarea, according to Acts 12:19. Josephus also records the presence of Herod in Caesarea (Antiquities 19.8.2). According to the biblical record, Herod was angry with the citizens of Tyre and Sidon (for a reason that is unknown to us), but these people were supplied with food from Judea, so it was critical that they be on good terms with a King of Judea. So on a day when Herod was in his royal array and sitting on his throne, these people came to him and shouted over and over “the voice of a god and not of a man!” (Acts 12:21-22). While Herod was receiving this glorification, an Angel of the Lord struck him so that he was eaten by worms and died.

Josephus’ record of the death of Herod is interesting evidence of the truth of the biblical account. He writes “On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.” Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery” (19.8.2). These words, while more detailed, are harmonious with the biblical record in Acts 12:20-22. Josephus further states that while Herod was receiving this praise that “a severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner.” He later explains that “he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad every where, that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king’s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age.” While Josephus did not have insight from the Holy Spirit, like Luke did in the book of Acts, he records that Herod faced violent stomach pains for five days until he died. Paralleling this account with the insight from God, we can see the harmony of the accounts. Herod was struck by the angel while receiving praise from the people and worms began to eat away at his insides, causing him violent pain and ultimately death a few days later. The secular writings of Josephus matched with the biblical account tell us the story of Herod’s death in full detail from both heaven and earth.