FELIX AND FESTUS: Two Roman governors of Judea. According to the Book of Acts (xxiv. 10) the former had been ruling for many years at the time of the imprisonment of Paul in 58 or 59. He was the husband of a Jewess by the name of Drusilla, and two years later was succeeded as procurator by Porcius Festus (Acts xxiv. 24, 27). Both Josephus (Ant. XX., vii. 1-2) and Tacitus (Hist., v. 9) state that Drusilla was the wife of Felix, the former making her a sister of Agrippa II. and the latter a granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra, while according to Suetonius (Claudius, xxviii.), Felix was "the husband of three queens." Josephus (Ant. XX., viii. 5) states that Felix was sent to Judea as procurator by Claudius at the request of the high priest Jonathan after the deposition of Ventidius Cumanus in 52 or 53. Tacitus (Annales, xii. 54), on the other hand, dates his appointment much earlier, asserting that he was procurator of a portion of the province of Samaria together with Cumanus, and that he first gained entire control of Judea after the deposition of Cumanus by Quadratus. Whatever be the reconciliation of the conflicting accounts of the classic writers, the statement in Acts remains unimpugned. It is clear from other sources that Felix was the brother of the imperial favorite Pallas, and that he was a freedman, apparently of Antonia, the mother of Claudius. According to Schürer, Felix seems to have been recalled in 60, while Festus died two years later; Harnack dates the former event in Oct. 55 or 56.
In the case of the Jewish persecution of Paul, Felix received the prisoner with a letter of the tribune stating that the charge was concerned solely with differences of religious opinions among the Jews (Acts xxii. 25-30). This was fully confirmed by the trial before Felix (Acts xxiv. 1-21), but Felix deferred decision on a frivolous pretext (verses 22-23). Paul was accordingly imprisoned, and when Felix retired from office two years later, he left the apostle still in confinement. Festus resumed the case (Acts xxv. 1-12) and, despite the absence of all proof of the prisoner's guilt, threatened to deliver him to the Jews, whereupon Paul saw himself obliged to appeal to the emperor. The motive of both procurators seems to have been the desire to curry favor with the Jews, Felix showing himself to be a common man of little character and Festus being represented as a frivolous cynic. The former, influenced by his Jewish wife, listened to a presentation of the Christian faith by Paul. Touched in conscience by the apostle's words, he devised a pretext to rid himself of his unflattering monitor, yet sought to induce his prisoner to offer bribes for release (Acts xxiv. 24-25). Festus, on the other hand, cynically distorted the facts of the case in conversation with Agrippa (Acts xxv. 13-21), and, humoring the king's curiosity, turned the trial into a farce for the amusement of his guests (verses 22-27), declaring the apostle a madman (Acts xxvi. 24).
In the "War" (II., xii. 8-xiii. 7) Josephus mentions merely the energetic opposition of Felix to revolutionary movements in Judea, but in the "Antiquities" (XX., vii. 1-viii. 8), he makes no attempt to disguise the fact that in the suppression of the "robbers" Felix had not only been merciless in his cruelty, but had stooped to perfidy and assassination, thus preparing the way for the outbreak of the Sicarii. Although his attitude in opposition to the "prophets" and the rebellious Jews of Cæsarea was irreproachable, it is evident that his administration was both immoral and illegal, so that after his retirement to Rome accusations were brought against him by the Jews, which were averted only by the intercession of his powerful brother. The unfavorable characterization of this procurator given by Josephus is confirmed by Tacitus (1.c.).
The statements of Josephus regarding Festus (Ant. XX., viii. 9-ix. 1; War, II., xiv. 1) are far more scanty, being confined to a recognition of his reckless energy against the rebellious Jews and to an agreement made by him with the Jewish king in opposition to the religious interests of the people. It is evident that the account of Luke regarding both Felix and Festus rests on personal knowledge and deep insight into their history, relations, and personalities. See GOVERNOR.