Frederick E. Brenk - S.J Filippo Canali De Rossi, «The ‘Notorious’ Felix, Procurator of Judaea, and His Many Wives (Acts 23–24)», Vol. 82 (2001) 410-417
Confusion exists over both the gentilicium and the wives of Felix. As for the name, possibly both Antonius and Claudius are correct. In any case, the attempt to assign only the name Claudius to Felix rests on rather shaky ground. As for his wives, possibly none was a descendant of Kleopatra VII. But if she were, she would be a great-granddaughter rather than a granddaughter of the famous queen. An inscription adduced to fix Felix’ name and career is beset with many problems. Finally, we should take his reputation as ‘notorious’ with a grain of salt. But whether notorious or not, his rise was remarkable, deserving of awe if not admiration.
(granddaughter) used by Tacitus can apply to either a granddaughter or great-granddaughter, though strictly speaking the word for granddaughter is proneptis5.
Felix evidently liked noble blood and well-connected ladies, but he was not necessarily eccentric (to marry an over-age wife) nor depraved. According to Suetonius, Claudius 28, he was ‘the husband of three queens’. Depending upon the force one wants to give to ‘desire’ (e)piqumi/a), Felix ‘lusted after’ Agrippa’s sister or ‘conceived a passion for her’ — as Feldman’s Josephus would have it — or perhaps just ‘fell in love with her’ (lamba/nei th=j gunaiko_j e)piqumi/an, Ant. 20.141)6. Tacitus, who is undoubtedly prejudiced against the imperial freedman, paints him as a real monster: ‘practicing every kind of cruelty and lust, he wielded monarchial right with all the mentality of a slave’ (per omnem saeuitiam ac libidinem ius regium seruili ingenio exercuit, Histories 5.9)7. Do we have here an echo of Josephus’ ‘epithumia’?
Felix’ relation to his other wife, Drusilla, the sister of Agrippa, also raises questions. She had been promised to Epiphanes, son of King Antiochos IV of Kommagene (Commagene), but when the king changed his mind, Agrippa gave her instead to Azizos, King of Emesa. ‘Evidently in 54’, according to Kokkinos, Drusilla was ‘seduced by the notorious [Ti.] Claudius Felix, and like a typical Herodean lady defiling Jewish law she parted from a living husband to marry the procurator of Judaea’. Between October of 54 and October of 55 Azizos died8. The short time between his death and Drusilla’s new marriage suggests that she may have been slandered, that she actually remarried after Azizos had died. As we have seen, too, Josephus’ language (Ant. 20.141-142) about Felix’ lust for Drusilla could be more neutral than Kokkinos’ description of it. Josephus offers as a reason for Felix’ reaction that she ‘surpassed all other women in beauty’. At any rate, Felix then asked the help of a Cypriot Jew, Atomos. Pretending to be a magos, Atomos persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband and marry Felix, who promised to make her ‘very happy’ (maka/rian) if she did not reject him. She then married Felix. She was unhappy and wanted to escape the envy of her sister, Berenike, who maltreated her greatly ‘because of her beauty’9.