In 44 AD King Herod Agrippa I killed James, the brother of John, in Jerusalem.
King Herod Agrippa I was Herod the Great’s grandson through his son Aristobulus who was born to Mariamne a daughter of the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans. Herod the Great had married Mariamne to secure his throne as the King of the Jews. But, in 10 BC, when Agrippa was only 3 years old, his Grandfather (Herod the Great) killed Agrippa’s father (Aristobulus) because Herod suspected Aristobulus was making a play for the Jewish throne. As a child Agrippa was sent to Rome to be raised and educated. In Rome Agrippa grew up with Claudius, a future emperor. Agrippa returned to Jerusalem where Emperor Caligula gave him the title “king” and territory in northern Israel in 37 AD, and added Galilee and Perea to his territory in 39 AD. When his boyhood friend, Claudius, became emperor in 41 AD Agrippa’s kingdom gained the land of Judea and Samaria. He then ruled Northern Israel, Galilee, Perea, Samaria and Judea from 41-44 AD. It was at this time King Herod Agrippa I decapitated James, the brother of the apostle John.
Luke tells us that Agrippa saw that this execution of James pleased the Jews, so Agrippa proceeded to seize Peter with the intention of executing Peter after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Agrippa was a devout Jew, he was in the priestly line of Levi through the Hasmoneans and he kept the Law to the fullest for which the Pharisees loved him. Josephus writes concerning King Herod Agrippa’s faithfulness to the law:
“He loved to live continually at Jerusalem, and was exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country. He therefore kept himself entirely pure: nor did any day pass over his head without its appointed sacrifice.”
As the story goes, Agrippa I is about to face the end of his life, but Peter will live to preach another day. In fact, Peter will be delivered from prison by an angel and will live another 20 years before he is executed in Rome (64 AD). But, King Herod Agrippa I will be struck by an angel and die later that year (44 AD) in Caesarea by the Mediterranean Sea. During a speech Agrippa passed out because he was infested with worms (Acts 12:23). Josephus records this same event and says Agrippa died a painful death five days after passing out while being eaten alive by worms.