10. Thoughts on Mary as We Thought we Knew Her…

9. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-The Death of her

In previous posts we have seen how the pressure was building at court. Salome and Cypros, Herod’s sister and mother, plotted endlessly to rid themselves of Mariamne. But she always vigorously defended herself from accusations of being “false to his bed;” unchastity being the time-honored way to take down an “uppity” woman. And, so far, Herod had believed her over his own mother and sister. And he felt he still needed her to keep his kingdom.

But then, we learned that Herod was truly in danger of losing the kingdom when he went to meet with Octavian after the death of his patrons Antony and Cleopatra. He had to convince the new brand-new Augustus that yes, he sided with Antony, but he was now at the new Emperor’s service. But return, again, Herod did, full of joy at his grand success with Augustus. He was still king. Only one blessed by God could have survived what he had survived. Augustus had even expanded his dominion and they would become lifelong friends.

But before he left for Rome, he put Mariamne and Alexandra into an old Hasmonean fort under guard…

So Mariamne was greatly displeased to hear that there was no end of the dangers that she was under from Herod, and was greatly uneasy at it, and wished that he might obtain no favors (from Caesar), and esteemed it almost an unsupportable task to live with him any longer; and this she afterwards openly declared, without concealing her resentment.

And now Herod sailed home with joy, at the unexpected good success he had had; and went, first of all, as was proper, to this his wife, and told her, and her only, the good news, as preferring her before the rest, on account of his fondness for her, and the intimacy there had been between them, an saluted her; but it so happened, that as he told her f the good success he had had, she was so far from rejoicing at it, that she rather was sorry for it; nor was she able to conceal her resentments, but depending on her dignity, and the nobility of her birth, in return for his salutations, she gave a groan, and declared evidently that she rather grieved than rejoiced at his success,–and this till Herod was disturbed at her, as affording him, not only marks of her suspicion, but evident signs of her dissatisfaction. This much troubled him, to see that this surprising hatred of his wife to him was not concealed, but open; and he took this so ill, and yet was so unable to bear it, on account of the fondness he had for her, that he could not continue long in any one mind…and was frequently disposed to inflict punishment on her for her insolence to him…but was not able to get quit of this woman…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.1

 And yet again, Josephus adds more information of what contributed to the death of Mariamne…

…but upon (Herod’s) return from his grand success with Caesar…so much the greater were the distresses that came upon him in his own family, and chiefly in the affair of his wife…As for her, she was in other respects a chaste woman, and faithful to him; yet had she somewhat of a woman rough by nature, and treated her husband imperiously enough, because she saw he was so fond of her as to be enslaved to her. She did not also consider seasonably in herself that she lived under a monarchy, and that she was at another’s disposal, and accordingly would behave herself after a saucy manner to him, which yet he usually put off in a jesting way and bore with moderation and good temper. She would also expose his mother and his sister openly, on account of the meanness of their birth, and would speak unkindly of them, insomuch that there was before this a disagreement and unpardonable hatred among the women, and it was now come to greater reproaches of one another than formerly, which suspicions increased, and lasted a whole year after Herod returned from Caesar.

However, these misfortunes, which had been kept under some decency for a great while, burst out all at once upon such an occasion as was now offered; for as the king was one day about noon lain down on his bed to rest him, he called for Mariamne, out of the great affection he had always for her. She came in accordingly, but would not lie down by him; and when he was very desirous of her company, she shewed her contempt of him; and added, by way of reproach that he had caused her grandfather and her brother to be slain; and when he took this injury very unkindly, and was ready to use violence to her, in a precipitous manner, the king’s sister, Salome …Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

This is where Salome steps forward with the very convoluted plan she had laid against Mariamne that I quoted in the last blog that led to her trial and the order for her death…

Accordingly, when the court was at length satisfied that he was so resolved, they passed sentence of death upon her, but when the sentence was passed upon her, this temper was suggested by himself, and by some others of the court, that she should not be thus hastily put to death, but be laid in prison in one of the fortresses belonging to the kingdom; but Salome and her party labored hard to have the woman put to death; and they prevailed with the king to do so, and advised this out of caution, lest the multitude should be tumultuous if she were suffered to live; and thus was Mariamne led to execution. Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII4

Josephus tells us that when the order was read out in the king’s chamber of the palace before the whole court…

When Alexandra observed how things went, and that there were small hopes that she herself should escape the like treatment from Herod, she changed her behaviour to quite the reverse of what might have been expected from her former boldness, and this after a very indecent manner; for out of her desire to shew how entirely ignorant she was of the crimes laid against Mariamne, she leaped out of her place, and reproached her daughter…And when she had…been so outrageous as to tear her hair, this indecent dissembling behaviour…was greatly condemned…but the poor woman who was to suffer…at the first she gave her not a word, nor was discomposed at her peevishness, and only looked at her, yet did she, out of a greatness of soul, discover her concern for her mother’s offence, and especially for exposing herself in a manner so unbecoming her…

History and Josephus treat Alexandra badly here, but bless him, Josephus also let us see that one long look that passed between Alexandra and her daughter, hinting, it seems to me, that Mariamne understood what her mother was up to and saluted her. The welfare of her sons was at stake; the future Hasmonean heirs of their kingdom were imperiled, any chance of anyone with Hasmonean blood coming back to the throne was at risk. Alexandra was the only one left to protect their heirs and she would do whatever debasing of herself was needed to do her duty by them…which Josephus also lets us see…

…but as for herself, she went to her death with an unshaken firmness of mind, and without changing the color of her face, and thereby evidently discovered the nobility of her descent to the spectators, even in the last moments of her life.  Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.5.

8. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-The Accusations

Mariamne Wife of Herod and Her Children Going to Their Execution Edward Hopley 1868 The sons of Mariamne will be executed by Herod but not until they are grown men.

As stated in the last post Josephus’ narrative of what led up to Mariamne’s death is confusing. He tells it twice and it has perplexed scholars for centuries…was there one incident or two. I have chosen here to start with an Antiquities quote and then switch to the earliest version Josephus wrote in Wars of the Jews. It is shorter but also rawer with less embellishments than the Antiquities version, and Salome’s role is very clear. Salome and her mother Cypros are the main cause of the death of Mariamne.

While Herod was in Egypt because Cleopatra had gotten Antony to bring Herod to trial over the death of Jonathan Aristobulus, Mariamne’s younger brother, Alexandra tried to take back the government (as we saw in the last post). It had been falsely reported that Antony had killed Herod…but when letters were received from Herod…very much alive…

…the women left off their attempt…yet was not that purpose of theirs a secret; but when the king had …returned to Judea, when both his sister Salome and his mother, informed him of Alexandra’s intentions. Salome also added somewhat further against Joseph (their uncle left in charge of Mariamne and Alexander with orders to kill them if he didn’t return…Salome’s own husband Joseph), though it was no more than a calumny, that he had often had criminal conversation with Mariamne. The reason of her saying so was this, that she for a long time bare her ill-will; for when they had differences with one another, Mariamne took great freedoms, and reproached the rest for the meanness of their birth.

But Herod, whose affections to Mariamne was always very warm, was presently disturbed at this, and could not bear the torments of jealousy…which made him ask Mariamne  by herself about the matter with Joseph; but she denied it upon her oath, and said all that an innocent woman could possibly say in her own defense…so little by little the king was prevailed upon to drop his suspicion…till at last, as usual between lovers, they both fell into tears and embraced one another….Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.9

Switching to Wars of the Jews…after the death of her younger brother…

For these reasons Mariamne reproached Herod, and his sister and mother, after a most contumelious manner, while he was dumb on account of his affection for her; yet had the women great indignation at her, and raised a calumny against her, that she was false to his bed: which thing they thought most likely to move Herod to anger.

They also contrived to have may other circumstances believed, in order to make the thing more credible, and accused her of having sent her picture into Egypt to Antony, and that her lust was so extravagant, as to have thus shewn herself, though she was absent, to a man that ran mad after women, and to a man that had it in his power to use violence to her. This charge fell like a thunderbolt upon Herod and put him into disorder; and that especially, because his love to her occasioned him to be jealous, and because he considered with himself that Cleopatra was a shrewd woman, and…his fear did not only extend to the dissolving of his marriage, but to the danger of his life.

When, therefore he was about to take a journey abroad, he committed his wife to Joseph, his sister Salome’s husband, as to one who would be faithful to him, and bare him good-will on account of their kindred; he also gave him a secret injunction, that if Antony slew hm, he should slay her; but Joseph, without any ill design, and only  in order to demonstrate the king’s love to his wife, how he could not bear to think of being separated from her, even by death itself, discovered this grand secret to her; upon which, when Herod was come back, and as they talked together, and he confirmed his love to her by many oaths, and assured her that he had never such an affection for any other woman as he had for her,–

“Yes,” says she, “thou didst, to be sure, demonstrate thy love to me by injunctions thou gravest Joseph, when thou commandest him to kill me.”

When he heard that this grand secret was discovered, he was like a distracted man, and said, that Joseph would never have disclosed that injunction of his unless he had debauched her. His passion also made him stark mad, and leaping out of his bed, he ran about the palace after a wild manner; at which time his sister Salome took the opportunity also to blast her reputation, and confirmed his suspicion about Joseph; whereupon, out of his ungovernable jealousy and rage, he commanded both of them to be slain immediately…Wars of the Jews I.XXII.

In the Antiquities version, Salome could see that Herod was ready…finally…to do Mariamne violence and rolled out her plan to make it worse…

…Salome…sent to the king his cupbearer, who had been prepared long beforehand for such a design, and bade him tell the king how Mariamne had persuaded him to give his assistance in preparing a love-potion for him; and if he appeared to be greatly concerned, and to ask what that love-potion was, to tell him that she had the potion, and that he was desired only to give it him; but in case he did not appear to be much concerned at this potion, to let the thing drop; …

So he went in after a composed manner, to gain credit to what he should say…When Herod heard what he said, and was in an ill disposition before is indignation grew more violent; and he ordered that eunuch of Mariamne, who was most faithful to her, to be brought to torture about this potion…and when the  man was under the utmost agonies, he could say nothing concerning the thing he was tortured about, but so far he knew, that Mariamne’s hatred against him was occasioned by somewhat that Sohemus had said to her. Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

“Sohemus” is the culprit in Antiquities while Joseph is the hapless one in Wars. Both versions say that Herod “bound Alexandra and kept her in custody. In Wars (above) he had both Joseph and Mariamne slain immediately. In Antiquities, he had Sohemus killed immediately but …he allowed his wife to take her trial…Antiquities of the Jew XV.VII

7. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-The Queen

Josephus declares that Mariamne’s marriage alliance with Herod meant that the kingdom of the Hasmoneans had come to an end. And officially it did. The new king got to establish his new House and Mariamne was now part of it. Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus, Mariamne’s mother and Mariamne herself, though, did not for a minute think that it was the end of their family’s reign…just that now the ball was in the women’s court.

Because Herod…

…never left off avenging and punishing every day those that had chosen to be the party of his enemies…At this time Herod, now he had the got Jerusalem under his power, carried off all the royal ornaments, and spoiled the wealthy men of what they had gotten; and when, by these means, he had heaped together a great quantity of silver and gold…He also slew forty-five of the principal men of Antigonus’ party, and set guards at the gate so that nothing might be carried out with the dead bodies. Antiquities XV.I.1, 2

Even considering all that, Josephus was very fond of saying that the…

…affection (Herod) had for Mariamne was no way inferior to the affections of such as are on that account celebrated in history, and this very justly. Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

Mariamne and Herod in a 1959 movie “Herod the Great” Vic.
Many photos on http://www.facinate.com/people/queen-mariamne-facts

And she did live up to the marriage alliance agreement; she bore him five half-Herodian children in eight years…including two sons who would be Herod’s heirs. That was her role to play. Keep the new king happy and give him heirs. It may even have been a love-match…for a while. Herod had a passionate temperament and Mariamne was proclaimed to be a great beauty. And there had been signs and omens that it was good for her to make the alliance, like rain falling just when the women were out of water on Masada (last post). Josephus reports many times during this timeframe that…

 “…all the people believed that he was beloved of God, since he had escaped such a great and surprising danger…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XV.11

At least Josephus quoting his source who tended to glorify Herod as was his job and put down Mariamne because she was the enemy…but it does appear that Herod was obsessed with his queen. He was also a pragmatist…he needed her buffer with the people—he needed the legitimacy she and Alexandra gave him that allowed him to use the title of king in Judaea; a non-royal Arabian/Roman converted Jewish warrior from “beyond Jordan.”  He walked a tightrope and so did she.

Jerusalem was severely damaged after the siege, as we saw in earlier posts and Herod probably had a Hasmonean palace refurbished in time to bring his own family and his new wife back to the city, perhaps even Hyrcanus’ palace and Alexandra and Mariamne’s home…as Hyrcanus was still being held by the Parthians. While it was a time of jubilation for Herod, it was a time of sorrow for Mariamne and her mother…which they could not show to the new insecure king.

Antigonus had (had) the Parthians cut off Hyrcanus’ ears so he could not be High Priest anymore…the law required that this dignity should belong to none, but such as had all their members entire…(Moses’s Law in Lev. xxi. 17-24) Antiquities XIV.XIII.10

Knowing that Mariamne’s grandfather, Alexandra’s father, could not even be the High Priest anymore, Herod bargained with the Parthians to free Hyrcanus…who felt that since he had helped Herod in past times, including betrothing him to his granddaughter…that Herod would be appreciative and treat him benignly.

“But Herod’s zeal did not flow from this principle.” He knew that Hyrcanus was one of the few people left alive who could claim the throne over him. He brought him home with great pomp and respect…even calling him “father “and thereby deceived him that he was his friend.”

Alexandra also tried to live up to her side of the marriage alliance. While Mariamne was having children and antagonizing Salome and her mother, Alexandra was one of Herod’s trusted advisors at court in her role as queen mother of his royal wife and mother of Jonathan Aristobulus, a Hasmonean heir, though still young—until Herod went too far. Knowing that Hyrcanus could not again be High Priest and not wanting any Hasmonean to have the role, he brought in Ananias, a priest of a high-priestly line still living in Babylon to fill the role.

But Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus, and wife of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus the king, who had brought Alexander two children, could not bear this indignity. Now this son was one of the greatest comeliness and was called Aristobulus…This Alexandra was much disturbed, and took this indignity offered to her son exceedingly ill, that while he was alive, anyone else should be sent to have the dignity of the high-priesthood conferred on him. Accordingly, she wrote to Cleopatra…to desire her intercession with Antony, in order to gain the high-priesthood for her son.  Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.5.

Cleopatra proposed that Alexandra flee to her in Egypt with Jonathan Aristobulus her 16-year-old son being smuggled out of Jerusalem in coffins, but someone tipped Herod off, and they were found…in the coffins.     

…Cleopatra hereupon advised her to take her son with her and come away immediately into Egypt. This advice pleased her; and she had two coffins made, as if they were to carry away two dead bodies, and put herself into one, and her son into the other and gave orders to such of her servants as knew of her intentions, to carry them away in the night-time. Now their road was to be thence to the seaside; and there was a ship ready to carry them into Egypt…

But word leaked out among the servants…one named Sabion…hoping to get on Herod’s good side…told the king of this private stratagem of Alexandra: whereupon he suffered her to proceed to the execution of her project, and caught her in the very fact; but still he passed by her offense: and though he had a great mind to do it, he durst not inflict anything that severe upon her, for he knew that Cleopatra would not bear it…Antiquities of the Jews XV. III 2

Herod still didn’t feel he could go after Alexandra because of Cleopatra and her relationship with Marc Antony, his benefactor. So, he set his mind, right then, to getting rid of Johnathan Aristobulus.

 Mariamne also, perhaps for the first time, lay “vehemently” into Herod to get him to confer the high priesthood on her brother.

At length, he gave in lest he should lose her and her mother’s “friendship” but when the boy, who was now seventeen years of age, officiated at his first festival, the people wept and were “merry” with “warm zeal and affection…remembering the glory of their past and the exploits of his father Prince Alexander and his grandfather Aristobulus King and High Priest. Exactly what Herod feared…that Jonathan’s royal bloodline might lead Antony, pressured by Cleopatra, to give the government to him. Herod had the young man “accidentally” drowned in a pool at Alexandra’s palace in Jericho while playing water polo after the service. Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.3

Herod put on quite a show of grief according to Josephus, but Alexandra knew…

Her sorrow was greater than that of others, by her knowing how the murder was committed; but she was under the necessity of bearing up under it, out of her prospect of a greater mischief that might otherwise follow; and she sometimes came to an inclination to destroy herself with her own hand, but still she restrained herself, in hopes she might live long enough  to revenge the unjust murder…Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.4

..Accordingly she wrote an account of this treacherous scene to Cleopatra…how her son had been murdered…and Cleopatra…made the case her own, and would not let Antony be quiet, but excited him to punish the child’s murder: for that it was an unworthy thing that Herod, who had by him been made a king of a kingdom that no way belonged to him, should be guilty of such horrid crimes against those that were of the royal blood in reality. Antiquities of the Jew XV.III.5

 (I must remind you, in fairness, that Josephus himself carried the same royal blood through his mother, so was, perhaps, a bit biased. See my post on Josephus’ Mother.)

Cleopatra VII Philopater
Queen of the Ptolemaic Kingdom
reigned 51-30 BC, Roman sculpture from ca 46-44 BC. Now in Berlin. If you are a Cleopatra buff, Josephus wrote a lot about her.

Eventually Alexandra got Cleopatra to prevail on Antony to call Herod to trial over it. Herod went to Egypt to face Antony, but he left the government to his uncle Joseph ordering him that if he did not return, Mariamne and her mother were to be killed. He feared Alexandra to take over HIS kingdom…and he knew she would try.

(Josephus relates two incidents like this. It is a scholarly dilemma to this very day. I will quote what Josephus says on things that Alexandra and Mariamne said and did in both incidents…mostly to show their actions, not to clear up the controversy Josephus left us with. Way above my paygrade. It is totally unprecedented to have this much information on women.)

While Herod was gone, Joseph said too much to the women letting it slip about Herod’s order regarding them. He tried to make it okay by saying…

Herod had such tender affection for his wife and was afraid of the injury that would be offered him, if after his death, she, for her beauty, should be engaged to some other man…Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.5

 What the women heard, though, was that “they would be killed and not allowed to take back the kingdom, even if he were dead.” And then there were reports that Herod WAS dead…

As this time a report went about the city of Jerusalem, that Antony had tortured Herod and put him to death…upon which Alexandra endeavored…to go out of the palace, and fly away with them to the ensigns of the Roman legions which then lay encamped about the city as a guard to the kingdom…XV.III.7

Herod was not dead, though. When he returned, he heard reports of what Alexandra had done. Herod could not ignore her any longer in the name of domestic harmony…

…as Alexandra had already made attempts tending to innovations…he gave a command that she should dwell in the palace and meddle with no public affairs: her guards also were so careful, that nothing she did in private life every day was concealed. All these hardships put her out of patience…

Josephus said that Herod hated Cleopatra with a grand passion because they were rivals over Antony’s favors, and she had an unfair womanly advantage. He advised Antony to kill her. She carried out “flagrant enormities…and bewitched Antony…and was “irksome to all.” He also called a council to determine if he should kill her. (Antiquities of the Jews XV.IV)

And then, the unthinkable, Cleopatra and Antony lost a war to Octavian, and both committed suicide…an option allowed them because of their rank and bloodline.

After the death of Antony and Cleopatra, Herod had to go to Rome to talk to Octavian…Herod had backed Antony over Octavian…he was again in fear of his life…this led him to thinking that now was the time to get rid of old Hyrcanus…

…he saw that there was no one of royal dignity left but Hyrcanus (who) was of so mild a temper…that he desired not to meddle with public affairs…but Alexandra was a lover of strife, and was exceeding desirous of a change of government; and spoke to her father not to bear forever Herod’s injurious treatment of their family…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VI.2

Herod still knew better than to kill Alexandra if he hoped to keep Mariamne (and the kingdom), but before he left for Rome, more out of fear of Alexandra, he had Hyrcanus put to death on trumped up charges of treason, a plan he had waiting for the right time to implement.

The stage is set…

6. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-Salome sister of Herod

Jigsaw Puzzle of Herod consults with Cypros and Salome
King Herod the Great discusses with his mother Cypros and sister Salome the alleged infidelity of his wife Mariamne Date: 0 B.C

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Herod Consults Cypros and Salome and Cypros

Mariamne, now Queen of the Jews at perhaps 15-17 years old…finally…found herself wedded to her family’s enemy and now ally Herod. Herod may have been now in his early 30s, having previously been made Governor of Galilee for is valor in fighting her family alongside Marc Antony and the Romans…and now for fighting her cousin for the kingdom…but he keenly knew that he did not have royal blood and therefore did not deserve to be King of the Jews. He was also now face to face with his own Hasmonean, Mariamne.

We have seen Mariamne’s family tree. But now Josephus begins to tell us about Herod’s large extended family that had just risen to power with him.

Josephus lists Herod’s family. His father Antipater was…

in great repute in Idumaea…out of which nation he married a wife, who was the daughter of one of their eminent men, and her name was Cypros, by whom he had four sons, Phasael and Herod, who was afterwards made king, and Joseph, and Pheroras; and a daughter named Salome. Antiquities of the Jews XIV. VII3

Thought to be a young King Herod

Herod’s family will play a large role in his personal life as king as well as in his administration of the kingdom. His older brother Phasael will also be Governor of Roman provinces and one brother will commit suicide when captured in the war with Antigonus. His uncles will be a great help to him and were given positions and power in the new government and Hasmonean women as trophy wives.

To understand what Mariamne and her mother Alexandra walked into, it will help to understand the role of two Herodian women in particular…another mother/daughter pair: Salome, sister of Herod and their mother Cypros. Josephus gives us tremendous detail so we can trace the inevitability of what happened…

***

One of many great maps on Google or Bing

Herod and his family came from Idumea, the country directly south of Judea. When Herod has to flee from Antigonus and the Parthians, he fought his way to Idumea where he had support and where he sheltered his women-folk in the desert fortress of Masada. Idumea or Edom had been subjugated by John Hyrcanus in ca 110 B.C. He later built the lavish palace complex there to commemorate his victory.

Hyrcanus also initiated a military campaign against the Idumeans (Edomites). During this campaign Hyrcanus conquered Adora, Maresha and other Idumean towns (Ant.13.257). Hyrcanus then instituted forced conversions on the Idumeans to Judaism…This was an unprecedented move for a Judean ruler. John Hyrcanus – Wikipedia

***

To do that, we need to go back to that moment (in the last post) when Antigonus son of King Aristobulus attacked Herod in a surprise assault, causing him to flee Jerusalem. He was betrothed to Mariamne but not yet wed and not yet king.  

(Herod) therefore …set his wives(?) upon the beasts, as also his mother and sister, and her whom he was about to marry…with her mother…with tears in their eyes, and sad lamentation…left their own country…

Fighting his way there, he “deposited the women and several hundred of his closest followers” in the rough desert fortress of Masada with “sufficient quantity of corn and water.” Those three years before Herod could rescue them will leave scars on the women that will not heal. Herod will be named king by the Roman Senate and sent back with Roman Legions and eventually won his kingdom and his Jewish queen…but…

…fortune was avenged on Herod in his external great successes, by raising him up domestic troubles; and he began to have wild disorders in his family on account of his wife…Wars of the Jews I.XXII.1

Masada

It will be a few more years before Salome is mentioned again and one can readily see the enmity that grew out of that time on Masada between Salome and Mariamne.

…but as for Mariamne his wife, because of the misunderstanding between her and his sister, and his sister’s mother, which made it impossible for them (the women) to live together…(more later) Antiquities of the Jews XV.VI.4,5

(Salome)…for a long time bare (Mariamne) ill-will; for when they had differences with one another, Mariamne took great freedoms, and reproached the rest for the meanness of their birth. Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.9

(later on)..so much the greater were the distresses that came upon him in his own family, and chiefly in the affair of his wife, wherein he formerly appeared to have been most of all fortunate; for the affection he had for Mariamne was no way inferior to the affections of such as are on that account celebrated in history, and this very justly. As for her, she was in other respects a chaste woman, and faithful to him; yet had she somewhat of a woman rough by nature, and treated her husband imperiously enough, because she saw he was so fond of her as to be enslaved to her. She did not also consider seasonably with herself that she lived under a monarchy, and that she was at another’s disposal, and accordingly would behave herself after a saucy manner to him, which yet he usually put off in a jesting way and bore with moderation and good temper. She would also expose his mother and his sister openly, on account of the meanness of their birth, and would speak unkindly of them, insomuch that there was before this a disagreement and unpardonable hatred among the women…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

The new young king…not one born and bred to rule and a young queen who had been born and bred into a 100-year royal lineage, and though young, knew how to be a queen. Even in defeat, her House and nation would look to her to play to win. Beguile the king, give them heirs, and like Esther, know how to approach the king with petitions to help her people.  

Alexandra had her role to play at court as mother of the Queen and advisor to the King, but also as the only remaining royal in a position to aid her House return to any semblance of power and she had the warrior gene, as we will see. Mariamne will keep the king agreeable to their presence at court and presented him with heirs…five children in eight years…that were also heirs to her lost kingdom.  

Herod knew he needed the good will of Mariamne (and Alexandra) to remain king…and often, that is what is meant by “love” among the ruling class. But Jerusalem is not Camelot. Josephus’ reports stress the conflict between Mariamne and Salome, but the strife will also include both their mothers. Strife that began at Masada. Newly royal Cypros was now mother of the king, a role valued by Mid-Eastern courts and the Jews in particular, as we have seen, as advisor to her son, a role Alexandra challenged her for. Cypros and Salome were learning their roles in the face of apparent harassment from Mariamne. Alexandra would be given her own castle in Jericho to get her out of the Jerusalem palace harem.

While Mariamne may have played her royalty card to the maximum…and even enjoyed some of it…she could not escape the new regime in her old family home in Jerusalem and all that was lost.

Not an easy way to try to pick up the pieces of their new kingdom depleted of men and treasures and a whole generation, and under the watchful eye of Rome.

The stage has been set for one of history’s tragedies…the war of the women inside those walls…

5. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-“Espousal” to Herod

Before we get to Mariamne herself there are still two people we need to know for context: One: Herod, the man who, now, for better or worse is tied directly to the young Princess…somewhere around 12 years old, the normal age of betrothals. And two: Salome sister of Herod. (In the next post)

As an overview derived from Josephus recounting of tales about him, like the examples in the last post, I came to see Herod was a fierce, arrogant, ambitious, intelligent, handsome, warrior…perhaps a touch bipolar…and with a thirst for power and the audacity and skill to pull it off. He was generous with the well-placed gift. He had a knack for negotiating the tricky Roman waters. He had fought side by side with Marc Antony. His whole young life had revolved around Rome. He had already been awarded the title of Procurator of Galilee for his valor in battle while an audacious young man…twenty-five according to Josephus.

One of many on Google Images

But Herod was a private man, “a man of no family” and Josephus who had royal blood called him a “vulgar” man and was not shy about reminding his readers of that at every turn. Herod’s father Antipater I and his mother Cypros were of the nobility class in Petra and Idumean/Nabatean/Arabian by birth though the family had been forcefully converted to Judaism generations before, perhaps by John Hyrcanus. Being betrothed to a Judean Princess was a huge boon for Herod, politically. His betrothal to the princess made him the protector of her side of the family…for better or worse.

And then…Mariamne’s Cousin Declares War

Rome’s fear that young princes of defeated nations will rebel to get their kingdom back, now happens. This younger son of King Aristobulus, Antigonus, had been left alive but exiled.  He now declares war on Hyrcanus and Herod after going to Caesar to throw himself at his feet to plead that the nation was rightfully his.

Caius Julius Caesar imperator and high priest, and dictator the second time…decree…that Hyrcanus and his children bear rule over the nation of the Jews…and be high priests of the nation.  Antiquities of the Jews XIV.X1-6

The pronouncement only sent Antigonus scrambling for backers. His sister, Alexandra III, was his main ally, funding his war. (see sidebar below)

Herod upheld his side of his marriage alliance pact as protector…and as Roman’s resident warrior:

When (Herod)…was gone to meet Antigonus, he joined battle with him, and beat him, and drove him out of Judea…but when he was come to Jerusalem, Hyrcanus and the people put garlands upon his head; for he had already contracted an affinity with the family of Hyrcanus by having espoused a descendant of his, and for that reason Herod took the greater care of him, as being to marry the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, and the grand-daughter of Hyrcanus. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XII.1.

Antigonus fled from Herod at first, only to come back with stronger allies, the Parthians, who he promised…

…a thousand talents, and five hundred women, upon condition they would take the government away from Hyrcanus and bestow it upon him, and withal kill Herod.  Antiquities of the Jews XIV. XIII. 5

The women Antigonus promised to the Parthians were the Jewish royal and noble women and their handmaids…all the Hasmonean women who were now in limbo having lost the war and under the weak government of Hyrcanus…which, I think, at least in part, was why Antigonus declared war…so Mariamne daughter of his brother and granddaughter of his side of the family, would not be given in an alliance to Herod…who, as seen in the last post, that side of the family hated…and most likely had poisoned Antipater, Herod’s father.

The Parthians captured Hyrcanus and caused Herod to flee in the night with the women, including his own mother and sister and his betrothed and her mother. They fought their way to Masada, a barren desert fortress, and he deposited them there with “sufficient corn and water” and left his brother Joseph to guard them.

A Mark of Providence

Antigonus laid siege to Masada to get the women back. The women were besieged in the desert nearly THREE years and at one point had run out of water. Joseph was about to flee but…

God, by sending rain in the night-time prevented his going away, for their cisterns were thereby filled, and he was under no necessity of running away on that account: but they were now of good courage, and the more so, because the sending that plenty of water which they had been in want of, seemed a mark of divine providence…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XIV.6.

The rain may have been seen as divine intervention for Princess Mariamne.  Perhaps the rain was a sign that God favored her marriage to Herod. This portion of Josephus gives many examples of Herod receiving “signs.”  A favorable “sign” would have been helpful right then in condoning the betrothal of a Jewish royal virgin to the Roman friend and “Edomite” Herod.

Herod escaped to Idumaea, his family’s home, and raised enough money to build a ship and sail to Rome. He went immediately to Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to beg their assistance against Antigonus.

And this was the principal instance of Antony’s affection for Herod, that he not only procured him a kingdom which he did not expect, (for he did not come with an intention to ask the kingdom for himself, which he did not suppose the Romans would grant him, who used to bestow it on some of the royal family, but intended to desire it for his [betrothed cmf] wife’s brother, who as grandson by his father to Aristobulus and to Hyrcanus by his mother,) but that he procured it for him so suddenly, that he obtained what he did not expect, and departed out of Italy in so few days as seven in all. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XIV.5

The mystical seven days…Josephus was careful not to say that it was his betrothal to Mariamne that allowed him to be made King of the Jews and not a Roman Procurator, but Herod would always see the kingdom as Providence smiling on him like rain in the dry season because by rights it wasn’t his and he knew it. He also knew how fickle Fortune could be and would forever be caught between distrust of his Hasmonean enemy and his need of his “affinity” with Mariamne and her mother. One of his first acts upon returning was to rescue his womenfolk and take them to Samaria.

When the rigors of winter were over Herod…came to Jerusalem and pitched his camp… Now this was the third year since he had been made king at Rome…So he …encompassed the place with three bulwarks, and erected towers, and…cut down the trees  that were round about the city…(and)…even while the army lay before the city, he himself went to Samaria, to complete his marriage, and to take to wife the daughter of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus; for he had betrothed her already.

After the wedding was over (Herod gathered his armies) for they were about thirty thousand; and they all met together at the walls of Jerusalem…being an army of eleven legions…to take the government from Antigonus…and so that he himself could be king, according to the decree by the senate.

Now the Jews that were enclosed within the walls of the city fought against Herod with great alacrity and zeal, (for the whole nation had gathered together) they also gave out many prophecies about the temple…as if God would deliver them out of the danger they were in…they persisted in this way until the very last.

Once the walls were breached the city…

…was taken by storm; and now all parts of the city were full of those that were slain, by the rage of the Romans at the long duration of the siege, and by the zeal of the Jews that were on Herod’s side…so they were murdered continually in the narrow streets and in the houses by crowds, and as they were flying to the temple for shelter, and there was no pity taken of either infants or the aged…yet nobody restrained their hands from slaughter, and then…

Antigonus, without regard to either is past or present circumstances, came down from the citadel, and fell down at the feet of Sosius, who took no pity of him…but insulted him beyond measure and called him Antigone, [i.e., a woman, and not a man] yet did he not treat him as a woman, by letting him go at liberty, but put him into bonds, and kept him in close custody.

Herod…worried that the Romans would empty the city both of money and men and leave him king of a desert…but he did what he could to spare total destruction by paying the soldiers from his own money not to pillage….and to the commanders…till they all went away full of money. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XV and XVI

Herod knew how important “completing his marriage” was by doing it before he entered Jerusalem, but he had to go to war to defeat the King Aristobulus-side of the country first. He did…at great cost in lives and treasure…but he needed the marriage alliance with Mariamne to make it official with the multitudes that he was king in the time-honored fashion, also…by marrying the daughter of the last official king…before he rode through the gates…before he appeared on a throne in Jerusalem.

Marc Antony wanted to take Antigonus to Rome for his triumph, but Herod feared that if Antony took Antigonus to Rome…

He might get his cause to be heard by the senate, and might demonstrate, as he was himself of the royal blood, and Herod but a private man, that therefore it belonged to his sons…to have the kingdom, on account of the family they were of…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XVI.4

 Antony ordered Antigonus the Jew to be brought to Antioch, and there to be beheaded…as supposing he could no way bend the minds of the Jews so as to receive Herod…or be forced to call him king…Antiquities of the Jews XV.I.2

And thus did the government of the Asamoneans cease, a hundred and twenty-six years after it was first set up. This family was a splendid and an illustrious one, both on account of the nobility of their stock, and of the dignity of the high priesthood, as also for the glorious actions their ancestors had performed for our nation: but these men lost the government by their dissensions one with another, and it came to Herod, the son of Antipater. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XVI.4

Josephus was right in the male sense of wars…but the women knew that the ball was now in their court…

I think it worth the time and space of a “side bar” to look at the life of a daughter of King Aristobulus’ unnamed wife, the sister of Antigonus who helped him finance his war for the kingdom.

Alexandra III and her Queen Mother

There is a third role for daughters of kings; being sent to marry a foreign king to make a pact of mutual protection with an ally and “friend.” Alexandra III was the daughter of King Aristobulus. She and her younger brother Antigonus and an unnamed sister were sent to Rome when their father was captured, as we saw above. Their mother, the unnamed wife and queen of King Aristobulus who was the daughter of Absalom Commander of the Army played an active role in procuring the safety of her children…even negotiating with one of the Roman Commanders after her husband was captured and killed.

However…the senate let his children go, upon Gabinius’s writing to them that he had promised their mother so much when she delivered up the fortresses to him; and accordingly they then returned to Jerusalem. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VI.1

“She delivered up the fortresses…” She was the daughter of the Commander of the Army. But seeing that her son Antigonus was too young to inherit, Alexandra III was married off in an alliance with a another Mediterranean king. It was her blood right as a royal princess to receive a royal partner—even a princess whose father and oldest brother were just killed by Rome for sedition. In effect, this marriage got the children of King Aristobulus out of town, leaving the field open for the grandchildren of Hyrcanus to inherit the kingdom and keep the peace.

Josephus tells the story of this Alexandra’s marriage…another young princess sent off to do her duty:

But Ptolemy, the son of Menneus, who was the ruler of Chalcis…took his brethren to him, and sent his son Philippion to Askelon to Aristobulus’ wife, and desired her to send back with him her son Antigonus and her daughters: the one of whom, whose name was Alexandra, Philippion fell in love with, and married her; though afterwards his father Ptolemy slew him, and married Alexandra, and continued to take care of her brethren. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VII.4

Being a daughter…or a son…of a king was not for the faint of heart! This Alexandra, too, made the most of the hand she was dealt…Chalcis will play a role in New Testament times, and it was this Alexandra who got Chalcis to back her brother when he returned to fight Herod and Hyrcanus.

4. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-Alexandra the Maccabee

Photo on site Geni.com no artist attributed. https://www.geni.com/photo/view/6000000005790348026?album_type=photos_of_me&photo_id=6000000035805346583
Elizabeth Alexandra II…though so many of these photos are mislabeled…note the crosses she is wearing.

Prince Alexander son of King Aristobulus II was a “young man” when he was beheaded but he already had at least two children with his first cousin, Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus II. Theirs was a classic marriage alliance attempt to bridge the war between the two sides of the family by giving them heirs in common—but also, as ranking prince and princess, it was their right to marry each other. They would have started their own war if they were overlooked. They should have been the next king and queen.

With Prince Alexander and his father their King and High Priest dead, Alexandra returned to her father’s Hyrcanus’ home with her two small children. They were the hope of the nation to not be swept away by Rome. Rome favored letting nations rule themselves internally and allowed to keep their own royalty…if possible. It held rebellions of young princes to a minimum and they genuinely seemed to honor royal blood wherever they found it. Julius Caesar himself backed Hyrcanus over Aristobulus as the one less likely to go to war with them…yet again.

But times were tough. The nation was devastated by years of war and even greater loss of their relative freedom under stronger occupation. Hyrcanus had been backed and guided by Antipater, the governor of Idumaea for the Hasmoneans. He had taken Hyrcanus under his wing, to make him fight his brother Aristobulus for the kingdom. It still took Marc Antony’s legions to finally capture and kill Aristobulus and Alexander, as we saw in the last post. Josephus writes pages and pages of the war and wars between King Aristobulus and Prince Alexander.

And then Antipater, now the Roman procurator of Judea, was poisoned. Josephus suggests it was done by pro-King Aristobulus/Prince Alexander warrior factions still out there who hated Antipater and his son Herod and feared their strong ties with Rome and who had defeated them at great cost. Herod, especially was in great favor with Marc Antony as a valued warrior in the war against them. The Aristobulus faction still did not want Hyrcanus to the Regent/High Priest…they saw him as a traitor and apparently wrote the reports that Josephus used…

And (Antipater) seeing that Hyrcanus was of a slow and slothful temper, he made Phasaelus, his eldest son, governor of Jerusalem…but committed Galilee to Herod, his next son, who was a very young man, for he was but twenty-five years of age…but as he was a youth of great mind…But now the principal men among the Jews, when they saw Antipater and his sons to grow so much in the good-will the nation bare to them (Phasaelus and Herod)…and of the revenues which they received…but, the chief men of the Jews were therefore in fear, because they saw that Herod was a violent and bold man, and very desirous of acting tyrannically; so they came to Hyrcanus, and now accused Antipater openly… “Doest thou not see that Antipater and his sons have already seized on the government, and that it is only the name of a king which is given thee?

They accused Herod of slaughtering Hezekiah, a beloved Galilean of their party and eventually brought Hyrcanus around to making Herod come to trial before the Sanhedrin over it. Herod appeared dressed in purple with his hair carefully trimmed and a large bodyguard with him. The court feared for their lives but were ready to accuse Herod until Hyrcanus eventually got Herod off and told him to leave for awhile. Herod did but came back with an army to fight Hyrcanus but his father and brother “pacified his vehement temper.”  Herod was persuaded that he had made a fine show of his power and could let it go. “…and in this state of were the affairs of Judea at this time….” synopsis Antiquities of the Jews XIV.IX  

Alexndra the Maccabee from Nuremberg Chronicle, published 1493 (on her Wikipedia page…these two images only depictions I could find.)

This is the state of affairs that Princess Alexandra faced. Her father did not have the warrior gene…but she did, and she had the ear of her father, the High Priest Regent. After Antipater’s sudden death, she knew they needed a protector who had Rome’s ear. She may have been torn between the war at any cost side of the family, her husband’s clan…and her realization that Hyrcanus was also right. Rome was a fact of life. They were under occupation. They had just lost a major war and the nation was in a nosedive. What to do?

Alexandra put on the mantle of Queen Mother as demanded by tradition regarding the mother of royal sons.

“(W)hom though mayest make princes in all the earth. Psalm 45:16

She had a young prince to protect but first she had a daughter. She moved back into her father’s house with her children and began to look at the situation from that vantage point.  She may have been as young as still in her 20s, but she will not remarry and will become a Queen Mother with a vengeance…as we will see.

A quick inventory of their options showed that her father’s rule needed another protector with Rome now that Antipater had been killed. Josephus tells of many interactions between Antipater’s son Herod and Hyrcanus and how Hyrcanus had helped Herod get out from under the death sentence that the Sanhedrin wanted to level on him. He perhaps felt that Herod owed him and would work with him now. But how to capture and keep his help?

If one had a need to make an alliance with an enemy or even a friend, there was a classic remedy. One King marries his daughter to another king/tyrant/principal man in order to form a political alliance now called a marriage alliance. And there was Hyrcanus’ granddaughter, Alexandra’s daughter, the virgin damsel Mariamne, as if a gift from Providence. She was their perfect asset to help keep their foot in the door with Rome and to keep her younger brother Jonathan Aristobulus alive long enough to inherit the kingdom and/or the High Priesthood. Mariamne was a Jewish Princess at the age of betrothal; she was their only, and in the way of their world, their best card to play. 

We don’t know her date of birth…but from the use of her in a marriage alliance, she must have been of a marriageable age, and it goes without saying a virgin. Betrothals could happen at any age usually before puberty with marriages happening just after puberty…she would have been a virgin princess damsel.

And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, “Talitha cumi;” which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. And straightaway the damsel arose and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. (Mark 5:39-42)

Like it or not…Hyrcanus betrothed the Princess Mariamne to Antipater’s son Herod, recently made Procurator of Galilee for fighting with Marc Antony against their family if he would be their advocate with Rome. He was not a choice that would bring peace to Judea or reconcile the warrior half of the family, but it would keep the Hyrcanus half in power and in favor at Rome.

Princess Mariamne had the right bloodline and was the right age, at the right time to be betrothed in a manner that would assist her family and nation. Herod was the best candidate available. The battlefield would now be the bedchamber.

She had been born for this.

But it was a move that changed the history of Judea, Israel…now Palestine, forever.

I would like to note that from the Hasmonean sons and royal daughters of John Hyrcanus on took a Greek name as well as their Hebrew name. All the Alexander’s and Aristobulus’ also had a family name like Mattathias. I did not know until I found this site that Alexandra II was also named Elizabeth…I will need to go back and do some editing…such is the life of a researcher…ha.

Alexandra Hasmonean (dau. Hyrcanus II) (c.-63 – c.-28) – Genealogy (geni.com)

Elizabeth of Jerusalem, Queen Alexandra II

Alexandra Hasmonean (dau. Hyrcanus II) Hebrew: אלכסנדרה החשמונאית, Dutch: Alexandra Maccabaeus
Also Known As:“Esther (Elizabeth) of Jerusalem (bat Hyrcanus) Hasmonean Princess Alexandra II )”
Birthdate:before circa -63
Birthplace:Judea
Death:circa -28
Jerusalem, Judea (Killed by King Herod The Great)
Place of Burial:Jerusalem, Judea
Immediate Family:Daughter of Hyrcanus II Hasmonean, King & High Priest of Judea and 
Wife of Alexander II Hasmonean, High Priest and King Antigonus II Mattathias, [Last Hasmonean King of Judaea]
Mother of Queen Mariamne (Hasmonean)Jonathan Aristobulus III Last Hasmonean High Priest and N.N. ., Hasmonean Princess, 1st wife of Pheroras
Managed by:Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:April 26, 2022

3. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-Genealogy

The Maccabees
By Wojciech Stattler –
Od starożytności do współczesności – Malarstwo i rzeźba, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN S.A., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/Maccabees

None of us live in a vacuum. Each is a link in a very long chain both before and after us. And each has a role to play in moving the gene pool forward. Here is Mariamne’s pedigree on her father’s side:

Mariamne daughter of Prince Alexander son of King and High Priest Aristobulus son of King/High Priest Alexander Janneus, son of High Priest/Regent John Hyrcanus, son of High Priest/Regent Simon son of Priest and leader of the rebellion against the Greeks Matthias Hasmon…and brother of Judas the Maccabee…the new House of the Hasmoneans in ca 165 BCE

John Hyrcanus ended up having a good reign, but he also had a big problem

But…(John) was not ignorant of anything that was to come afterwards; insomuch that he foresaw and foretold that his two eldest sons would not continue masters of the government: and it will highly deserve our narration to describe their catastrophe, and how far inferior these men were to their father in felicity.  Wars of the Jews I. II.7-8

John did something new in Israel and Judaism. He left the kingdom to his own unnamed wife and named her “mistress of all.” Not unexpectedly, their eldest son will have none of it:

Now when their father Hyrcanus was dead, the eldest son Aristobulus, intending the change the government into a kingdom… first put a diadem on his head, four hundred and eighty-one years and three months after the people had been delivered from the Babylonian slavery…This Aristobulus loved his next brother Antigonus, and treated him as his equal; but the others he held in bonds and cast his mother into prison, because she disputed the government with him; for Hyrcanus had left her to be mistress of all. He also proceeded to that degree of barbarity, as to kill her in prison with hunger…Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XI.1

It is interesting to note that John Hyrcanus set a precedent…as we will see…by leaving the government to his wife.  And we have seen how the mother of High Priest John Hyrcanus was “martyred for the law” and became an icon and role model for mothers of sons during the war. Where did this idea come from? The only example of Jewish queens after King David’s wives were infamous in the Old Testament:  the evil Jezebel and her daughter Athalia in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (See blog post on History of Queens)

I think the idea came from Mattathias Hasmon, the patriarch of the Maccabee/Hasmoneans because of this story about Simon son of Mattathias who established their dynasty:

Simon also erected a very large monument for his father and his brethren, of white and polished stone, and raised it a great height…and set up pillars…a work it was wonderful to see. Moreover, he built seven pyramids also for his parents and brethren, one for each of them, which were made very surprising, both for largeness and beauty. Antiquities of the Jews XIII. VI.5

The wife of Mattathias and the mother of all those Maccabean hero sons was left stubbornly unnamed, though she earned her own pyramid…but she must have been a force in her own right, perhaps picking up the mantle from her husband when he died and earned her own “blessed memory” that had impressed her youngest son Simon.

This Aristobulus, though, besides starving his mother in prison, took for himself the title of King for the first time since the last son of David, fifteen generations ago. Aristobulus, was a Sadducee, a “conservative.” He made a marriage alliance with “Salome, who, by the Greeks, was called Alexandra.” She had a brother who was a very highly esteemed Pharisee and a Nasi, (prince of the congregation), head of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish High Court—an alliance of opposites to help keep the peace by sharing power. Shalomzion, the Hebrew name of the new queen, would not let her new husband Aristobulus rule…or take the title of king.

…upon this occasion, the queen very cunningly contrived the matter with those that plotted his ruin…Wars of the Jews I.III.3

An elaborate plot unfolded…When Aristobulus was dead, Salome…

…let his brethren out of prison, (for Aristobulus had kept them in bonds, as we have said already,) and made Alexander Janneus king, who was the superior in age and in moderation… Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XII.1

The Jewish Encyclopedia says that she was thirty-seven and he twenty-two when they married…and she “made him the king” and bore him at least two sons…

Alexander may have been a good king in the expanding the territory and making war category, though he earned the nickname “Thracian” for his ruthlessness. The Pharisees were against him saying he should just stick to being king and not a high priest. They declared war on each other. He had to flee to the mountains, but he eventually triumphed, and brought his enemies to Jerusalem and…

Did the most barbarous actions in the world to them; for as he was feasting with his concubines, in the sight of all the city, he ordered about eight hundred of them to be crucified; and while they were living, he ordered the throats of their children and wives to be cut before their eyes.  Antiquities of the Jews XIII.X.

When Alexander Janneus the Sadducee died, he left the kingdom to his wife, as his father had done before him, because his sons may have been too young to inherit. The documents Josephus was working from say that the reason he left the government to Salome (Shalomzion) Alexandra was that she was a Pharisee and the Pharisees so hated him that they would kill his young sons before they could inherit the kingdom…but also because his father had done it first.

The people had become polarized in a Sadducee vs. Pharisee divide…a Sunni vs. Shiite split…a red state vs. blue state impasse and though the king’s ploy worked for a while. Salome Alexandra ruled as a regent for nine years and gave the Pharisees ascendancy and angered the Sadducees but did keep the peace while she was alive.

…when the queen was fallen into a dangerous distemper, (her son) Aristobulus resolved to attempt the seizing of the government…for he was…displeased at his mother’s conduct, so he was now much more afraid, lest, upon her death, their whole family should be under the power of the Pharisees….but Aristobulus chiefly made manifest what were his sentiments, and using many reproachful expressions to his mother, [saying] “Nay, indeed, the case is this, that they have been themselves the authors of their own calamities, who have permitted a woman who, against reason, was mad with ambition, to reign over them, when there were sons in the flower of their age fitter for it.” Antiquities XIII.XVI.

Aristobulus married the daughter of Absalom, Commander of the Army—in effect, made an alliance with the army and began to gather followers. When Salome heard what Aristobulus was up to, she threw his wife and children in a tower in Jerusalem as hostages.

Now there was a mighty conflux of people that came to Aristobulus from all parts, insomuch that he had a kind of royal attendants about him; for in a little more than fifteen days, he got twenty-two strong palaces, which gave him the opportunity of raising an army…for men are easily led by the greater number…Now the elders of the Jews, and Hyrcanus with them, went in unto the queen, and desired that she tell them what to do because they were in affect surrounded by Aristobulus and as soon as she died, all hell was going to break loose.

But she bade them do what they felt proper to be done: that they had many circumstances in their favor still remaining; a nation in good heart, an army, and money in their several treasuries; for that she had small concern about public affairs now, when the strength of her body already fails her. Now a little after she had said this to them, she died, when she had reigned nine years, and had in all lived seventy-three. A woman she was who shewed no signs of the weakness of her sex; for she was sagacious to the greatest degree in her ambition of governing, and demonstrated by her doings at once, that her mind was fit for action…However, she brought the affairs of her house to such an unfortunate condition…and this out of what does not belong to a woman…Antiquities of the Jews XIII.5

Josephus does not condemn her for being a woman, but he does blame her, I think, for being the queen/regent and not stopping the civil war between her sons. Perhaps a male king would have had one of his sons killed or exiled.

Shalomzion/Alexander Salome

Shalomzion is mentioned more than once in the Dead Sea scrolls where the writer is commenting on a biblical prophetic book attempting to show how the prophecy is fulfilled by events happening in his own political world. The commentary is called a “Pesher.” Scholars think that a portion of Pesher Nahum refers to Queen Salome as a harlot.

…[….) foundation, Shelamzion entered […] […] to receive […] […] Hyrcanus rebelled […]…

(4Q322 Frag. 2. Also see 4Q324 with just her name.)

(From The Jewish Women’s Archive—Queen Shelamziyyon) from the Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation with Commentary by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, Harper San Francisco 1996)

Pesher Nahum… goes on to describe the rule of the Pharisees, obviously during the queen’s reign. Jerusalem under the rule of the new queen is described as “the bloody city” and the queen herself is described in the words of the prophet Nahum: “Because of the countless harlotries of the harlot, the winsome mistress of sorcery, who ensnared nations with her harlotries and peoples with her sorcery.” (Nahum 3:4). (From The Jewish Women’s Archive—Queen Shelamziyyon)

There are coins with “King Jonathan” on them (see Jewish Encylopedia.com) and a hymn to “King Jonathan” was found in a Dead Sea Scroll, (4Q448). (Josephus’ describes “Essens” at length in this section, ca 160s B.C.)

Alexandra Salome had, during her lifetime, made her eldest son Hyrcanus II, the High Priest with her as Regent. After she died, Hyrcanus became the High Priest Regent:

Hyrcanus(II) then began his high priesthood…when presently Aristobulus(II) began to make war against him, and as it came to a battle with Hyrcanus at Jericho, many of his soldiers deserted him, and went over to his brother; upon which Hyrcanus fled into the citadel where Aristobulus’ wife and children were imprisoned by his mother…So when he had sent a message to his brother about agreeing the matters between them, he laid aside his enmity to him on these conditions, that Aristobulus should be king, that he should live without intermeddling with public affairs, and quietly enjoy the estate he had acquired. When they agreed upon these terms in the temple…and giving one another their right hands and embracing one another in the sight of the whole multitude, they departed; the one, Aristobulus, to the palace, and Hyrcanus, as a private man, to the former house of Aristobulus. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.I.2

No small country lives in a vacuum, though. Some of Judea’s neighbors did not want Aristobulus the warrior to be the ruler on their borders. And more importantly, neither did Rome.

Rome steps in

King Alexander Janneus and Queen Salome Alexandra worked closely with a man named Antipater whom they appointed their governor of Idumaea. He was Idumaean by birth but a Jew by religion, perhaps a product of forced conversion by John Hyrcanus. Antipater made Hyrcanus II son of Salome Alexandra his “friend” and propped him up to fight for the kingdom against his warrior brother:

Hyrcanus gave no credit to these words of (Antipater’s) as being of a gentle disposition and one that did not easily admit of calumnies against other men. This temper of his not disposing him to meddle with public affairs, and want of spirit, occasioned him to appear to spectators to be degenerated and unmanly; while Aristobulus was of a contrary temper, an active man, and one of a great and generous soul. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.II.3

To make a very long, detailed story, short, the civil war between the sons of Shalomzion, allowed the Romans under Pompey and his legions in. Both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus went to meet him to plead with him for his “friendship” to determine who would be the Rome-backed (puppet) ruler of the Jews. Pompey decided to come to Jerusalem to see for himself what was going on; there, he sided with Hyrcanus and came to Jerusalem and camped outside the gates demanding to be admitted. Those with Aristobulus said no, but “others” opened the gates and Aristobulus was besieged in the Temple. When Pompey broke through the walls, he had the audacity to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple—around 63 BCE—and “make Jerusalem tributary to the Romans.”

Pompey…

…also carried bound along with him Aristobulus and his children; for he had two daughters, and as many sons; the one of whom ran away; but the younger, Antigonus, was carried to Rome, together with his sisters.

Hyrcanus was re-installed as the High Priest and Ethnarch…not King…but now under the tutelage of Antipater, the Roman Procurator. But…there is always a “but”—Alexander the son of Aristobulus II who escaped made his way back to continue the war:

Sometime after this, when Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, made an incursion into Judea, Gabinius came from Rome to Syria, as commander of the Roman forces. He…made war with Alexander…However, Alexander went over all the country round about, and armed many of the Jews, and suddenly got together ten thousand armed footmen, and fifteen hundred horsemen, and fortified Alexandrium, a fortress near to Coraae, and Macherus…Gabinius therefore came upon him, having sent Marcus Antonius, with other commanders, before…and also their friends that were with Antipater, and met Alexander…Whereupon Alexander retired to the neighborhood of Jerusalem, where they fell upon one another, and it came to a pitched battle; in which the Romans slew of their enemies about three thousand, and took a like number alive…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VI-VIII

Alexander was eventually captured and beheaded by Rome. His father escaped from Rome again and came back to fight again, was captured again, and was finally poisoned.

Alexander son of Aristobulus is Mariamne’s father.

Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus is Mariamne’s mother.

Genealogy Chart for the Ruling Line of the House of the Hasmoneans


2. Mariamne Queen of the Jew-The Context

The Mother with Seven Martyred Sons

The Marys that Josephus named were Mariamnes, all royal women except one that I write about at the very end of my book/posts. (The Last Mary and the Apocalypse. If new to this site, perhaps it should be read later.)

The most documented one was Mariamne, a daughter of the royal House of the Hasmoneans. They were the descendants of the family of priests that rose up to defeat a Greek king, Antiochus Epiphanes, who invaded Judaea in about 165 BCE, determined to wipe out the Jews. The story is fairly well known. 

 A father and five sons fled Jerusalem and the Temple under occupation by the Greeks to the wilderness where others joined them with their “cattle, women, and children” and raised a guerilla army. It was led by one of the sons, Judas the Maccabee, a nickname meaning The Hammer. Even some Christians are aware of Judas Maccabee and his taking back the Temple in the war and cleansing it and the miracle and celebration of Hannukah remembered to this day.  

Fortunately, their story is told in the Books of the Maccabees that were preserved for Christians in the Apocypha…the middle books of old bibles that did not make the cutoff for gospels but were important anyway. Josephus does not use the term “the Maccabees.” But he knew of the stories and the Books of the Maccabees and used them in his histories.

The family of Mattathias and his sons changed Jewish history. Before Antiochus Epiphanes entered Jerusalem and sent the current High Priest into exile, Judea had been ruled for “15 generations” by a dynasty of High Priests springing from one High Priest named (Jesus) Jeshua son of Josedek. It is a long story and I tell a bit more of it the blog and book, but after the war is fought to a draw and Judas is dead, and his brother Jonathan who “took up his mantle” is dead, the youngest brother Simon is made the ruler by the Greeks but also given the High Priesthood as a dynasty “until a prophet should come” by the people 

This new dynasty of rulers in Judaea and Palestine is called the House of the Hasmoneans and they will rule until 37 BCE when defeated by Herod and the Roman legions. They were a family of priests who became warriors and fought a Holy War against Antiochus “Epiphanes,” the God and were awarded the rulership and high priesthood for it. There had not been a Davidic king since before those “15 generations” ruled by High Priests.  

We will meet some of the warrior kings of Mariamne’s family as we go along…but more importantly, I think, it was some of their religious beliefs that left the most lasting influence on the nation. So, for context, here are a few of the ideas that came from the time of Judas the Maccabee that will be strong until the end of the nation in 65-70 CE when they will once again be defeated by Roman legions.  

  1. Resurrection 

The belief in a bodily resurrection and the Resurrection of the Saints.  

Let everybody who is zealous for the Law and stands by the agreement come out after me. I Maccabees 2 

That was the battle cry of Mattathias son of Hasmon when he fled the city to organize and fight the Greeks. “Zealous” will come to mean, not just that one will fight for the homeland and God, but more, those who willingly and eagerly expect to die doing so. These are the Saints and Judas believed that they would be resurrected in the Resurrection of the Saints. That was the “agreement” …we will fight and die for the Laws, but you will return us to life, one day. There is more to it, of course, but this is one of the backbones, the pillars of their belief…the agreement. 

“And the noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin…he also took a collection, amounting to two thousand silver drachmas, each man contributing, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide a sin offering, acting very finely and properly in taking account of the resurrection. For if he had not expected that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead; or if it was through regard for the splendid regard destined for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be set free from their sin.” II Maccabees 12:42-45 

  • 2. The Book of Daniel

Also, from this war came the Book of Daniel which still has a significant impact on us today…terms like “Messiah the Prince” and “time, time, and half times until he returns”, and angels like Gabriel and Michael.  

And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end…Daniel 12:2-4 

It was a two-part belief…one that the fallen warrior saints would resurrect one day…And two…the Saint would receive a blessed memory…that those who fell asleep in godliness/martyrdom would be held in “splendid regard.”  

And, oddly, this included the mothers of the warriors… 

  • 3. Mothers of Martyred Sons 

There are several stories in the Books of the Maccabees and in the Book of Judith from this period, that are propaganda on how individuals can benefit the Saint’s war. Old priests and young beautiful women were honored as examples of how to use their assets to fight their enemy. Especially mothers were needed to urge their ever-younger sons to join the fight. This story from II Maccabees became the model that was used to urge both mothers and sons to step up in the war against Antiochus Epiphanes. And this is where Judas’ concept of resurrection for martyrs comes in…somewhere in all this, the mothers of sons were given a promise that their sons dead in the war would be returned to them. It is a long story and gruesome with each son being begged by his mother to die for the Law and then be killed before her eyes… 

“Then the mother said to her seventh son) I beseech you, my child…Do not be afraid of this butcher, but show yourself worthy of your brothers, and accept death, so that by God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers. But their mother was surpassingly wonderful, and deserves a blessed memory, for though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage, because of her hope in the Lord. And she encouraged each of them… for she was filled with a noble spirit and stirred her woman’s heart with manly courage…” II Maccabees 7. 

  • 4. Martyred Mothers 

Josephus also using the Books of Maccabees, tells more of the story of Simon (above) the third son of Mattathias to become the leader of the Jews and serve as the High Priest/Regen and the one that began the ruling line of the House. I have written at length about the wife of Simon and who I feel she might have been…but here we will just speak to her death. Ptolemy, the husband of an unnamed daughter killed Simon and two of their sons and took their and two other sons captive and laid a plot to kill a fifth son, “young” John Hyrcanus: 

So Ptolemy retired to one of the fortresses that was above Jericho, which was called Dagon. But Hyrcanus having taken the high priesthood that had been his father’s before…made an expedition against Ptolemy; and when he made his attacks upon the place…was rendered weaker than he, by the commiseration he had for his mother and his brethren, and by that only; for Ptolemy brought them upon the wall, and tormented them in sight of all, and threatened that he would throw them down headlong, unless Hyrcanus would leave off the siege…However, his mother…begged of him that he would…do his utmost to take the place quickly…and then to avenge upon him what he had done to those that were dearest to himself; for that death would be to her sweet, though with torment, if that enemy of theirs might but be brought to punishment for his wicked dealings to them.  Antiquities of the Jews XIII.VIII.1 

John Hyrcanus could not stop his mother from being tortured because of the Law of Sevens; a Sabbath Year that had just begun…which meant that Jews abstained from work for one year every seventh year and war was work. As the new High Priest of a new House, son of the first official Hasmonean High Priest, he had no choice but to obey the law and withdraw knowing that his mother and two brothers would be slain, martyrs for the Law. 

  • 5. To Earn an Everlasting Fame 

Here is an example from Josephus from 4 BCE, the year most researchers believe that Jesus was born but well over 100 years since the widow of Simon and her sons were martyred. When King Herod has the Temple magnificently rebuilt in Jerusalem, he had put a golden eagle over the main gate. When he was near death, and word went around that he had died, two teachers in the Temple urged their students to climb up and chop down the eagle as it was against the Laws of Moses to have graven images. They did so and were caught and taken before Herod… 

…who asked them: “had they been so bold as to pull down what he had dedicated to God?” “Yes” they said…  “What has been performed, we performed it…and it ought not to be wondered at, if we esteem those laws which Moses had…wrote and left behind him, more worthy of observation than thy commands. Accordingly, we will undergo death and all sorts of punishments which thou can inflict on us with pleasure, since we are conscious to ourselves that we shall die…for love of religion…And an everlasting fame and commendation.” Antiquities of the Jews XVII.2-3 

At least part of the belief about resurrection was prevalent when Jesus died about 35 years later. Matthew later wrote: 

And behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city and appeared unto many. Matthew 27:51-53 

Josephus was a Pharisee. He was living in Jerusalem during the time covered by the Book of Acts and could have written the following: 

But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead am I called to question. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude were divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. Acts 23:6-9 

Now that we know who we are dealing with, we will next look at Mariamne’s direct ancestors. Historical searches are always genealogical searches as well as a political and philosophical one. Mariamne’s life and death flow directly from her family roots…and genes…into her nation’s history and the role she was required and expected to play…for the nation’s “futurity”, as Josephus would say. 

1. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-A Closer Look

"Esther" by Herman Anschutz, a 19th Century German painter...found on Google Images and used on many websites without attribution.
This is a painting by the German painter Herman Anschutz, 19th Century entitled “Esther. There is only one true older painting of Mariamne the Queen, and I will use it later, but I like to picture her this way, myself. She was young like Esther when she became a queen.

I have been researching Mary mother of Jesus for about 40 years, now.

Most of those years were spent looking for and not finding that one elusive thing I thought I would find, arrogantly, some might say…including myself. A drive that appeared out of the blue and never left.

I had begun my search in the late 1960s with a slight New Age Christian bias…and didn’t realize at first that all the books I was reading were written by Christian scholars and theologians…and truth be told, were mostly written from the same outlook and mostly said the same thing with slight variations.

Then, books began to appear on the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1940 in Palestinian desert caves overlooking the Dead Sea. I read everything I could find, still looking for an elusive “something.”  I soon discovered that while the Scrolls were Jewish documents about a mostly male priestly society, the first books on the Scrolls were also written from the Christian perspective…books that a novice like me could find at Barnes and Noble.

The scrolls did spark a new round of the “Search for the Historical Jesus” books…all variations again on the basic Christian message…but each Jesus reflected the books author. (Something the New Physics began to inform us on…. we each find what we are looking for.) One thing began to stand out for me, though. I could search the index on a new “Search” book and discover no listings for the gospel women or the usual nod to Mary his sainted peasant but more realistic mother, and/or to Mary Magdalene the fallen prostitute.

Then, rather serendipitously, another discovery of scrolls in the early 1940s, found this time in Egypt in 1940s, the Gnostic Gospels, were finally translated and the first books about them made it to the bookstores in the 1980. These scrolls were not Jewish but heretical Christian and were probably buried to keep them from being burned because they featured persons from the New Testament, especially Mary Magdalene but in a more central role. Their Mary Magdalene opened up whole new vistas for women. Once translated and published, this body of thought saw many women enter the heretofore mostly male world of biblical research. They were determined to reclaim women’s role in the New Testament story and clear the reputation of Mary Magdalene…even making her the wife of Jesus. It was all interesting and did get me to thinking there may be more to the women of the story than I had previously thought. Though I read all the books, women as the equals of the male disciples were intriguing but still was not what I was looking for…that I would know when I saw it.

Then, I found myself one day in the 1980s in collectibles shop in Painesville, Ohio. In a large bin of old books on sale, I found a book titled, The Collected Works of Josephus…I had never heard of him.

But it was one hundred years old and $13. I bought it and it changed everything.

Josephus

I nearly destroyed this old book before I discovered a large paperback edition, also destroyed now with highlighting and dog-eared corners. Flavius Josephus or just Josephus as he is best known to those who love him, wrote three histories that are crucial to understanding the ancient history of the Jews, showing in horrifying detail how his people came to lose their war with Rome that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and led to the infamous siege of Masada in 65-70 A.D. and the loss of the nation.

Josephus was the Jewish commander of Galilee when the war with Rome broke out. He was captured by the Romans before the siege of Jerusalem and was befriended by Titus, the Roman commander, and was allowed access to Jewish royal records.

The most known books are Wars of the Jews, Antiquities of the Jews, and his own autobiography, Life. They reveal that his father was a priest high up in the Temple hierarchy and his mother had royal blood. He was born in 37 C.E. and was raised as a prince in Jerusalem. He knew personally all the kings and queens in the New Testament and the events in the Book of Acts. He was not without his biases, and he used other writers extensively…and was a product of his time and place, but he is the best we have…for a simple researcher like me.

Two distinct portraits of one man; one, Flavius Josephus in a Roman pose showing his adoption by the family of Vespasian the Roman Emperor who defeated his nation and allowed Josephus to chronicle the war…and the older Josephus son of Matthias in the robes of a Jewish prince. These two portraits symbolize the dilemma he and his tiny nation faced…first being a small prize fish in a big pond of competing kings and nation…and then the occupied nation of the winner, the Roman Empire…and the issue they always faced…resist and face losing everything or work with the enemy and try to save as much as you can.

I began reading the early history and it was interesting and new to me but still no BIG Ah Ha moment…Until one day….I remember exactly where I was when I (finally) asked myself, “I wonder if Josephus mentioned any women named Mary?” I flipped back to the index to see…he did.

I found what I was looking for.

In many ways, this is a “what if” theory…as most are. Because, in Josephus’ index, I discovered Mariamne I Queen of the Jews and wondered how she might be connected to Mary mother of Jesus, crucified with the sign over his head, King of the Jews. I have a book as well as this website/blog on what I came up with I call My Search for the Political Mary — WordPress.com

In this series of posts, though, I just want to concentrate on the life and times of Mariamne the Jewish Queen, herself, as reported in the writings of Josephus, always my main source. “The Execution of Mariamne” is one of the most clicked on posts on my website. People are now interested in her, and she deserves a closer look at her LIFE. Mariamne Queen of the Jews was far more than her death.

Cleta M. Flynn

My Search for a Political Mary

Black Madonna
A Black Madonna…Our Lady of Czestochowa…see Page “Mary as the Black Madonna” for her story.

This blog is about my search for a Mary that made sense to me…a Mary that fit into the patriarchal culture of her day…but also a Mary that could travel with her son and tell him what to do… something only a queen mother could get away with. She had to be a Mary that could help explain why her son, a Galilean citizen brutally killed by the Roman Occupier of Palestine in Jerusalem at the behest of the Jewish High Court and the High Priest…all the forms of political power of the day…died with a sign over his head saying “King of the Jews.” All four versions of the story in the gospels include the sign but do not explain in real time why it was there and why the first question Pilate, the Roman governor and his judge, jury and executioner, asked him was “Are you a King of the Jews?” to which Jesus answered, “Yes” all four times.

 

Being a king in a Middle Eastern monarchy even in the first century A.D. required a royal bloodline….even to be a puppet king in an occupied nation…as we will see. As a curious layperson, after years of studying Christian “Search for the Historical Jesus” books, I literally stumbled across an 800-page book of The Collected Works of Josephus, a Jewish historian born 4 years after the death of Jesus who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews in basically the same timeframe that the earliest gospels were being written (ca 90 A.D.) but using Jewish court records. Josephus spoke at length about a Jewish Royal family–other than the legendary Davidic one–that included queens with the dynastic name of Mariamne, often translated in Christian documents as Mary.

I have re-written this manuscript a hundred times over thirty-plus years and continue to at least look at the indexes of books still being written on the Historical Jesus…or less common…Mary…to see if my “idea” holds up…so far, so good but others are starting to take a hard look at the women also. I will share their ideas as we go along.

Simply comparing the rich and royal women and their stories in Josephus with the New Testament story does reveal a time of liberated women that answer the questions…Why are there so many women in the New Testament? Was Jesus a feminist? Or…more to my theory…was Jesus accompanied by his royal mother and her handmaidens who supported him? If so, then a certain amount of “veiling” on both the Jewish and the Christian side has been going on, as we will see…

By simply comparing Josephus’ histories of the New Testament era from the Jewish side…with the story of Jesus “son of Mary” as it has come down to us from the Christian side…and by studying a history of Jewish queens and their role in the politics of their nation…gives much needed context to the New Testament Mary and her role in the life and death of her son…see what you think. Even if you disagree, with “my Mary,” you will have to agree that looking at the women’s history…changes our understanding of the era and the role that royal women were expected to play…and did play…and that they were  relevant…

In the nature of blogs…begin at the end if you want to read it like a book. Start with the earliest post under “Archives” October 2014 and come forward…if you want to look at queens from a specific time frame look under menus “Queens of Israel” as a sidebar. Under “Pages” are personal stories of my search and research and further topics that caught my interest but don’t flow chronologically. This blog presupposes a strong level of interest in the reader…a reader with some level of knowledge of the New Testament story…

Cleta Marie Flynn