Shalomzion Regent

images (1)Salome Alexander
Salome Alexander, Regent of Judea (141-67 BCE) This and other woodcuts on this blog are from Guillaume Rouille’s iconography book of 950 woodcuts portraits published in Lyon, France in 1553 called Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum per Wikipedia, for one.

John Hyrcanus son of Simon the first Hasmonean dynastic High Priest and his martyred mother stayed as High Priest and did not take the title of King, but his sons will. They will change everything and not in a good way. Like Solomon’s son Rehoboam who broke the nation into Judah and Israel, the sons of John Hyrcanus were not fit to rule.

But when the successes of John and of his sons made them be envied and occasioned a sedition in the country… (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

“Mistress of All”

Faced with no suitable sons, John did something totally new. He left the kingdom to his unnamed wife. In effect sentencing her to death:

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

Nothing is really known about this woman/queen/regent, the wife of such a pivotal figure in Jewish history. No one over the centuries has bothered to give her a name…and yet, the revered John Hyrcanus left the nation in her hands. She is a nameless martyr, in a way.

Yet she remains the precedent that allowed Shelamziyyon, her daughter-in-law, to indeed become queen a generation later. Jewish Women’s Archive (

Salome called Alexandra

Aristobulus the new king, a Sadducee, was married to “Salome, who, by the Greeks, was called Alexandra.” It was a political alliance. She was a Pharisee who 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.

If John’s wife also had been of a leading Pharisee house, she may have been kin to Salome Alexander, her daughter-in-law. Her death in prison would have needed to be avenged. Whether it was revenge or because Aristobulus declared himself a king, he did not last long:

…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 to turn the three sons of John Hyrcanus feuding with each other ending with Aristobulus manipulated into killing his brother Antigonus. Aristobulus was then in turn probably poisoned as he became deathly ill very shortly after, or as he said:

“So, I perceive I am not like to escape the all-seeing eye of God, as to the great crimes I have committed; but this vengeance of the blood of my kinsman pursues me hastily. O thou most impudent body! How long wilt thou retain a soul that ought to die, on account of that punishment it ought to suffer for a mother and a brother slain! How long shall I myself spend my blood drop by drop! Let them take it all at once; and let their ghosts no longer be disappointed by a few parcels of my bowels offered to them.” As soon as he had said these words, he presently died, when he had reigned no longer than a year.  Wars of the Jews I.III.4

Yet another Son of John Hyrcanus

When Aristobulus was dead, his wife 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. This child happened to be hated by his father as soon as he was born and could never be permitted to come into his father’s sight till he died. The occasion of which hatred is thus reported: when Hyrcanus chiefly loved the two eldest of his sons, Antigonus and Aristobulus, God appeared to him in his sleep, of whom he inquired which of his sons should be his successor. Upon God’s representing to him the countenance of Alexander, he was grieved that he was to be the heir of all his goods and suffered him to be brought up in Galilee. However, God did not deceive Hyrcanus, for after the death of Aristobulus, he certainly took the kingdom…Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XII.1

Apparently, Salome Alexander did not now oppose the title of king, as SHE “made” this son the king. She also must have claimed the Levirate Law [1] of the widow with no children—the claim to marry another son in her dead husband’s House in order to have a son to carry on his name—even though the Jewish Encyclopedia says that she was thirty-seven and he twenty-two when they married.

Alexander may have been a fairly good king in the expanding the territory and making war category, though he earned the nickname “Thracian” [2] for his ruthlessness. He had to contend with another flare-up of the “your (grand)mother was a captive in the war” issue, saying he wasn’t fit to be the High Priest, but could remain as the king. The people threw citrons at him when he tried to officiate in the Temple, anyway, and he killed 6,000 of the protesters right then and there. He and the Pharisees declared open war on each other with the Pharisees calling in Demetrius Eucerus, another dreaded Greek, to help them fight Alexander. He had to flee to the mountains but “Yehonatan the King” [3] 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.

Shalomzion as Regent

When Alexander Janneus the Sadducee died, he left the kingdom to his wife, as his father had done before him, because this time his sons may have been too young to inherit. But the documents Josephus was working from said 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 sons. He had his Pharisee wife inherit to help keep his sons alive long enough for them to inherit. 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 ploy worked for a while, the split will flare up again. 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.


Excerpts from an article in HAARTZ (on-line)Sunday October 14, 2018

Decapitated 2,000-year-old Skeletons Unearthed at Downtown Jerusalem Dig

Most of the 125 skeletons belonged to women and children from the Jewish Pharisee sect, who were likely massacred by king Alexander Yannai of the rival Sadducees, archaeologists say

Some 125 human skeletons dating back more than 2,000 years have been dug up in the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem. Researchers have established that most of them are the remains of women and children who belonged to the separatist Pharisee community and had been decapitated. Members of this ancient sect of Judaism opposed the rule of Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus – popularly as Alexander Yannai – who apparently slaughtered them in the first century B.C.E…

Historic documentation abounds with gruesome descriptions of Yannai’s brutality. For example, Flavius Josephus (born Yosef Ben Matityahu) recounts an incident, during the celebration of the fall festival of Sukkot in 95 B.C.E., when masses subjects protested the fact that Yannai poured the ritual libation liquid on his feet instead of on the Temple altar. The crowd threw citrons at the king and in response, according to Josephus, the king sent in his troops, who murdered some 6,000 people. The historian notes that this event sparked an unsuccessful rebellion against Yannai, during which over 50,000 people were eventually murdered….

In his book “The Wars of the Jews,” Josephus noted another violent incident, in which, while Yannai was “drinking and lying down with his concubines” in a public place, he “ordered eight hundred to be hung upon crosses in the midst of the city” and “had the throats of their wives and children cut before their eyes.”

[1] This Levirate Law will come up again and again and will be why John the Baptist was killed. (Deuteronomy 25:5-7)

[2] Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XIV.2 This whole section is pretty gruesome.

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

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