Alexandra Queen Mother of Mariamne the Virgin

A Young Herod…this photo of a statue of Herod was found in a Jerusalem dig. I could find no original source for it. But statues were forbidden Jews and no likenesses were to be used on coins, either. Herod did not put his “image” on coins he minted but Herod always pushed the envelope where practicing Judaism was concerned. As will Alexandra mother of Mariamne…as we will see.

After the beheading of her warrior prince husband, Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus II, (Hasmonean Ethnarch and High Priest now backed by Rome) did not remarry but returned to her father’s home as a widow. She devoted herself to her daughter Mariamne and her son Jonathan Aristobulus as mother of heirs and as a fierce advocate for her House. Mariamne was at the age of betrothal for a royal virgin and was an asset to be used with care. Because…to add to the mix…their long-time benefactor and buffer with Rome, Antipater, had just been poisoned by someone.

The Marriage Alliance from Hell

Hyrcanus and his daughter Alexandra now make a controversial move that will change everything.  What pushed them to do what they did was the dire fact that Hyrcanus still needed a Roman protector because his nemesis, his now dead brother Aristobulus, had a second son who was beginning to make noises about getting an army together to fight Hyrcanus for the kingdom…yet again…So he and his daughter did something illegal and devastating but that also kept the nation intact under Roman protection rather than in another war they couldn’t win…Alexandra betrothed her young virgin princess daughter Mariamne to Herod son of Antipater.

Herod the Savior

Herod was a fierce, arrogant, ambitious, intelligent, handsome warrior in his early twenties. He had fought side by side with Marc Antony against Alexander, Mariamne’s father, and had been rewarded with the Roman title of Procurator of Galilee. Josephus called Herod a “vulgar” man, meaning no royal blood. His father Antipater and mother Cypros were, however, Idumaean and Nabatean nobility.[1] Technically, Herod was of the third generation of a family of forced Jewish converts.[2] He was someone the Jews who sided with Hyrcanus would accept as a protector and a Procurator as his father had been…if they had to…but not as the King of the Jews he became. For that he needed the Princess Mariamne royal blood and a marriage alliance.

Antigonus son of King and High Priest Aristobulus

Antigonus, backed by his sister Alexandra and her new husband the King of Chalcis first threw himself at Julius Caesar’s feet to beg that the nation was rightfully his and not his uncle Hyrcanus’. But Caesar made it official:

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

Not at all willing to take “no” for an answer, again it was civil war…the next generation.

When (Herod)…was gone to meet Antigonus, he joined battle with him, and beat him, and drove him out of Judea…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 contracted with the Parthians–a huge Arab neighbor nation still unconquered by Rome and their rival–who captured Hyrcanus. They were then about to lay siege to Jerusalem causing Herod to flee in the night with his women-folk, including his young [3] betrothed Mariamne and her mother Alexandra and his own mother in a cart. They fought their way to Masada, a barren desert fortress, and the women were “deposited” there with “sufficient corn and water” and Herod’s younger brother Joseph with a militia to guard them.

A Mark of Providence

The women were besieged by Antigonus forces 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 the virgin Mariamne as John Hyrcanus had been rescued by receiving rain from the seven stars, the Pleiades, also in the nighttime. A “sign” would have been helpful right then in condoning the betrothal of a pure-blooded Hasmonean virgin to a “vulgar” man. In the meantime, Herod escaped back to Petra, (Jordan) his family seat, and raised enough money to build a ship and sail to Rome. He went immediately to Julius Caesar and Marc Antony and the Roman senate to beg their assistance against Antigonus and the Parthians.

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…as the Romans used to bestow it on some of the royal family,) but intended to desire it for (Mariamne’s) brother…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

Seven days…Josephus was careful not to say that it was his betrothal to the young princess that allowed him to be made “king” but Herod knew it, just as David knew he had to have King Saul’s daughter back before he could declare himself king. One of Herod’s first acts upon returning to Judea was to rescue his womenfolk and take them to Samaria.

When the rigors of winter were over Herod…came near to Jerusalem, and pitched his camp hard by the city. Now this was the third year since he had been made king at Rome; he pitched camp before the temple (and) encompassed the place with three bulwarks, and erected towers, 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.  Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XV.14. (Perhaps 14-16 years old)

[1]  Now this Antipater married a wife of an eminent family among the Arabians, whose name was Cypros….Now he made himself friends among the men of power everywhere…so did he contract the greatest friendship with the king of Arabia, by marrying his relation…Wars of the Jews I.VIII.9 Josephus

[2]  Most sources agree that Herod’s grandfather Antipater was forcefully converted to Judaism when John Hyrcanus defeated Idumaea…making Herod the third generation. This is based on Deuteronomy 23:8; The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation. For one, see The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Personages of Earliest Christianity by Arthur e. Palumbo, Jr. Algora Pub. 2004

[3] Jewish Women’s Archive for one.

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