Mariamne I Queen of the Jews

Mariamne I Queen of the Jews.  Images were forbidden in Judaism but here is an instance when Alexandra…was much distressed at Herod for not letting her son be the High Priest as was his due.  A friend of Antony’s gave Alexandra this advice on how to get his attention: “…when he saw Aristobulus, he stood in admiration at the tallness and handsomeness of the child, and no less at Mariamne, the king’s wife, and was open in his commendations of Alexandra, as the mother of most beautiful children: and…he persuaded her to get pictures drawn of them both, and to send them to Antony, for when he saw them, he would deny her nothing… Accordingly Alexandra…sent the pictures to Antony…(And his friend) also talked extravagantly, saying that these children seemed not derived from men, but from some god or other. His design in doing so was to entice Antony into lewd pleasures with them…and avoided it because of the reproaches he should have from Cleopatra on that account…” Antiquities of the Jews XV.II.5-6

Herod consummated his marriage alliance with the young teenager Mariamne, officially making himself king to the Judeans, Samaritans and Galileans, having already been king by Roman appointment for three years. While he was away in Rome and since his return, he has been battling Antigonus son of Aristobulus…the current royal house…for the kingdom, though. Now, he had to rush back to Jerusalem to take the city and Antigonus, Mariamne’s uncle, who was barricaded in the Temple. Antigonus had actually been the King/High Priest for about three years before Herod could get his siege towers and Roman legions in place. But he now “stormed the city,” pleading with the Roman commander to not totally destroy it and leave him “king of a desert.” Thousands were killed and the city nearly destroyed but Antigonus was taken prisoner and was going to be shipped to Rome for Marc Antony’s victory parade but Herod feared that in Rome, Antigonus with his royal blood would plead his case before the Senate…

Out of Herod’s fear of this it was that he, by giving Antony a great deal of money, endeavoured to persuade him to have Antigonus slain.

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

The Fight Falls to the Women

The only thing was the Hasmonean women did not know that it was the end. Josephus was writing with the benefit of one hundred years of hindsight—not to mention a male viewpoint. For the Hasmoneans left alive then, the struggle continued even though it now fell primarily to the women of the family…Queen Mother Alexandra and new young Mariamne I Queen of the Jews…locked into a marriage alliance with an Idumaean warrior in occupied Palestine that had just been through another devastating war with Jerusalem as good as destroyed.

One of the Great Romances

Josephus assures us that Herod and Mariamne loved one another and that their love rivaled that of any of the great loves of history such as Antony and Cleopatra, who were their friends.[1] (Well, Antony was Herod’s friend and Cleopatra was Alexandra’s friend. Herod hated Cleopatra with a grand passion because they were rivals for Antony’s favors, and she had an unfair womanly advantage. He repeatedly advised Antony to kill her.)

And it may have started out as a love-match. Herod had a passionate temperament and Mariamne was proclaimed to be a great beauty and was raised in a family that saw Herod’s father as their benefactor. And there had been that “rain in the nighttime,” the “mark of providence” bestowed on her and her alliance with him, after all. She bore him five children in eight years. And Herod paid a ransom to get old Hyrcanus back from the Parthians (he had been captured in Antigonus’ war with Herod) and in public treated him as a loving son-in-law should, even as he secretly tortured, killed, and confiscated the wealth and property of all the principal men of the Hasmonean house.

The Son of Alexandra

Alexandra tried also to live up to her side of the alliance. She was one of Herod’s trusted advisers in her role as queen mother and “friend”—until Herod went too far. He brought in an obscure priest out of Babylon” to be the High Priest when it was clearly her son’s inheritance.

But Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus…who had brought Alexander two children, could not bear this indignity…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 her son Jonathan Aristobulus. An elaborate plot was conceived. Alexandra and her 15–16-year-old son were to be smuggled out of Jerusalem in coffins, but someone tipped Herod off and they were found in the coffins. (This would make a great movie.)

Mariamne also lay “vehemently” into Herod to get him to confer the high priesthood on her brother. At length, he gave in lest he should lose their “friendship” but when the boy, who was now seventeen years of age, officiated at his first festival in the vestments of the High Priest, the people wept remembering the glory of their past. Herod had the young man “accidentally” drowned in a pool at Alexandra’s palace in Jericho while playing water polo after the festival.

Mariamne was expected to carry on as if nothing had happened and she tried for a while…when she could not force herself to come to Herod’s bed any longer, it will be the end of her.

[1] See whole Chapters III and IV Antiquities of the Jews XV on Herod and Cleopatra.

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