Josephus, writing well after the Jewish war with Rome in 65-70 A.D., looking back with hindsight, blames the destruction of their nation on an “oracle” which seems to state that a world leader will be born in Israel.
“But now, what did elevate them (the rebels fighting Rome) in undertaking this war was an ambiguous oracle, that was also found in their sacred writings, how about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular; and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination…Wars of the Jews VI. VI.4
I will go into this prophecy more in chronological order, but Josephus also relates many other prophecies during Herod’s reign and immediately after his death, including this one made by an Essen prophet for Herod himself when he was yet a schoolboy in Jerusalem…
Now there was one of these Essens, whose name was Manahem, who had…the foreknowledge of future events given him by God also. This man once saw Herod when he was a child…and saluted him as king of the Jews; but (Herod)… thinking …that he was in jest, put him in mind that he was but a private man; but Manahem smiled to himself…and said, “However that be, thou wilt be king, and wilt begin thy reign happily, for God finds thee worthy of it…” Antiquities of the Jews XV.X.4-5.
I’ve tried to show how Herod felt that he was “blessed” by God and Providence to be the king, even having his own Davidic genealogy drawn up. This Essen prophecy would certainly have set him on that road and Herod held the Essen in high esteem ever after. From a passage in Josephus already quoted in the last post, but now including a sentence left out before, we can note three things…having a prophecy could be a death sentence, and that some members of Herod’s own family were swayed by the prophecy, and that a “Pharisee” prophecy was political.
(T)he king slew also all those of his own family who had consented to what the Pharisees foretold…for Bagoas (the eunuch) had been puffed up by them as though he should be named the father and the benefactor of him who, by the prediction, was foretold to be their appointed king; for that this king would have all things in his power, and would enable Bagoas to marry, and to have children of his own body begotten. Antiquities of the Jews XVII.II.4[i]
In the next post, I will go into another Pharisees prophecy for another woman, but the main prophecy having a revival during the Last Days of Herod, though, when a new and better and more legitimate king was at least possible, I think, were Daniel’s prophecies about the coming Messiah (a king anointed by the High Priest or a “true” Prophet)[ii] and being revived as still unfulfilled.
Yea, while I was speaking in prayer, even the man Gabriel[iii]…touched me…And he…said…Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to… make an end of sins…and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore…that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks…and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary…and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation…Daniel 9:21-2
Now this is an “ambiguous oracle found in their sacred writings.” People are “to this very day” trying to figure out what is meant to both Jewish and Christian expectations. At the time, though, one of the sons of Mariamne the Queen should have been the “prince that shall come” except that her sons had been executed by their father leaving a huge vacuum that now would only be filled by the hated Antipater, Idumaean son of Herod in Herod’s will as his heir and already approved by Rome. Considering also that the grandsons of Mariamne the Queen were still “before the age of puberty,” the Bagoas prophecy was reflecting a new reality. The prince to come might not have been born yet in 6-4 B.C…or was just born or about to be born.
The “ambiguous oracle”—most scholars today think—was the 4th Eclogue written by Virgil, a Roman poet, in 37 B.C. (The same year that Herod officially became King of the Jews.) It is a long rambling Cumae Sybilene[iv] oracle/prophecy suggesting that a king of the world, beside being born in Israel, would know both gods and heroes.[v] But the key now seemed to be “will be born.” If one were to search Virgil’s 4th Eclogue on Google for further instructions, it can’t be overlooked that it ends with these lines…
Begin to greet thy mother with a smile,
O baby-boy! ten months of weariness
For thee she bore: O baby-boy, begin!
Behold, a Virgin
Agreeing that the kingdom is locked up with Antipater for his lifetime–and that Antipater insisted on being betrothed to the virgin Mariamne III–and that Pheroras’ wife was put on trial for the abuse of the pre-pubescent Mariamne and her sister Herodias–and that Bagoas was “puffed up” about being the father of the king that is to come at just that time–and knowing that in the nature of things, Bagoas would need a virgin with a royal bloodline to fulfill that prophecy–I would like to mention the prophecy given for Mary in the last days of Herod the King that ended up in the New Testament but that fits Mariamne III very well:
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel. Matthew 1:23
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel…Isaiah 7:14
We don’t know who her backers were…Essen or Pharisee or a third or fourth party…or Hasmoneans…but this quote illustrated exactly how most “prophecy” worked. A statement out of the Books of the Prophets would be applied to present time. Isaiah’s prophecy about a virgin clearly states that she shall conceive and bear the child for her husband so he will have a worthy heir to solidify his claim on the kingdom during Isaiah’s lifetime. But Mariamne III, granddaughter of the Queen, was actually such a potential queen mother in the last days of Herod. It is why Mary/Mariamne III had a prophecy and it is one of the reasons why Antipater insisted on being betrothed to her. I think that this passage has a double meaning, though. The stress was put on the term “virgin” when in fact the word translated meant “damsel” in order to highlight that this particular damsel about whom “no small controversy has arisen,” was, indeed, a virgin.
[i] Isaiah 56:4-5 for a blessing on eunuchs: For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
[ii] I think that Daniel’s prophecy was meant for Judas the Maccabee written during the war with Antiochus Epiphanes.
[iii] The image of Gabriel will be used for two women giving birth during the last days of Herod the king or immediately after his death in the New Testament…Mary and Elizabeth…more later.
[v] Augustus himself will be honored as a “hero and god commingling.” The next few Caesars will get into no end of trouble by declaring themselves to be gods.