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. 

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