3. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-Genealogy

The Maccabees
By Wojciech Stattler –
Od starożytności do współczesności – Malarstwo i rzeźba, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN S.A., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/Maccabees

None of us live in a vacuum. Each is a link in a very long chain both before and after us. And each has a role to play in moving the gene pool forward. Here is Mariamne’s pedigree on her father’s side:

Mariamne daughter of Prince Alexander son of King and High Priest Aristobulus son of King/High Priest Alexander Janneus, son of High Priest/Regent John Hyrcanus, son of High Priest/Regent Simon son of Priest and leader of the rebellion against the Greeks Matthias Hasmon…and brother of Judas the Maccabee…the new House of the Hasmoneans in ca 165 BCE

John Hyrcanus ended up having a good reign, but he also had a big problem

But…(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

John did something new in Israel and Judaism. He left the kingdom to his own unnamed wife and named her “mistress of all.” Not unexpectedly, their eldest son will have none of it:

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

It is interesting to note that John Hyrcanus set a precedent…as we will see…by leaving the government to his wife.  And we have seen how the mother of High Priest John Hyrcanus was “martyred for the law” and became an icon and role model for mothers of sons during the war. Where did this idea come from? The only example of Jewish queens after King David’s wives were infamous in the Old Testament:  the evil Jezebel and her daughter Athalia in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (See blog post on History of Queens)

I think the idea came from Mattathias Hasmon, the patriarch of the Maccabee/Hasmoneans because of this story about Simon son of Mattathias who established their dynasty:

Simon also erected a very large monument for his father and his brethren, of white and polished stone, and raised it a great height…and set up pillars…a work it was wonderful to see. Moreover, he built seven pyramids also for his parents and brethren, one for each of them, which were made very surprising, both for largeness and beauty. Antiquities of the Jews XIII. VI.5

The wife of Mattathias and the mother of all those Maccabean hero sons was left stubbornly unnamed, though she earned her own pyramid…but she must have been a force in her own right, perhaps picking up the mantle from her husband when he died and earned her own “blessed memory” that had impressed her youngest son Simon.

This Aristobulus, though, besides starving his mother in prison, took for himself the title of King for the first time since the last son of David, fifteen generations ago. Aristobulus, was a Sadducee, a “conservative.” He made a marriage alliance with “Salome, who, by the Greeks, was called Alexandra.” She 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 by sharing power. Shalomzion, the Hebrew name of the new queen, would not let her new husband Aristobulus rule…or take the title of king.

…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…When Aristobulus was dead, 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… Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XII.1

The Jewish Encyclopedia says that she was thirty-seven and he twenty-two when they married…and she “made him the king” and bore him at least two sons…

Alexander may have been a good king in the expanding the territory and making war category, though he earned the nickname “Thracian” for his ruthlessness. The Pharisees were against him saying he should just stick to being king and not a high priest. They declared war on each other. He had to flee to the mountains, but he 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.

When Alexander Janneus the Sadducee died, he left the kingdom to his wife, as his father had done before him, because his sons may have been too young to inherit. The documents Josephus was working from say 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 young sons before they could inherit the kingdom…but also because his father had done it first.

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 king’s ploy worked for a while. 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.

…when the queen was fallen into a dangerous distemper, (her son) Aristobulus resolved to attempt the seizing of the government…for he was…displeased at his mother’s conduct, so he was now much more afraid, lest, upon her death, their whole family should be under the power of the Pharisees….but Aristobulus chiefly made manifest what were his sentiments, and using many reproachful expressions to his mother, [saying] “Nay, indeed, the case is this, that they have been themselves the authors of their own calamities, who have permitted a woman who, against reason, was mad with ambition, to reign over them, when there were sons in the flower of their age fitter for it.” Antiquities XIII.XVI.

Aristobulus married the daughter of Absalom, Commander of the Army—in effect, made an alliance with the army and began to gather followers. When Salome heard what Aristobulus was up to, she threw his wife and children in a tower in Jerusalem as hostages.

Now there was a mighty conflux of people that came to Aristobulus from all parts, insomuch that he had a kind of royal attendants about him; for in a little more than fifteen days, he got twenty-two strong palaces, which gave him the opportunity of raising an army…for men are easily led by the greater number…Now the elders of the Jews, and Hyrcanus with them, went in unto the queen, and desired that she tell them what to do because they were in affect surrounded by Aristobulus and as soon as she died, all hell was going to break loose.

But she bade them do what they felt proper to be done: that they had many circumstances in their favor still remaining; a nation in good heart, an army, and money in their several treasuries; for that she had small concern about public affairs now, when the strength of her body already fails her. Now a little after she had said this to them, she died, when she had reigned nine years, and had in all lived seventy-three. A woman she was who shewed no signs of the weakness of her sex; for she was sagacious to the greatest degree in her ambition of governing, and demonstrated by her doings at once, that her mind was fit for action…However, she brought the affairs of her house to such an unfortunate condition…and this out of what does not belong to a woman…Antiquities of the Jews XIII.5

Josephus does not condemn her for being a woman, but he does blame her, I think, for being the queen/regent and not stopping the civil war between her sons. Perhaps a male king would have had one of his sons killed or exiled.

Shalomzion/Alexander Salome

Shalomzion is mentioned more than once in the Dead Sea scrolls where the writer is commenting on a biblical prophetic book attempting to show how the prophecy is fulfilled by events happening in his own political world. The commentary is called a “Pesher.” Scholars think that a portion of Pesher Nahum refers to Queen Salome as a harlot.

…[….) foundation, Shelamzion entered […] […] to receive […] […] Hyrcanus rebelled […]…

(4Q322 Frag. 2. Also see 4Q324 with just her name.)

(From The Jewish Women’s Archive—Queen Shelamziyyon) from the Dead Sea Scrolls, A New Translation with Commentary by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook, Harper San Francisco 1996)

Pesher Nahum… goes on to describe the rule of the Pharisees, obviously during the queen’s reign. Jerusalem under the rule of the new queen is described as “the bloody city” and the queen herself is described in the words of the prophet Nahum: “Because of the countless harlotries of the harlot, the winsome mistress of sorcery, who ensnared nations with her harlotries and peoples with her sorcery.” (Nahum 3:4). (From The Jewish Women’s Archive—Queen Shelamziyyon)

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

Alexandra Salome had, during her lifetime, made her eldest son Hyrcanus II, the High Priest with her as Regent. After she died, Hyrcanus became the High Priest Regent:

Hyrcanus(II) then began his high priesthood…when presently Aristobulus(II) began to make war against him, and as it came to a battle with Hyrcanus at Jericho, many of his soldiers deserted him, and went over to his brother; upon which Hyrcanus fled into the citadel where Aristobulus’ wife and children were imprisoned by his mother…So when he had sent a message to his brother about agreeing the matters between them, he laid aside his enmity to him on these conditions, that Aristobulus should be king, that he should live without intermeddling with public affairs, and quietly enjoy the estate he had acquired. When they agreed upon these terms in the temple…and giving one another their right hands and embracing one another in the sight of the whole multitude, they departed; the one, Aristobulus, to the palace, and Hyrcanus, as a private man, to the former house of Aristobulus. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.I.2

No small country lives in a vacuum, though. Some of Judea’s neighbors did not want Aristobulus the warrior to be the ruler on their borders. And more importantly, neither did Rome.

Rome steps in

King Alexander Janneus and Queen Salome Alexandra worked closely with a man named Antipater whom they appointed their governor of Idumaea. He was Idumaean by birth but a Jew by religion, perhaps a product of forced conversion by John Hyrcanus. Antipater made Hyrcanus II son of Salome Alexandra his “friend” and propped him up to fight for the kingdom against his warrior brother:

Hyrcanus gave no credit to these words of (Antipater’s) as being of a gentle disposition and one that did not easily admit of calumnies against other men. This temper of his not disposing him to meddle with public affairs, and want of spirit, occasioned him to appear to spectators to be degenerated and unmanly; while Aristobulus was of a contrary temper, an active man, and one of a great and generous soul. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.II.3

To make a very long, detailed story, short, the civil war between the sons of Shalomzion, allowed the Romans under Pompey and his legions in. Both Aristobulus and Hyrcanus went to meet him to plead with him for his “friendship” to determine who would be the Rome-backed (puppet) ruler of the Jews. Pompey decided to come to Jerusalem to see for himself what was going on; there, he sided with Hyrcanus and came to Jerusalem and camped outside the gates demanding to be admitted. Those with Aristobulus said no, but “others” opened the gates and Aristobulus was besieged in the Temple. When Pompey broke through the walls, he had the audacity to enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple—around 63 BCE—and “make Jerusalem tributary to the Romans.”


…also carried bound along with him Aristobulus and his children; for he had two daughters, and as many sons; the one of whom ran away; but the younger, Antigonus, was carried to Rome, together with his sisters.

Hyrcanus was re-installed as the High Priest and Ethnarch…not King…but now under the tutelage of Antipater, the Roman Procurator. But…there is always a “but”—Alexander the son of Aristobulus II who escaped made his way back to continue the war:

Sometime after this, when Alexander, the son of Aristobulus, made an incursion into Judea, Gabinius came from Rome to Syria, as commander of the Roman forces. He…made war with Alexander…However, Alexander went over all the country round about, and armed many of the Jews, and suddenly got together ten thousand armed footmen, and fifteen hundred horsemen, and fortified Alexandrium, a fortress near to Coraae, and Macherus…Gabinius therefore came upon him, having sent Marcus Antonius, with other commanders, before…and also their friends that were with Antipater, and met Alexander…Whereupon Alexander retired to the neighborhood of Jerusalem, where they fell upon one another, and it came to a pitched battle; in which the Romans slew of their enemies about three thousand, and took a like number alive…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.VI-VIII

Alexander was eventually captured and beheaded by Rome. His father escaped from Rome again and came back to fight again, was captured again, and was finally poisoned.

Alexander son of Aristobulus is Mariamne’s father.

Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus is Mariamne’s mother.

Genealogy Chart for the Ruling Line of the House of the Hasmoneans

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