Josephus declares that Mariamne’s marriage alliance with Herod meant that the kingdom of the Hasmoneans had come to an end. And officially it did. The new king got to establish his new House and Mariamne was now part of it. Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus, Mariamne’s mother and Mariamne herself, though, did not for a minute think that it was the end of their family’s reign…just that now the ball was in the women’s court.
…never left off avenging and punishing every day those that had chosen to be the party of his enemies…At this time Herod, now he had the got Jerusalem under his power, carried off all the royal ornaments, and spoiled the wealthy men of what they had gotten; and when, by these means, he had heaped together a great quantity of silver and gold…He also slew forty-five of the principal men of Antigonus’ party, and set guards at the gate so that nothing might be carried out with the dead bodies. Antiquities XV.I.1, 2
Even considering all that, Josephus was very fond of saying that the…
…affection (Herod) had for Mariamne was no way inferior to the affections of such as are on that account celebrated in history, and this very justly. Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4
And she did live up to the marriage alliance agreement; she bore him five half-Herodian children in eight years…including two sons who would be Herod’s heirs. That was her role to play. Keep the new king happy and give him heirs. It may even have been a love-match…for a while. Herod had a passionate temperament and Mariamne was proclaimed to be a great beauty. And there had been signs and omens that it was good for her to make the alliance, like rain falling just when the women were out of water on Masada (last post). Josephus reports many times during this timeframe that…
“…all the people believed that he was beloved of God, since he had escaped such a great and surprising danger…Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XV.11
At least Josephus quoting his source who tended to glorify Herod as was his job and put down Mariamne because she was the enemy…but it does appear that Herod was obsessed with his queen. He was also a pragmatist…he needed her buffer with the people—he needed the legitimacy she and Alexandra gave him that allowed him to use the title of king in Judaea; a non-royal Arabian/Roman converted Jewish warrior from “beyond Jordan.” He walked a tightrope and so did she.
Jerusalem was severely damaged after the siege, as we saw in earlier posts and Herod probably had a Hasmonean palace refurbished in time to bring his own family and his new wife back to the city, perhaps even Hyrcanus’ palace and Alexandra and Mariamne’s home…as Hyrcanus was still being held by the Parthians. While it was a time of jubilation for Herod, it was a time of sorrow for Mariamne and her mother…which they could not show to the new insecure king.
Antigonus had (had) the Parthians cut off Hyrcanus’ ears so he could not be High Priest anymore…the law required that this dignity should belong to none, but such as had all their members entire…(Moses’s Law in Lev. xxi. 17-24) Antiquities XIV.XIII.10
Knowing that Mariamne’s grandfather, Alexandra’s father, could not even be the High Priest anymore, Herod bargained with the Parthians to free Hyrcanus…who felt that since he had helped Herod in past times, including betrothing him to his granddaughter…that Herod would be appreciative and treat him benignly.
“But Herod’s zeal did not flow from this principle.” He knew that Hyrcanus was one of the few people left alive who could claim the throne over him. He brought him home with great pomp and respect…even calling him “father “and thereby deceived him that he was his friend.”
Alexandra also tried to live up to her side of the marriage alliance. While Mariamne was having children and antagonizing Salome and her mother, Alexandra was one of Herod’s trusted advisors at court in her role as queen mother of his royal wife and mother of Jonathan Aristobulus, a Hasmonean heir, though still young—until Herod went too far. Knowing that Hyrcanus could not again be High Priest and not wanting any Hasmonean to have the role, he brought in Ananias, a priest of a high-priestly line still living in Babylon to fill the role.
But Alexandra, the daughter of Hyrcanus, and wife of Alexander, the son of Aristobulus the king, who had brought Alexander two children, could not bear this indignity. Now this son was one of the greatest comeliness and was called Aristobulus…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 Jonathan Aristobulus her 16-year-old son being smuggled out of Jerusalem in coffins, but someone tipped Herod off, and they were found…in the coffins.
…Cleopatra hereupon advised her to take her son with her and come away immediately into Egypt. This advice pleased her; and she had two coffins made, as if they were to carry away two dead bodies, and put herself into one, and her son into the other and gave orders to such of her servants as knew of her intentions, to carry them away in the night-time. Now their road was to be thence to the seaside; and there was a ship ready to carry them into Egypt…
But word leaked out among the servants…one named Sabion…hoping to get on Herod’s good side…told the king of this private stratagem of Alexandra: whereupon he suffered her to proceed to the execution of her project, and caught her in the very fact; but still he passed by her offense: and though he had a great mind to do it, he durst not inflict anything that severe upon her, for he knew that Cleopatra would not bear it…Antiquities of the Jews XV. III 2
Herod still didn’t feel he could go after Alexandra because of Cleopatra and her relationship with Marc Antony, his benefactor. So, he set his mind, right then, to getting rid of Johnathan Aristobulus.
Mariamne also, perhaps for the first time, lay “vehemently” into Herod to get him to confer the high priesthood on her brother.
At length, he gave in lest he should lose her and her mother’s “friendship” but when the boy, who was now seventeen years of age, officiated at his first festival, the people wept and were “merry” with “warm zeal and affection…remembering the glory of their past and the exploits of his father Prince Alexander and his grandfather Aristobulus King and High Priest. Exactly what Herod feared…that Jonathan’s royal bloodline might lead Antony, pressured by Cleopatra, to give the government to him. Herod had the young man “accidentally” drowned in a pool at Alexandra’s palace in Jericho while playing water polo after the service. Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.3
Herod put on quite a show of grief according to Josephus, but Alexandra knew…
Her sorrow was greater than that of others, by her knowing how the murder was committed; but she was under the necessity of bearing up under it, out of her prospect of a greater mischief that might otherwise follow; and she sometimes came to an inclination to destroy herself with her own hand, but still she restrained herself, in hopes she might live long enough to revenge the unjust murder…Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.4
..Accordingly she wrote an account of this treacherous scene to Cleopatra…how her son had been murdered…and Cleopatra…made the case her own, and would not let Antony be quiet, but excited him to punish the child’s murder: for that it was an unworthy thing that Herod, who had by him been made a king of a kingdom that no way belonged to him, should be guilty of such horrid crimes against those that were of the royal blood in reality. Antiquities of the Jew XV.III.5
(I must remind you, in fairness, that Josephus himself carried the same royal blood through his mother, so was, perhaps, a bit biased. See my post on Josephus’ Mother.)
Eventually Alexandra got Cleopatra to prevail on Antony to call Herod to trial over it. Herod went to Egypt to face Antony, but he left the government to his uncle Joseph ordering him that if he did not return, Mariamne and her mother were to be killed. He feared Alexandra to take over HIS kingdom…and he knew she would try.
(Josephus relates two incidents like this. It is a scholarly dilemma to this very day. I will quote what Josephus says on things that Alexandra and Mariamne said and did in both incidents…mostly to show their actions, not to clear up the controversy Josephus left us with. Way above my paygrade. It is totally unprecedented to have this much information on women.)
While Herod was gone, Joseph said too much to the women letting it slip about Herod’s order regarding them. He tried to make it okay by saying…
Herod had such tender affection for his wife and was afraid of the injury that would be offered him, if after his death, she, for her beauty, should be engaged to some other man…Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.5
What the women heard, though, was that “they would be killed and not allowed to take back the kingdom, even if he were dead.” And then there were reports that Herod WAS dead…
As this time a report went about the city of Jerusalem, that Antony had tortured Herod and put him to death…upon which Alexandra endeavored…to go out of the palace, and fly away with them to the ensigns of the Roman legions which then lay encamped about the city as a guard to the kingdom…XV.III.7
Herod was not dead, though. When he returned, he heard reports of what Alexandra had done. Herod could not ignore her any longer in the name of domestic harmony…
…as Alexandra had already made attempts tending to innovations…he gave a command that she should dwell in the palace and meddle with no public affairs: her guards also were so careful, that nothing she did in private life every day was concealed. All these hardships put her out of patience…
Josephus said that Herod hated Cleopatra with a grand passion because they were rivals over Antony’s favors, and she had an unfair womanly advantage. He advised Antony to kill her. She carried out “flagrant enormities…and bewitched Antony…and was “irksome to all.” He also called a council to determine if he should kill her. (Antiquities of the Jews XV.IV)
And then, the unthinkable, Cleopatra and Antony lost a war to Octavian, and both committed suicide…an option allowed them because of their rank and bloodline.
After the death of Antony and Cleopatra, Herod had to go to Rome to talk to Octavian…Herod had backed Antony over Octavian…he was again in fear of his life…this led him to thinking that now was the time to get rid of old Hyrcanus…
…he saw that there was no one of royal dignity left but Hyrcanus (who) was of so mild a temper…that he desired not to meddle with public affairs…but Alexandra was a lover of strife, and was exceeding desirous of a change of government; and spoke to her father not to bear forever Herod’s injurious treatment of their family…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VI.2
Herod still knew better than to kill Alexandra if he hoped to keep Mariamne (and the kingdom), but before he left for Rome, more out of fear of Alexandra, he had Hyrcanus put to death on trumped up charges of treason, a plan he had waiting for the right time to implement.
The stage is set…