9. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-The Death of her

In previous posts we have seen how the pressure was building at court. Salome and Cypros, Herod’s sister and mother, plotted endlessly to rid themselves of Mariamne. But she always vigorously defended herself from accusations of being “false to his bed;” unchastity being the time-honored way to take down an “uppity” woman. And, so far, Herod had believed her over his own mother and sister. And he felt he still needed her to keep his kingdom.

But then, we learned that Herod was truly in danger of losing the kingdom when he went to meet with Octavian after the death of his patrons Antony and Cleopatra. He had to convince the new brand-new Augustus that yes, he sided with Antony, but he was now at the new Emperor’s service. But return, again, Herod did, full of joy at his grand success with Augustus. He was still king. Only one blessed by God could have survived what he had survived. Augustus had even expanded his dominion and they would become lifelong friends.

But before he left for Rome, he put Mariamne and Alexandra into an old Hasmonean fort under guard…

So Mariamne was greatly displeased to hear that there was no end of the dangers that she was under from Herod, and was greatly uneasy at it, and wished that he might obtain no favors (from Caesar), and esteemed it almost an unsupportable task to live with him any longer; and this she afterwards openly declared, without concealing her resentment.

And now Herod sailed home with joy, at the unexpected good success he had had; and went, first of all, as was proper, to this his wife, and told her, and her only, the good news, as preferring her before the rest, on account of his fondness for her, and the intimacy there had been between them, an saluted her; but it so happened, that as he told her f the good success he had had, she was so far from rejoicing at it, that she rather was sorry for it; nor was she able to conceal her resentments, but depending on her dignity, and the nobility of her birth, in return for his salutations, she gave a groan, and declared evidently that she rather grieved than rejoiced at his success,–and this till Herod was disturbed at her, as affording him, not only marks of her suspicion, but evident signs of her dissatisfaction. This much troubled him, to see that this surprising hatred of his wife to him was not concealed, but open; and he took this so ill, and yet was so unable to bear it, on account of the fondness he had for her, that he could not continue long in any one mind…and was frequently disposed to inflict punishment on her for her insolence to him…but was not able to get quit of this woman…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.1

 And yet again, Josephus adds more information of what contributed to the death of Mariamne…

…but upon (Herod’s) return from his grand success with Caesar…so much the greater were the distresses that came upon him in his own family, and chiefly in the affair of his wife…As for her, she was in other respects a chaste woman, and faithful to him; yet had she somewhat of a woman rough by nature, and treated her husband imperiously enough, because she saw he was so fond of her as to be enslaved to her. She did not also consider seasonably in herself that she lived under a monarchy, and that she was at another’s disposal, and accordingly would behave herself after a saucy manner to him, which yet he usually put off in a jesting way and bore with moderation and good temper. She would also expose his mother and his sister openly, on account of the meanness of their birth, and would speak unkindly of them, insomuch that there was before this a disagreement and unpardonable hatred among the women, and it was now come to greater reproaches of one another than formerly, which suspicions increased, and lasted a whole year after Herod returned from Caesar.

However, these misfortunes, which had been kept under some decency for a great while, burst out all at once upon such an occasion as was now offered; for as the king was one day about noon lain down on his bed to rest him, he called for Mariamne, out of the great affection he had always for her. She came in accordingly, but would not lie down by him; and when he was very desirous of her company, she shewed her contempt of him; and added, by way of reproach that he had caused her grandfather and her brother to be slain; and when he took this injury very unkindly, and was ready to use violence to her, in a precipitous manner, the king’s sister, Salome …Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

This is where Salome steps forward with the very convoluted plan she had laid against Mariamne that I quoted in the last blog that led to her trial and the order for her death…

Accordingly, when the court was at length satisfied that he was so resolved, they passed sentence of death upon her, but when the sentence was passed upon her, this temper was suggested by himself, and by some others of the court, that she should not be thus hastily put to death, but be laid in prison in one of the fortresses belonging to the kingdom; but Salome and her party labored hard to have the woman put to death; and they prevailed with the king to do so, and advised this out of caution, lest the multitude should be tumultuous if she were suffered to live; and thus was Mariamne led to execution. Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII4

Josephus tells us that when the order was read out in the king’s chamber of the palace before the whole court…

When Alexandra observed how things went, and that there were small hopes that she herself should escape the like treatment from Herod, she changed her behaviour to quite the reverse of what might have been expected from her former boldness, and this after a very indecent manner; for out of her desire to shew how entirely ignorant she was of the crimes laid against Mariamne, she leaped out of her place, and reproached her daughter…And when she had…been so outrageous as to tear her hair, this indecent dissembling behaviour…was greatly condemned…but the poor woman who was to suffer…at the first she gave her not a word, nor was discomposed at her peevishness, and only looked at her, yet did she, out of a greatness of soul, discover her concern for her mother’s offence, and especially for exposing herself in a manner so unbecoming her…

History and Josephus treat Alexandra badly here, but bless him, Josephus also let us see that one long look that passed between Alexandra and her daughter, hinting, it seems to me, that Mariamne understood what her mother was up to and saluted her. The welfare of her sons was at stake; the future Hasmonean heirs of their kingdom were imperiled, any chance of anyone with Hasmonean blood coming back to the throne was at risk. Alexandra was the only one left to protect their heirs and she would do whatever debasing of herself was needed to do her duty by them…which Josephus also lets us see…

…but as for herself, she went to her death with an unshaken firmness of mind, and without changing the color of her face, and thereby evidently discovered the nobility of her descent to the spectators, even in the last moments of her life.  Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.5.

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