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. 

1. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-A Closer Look

"Esther" by Herman Anschutz, a 19th Century German painter...found on Google Images and used on many websites without attribution.
This is a painting by the German painter Herman Anschutz, 19th Century entitled “Esther. There is only one true older painting of Mariamne the Queen, and I will use it later, but I like to picture her this way, myself. She was young like Esther when she became a queen.

I have been researching Mary mother of Jesus for about 40 years, now.

Most of those years were spent looking for and not finding that one elusive thing I thought I would find, arrogantly, some might say…including myself. A drive that appeared out of the blue and never left.

I had begun my search in the late 1960s with a slight New Age Christian bias…and didn’t realize at first that all the books I was reading were written by Christian scholars and theologians…and truth be told, were mostly written from the same outlook and mostly said the same thing with slight variations.

Then, books began to appear on the Dead Sea Scrolls, found in 1940 in Palestinian desert caves overlooking the Dead Sea. I read everything I could find, still looking for an elusive “something.”  I soon discovered that while the Scrolls were Jewish documents about a mostly male priestly society, the first books on the Scrolls were also written from the Christian perspective…books that a novice like me could find at Barnes and Noble.

The scrolls did spark a new round of the “Search for the Historical Jesus” books…all variations again on the basic Christian message…but each Jesus reflected the books author. (Something the New Physics began to inform us on…. we each find what we are looking for.) One thing began to stand out for me, though. I could search the index on a new “Search” book and discover no listings for the gospel women or the usual nod to Mary his sainted peasant but more realistic mother, and/or to Mary Magdalene the fallen prostitute.

Then, rather serendipitously, another discovery of scrolls in the early 1940s, found this time in Egypt in 1940s, the Gnostic Gospels, were finally translated and the first books about them made it to the bookstores in the 1980. These scrolls were not Jewish but heretical Christian and were probably buried to keep them from being burned because they featured persons from the New Testament, especially Mary Magdalene but in a more central role. Their Mary Magdalene opened up whole new vistas for women. Once translated and published, this body of thought saw many women enter the heretofore mostly male world of biblical research. They were determined to reclaim women’s role in the New Testament story and clear the reputation of Mary Magdalene…even making her the wife of Jesus. It was all interesting and did get me to thinking there may be more to the women of the story than I had previously thought. Though I read all the books, women as the equals of the male disciples were intriguing but still was not what I was looking for…that I would know when I saw it.

Then, I found myself one day in the 1980s in collectibles shop in Painesville, Ohio. In a large bin of old books on sale, I found a book titled, The Collected Works of Josephus…I had never heard of him.

But it was one hundred years old and $13. I bought it and it changed everything.

Josephus

I nearly destroyed this old book before I discovered a large paperback edition, also destroyed now with highlighting and dog-eared corners. Flavius Josephus or just Josephus as he is best known to those who love him, wrote three histories that are crucial to understanding the ancient history of the Jews, showing in horrifying detail how his people came to lose their war with Rome that destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple and led to the infamous siege of Masada in 65-70 A.D. and the loss of the nation.

Josephus was the Jewish commander of Galilee when the war with Rome broke out. He was captured by the Romans before the siege of Jerusalem and was befriended by Titus, the Roman commander, and was allowed access to Jewish royal records.

The most known books are Wars of the Jews, Antiquities of the Jews, and his own autobiography, Life. They reveal that his father was a priest high up in the Temple hierarchy and his mother had royal blood. He was born in 37 C.E. and was raised as a prince in Jerusalem. He knew personally all the kings and queens in the New Testament and the events in the Book of Acts. He was not without his biases, and he used other writers extensively…and was a product of his time and place, but he is the best we have…for a simple researcher like me.

Two distinct portraits of one man; one, Flavius Josephus in a Roman pose showing his adoption by the family of Vespasian the Roman Emperor who defeated his nation and allowed Josephus to chronicle the war…and the older Josephus son of Matthias in the robes of a Jewish prince. These two portraits symbolize the dilemma he and his tiny nation faced…first being a small prize fish in a big pond of competing kings and nation…and then the occupied nation of the winner, the Roman Empire…and the issue they always faced…resist and face losing everything or work with the enemy and try to save as much as you can.

I began reading the early history and it was interesting and new to me but still no BIG Ah Ha moment…Until one day….I remember exactly where I was when I (finally) asked myself, “I wonder if Josephus mentioned any women named Mary?” I flipped back to the index to see…he did.

I found what I was looking for.

In many ways, this is a “what if” theory…as most are. Because, in Josephus’ index, I discovered Mariamne I Queen of the Jews and wondered how she might be connected to Mary mother of Jesus, crucified with the sign over his head, King of the Jews. I have a book as well as this website/blog on what I came up with I call My Search for the Political Mary — WordPress.com

In this series of posts, though, I just want to concentrate on the life and times of Mariamne the Jewish Queen, herself, as reported in the writings of Josephus, always my main source. “The Execution of Mariamne” is one of the most clicked on posts on my website. People are now interested in her, and she deserves a closer look at her LIFE. Mariamne Queen of the Jews was far more than her death.

Cleta M. Flynn