Mariamne III the Virgin Orphan could be vilified for her Herodian blood by her own people, but also celebrated for her Hasmonean blood. Her direct descent from Mariamne I, the Great Queen, was a key to understanding her. The Queen was beloved by the multitudes but also vilified by priests and “certain Pharisees” for marrying Herod and polluting the royal Hasmonean line. She was executed for adultery/unchastity which Josephus said was untrue and he sought to rectify the record.
And thus died Mariamne, a woman of an excellent character, both for chastity and greatness of soul…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.6
She is virtually unknown today, I think, because she legitimized Herod as king and her heirs were known as Herodian.
The executed sons of Mariamne I may be gone but they are not forgotten. If Herod had simply named Alexander firstborn son of Mariamne the Queen as his heir and sent Antipater back to Galilee, history would have taken a different path. But as Herod saw the ghost of Mariamne everywhere, stories of the ghosts of her sons circulated around the court and the city. Their spirit would not rest in the hearts of the multitude.
Then did the ghosts of Alexander and Aristobulus go round all the palace,and became the inquisitors and discoverers of what could not otherwise have been found out, and brought such as were the freest from suspicion to be examined; whereby it was discovered that Mariamne, the high priest’s daughter, was conscious of this plot; and her very brothers, when they were tortured, declared it so to be. Whereupon the king avenged this insolent attempt of the mother upon the son, and blotted, whom he had by her, out of his testament, who had been before named therein as successor to Antipater. Wars of the Jews I.XXX.7
The Thoughts of Many Hearts
That passage is about Queen Mariamne II the High Priest’s daughter but put it together with this one in Luke’s birth story referring to a son of a Mary…
Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel;and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.Luke 2:34-35
The sword passage has always been a puzzle. It is supposed to be a prophecy for Mary but the sword part in parenthesis almost sounds like it was added later when Jesus was pierced by a sword on the cross…or vice versa. But the rest of the passage doesn’t really fit Jesus or Mary. He was not the cause of the “fall and rising of many in Israel,” according to the gospels. His death seems to have gone unmentioned by contemporaries and almost all hints that there was a connection between Jesus and the power structure have been carefully veiled.
Luke’s passage fits better with the fate of Mariamne II the High Priest’s daughter and her family in the Josephus passage and the accusations made against her by the “ghosts’ of the sons of Mariamne I (whomever they were a voice for). They and Josephus make Mariamne II alone responsible for her young son Herod II’s loss of his place in the succession to the throne—“her insolent attempt of the mother upon her son”—her father’s loss of the High Priesthood and position at court—her brothers’ being tortured and giving evidence against her—and her own loss of position and power at court as queen. She, alone caused the “downfall” and corresponding rise of many. These accusations would have been a “sword in her side.” There is a close affinity between “discoverers of what could not otherwise have been found out” attributed to the ghosts of Alexander and Aristobulus and “that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” of Luke.
Out of Egypt
Matthew, writing nearly 60 years after the death of Jesus in probably 90 A.D., tried to show that Jesus fulfilled all existing prophecies about a King to Come, as we will see in the next post on Elizabeth daughter of Aaron, but also used another prophecy that I think should belong to Mariamne II and not Mary mother of Jesus…Mariamne III in my theory.
Consider briefly this prophecy that has also puzzled scholars—the family’s flight into Egypt.
And [they were] there until the death of Herod; that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt have I called my son…” (Matthew 2:15)
The only prophecy I could find in scripture about being called out of Egypt refers to the nation of Israel that “sojourned” in Egypt.
When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. (Hosea 11:1)
Matthew’s use of the Egypt story seemed to be used to compare Jesus to Moses who brought the people out of Egypt. But now consider this: When introducing his readers to Simon son of Boethus, Mariamne II’s father, the new High Priest, Josephus went on to say her father was…
…one Simon, a citizen of Jerusalem, the son of one Boethus, a citizen of Alexandria, and a priest of great note there… Antiquities of the Jews XIII.III.1
In the post on the new Jewish royal house–following the Books of Maccabees and Josephus–Onias IV and some priests did leave Jerusalem for Egypt and built a temple there when Simon the Hasmonean was officially made the High Priest instead of Onias IV. Herod then made Simon son of Boethus whose father was a “priest of note” in Alexandria, Egypt, the High Priest by his marriage alliance with Simon’s daughter, Mariamne II. (My theory)
What was being said was that Herod brought a high priestly line out of Egypt and gave that line the dynastic High Priesthood over the Hasmonean line and other Jerusalem lines and the “Babylonian” line he brought in when he killed his young brother-in-law Jonathan Aristobulus who should have been the Hasmonean High Priest.
So a case can be made that it was Simon son of Boethus whose House was now poetically “called out of Egypt” and restored to what would have been seen as their rightful place by some—in place of the Hasmonean line that helped push them out. If true, it was a very astute move on Herod’s part. Mariamne II’s marriage alliance gave a line of priests back the Temple in Jerusalem—caused the “rise” of—and it was she who bore the brunt of their displeasure when she “fell” and her son lost his chance at the throne and their chance to have the high priest and king from one house; consolidated.
Now read these passages in Luke in the context of “High Priest Simon son of Boethus a priest of note from Alexandria, Egypt.”
And, behold,there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Ghost was upon him…Luke 2:25
And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother (Mariamne his daughter),Behold, this child (his grandson) is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel…Luke 2:34-35
It was the High Priest’s duty to make a prophecy about the kingdom one day a year when officiating in the inner sanctum of the Temple. (More later.) During the last days of Herod, it would have been expected that he make a prophecy about the next king to come. The Temple was his place. Simon/Simeon was the name of Mariamne’s father, the “just” High Priest when her son was born. They had high hopes that the kingdom would come to this “son of Mary.” The rise and fall of their House revolved around her “rise” in marrying Herod and her “fall” when he divorced her over a plot to kill him, true or not.
Even without other kings or queen mothers to back them, the “orphan” children of Aristobulus son of Mariamne the Queen will be honored for their bloodline by four Caesars from Augustus to Vespasian, from 6 B.C. until Israel’s destruction in 70 A.D. Three of the orphans have roles in the New Testament story, or four, if you consider that Mariamne III and Mary are one in the same—as I do.
As Mariamne II and her son fell out of the running, and Pheroras’ wife was discredited and her heirs side-lined by Antipater—both accused in plots to kill Herod—their unfulfilled prophecies fell to the recently widowed Mariamne III the Virgin, the only one still standing…or was she?
Herod consummated his marriage alliance with the young teenager Mariamne, officially making himself king to the Judeans, Samaritans and Galileans, having already been king by Roman appointment for three years. While he was away in Rome and since his return, he has been battling Antigonus son of Aristobulus…the current royal house…for the kingdom, though. Now, he had to rush back to Jerusalem to take the city and Antigonus, Mariamne’s uncle, who was barricaded in the Temple. Antigonus had actually been the King/High Priest for about three years before Herod could get his siege towers and Roman legions in place. But he now “stormed the city,” pleading with the Roman commander to not totally destroy it and leave him “king of a desert.” Thousands were killed and the city nearly destroyed but Antigonus was taken prisoner and was going to be shipped to Rome for Marc Antony’s victory parade but Herod feared that in Rome, Antigonus with his royal blood would plead his case before the Senate…
Out of Herod’s fear of this it was that he, by giving Antony a great deal of money, endeavoured to persuade him to have Antigonus slain.
And thus did the government of the Asamoneans cease,a hundred and twenty-six years after it was first set up. This family was a splendid and an illustrious one, both on account of the nobility of their stock, and of the dignity of the high priesthood, as also for the glorious actions their ancestors had performed for our nation: but these men lost the government by their dissensions one with another, and it came to Herod, the son of Antipater. Antiquities of the Jews XIV.XVI.4
The Fight Falls to the Women
The only thing was, the Hasmonean women did not know that it was the end. Josephus was writing with the benefit of one hundred years of hindsight—not to mention a male viewpoint. For the Hasmoneans left alive then, the struggle continued even though it now fell primarily to the women of the family…Queen Mother Alexandra and new young Mariamne I Queen of the Jews…locked into a marriage alliance with an Idumaean warrior in occupied Palestine that had just been through another devastating war with Jerusalem as good as destroyed.
One of the Great Romances
Josephus assures us that Herod and Mariamne loved one another and that their love rivaled that of any of the great loves of history such as Antony and Cleopatra, who were their friends. (Well, Antony was Herod’s friend and Cleopatra was Alexandra’s friend. Herod hated Cleopatra with a grand passion because they were rivals for Antony’s favors and she had an unfair womanly advantage. He repeatedly advised Antony to kill her.) Continue reading “Mariamne I Queen of the Jews”→
After the beheading of her warrior prince husband, Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus II, (Hasmonean Ethnarch and High Priest backed by Rome) did not remarry but returned to her father’s home as a widow. She devoted herself to her daughter Mariamne and her son Jonathan Aristobulus as Queen Mother. Mariamne was at the age of betrothal for a royal virgin and was an asset to be used with care. Because…to add to the mix…their long-time benefactor and buffer with Rome, Antipater, had just been poisoned by someone.
The Marriage Alliance from Hell
Hyrcanus and his daughter Alexandra now make a controversial move that will change everything. What pushed them to do what they did was the dire fact that Hyrcanus still needed a Roman protector because his nemesis, his now dead brother Aristobulus, had a second son who was beginning to make noises about getting an army together to fight Hyrcanus for the kingdom…yet again…So he and his daughter did something illegal and devastating but that also kept the nation intact under Roman protection rather than in another war they couldn’t win…Alexandra betrothed her young virgin princess daughter Mariamne to Herod son of Antipater. Continue reading “Alexandra Queen Mother of Mariamne the Virgin”→
John Hyrcanus stayed as High Priest and did not take the title of King but his sons will. They will change everything and not in a good way. Like Solomon’s son Rehoboam who broke the nation into Judah and Israel, the sons of John Hyrcanus were not fit to rule.
But when the successes of John and of his sons made them be envied,and occasioned a sedition in the country…and (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
“Mistress of All”
John did something totally new. He left the kingdom to his unnamed wife. In effect sentencing her to death:
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
Nothing is really known about this woman/queen/regent, the wife of such a pivotal figure in Jewish history. No one over the centuries has bothered to give her a name…and yet, the revered John Hyrcanus left the nation in her hands. She is a nameless martry, in a way.
Yet she remains the precedent that allowed Shelamziyyon, her daughter-in-law, to indeed become queen a generation later. Jewish Women’s Archive (jwa.org)
Salome called Alexandra
Aristobulus, a Sadducee, was married to “Salome, who, by the Greeks, was called Alexandra.” It was a political alliance. She was a Pharisee who 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.
If John’s wife also had been of a leading Pharisee house, she may have been kin to Salome Alexander, her daughter-in-law. Her death in prison would have needed to be avenged. Whether it was revenge or because Aristobulus declared himself a king, he did not last long:
…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 to turn the three sons of John Hyrcanus feuding with each other ending with Aristobulus manipulated into killing his brother Antigonus. Aristobulus was then in turn probably poisoned as he became deathly ill very shortly after, or as he said:
“So I perceive I am not like to escape the all-seeing eye of God, as to the great crimes I have committed; but this vengeance of the blood of my kinsman pursues me hastily. O thou most impudent body! How long wilt thou retain a soul that ought to die, on account of that punishment it ought to suffer for a mother and a brother slain! How long shall I myself spend my blood drop by drop! Let them take it all at once; and let their ghosts no longer be disappointed by a few parcels of my bowels offered to them.” As soon as he had said these words, he presently died, when he had reigned no longer than a year. Wars of the Jews I.III.4
Yet another Son of John Hyrcanus
When Aristobulus was dead, his wife 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. This child happened to be hated by his father as soon as he was born, and could never be permitted to come into his father’s sight till he died. The occasion of which hatred is thus reported: when Hyrcanus chiefly loved the two eldest of his sons, Antigonus and Aristobulus, God appeared to him in his sleep, of whom he inquired which of his sons should be his successor. Upon God’s representing to him the countenance of Alexander, he was grieved that he was to be the heir of all his goods, and suffered him to be brought up in Galilee. However, God did not deceive Hyrcanus, for after the death of Aristobulus, he certainly took the kingdom…Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XII.1
Apparently, Salome Alexander did not now oppose the title of king, as SHE “made” this son the king. She also must have claimed the Levirate Law of the widow with no children—the claim to marry another son in her dead husband’s House in order to have a son to carry on his name—even though the Jewish Encyclopedia says that she was thirty-seven and he twenty-two when they married.
Alexander may have been a fairly good king in the expanding the territory and making war category, though he earned the nickname “Thracian” for his ruthlessness. He had to contend with another flare-up of the “your (grand)mother was a captive in the war” issue, saying he wasn’t fit to be the High Priest, but could remain as the king. The people threw citrons at him when he tried to officiate in the Temple, anyway, and he killed 6,000 of the protesters right in the Temple. He and the Pharisees declared open war on each other with the Pharisees calling in Demetrius Eucerus, another dreaded Greek, to help them fight Alexander. He had to flee to the mountains but “Yehonatan the King” 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.
Shalomzion as Regent
When Alexander Janneus the Sadducee died, he left the kingdom to his wife, as his father had done before him, because this time his sons may have been too young to inherit. But the documents Josephus was working from said that the reason he left the government to Salome (Shalomzion) Alexandra was that she was a Pharisee and they so hated him that they would kill his sons. He did it to help keep his sons alive long enough for them to inherit. 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 ploy worked for a while, the split will flare up again. 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.
Excerpts from an article in HAARTZ (on-line)Sunday October 14, 2018
Decapitated 2,000-year-old Skeletons Unearthed at Downtown Jerusalem Dig
Most of the 125 skeletons belonged to women and children from the Jewish Pharisee sect, who were likely massacred by king Alexander Yannai of the rival Sadducees, archaeologists say
Some 125 human skeletons dating back more than 2,000 years have been dug up in the Russian Compound in downtown Jerusalem. Researchers have established that most of them are the remains of women and children who belonged to the separatist Pharisee community and had been decapitated. Members of this ancient sect of Judaism opposed the rule of Hasmonean King Alexander Jannaeus – popularly as Alexander Yannai – who apparently slaughtered them in the first century B.C.E…
Historic documentation abounds with gruesome descriptions of Yannai’s brutality. For example, Flavius Josephus (born Yosef Ben Matityahu) recounts an incident, during the celebration of the fall festival of Sukkot in 95 B.C.E., when masses subjects protested the fact that Yannai poured the ritual libation liquid on his feet instead of on the Temple altar. The crowd threw citrons at the king and in response, according to Josephus, the king sent in his troops, who murdered some 6,000 people. The historian notes that this event sparked an unsuccessful rebellion against Yannai, during which over 50,000 people were eventually murdered….
In his book “The Wars of the Jews,” Josephus noted another violent incident, in which, while Yannai was “drinking and lying down with his concubines” in a public place, he “ordered eight hundred to be hung upon crosses in the midst of the city” and “had the throats of their wives and children cut before their eyes.”
 This Levirate Law will come up again and again and will be why John the Baptist was killed. (Deuteronomy 25:5-7)
 Antiquities of the Jews XIII.XIV.2 This whole section is pretty gruesome.
 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’ “Essens” that he describes at length in this section, ca 160s B.C.
John Hyrcanus son of Simon the High Priest and Ruler of Judea and the unnamed daughter of the last Oniad High Priest, (my theory) ran into a bit of trouble because of his mother. If he had indeed tried to deify his “sainted” mother by saying she was one of the stars in the Pleiades (see previous post), for instance, it created a backlash. A frontal assault was made on her chastity as a way to stop him from officiating as the High Priest.
However, this prosperous state of affairs moved the Jewsto envy Hyrcanus; but they that were the worst disposed to him were the Pharisees…Now Hyrcanus was a disciple of theirs, and greatly beloved by them. And when he once invited them to a feast… there was one of his guests there, whose name was Eleazar, a man of an ill temper, and delighting in seditious practices. This man said, “(I)f thou wilt be righteous in earnest, lay down the high priesthood, and content thyself with the civil government of the people.” And when he desired to know for what cause he ought to lay down the high priesthood, the other replied, “We have heard it from old men, that thy mother had been a captive under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.”…This story was false, and Hyrcanus was provoked against them… Antiquities of the Jew XIII.X.5 (Use of bold emphasis is mine.)
John’s mother may well have been held hostage/captive as a child of the High Priest Onias III who died in exile when the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes occupied Judea. That was what nations did then. The implication, of course, was that Hyrcanus’ mother could not have made it through being held as a captive as a virgin—no matter how young she was at the time. (More later.) The point being that she wasn’t a virgin when she married Simon, which totally disqualified her to be the wife of a High Priest…and more importantly, the mother of the next High Priest according to the law.
And he that is high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured…he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife… Leviticus 21:10-15
The sect called the Pharisees arose at just this time in Josephus’ Jewish history. They had two main areas of contention with the Sadducees, the High Priestly sect: one was that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and all that stuff about heroes being up among the stars. And two, the Sadducees were the “conservatives,” wanting to keep the Laws as written and Pharisees, in some respects, were more liberal and wanted to make the laws more responsive to their times. (Yes, Red vs. Blue went back at least that far!) Josephus actually gives an example of a change the Pharisees made to the exact law quoted above.
As for the priests, he (Moses)… forbade them to marry harlots. He also forbade them to marry a slave or a captive, and such as got their living by cheating trades, and by keeping inns: as also a woman parted from her husband, on any account whatsoever. Nay, he did not think it proper for the high-priest to marry even a widow of one that was dead, though he allowed that to the priests; but he permitted him only to marry a virgin, and to retain her. Antiquities of the Jews III.XII.2 (My underline to illustrate the portion added by the Pharisees that would affect Hyrcanus’ mother.)
I feel they made the change in the Law expressly to be used against Hyrcanus’ mother as a way to challenge his right to be the High Priest. Almost all women in a war had to deal with being a hostage or a captive and therefore rape. But for High Priests’ mothers and wives, the necessity of virginity was written into Mosaic Law. Hyrcanus could not let the accusation against his mother stand, though. He had contributed to her martyed death. Nor could he let the challenge to his right to the High Priesthood stand. He left…
…the party of the Pharisees, and abolished the decree…and punished them that observed them…But when Hyrcanus had put an end to this sedition, and after that lived happily…and then died, leaving behind him five sons, he was esteemed by God worthy of the three privileges—government of his nation, the dignity of the high priesthood, and prophecy; for God was with him, and enabled him to know futurities. Antiquities of the Jews XIII.X.7
The first version of the life of John Hyrcanus that Josephus wrote in his earlier Wars of the Jews I.II.8, did not mention this passage on John’s mother but he does add it to his revision in Antiquities. Often his rewrites are to include or exclude passages on royal women. He goes to great lengths to include the stories of royal Hasmonean women, as we will see—in part, I think, because, as we will also see later, his own mother was a royal Hasmonean descended from Jonathan son of Mattathias son of Hasmon.
But it wasn’t just ancient history and old myths. The Book of Revelation in the New Testament uses the number seven and seven stars that scholars take to be a reference to the Seven Sisters:
And I turned to see the voice that spake with me. And being turned, I saw seven golden candlesticks; And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man…and he had in his hand seven stars; and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword…The Revelation of St. John the Divine 1:12-16
Somewhere along the line, Mary became conflated with the queen in Revelation and the stars increased to twelve…but I think it is possible that the whole theme of a woman raised up into the firmament as a star, a very Catholic concept, might…in Judaism…go back to John Hyrcanus’ mother…just a thought. I sure wish we knew her name.
Stories of the Maccabees and royalty are full of the number seven. When Simon took over for his slain brother Jonathan:
(Simon) erected seven pyramids in a row, for his father and his mother and his four brothers… and …carved prows of ships, so that they could be seen by all who sailed the sea…I Maccabees 13:26-30, Antiquities of the Jews XIII. VI.5
The mother of Judas Maccabeus and his band of brothers must have been fierce, herself…and beloved. (I wish we knew her name!) But did her grandson—Simon’s son—John Hyrcanus, also try to honor his mother as a heroine and martyr? Looking at what comes next and again from hindsight and from a woman’s perspective, I think so. Bear with me a moment here.
John Hycanus’ mother—as we saw in the last post—was a daughter of the beloved martyred High Priest Onias III (my theory) and wife of Simon the Hasmonean who became the ruler and High Priest, in part, because of her marriage alliance with him—and was the mother of John Hyrcanus the next High Priest.
But, because John had just become the High Priest and it was a Sabbath Year, he had to leave his mother to die at the hands of their enemy. He would have tried to honor her, in my opinion—as he would have participated in his father Simon’s building of the pyramids including one for his mother. Anyway, dying as she did, her body was probably not retrieved for a burial that was required for a bodily resurrection. According to Judas Maccabee, John Hyrcanus’ uncle, bodily resurrection was the promised hero’s reward. But…as we saw in the post on Judas, perhaps a bodily resurrection was taking too long and something more was needed to honor their heroes. Consider this passage from the Book of Daniel written about this time…during or soon after what I call the Mother of All Wars:
Andmany of them that sleepin the dust of the earth shall awake… And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament…as the stars for ever and ever. Book of Daniel 12:2
Now look at this innocent little passage that comes shortly after the death of John Hyrcanus’ mother. He was besieged in Jerusalem by yet another Greek king, again taking advantage of the Sabbath Year and the Jews inability to fight then:
Andwhen he had burnt the country, he shut up Hyrcanus in the city, which he encompassed round with seven encampments…they were once in want of water, which yet they were delivered from by a large shower of rain, which fell at the setting of the Pleiades. Antiquities of the Jews XIII. VIII.2
This reference is one of two in Josephus relating to astrological events. The other one is the eclipse of the moon just days before King Herod died in 4 B.C. Josephus saw the eclipse as politically important, as we will see. Antiquities of the Jews XVII.VI.4
Most celestial events were applied to men, royal men or manly traits but the Pleiades were a group of seven stars well-known to ancients around the Mediterranean as some version of Seven Women (seven sisters, seven mothers, seven imams, seven stars). Maybe reading too much into it, maybe not, if you take into account the subtle use of the number seven, for those who knew the Pleiades were seven stars…thereby using “seven’ twice in one passage, one could get a glimpse of a belief that Hyrcanus’ widowed martyred mother was residing now as a star in the firmament, sending rain to her besieged son.
Whether it went that far or not—and any honoring of a woman would be too much for some—this woman–even after her death will cause no end of trouble, as we will see next.
The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, Harper & Row Publishers NYC 1983
After the death of Judas, his brother Jonathan took up his mantle. Little Judea was a ping-pong ball in the Greek kings’ wars that were spanning generations. Jonathan sided with one Greek King, Alexander Balas—husband of Cleopatra Thea from the last post—and was rewarded with the title of High Priest/Ruler of the Jews after seven years without a High Priest.(152-142 BC) (Antiquities of the Jews XIII.II.2-3)
When Jonathan was also killed by “treachery,” and young Onias IV son of the last true High Priest of the old order had decamped to Egypt[i] (ca 143 B.C.). Jonathan’s younger brother, Simon, was then officially awarded the dynastic High Priesthood by the priests and the multitudes, thereby establishing the House of the Hasmoneans, named for Judas Maccabee’s grandfather. (ca 142-135 B.C.)
Andthe Jews and their priestsresolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever… and that he should be their general…and that he should wear purple and gold. I Maccabees 14:41-42
But would the 15-generation Oniad/Jesus son of Josedeck House just turn over the High Priesthood to the upstart, though heroic but lessor priestly Hasmoneans? And why did their heir, young Onias IV run off to Egypt in the first place and not stay and fight for the High Priesthood? Perhaps Onias IV was unfit to rule in the Temple for some reason. What does a ruling House, be it High Priest or King, do under the circumstances when a male of the line can’t take the head position…or the people don’t want him too? By now we know that the old House marries a daughter to the new guy…and either the new guy assimilates into the old House…as we will see as we go along…or…they start a new ruling house…as Simon the Hasmonean was allowed to do.
Working from hindsight, knowing about an event that comes a bit later, and now being aware of the role of daughters of rulers/kings/high priests/princes of the congregation, this is what I think happened. I’m already in over my head, but here goes.
The Books of the Maccabees tell us that the children of Onias III were held as hostages by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek king bent on destroying the Jews. After years of war, when the Jews had won back their right to rule their nation again under Judas’ brother Jonathan, one of the first things Jonathan does is release the hostages and captives. We first hear of Onias IV, heir to the Oniad High Priesthood, in this same section where Jonathan, as told by I Maccabees and Josephus. But Onias IV does not become the next High Priest, as was his due. No reason is definitively given but during the same time frame Jonathan is “killed by treachery” which would leave the door open for Onias IV…one would think…But that is not what happened. Jonathan’s younger brother Simon was made the High Priest for life and for his House to become the dynastic High Priestly House…by the priests of Jerusalem.
I think that when Simon and his House were given the High Priesthood “until a Prophet should come” it was because he married a daughter of Onias III…it would have been her due as the daughter of the last ruler to marry the next ruler…and because Simon was a member of the heroic family/house that saved them all from the Greeks. That left Onias IV with no path to the High Priesthood and he took off for Egypt. It would have been helpful if not necessary for Simon to have the High Priest’s daughter by his side at his coronation…as David had to have Michal daughter of Saul by his side. She is the elephant in the room. (See www.jewishvirtuallibrary, Jewish History.org, Jewish Women’s Archives)
A High Priest’s Daughter
At last, a woman of a High Priestly house enters history, though unnamed. She will later be a heroine in her own right and a symbol of unity for the nation…and perhaps the woman behind the widow with seven sons’ story of martyrdom. Because after a fairly peaceful reign, (144-135 B.C.) Simon was also killed by “treachery.” An ambitious son-in-law strikes…as often happens:
Ptolemy son of Abubus, who had been made governor over the plain of Jericho…was the son-in-law of the high priest… plotted deceitfully against Simon and his sons to remove them. I Maccabees 16:11-14
Ptolemy killed Simon and two of his sons and took his mother-in-law, our unnamed wife of Simon and her two younger sons captive and used her to set a trap to kill a third son, “young” John Hyrcanus who inherited his father’s “kingdom.”
SoPtolemy retired to one of the fortressesthat 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 was rendered weaker than he, by the commiseration he had for his mother and his brethren…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 spread out her hands, and begged of him that he would not grow remiss on her account…and 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, I Maccabees 16)
…But John’s case was this: When he considered the courage of his mother, and heard her entreaty, he set about his attacks; but when he saw her beaten, and torn to pieces with the stripes, he grew feeble, and was entirely overcome by his affections. And as the siege was delayed by this means, the yer of rest came on, upon which the Jews rest every seventh year, therefore, Ptolemy was freed from being besieged, and slew the brethren of John with their mother…Wars of the Jews XI.II.4
Hyrcanus had just taken over the High Priesthood. He could not save his mother because a Sabbath Year had just then begun. It was required of Jews that they abstain from work for one year every seventh year and war was work. He had no choice but to follow the Law and break the siege and withdraw, leaving his mother a martyr to the Sabbath Year—the ultimate number seven.
[i] The story of how the Onias IV took off for Egypt and built a Temple there, believe it or not, will be an issue in the life of a Queen named Mariamne/Mary in the days of Herod…and by extension for Mary mother of Jesus.