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. 

Josephus’ Mother

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Flavius Josephus

The family from which I am derived is not an ignoble one, but hath descended all along from the priests…to be of the sacerdotal dignity, is an indication of the splendour of the family…I am of the chief family of that first (priestly) course also; nay, farther, by my mother, I am of the royal blood; for the children of Asamoneus, from whom that family was derived, had both the office of the high priesthood, and the dignity of a king, for a long time together...Life of Flavius Josephus

Josephus was born to be somebody, and he knew it. His full name was Yosef Ben Matityahu or Joseph(us) son of Matthias. He emphasizes his high priestly credentials from his father and yet…he also has a Hasmonean bloodline though his mother, though he will not name his own mother in his autobiography. He claims descent from Jonathan, brother of Judas the Hammer/Maccabeus, the “first brother to be an official high priest/ruler honored by the Greeks.” Continue reading “Josephus’ Mother”

Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection

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Mary Magdalene at the Tomb with two other “Marys” following behind her. These are the famous “Three Marys”  at the cross…Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. John 19:25. his passage is the source of the Three Marys at the Cross paintings; “his mother, his mother’s sister Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. But it is just as easy to read that list differently, making four women at the cross; his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. You can place the commas so that there are two women; [1] “his mother and his mother’s sister; Mary the wife of Cleophas and Mary Magdalene.” (The passage is reminiscent of the Gnostic Gospel of Phillip quote: “His sister, his mother,and his companion were each a Mary.”) (Luke says: It was Mary Magdalene and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women…24:10)
That verse in John is also the only time that “his mother” and “Mary Magdalene” are in the same sentence. I think that John wrote the scene at the cross around some well-known last words of Jesus directed at his mother and deliberately or not, separated “his mother” from “Mary Magdalene”…my theory. He put the Beloved Disciple into the scene and made it about him, knowing full well that Mary had other sons probably standing there with her. But heard in the context of Mariamne III pushing her son to go up to Jerusalem to fulfill her prophecy that her son would restore the kingdom, the words from the cross take on a bitter edge.
The power structure won the day. Caiaphas’ “prophecy” that Jesus should die for “the good” of the nation held and the son of Mariamne III with her Virgin prophecy that her son would rule was going by the wayside…as all the other prophecies had. Luke tells us in Acts that Mary was with her other sons and the disciples in Jerusalem after the crucifixion, but the authors of the gospels were confused as to whether she was at the cross or not…until John, written last, explicitly included her but without naming her…trying to clarify the situation.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)

I think that John wrote her into the scene at the cross (perhaps not realizing she was there disguised as Mary Magdalene…my theory) because he wanted us to know about this last scene between Jesus and his mother that has also been veiled.

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother…When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by whom he loved…

The “disciple standing by whom he loved” has caused a lot of debate about who “he” was. He was first thought to be Lazarus “whom Jesus loved,” as we saw in the last post. And, if Jesus had just made a marriage alliance with Lazarus’ sister or daughter most likely, Mary of Bethany, it could make sense to turn her over to his wife’s family. But Mary often traveled with her other sons and one son James will be the leader of the family and followers in Jerusalem after his death…and she clearly stayed with them. She had no need to be taken care of by a “Beloved Disciple.”[1] But forget about all that for a moment and just see the last words John said Jesus spoke to his mother from the cross. A totally different picture emerges…

Woman, behold thy son!  (John 19:26)

Continue reading “Mary Magdalene and the Resurrection”

Queen Glaphyra’s Dream

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Glaphyra daughter of the King of Cappadocia, married to Alexander son of Herod and Mariamne the Hasmonean Queen, sent back home when Alexander was executed and who later married Archelaus…

Archelaus returned from Rome where he was ratified as “Ethnarch” not king. He began to rebuild his royal palace at Jericho that had been looted and burned and get the nation back on track. And then he divorced his wife—I will go into who she was in the next blog post—but now I want to continue on with who Archelaus immediately remarried and what the repercussions were…

Moreover, he transgressed the law of our fathers, and married Glaphyra…who had been the wife of his brother Alexander (eldest son of Queen Mariamne), which Alexander had three children by her, while it was a thing detestable among the Jews to marry the brother’s wife [i] (if she had children by him before he died)…so great was his affection for her.  Antiquities of the Jews XVII.XIII.1-4

Continue reading “Queen Glaphyra’s Dream”

A Small Apocalypse

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This painting of the Slaughter of the Innocents shows the slaughter taking place in the Temple not in the tiny town of Bethlehem, more in keeping with Josephus’ recounting of the slaughter of mourners and lamenting mothers attacked in the Temple.

We are now entering into what many Christian writers have called “the lost years.” Except for one legendary episode in Luke that I will look at later, the two birth stories in Matthew and Luke fall silent. The two other gospels, Mark and John, begin when Jesus is “about 30 years old.” So, from the beginning of the reign of Archelaus…and the birth of Jesus…both in about 4 B.C…. until Jesus begins his public campaign—about 26 A.D. or thereabouts, we know nothing, really, of the life of Mary…other than she seems to have given birth to several more children.

Mark, the earliest written gospel said it this way:

Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joses and Juda and Simon? arand are not his sisters here with us? Mark 6:3

Josephus continues on through the ten-year reign of Archelaus before falling silent. After Archelaus there was no king in Judaea and hence no royal records for Josephus to use for his histories.

Continue reading “A Small Apocalypse”

The Virgin Prophecy

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Our Lady of the Cape, http://www.catholictradition There is quite a history to this statue of Mary including two miracles. The history of the church and shrine can be found on line, going back to the 1600s in Quebec. Here is one site… http://www.michaeljournal.org/ndcape.htm

Josephus, writing well after the Jewish war with Rome in 65-70 A.D., looking back with hindsight, blames the destruction of their nation on an “oracle” which seems to state that a world leader will be born in Israel.

“But now, what did elevate them (the rebels fighting Rome) in undertaking this war was an ambiguous oracle, that was also found in their sacred writings, how about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular; and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination…Wars of the Jews VI. VI.4

I will go into this prophecy more in chronological order, but Josephus also relates many other prophecies during Herod’s reign and immediately after his death, including this one made by an Essen prophet for Herod himself when he was yet a schoolboy in Jerusalem… Continue reading “The Virgin Prophecy”

The Virgin Mary on Trial

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The Trial by Bitter Water showing Mary on the Temple Steps with the High Priest. Adultery “…also prevailed to such an extent that a new halakha (regulation) was recommended by Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai to abolish the ancient custom of the “water of bitterness” observed in the Temple, namely on the steps leading from the Women’s Court to the beautiful Nikanor Gate. This was notorious as the place where women suspected of adultery were tested. According to ancient law (Num. 5, 18-28), such a woman was given the “water of bitterness” to drink – a potion mixed with cereal offering, over which was pronounced a traditional curse. If she were guilty, “the water that brings the curse shall enter into her…and the woman shall become an execration among her people.” In addition, the judges could wear down the woman’s opposition to admitting guilt by making her go up and down the steps to the gate. (Mishna Sota 9).Footnote 562[b] (Wars V.IX.395 Gaayla Cornfeld, General Editor, Josephus, the Jewish War, Zondervan, Michigan 1982.)
Having just noted the trials and legal debates around the abuse of the virgins Mariamne III and Herodias in the last post, it is worth mentioning that there is a late tradition that Mary herself was also put on trial. The story surfaced in a Middle Ages document I have quoted before: The Protoevangelium of James, probably written in the second century is claiming to be written by Mary’s second son James. The author tried to answer every question still “out there” about Mary; for instance, we learn parents’ names for her, Anne and Joachim, and the story of her being raised as a Temple Virgin in Jerusalem, and about her trial by “bitter water” before the High Priest for being defiled.

The Trial by Bitter Water

The Trial by Bitter Water is an ancient ordeal found in the Old Testament where God or Nature makes the determination of a woman’s guilt when a husband or betrothed thought that his betrothed/wife had “cheated” on him but he couldn’t prove it…[i]

Then shall the man bring his wife unto the priest, and he shall…set her before the LORD: and the (High) priest shall…uncover the woman’s head…and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse…and when he hath made her to drink the water, then it shall come to pass that if she be defiled…that the water that enters into her shall become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall rot; and the woman shall be a curse among her people. And if the woman be not defiled, but be clean; then she shall be free, and shall conceive seed. (Book of Numbers 5:18-31)

According to rabbinic tradition, the trial took place on the steps in the Temple leading to the Women’s Court [ii]. In the Protoevangelium, Mary was a virgin dancing on the same Temple steps, perhaps a ghost of a persistent rumor about her being there. The author also does not understand what the trial entails as he has both Joseph and Mary receive the bitter water. The author is following Matthew’s birth story featuring Joseph. (1-22)

13. And she was in her sixth month; and behold, Joseph came back …and…discovered that she was big with child. And he…wept bitterly, saying: …I received her a virgin out of the temple of the Lord, and I have not watched over her…Who has done this evil thing…and defiled the virgin? …Joseph…called Mary, and said to her…Why have you brought low your soul…? And she wept bitterly, saying: I am innocent…. [iii]

Joseph then determined to “put her aside” quietly and in the night the angel of the Lord came to him and persuaded Joseph to keep her…but then…

15…Annas the scribe…saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest…and said to him…Send officers, and you will find the virgin with child… And the officers…brought her along with Joseph to the tribunal. And the priest said: Mary, why have you done this?…And she wept bitterly, saying: As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before Him…And Joseph said: As the Lord lives, I am pure concerning her…16…And the priest said…: I will give you to drink of the water of the ordeal of the Lord…And the priest took the water and gave Joseph to drink and sent him away to the hill-country; and he returned unhurt. And he gave to Mary also to drink and sent her away to the hill-country; and she returned unhurt. And all the people wondered that sin did not appear in them…

There is a lot of magic in the stories that I cut out for word count considerations…but I will go into one crucial example here; the “Dust Out of the Temple.” The High Priest has the option to…

…(take) some dust out of the temple, (if any happened to be there,) and put a little of it into the vial and gave it her to drink… (Antiquities of the Jews III.XI.6.)

If the woman was

…unjustly accused, she conceived with child, and brought it to perfection in her womb in the tenth month; but if she had broken her faith of wedlock to her husband, and had sworn falsely before God, she died in a reproachful manner; her thigh fell off from her, and her belly swelled with a dropsy. (Antiquities of the Jews III.XI.6.)

I am not the only one who sees the “dust of the temple” given at the discretion of the High Priest as more than mere dust.

Several commentaries on the Bible maintain that the ordeal is to be applied in the case of a woman who has become pregnant, allegedly by her lover. One reading is that the ordeal results in a prolapsed uterus if she is guilty. Some interpretations of the ordeal describe the bitter potion as an abortifacient, which induces a purposeful abortion or miscarriage if the woman is pregnant with another man’s child, and which confirms her innocence if no miscarriage is observed. [iv]

Two Trials

While Mariamne III in Josephus was more or less the subject of two trials—Pheroras’ wife’s trial for her abuse and the debate by the sages over how long a pre-puberty virgin could have sex and still be a virgin—oddly, the Protevangelium also includes a second form of trial for Mary. Again, Joseph is the narrator. (19, 20) When it is her time, he brings her to a cave in Bethlehem and sets out to find a “Hebrew’ midwife to deliver the baby. One is just then happening by but does not believe the virgin birth story Joseph tells her. But she agrees to enter the cave in time to see a “luminous cloud” that turns out to be the baby Jesus beginning to manifest himself and settle at Mary’s breast. The midwife is overcome with joy and steps out of the cave in time to meet a woman named Salome happening by and tells her …

20. I have a strange sight to relate to you: a virgin has brought forth—Then said Salome…unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth. And the midwife went in and said to Mary: Show yourself; for no small controversy has arisen about you. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. 

These “trials” are not evidence of anything, I know. Just one more little bit of circumstantial coincidence. Further, if such a trial as this last one was required—and events around Mariamne III may require it, as we will see—the one who might, perform such a trial would be her grandmother Salome. “No small controversies” were in the air around Mariamne III…as we have seen…in the last days of Herod the King and his sister Salome will be called upon to perform other acts for her dying brother and for his legacy.

[i] See Jewish Women’s Archive’s article on “Sotah,” the name given to a woman who undergoes the trial. .

[ii] See side bar under picture.

[iii] Protoevangelium continues with: And she said: “As the Lord my God lives, I do not know whence it is to me.” It struck me how similar Mary’s words in the Protoevangelion are to the widow words who urged her seven sons to martyrdom in II Maccabees 7:1-41 “I do not know how you appeared in my womb.”

[iv] See Wikipedia for an excellent well-footnoted entry on the trial. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ordeal_of_the_bitter_water

A Queen Mother with a Blessed Memory

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The Pleiades are seven stars know by the ancients around the Mediterranean. They were considered to be feminine…Seven Sisters, Seven Mothers, etc. It would seem to be “natural” for a beloved wise woman who died for the Law of Sevens…the Sabbath Year…to ascend to heaven as one of those stars. The “seven stars” also appeared in the Book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine: 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 Photo: A color composite image of the Pleiades from the Digitized Sky Survey NASA/ESA/AURA/Caltech as seen at wikipedia.org/wiki/Pleiades.

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:

And many of them that sleep in 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:

And when 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)[1]. 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.

[1] The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, Harper & Row Publishers NYC 1983

A High Priest’s Daughter becomes a “Queen”

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This painting by Wojciech Stattler “Machabeusze” 1844, illustrates another role played by women during the Mother of All Wars with the Greeks…obeying the law at their own peril. The law they are credited with obeying was circumcision…outlawed by the Greeks. “The women who had circumcised their children they put to death under the decree, hanging the babies around their necks, and destroying their families and the men who had circumcised them. I Maccabees 1:60-61

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.)

And the Jews and their priests resolved 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 Josadeck House who took power after the last Davidic son was ousted from ruling after the return from Babylon, just turn over the High Priesthood to the upstart priest Simon. He was heroic and the nation owed their continued existence to them, yes, but they were of lessor priestly ranking. 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 of his father’s house. 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 from the days of David the King that the old House marries their 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.

So why did the House of Onias allow a new House of the Hasmoneans to inherit the role of High Priest?

My Theory

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 released the captives, 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. So, what happened?

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/priestly 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.”

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 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 year 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.