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 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 a high priest/ruler.” Continue reading “Josephus’ Mother”→
The power structure won the day. Jesus was eliminated. 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. 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…
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. 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.” 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…
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 to get the nation back on track. And then he divorced his wife—who I will go into 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
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. 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”→
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”→
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 Protoevangelion 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” as an abortifacient or as a poison given at the discretion of the High Priest.
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]
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 were 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. .
[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 knowhow you appeared in my womb.”
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.
Though the Jews had no official royal women during this war and rule by priests—after the end of the Old Testament and before the New Testament—and their heroine was a priestly/pure widow named Judith, Josephus gives an example of the political marital life of a daughter of the Greek Ptolomy House that ruled in Egypt after the death of Alexander the Great. This Cleopatra lived during Jonathan’s reign, the brother and successor of Judas Maccabee the Savior and was one of seven Cleopatra’s. Josephus says…
Demetrius being thus slain in battle…Alexander [Balas] took the kingdom of Syria; and wrote to Ptolemy Philometor, and desired his daughter in marriage; and said it was but just that he should be joined in affinity to one that had now received the principality of his forefathers… and that he was on other accounts not unworthy of being related to him. Ptolemy received this proposal of marriage gladly; and wrote him an answer…promising him that he would give him his daughter in marriage; and assured him that he was coming to meet him at Ptolemais…and would there marry his child to him. When Ptolemy had written thus, he came suddenly to Ptolemais, and brought his daughter Cleopatra along with him; and as he found Alexander there…he gave him his child in marriage, and for her portion gave her as much silver and gold as became such a king to give…