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”→
Pheroras’ wife fascinated me: A handmaiden/maid servant who married a Tetrarch and who had a prophecy that the kingdom would come to her and her children when Herod died. I had to try to find her. I made a list of the things Josephus had so far told us about her… Continue reading “The Princess Handmaid”→
King Herod had his two sons by Mariamne the Hasmonean Queen executed in 7 BCE clearing the way for his Idumaean son Antipater to be his first heir but…
…an intolerable hatred fell upon Antipater from the nation,though he had now an indisputable title to the succession…However, he began to be in a terrible fear, as he saw the posterity of those that had been slain growing up; for Alexander had two sons by Glaphyra, Tigranes and Alexander; and Aristobulus had Herod, and Agrippa, and Aristobulus, his sons, with Herodias and Mariamne, his daughters. Wars of the Jews I.XXVIII.I
Like his father, Antipater, too, feared Hasmonean blood. Even with their grandmother and their fathers executed and with their royal bloodline diluted the sons and daughters of Alexander and Aristobulus, the sons of Mariamne, were political rivals even though they were “below the age of puberty.” What Antipater feared was for the orphans to be betrothed in political alliances that would support the “orphans” before Augustus to take the throne away from him when his father died. Continue reading “Mariamne III the Virgin Orphan”→
Mariamne I’s two eldest sons were sent to Rome to be raised by Augustus as heirs to the Jewish throne. They also had two daughters but it is the sons that will now dominate the royal record.
By 17 B.C. when Alexander and Aristobulus were sixteen to eighteen years old, Herod could put it off no longer and brought them back home. He was in a dilemma…he had to treat them as his heirs or the people will rebel…and…he still greatly feared that if they developed backers, he was in danger of being deposed in their favor. He now feared his own son’s Hasmonean blood.
The first thing Herod did was “marry them to wives.” He married Alexander, the eldest boy, to Glaphyra, a descendent of Darius the Great, daughter of Aristobulus king of Cappadocia…yet a strange woman. Herod married the second son, Aristobulus, to his sister Salome’s daughter, Bernice, who was a more or less converted Jew/Idumaean/Nabatean on her mother’s side and daughter of an Arabian priest on her father’s side. But even with these “flaws,” the sons of Mariamne I were the people’s hope for the restoration of anything close to a Hasmonean or even truly Jewish kingdom. Continue reading “The Sons of Mariamne”→
In the last post, Alexandra had prevailed upon Cleopatra to make Marc Antony demand that Herod come to Egypt to defend himself for killing her son, Mariamne’s younger brother; the seventeen year-old Hasmonean High Priest Jonathan Aristobulus. But now another woman is heard from: Salome, Herod’s sister who had hated Mariamne since those three years trapped with her on Masada—Mariamne took great freedoms, and reproached the rest for the meanness of their birth—told Herod that Mariamne had been unfaithful to him with her own husband and their uncle Joseph while he was gone—Herod had left Joseph to guard the two women during his absence with secret orders to kill them if he did not return. Herod confronted Mariamne in private but she convincingly denied any impropriety and Herod again made a declaration of his love for her… until…she said too much…
Mariamne said, “Yet was not that command thou gavest (to his uncle Joseph), that if any harm came to thee from Antony, I, who had been no occasion of it, should perish with thee, a sign of thy love to me?” When these words were fallen from her, the king was shocked at them, and presently let her go out of his arms, and cried out, and tore his hair with his own hands, and said, that now he had an evident demonstration that Joseph had had criminal conversation with his wife; for that he would never have uttered (his secret orders) unless there had been such a great familiarity between them. And while he was in this passion he had liked to have killed his wife; but being still overborne by his love to her…he only gave order to slay Joseph without permitting him to come into his sight; and as for Alexandra, he bound her, and kept her in custody, as the cause of all this mischief.Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.9
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”→
My Search for the Historical Mary began in the 1960s though I didn’t know it at the time. At first, with no religious inclination, I became an avid reader of everything published on the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those books led me to the hundreds of Search for the Historical Jesus books that came out in the 70s and 80s. I soon discovered that each male author’s historical take on Jesus was different –slightly or radically–and his mother’s life was tailored to fit her son’s life. Often the women of the story were given a grudging obligatory mention only. There were very few books written on the “real” Mary. Even the Feminist wave of female scholar upstarts who infiltrated the male field of biblical research in the late 60s and 70s tended to ignore Mary the Virgin and concentrated instead on Mary Magdalene, the “bad” girl of the New Testament…as they were the “bad girls” of New Testament research. Mary was a little too compliant for them…
Another set of scrolls discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945—but not available to the public until the 70s—gave speaking roles to some New Testament men AND elevated Mary Magdalene to the rank of disciple but more or less ignored Mary, herself. The scrolls also elaborated on the cosmos and the feminine principle…(Jesus and Mary Magdalene being the yin and yang as virtual equals illustrating the concept.) Some of the writings were the science fiction of their day…and were declared heretical and were buried in the desert sand.
One woman who wrote a book about Mary in the 70s said this in her Prologue:
I have not pursued the historical Mary, the woman of Nazareth, because theology and belief have only rarely focused on her. The reader will find nothing about life in Galilee in the first decades of our era. I have concentrated on the different aspects the Virgin assumes at different times and have attempted to uncover the convergence of circumstances that might have made such a symbol satisfying. The Virgin Mary has been formed and animated by different people for different reasons, and is a truly popular creation…
From Alone of All Her Sex by Marina Warner, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., NY 1976
And so I glossed over her also.
And then something serendipitous happened. In 1984 in a dusty collectibles shop in Painesville, Ohio, I found an old book of 800 pages of tiny print almost 5 inches thick containing the collected works of Flavius Josephus. I remembered that he had been sometimes quoted in various Historical Jesus books but that was all I knew about him. I bought the book for $13, a lot of money for me then but it was a life-changing purchase. It turned out that Josephus was born about the time that Jesus died. He lived in Jerusalem. He had royal blood “from his mother” and personally knew the kings and queens mentioned in the New Testament. While a commander in the Jewish army in Galilee about 65 A.D., preparing to fight an apocalyptic war with Rome who had occupied Palestine since 63 B.C.—100 years—Josephus went over to the Roman side and tried to convince the zealous Jewish militia/insurgents/terrorists not to start a fight they could not win. They would not listen, feeling that God was on their side and if they fought to the death, God would save them. The War to End all Wars came to its dire predictable end in 70 C.E. For his help the Romans gave Josephus access to the political journals of Herod’s kingdom and the Roman records of their occupation of Palestine. He used those records to write his Jewish histories at the same time that the earlier of the Gospels were being written in ca 90-100 C.E.
I started reading Josephus’ first book, Wars of the Jews…and as I had also by then been reading some of the feminist authors on New Testament women, my consciousness was raised enough to ask myself:
I wonder if Josephus’ index lists anyone named Mary?
That question and the Marys I found in Josephus’ index, sent me off on a new path…one that has only deepened with time. The Mary/Mariamnes were queens and princesses and played a role in the politics of the nation. I have chosen to tell their story in historical context…a history of the Queens of Israel…how they came to have queens in a nation ruled by priests…and why they mattered…and how they illuminate the role of Mary in the New Testament story.