My Search for a Political Mary

Black Madonna
A Black Madonna…Our Lady of Czestochowa…see Page “Mary as the Black Madonna” for her story.

This blog is about my search for a Mary that made sense to me…a Mary that fit into the patriarchal culture of her day…but also a Mary that could travel with her son and tell him what to do… something only a queen mother could get away with. She had to be a Mary that could help explain why her son, a Galilean citizen brutally killed by the Roman Occupier of Palestine in Jerusalem at the behest of the Jewish High Court and the High Priest…all the forms of political power of the day…died with a sign over his head saying “King of the Jews.” All four versions of the story in the gospels include the sign but do not explain in real time why it was there and why the first question Pilate, the Roman governor and his judge, jury and executioner, asked him was “Are you a King of the Jews?” to which Jesus answered, “Yes” all four times.

 

Being a king in a Middle Eastern monarchy even in the first century A.D. required a royal bloodline….even to be a puppet king in an occupied nation…as we will see. As a curious layperson, after years of studying Christian “Search for the Historical Jesus” books, I literally stumbled across an 800-page book of The Collected Works of Josephus, a Jewish historian born 4 years after the death of Jesus who wrote Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews in basically the same timeframe that the earliest gospels were being written (ca 90 A.D.) but using Jewish court records. Josephus spoke at length about a Jewish Royal family–other than the legendary Davidic one–that included queens with the dynastic name of Mariamne, often translated in Christian documents as Mary.

I have re-written this manuscript a hundred times over thirty-plus years and continue to at least look at the indexes of books still being written on the Historical Jesus…or less common…Mary…to see if my “idea” holds up…so far, so good but others are starting to take a hard look at the women also. I will share their ideas as we go along.

Simply comparing the rich and royal women and their stories in Josephus with the New Testament story does reveal a time of liberated women that answer the questions…Why are there so many women in the New Testament? Was Jesus a feminist? Or…more to my theory…was Jesus accompanied by his royal mother and her handmaidens who supported him? If so, then a certain amount of “veiling” on both the Jewish and the Christian side has been going on, as we will see…

By simply comparing Josephus’ histories of the New Testament era from the Jewish side…with the story of Jesus “son of Mary” as it has come down to us from the Christian side…and by studying a history of Jewish queens and their role in the politics of their nation…gives much needed context to the New Testament Mary and her role in the life and death of her son…see what you think. Even if you disagree, with “my Mary,” you will have to agree that looking at the women’s history…changes our understanding of the era and the role that royal women were expected to play…and did play…and that they were  relevant…

In the nature of blogs…begin at the end if you want to read it like a book. Start with the earliest post under “Archives” October 2014 and come forward…if you want to look at queens from a specific time frame look under menus “Queens of Israel” as a sidebar. Under “Pages” are personal stories of my search and research and further topics that caught my interest but don’t flow chronologically. This blog presupposes a strong level of interest in the reader…a reader with some level of knowledge of the New Testament story…

Cleta Marie Flynn

Mariamne III the Virgin Orphan

The OrphansKing 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”

The Sons of Mariamne

Sons of Mariamne I and II
The pages of Josephus through this entire time frame are full of references to Alexander and Aristobulus as the “sons of Mariamne” and Herod as “son of Mariamne the High Priest’s daughter.” Coincidentally, the first reference to a family designation for Jesus is in Mark 6:3, the first gospel written, where he says…”Is this not the…son of Mary.” Those who had eyes to see…who knew the recent history of the Jews in Palestine during the time that the boys were the heirs to the kingdom as “sons of Mariamne”…17 BCE to 7 BCE…when they were killed…would know exactly what he was hinting at…(My theory.)

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”

The Execution of Mariamne the Queen

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Mariamne Leaving the Judgment Seat of Herod (1887), by Pre-Raphaelite painter John William Waterhouse. This picture is all over the internet as the only attempt to illustrate her life and death. There is at least one legend about her in Jewish sources. “According to Talmudic legend, when the rebelling slave, Herod, had killed all the other members of her royal family Mariamne threw herself from the palace roof to her death rather than marry him; Herod then preserved her body in honey for seven years”      ( Jewish Encyclopedia, http://www.geni.com/people/Mariamne-I-Hasmonean for two.) What the legend illustrates is an attempt to redeem Mariamne from being a sinning woman for being a Jewish princess and marrying a “strange” man and defiling the royal bloodline for all times. In truth, her marriage alliance with Herod will change everything.

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

Continue reading “The Execution of Mariamne the Queen”

Alexandra Queen Mother of Mariamne the Virgin

herod
A Young Herod…this photo of a statue of Herod was found in a Jerusalem dig. I could find no original source for it. But statues were forbidden Jews and no likenesses were to be used on coins, either. Herod did not put his “image” on coins he minted but Herod always pushed the envelope where practicing Judaism was concerned. As will Alexandra mother of Mariamne…as we will see.

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”

Two Alexandra’s daughters of the Hasmonean Civil War

Hyrcanus
Hyrcanus II son of Salome Alexandra

Queen Salome Alexandra died knowing that her younger son was hell-bent on destroying what peace she had managed to hold together. As Josephus tells it, Hyrcanus, the eldest son, the High Priest and Regent when their mother, was a wimp…and a Pharisee.  Aristobulus was a dashing warrior-type Sadducee, the high priestly party. Aristobulus basically told Hyrcanus to move out and leave the government to him and he wouldn’t kill him. Hyrcanus took the deal. Aritobulus moved into the palace and Hyrcanus left and became a “private man.”

Aristobulus
Aristobulus son of Salome Alexandra

No country operates in a vacuum and there was more going on than simple rivalry between brothers or Pharisees and Sadducees. Years before, “King Alexander and his wife” had appointed a man named Antipater to be the governor of Idumaea, an area conquered by John Hyrcanus and forcibly converted to the Jewish religion. Antipater became Rome’s adviser to Hyrcanus II. He insisted that Hyrcanus stand up and fight his brother for the kingdom…because their neighbors preferred the peaceful Hyrcanus on their borders to the warrior Aristobulus…and Rome preferred a civil war in the tiny nation that would make it easier for them to come in and take over. (Antiquities of the Jews XIV.II. 3) Continue reading “Two Alexandra’s daughters of the Hasmonean Civil War”

Salome Alexandra a Harlot in the Dead Sea Scrolls

GoogleDeadSeaScrolls-970-80
Fragments of Dead Sea Scrolls. Some small portion of the scrolls can now be dated to the late 60 BCE because they mention Queen Shalomzion. The fragmentary state of a lot of the scrolls make it frustrating to try to really research them but Google is getting involved. See link.

Salome Alexandra and her husband, “King Jonathan”, as he was called and their two sons are all named in a Dead Sea Scroll titled Annalistic Calendar.  Some places Salome is referred to as a Regent…a ruler, and other times as a Queen…meaning the wife of a king. “Shelamzion’s” mention does not really tell us anything about her, however, because it is so fragmentary; but it is a way to date that portion of the scrolls.

…[….) foundation, Shelamzion entered […] […] to receive […] […] Hyrcanus rebelled […]…(4Q322 Frag. 2. Also see 4Q324 with just her name.)

Continue reading “Salome Alexandra a Harlot in the Dead Sea Scrolls”

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