As stated in the last post Josephus’ narrative of what led up to Mariamne’s death is confusing. He tells it twice and it has perplexed scholars for centuries…was there one incident or two. I have chosen here to start with an Antiquities quote and then switch to the earliest version Josephus wrote in Wars of the Jews. It is shorter but also rawer with less embellishments than the Antiquities version, and Salome’s role is very clear. Salome and her mother Cypros are the main cause of the death of Mariamne.
While Herod was in Egypt because Cleopatra had gotten Antony to bring Herod to trial over the death of Jonathan Aristobulus, Mariamne’s younger brother, Alexandra tried to take back the government (as we saw in the last post). It had been falsely reported that Antony had killed Herod…but when letters were received from Herod…very much alive…
…the women left off their attempt…yet was not that purpose of theirs a secret; but when the king had …returned to Judea, when both his sister Salome and his mother, informed him of Alexandra’s intentions. Salome also added somewhat further against Joseph (their uncle left in charge of Mariamne and Alexander with orders to kill them if he didn’t return…Salome’s own husband Joseph), though it was no more than a calumny, that he had often had criminal conversation with Mariamne. The reason of her saying so was this, that she for a long time bare her ill-will; for when they had differences with one another, Mariamne took great freedoms, and reproached the rest for the meanness of their birth.
But Herod, whose affections to Mariamne was always very warm, was presently disturbed at this, and could not bear the torments of jealousy…which made him ask Mariamne by herself about the matter with Joseph; but she denied it upon her oath, and said all that an innocent woman could possibly say in her own defense…so little by little the king was prevailed upon to drop his suspicion…till at last, as usual between lovers, they both fell into tears and embraced one another….Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.9
Switching to Wars of the Jews…after the death of her younger brother…
For these reasons Mariamne reproached Herod, and his sister and mother, after a most contumelious manner, while he was dumb on account of his affection for her; yet had the women great indignation at her, and raised a calumny against her, that she was false to his bed: which thing they thought most likely to move Herod to anger.
They also contrived to have may other circumstances believed, in order to make the thing more credible, and accused her of having sent her picture into Egypt to Antony, and that her lust was so extravagant, as to have thus shewn herself, though she was absent, to a man that ran mad after women, and to a man that had it in his power to use violence to her. This charge fell like a thunderbolt upon Herod and put him into disorder; and that especially, because his love to her occasioned him to be jealous, and because he considered with himself that Cleopatra was a shrewd woman, and…his fear did not only extend to the dissolving of his marriage, but to the danger of his life.
When, therefore he was about to take a journey abroad, he committed his wife to Joseph, his sister Salome’s husband, as to one who would be faithful to him, and bare him good-will on account of their kindred; he also gave him a secret injunction, that if Antony slew hm, he should slay her; but Joseph, without any ill design, and only in order to demonstrate the king’s love to his wife, how he could not bear to think of being separated from her, even by death itself, discovered this grand secret to her; upon which, when Herod was come back, and as they talked together, and he confirmed his love to her by many oaths, and assured her that he had never such an affection for any other woman as he had for her,–
“Yes,” says she, “thou didst, to be sure, demonstrate thy love to me by injunctions thou gravest Joseph, when thou commandest him to kill me.”
When he heard that this grand secret was discovered, he was like a distracted man, and said, that Joseph would never have disclosed that injunction of his unless he had debauched her. His passion also made him stark mad, and leaping out of his bed, he ran about the palace after a wild manner; at which time his sister Salome took the opportunity also to blast her reputation, and confirmed his suspicion about Joseph; whereupon, out of his ungovernable jealousy and rage, he commanded both of them to be slain immediately…Wars of the Jews I.XXII.
In the Antiquities version, Salome could see that Herod was ready…finally…to do Mariamne violence and rolled out her plan to make it worse…
…Salome…sent to the king his cupbearer, who had been prepared long beforehand for such a design, and bade him tell the king how Mariamne had persuaded him to give his assistance in preparing a love-potion for him; and if he appeared to be greatly concerned, and to ask what that love-potion was, to tell him that she had the potion, and that he was desired only to give it him; but in case he did not appear to be much concerned at this potion, to let the thing drop; …
So he went in after a composed manner, to gain credit to what he should say…When Herod heard what he said, and was in an ill disposition before is indignation grew more violent; and he ordered that eunuch of Mariamne, who was most faithful to her, to be brought to torture about this potion…and when the man was under the utmost agonies, he could say nothing concerning the thing he was tortured about, but so far he knew, that Mariamne’s hatred against him was occasioned by somewhat that Sohemus had said to her. Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4
“Sohemus” is the culprit in Antiquities while Joseph is the hapless one in Wars. Both versions say that Herod “bound Alexandra and kept her in custody. In Wars (above) he had both Joseph and Mariamne slain immediately. In Antiquities, he had Sohemus killed immediately but …he allowed his wife to take her trial…Antiquities of the Jew XV.VII