8. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-The Accusations

Mariamne Wife of Herod and Her Children Going to Their Execution Edward Hopley 1868 The sons of Mariamne will be executed by Herod but not until they are grown men.

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

6. Mariamne Queen of the Jews-Salome sister of Herod

Jigsaw Puzzle of Herod consults with Cypros and Salome
King Herod the Great discusses with his mother Cypros and sister Salome the alleged infidelity of his wife Mariamne Date: 0 B.C

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Herod Consults Cypros and Salome and Cypros

Mariamne, now Queen of the Jews at perhaps 15-17 years old…finally…found herself wedded to her family’s enemy and now ally Herod. Herod may have been now in his early 30s, having previously been made Governor of Galilee for is valor in fighting her family alongside Marc Antony and the Romans…and now for fighting her cousin for the kingdom…but he keenly knew that he did not have royal blood and therefore did not deserve to be King of the Jews. He was also now face to face with his own Hasmonean, Mariamne.

We have seen Mariamne’s family tree. But now Josephus begins to tell us about Herod’s large extended family that had just risen to power with him.

Josephus lists Herod’s family. His father Antipater was…

in great repute in Idumaea…out of which nation he married a wife, who was the daughter of one of their eminent men, and her name was Cypros, by whom he had four sons, Phasael and Herod, who was afterwards made king, and Joseph, and Pheroras; and a daughter named Salome. Antiquities of the Jews XIV. VII3

Thought to be a young King Herod

Herod’s family will play a large role in his personal life as king as well as in his administration of the kingdom. His older brother Phasael will also be Governor of Roman provinces and one brother will commit suicide when captured in the war with Antigonus. His uncles will be a great help to him and were given positions and power in the new government and Hasmonean women as trophy wives.

To understand what Mariamne and her mother Alexandra walked into, it will help to understand the role of two Herodian women in particular…another mother/daughter pair: Salome, sister of Herod and their mother Cypros. Josephus gives us tremendous detail so we can trace the inevitability of what happened…

***

One of many great maps on Google or Bing

Herod and his family came from Idumea, the country directly south of Judea. When Herod has to flee from Antigonus and the Parthians, he fought his way to Idumea where he had support and where he sheltered his women-folk in the desert fortress of Masada. Idumea or Edom had been subjugated by John Hyrcanus in ca 110 B.C. He later built the lavish palace complex there to commemorate his victory.

Hyrcanus also initiated a military campaign against the Idumeans (Edomites). During this campaign Hyrcanus conquered Adora, Maresha and other Idumean towns (Ant.13.257). Hyrcanus then instituted forced conversions on the Idumeans to Judaism…This was an unprecedented move for a Judean ruler. John Hyrcanus – Wikipedia

***

To do that, we need to go back to that moment (in the last post) when Antigonus son of King Aristobulus attacked Herod in a surprise assault, causing him to flee Jerusalem. He was betrothed to Mariamne but not yet wed and not yet king.  

(Herod) therefore …set his wives(?) upon the beasts, as also his mother and sister, and her whom he was about to marry…with her mother…with tears in their eyes, and sad lamentation…left their own country…

Fighting his way there, he “deposited the women and several hundred of his closest followers” in the rough desert fortress of Masada with “sufficient quantity of corn and water.” Those three years before Herod could rescue them will leave scars on the women that will not heal. Herod will be named king by the Roman Senate and sent back with Roman Legions and eventually won his kingdom and his Jewish queen…but…

…fortune was avenged on Herod in his external great successes, by raising him up domestic troubles; and he began to have wild disorders in his family on account of his wife…Wars of the Jews I.XXII.1

Masada

It will be a few more years before Salome is mentioned again and one can readily see the enmity that grew out of that time on Masada between Salome and Mariamne.

…but as for Mariamne his wife, because of the misunderstanding between her and his sister, and his sister’s mother, which made it impossible for them (the women) to live together…(more later) Antiquities of the Jews XV.VI.4,5

(Salome)…for a long time bare (Mariamne) ill-will; for when they had differences with one another, Mariamne took great freedoms, and reproached the rest for the meanness of their birth. Antiquities of the Jews XV.III.9

(later on)..so much the greater were the distresses that came upon him in his own family, and chiefly in the affair of his wife, wherein he formerly appeared to have been most of all fortunate; for the affection he had for Mariamne was no way inferior to the affections of such as are on that account celebrated in history, and this very justly. As for her, she was in other respects a chaste woman, and faithful to him; yet had she somewhat of a woman rough by nature, and treated her husband imperiously enough, because she saw he was so fond of her as to be enslaved to her. She did not also consider seasonably with herself that she lived under a monarchy, and that she was at another’s disposal, and accordingly would behave herself after a saucy manner to him, which yet he usually put off in a jesting way and bore with moderation and good temper. She would also expose his mother and his sister openly, on account of the meanness of their birth, and would speak unkindly of them, insomuch that there was before this a disagreement and unpardonable hatred among the women…Antiquities of the Jews XV.VII.4

The new young king…not one born and bred to rule and a young queen who had been born and bred into a 100-year royal lineage, and though young, knew how to be a queen. Even in defeat, her House and nation would look to her to play to win. Beguile the king, give them heirs, and like Esther, know how to approach the king with petitions to help her people.  

Alexandra had her role to play at court as mother of the Queen and advisor to the King, but also as the only remaining royal in a position to aid her House return to any semblance of power and she had the warrior gene, as we will see. Mariamne will keep the king agreeable to their presence at court and presented him with heirs…five children in eight years…that were also heirs to her lost kingdom.  

Herod knew he needed the good will of Mariamne (and Alexandra) to remain king…and often, that is what is meant by “love” among the ruling class. But Jerusalem is not Camelot. Josephus’ reports stress the conflict between Mariamne and Salome, but the strife will also include both their mothers. Strife that began at Masada. Newly royal Cypros was now mother of the king, a role valued by Mid-Eastern courts and the Jews in particular, as we have seen, as advisor to her son, a role Alexandra challenged her for. Cypros and Salome were learning their roles in the face of apparent harassment from Mariamne. Alexandra would be given her own castle in Jericho to get her out of the Jerusalem palace harem.

While Mariamne may have played her royalty card to the maximum…and even enjoyed some of it…she could not escape the new regime in her old family home in Jerusalem and all that was lost.

Not an easy way to try to pick up the pieces of their new kingdom depleted of men and treasures and a whole generation, and under the watchful eye of Rome.

The stage has been set for one of history’s tragedies…the war of the women inside those walls…

More Kings to Come

More Kings
More Kings to Come…

That sign–King of the Jews–nailed over Jesus’ head was meant as a deterrent as kings everywhere put the heads of their enemies on stakes. Herod Antipas and Herodias were sending a warning not to get in their way, as they did with their killing of John the Baptist. They knew that only those of their own House would try to stop their bid for the kingdom…because that is where the bloodline was.

And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.” Matthew 12:25 (Speaking from Hasmonean/Herodian family history?)

But with Jesus and John now dead, who was left to challenge Antipas?

Continue reading “More Kings to Come”

Salome the Damsel Queen

Salome_coin
Said to be a coin of Salome daughter of Herodias

So while Josephus and Luke, politically, lay the death of John the Baptist at the feet of Herod Antipas, Mark clearly blames Herodias and her daughter Salome for John’s beheading.

And when a convenient day was come, that Herod on his birthday made a supper to his lords, high captains, and chief estates of Galilee; And when the daughter of the said came in, and danced, and pleased Herod and them that sat with him, the king said unto the damsel, Ask of me whatsoever thou wilt, and I will give it thee…And she went forth, and said unto her mother, What shall I ask? And she said, The head of John the Baptist. And she came in straightway with haste unto the king, and asked, saying, I will that thou give me…the head of John the Baptist.

And the king was exceeding sorry; yet for his oath’s sake, and for their sakes which sat with him, he would not reject her. And immediately the king sent an executioner and commanded his head to be brought; and he went and beheaded him in the prison, and brought his head in a charger, and gave it to the damsel: and the damsel gave it to her mother. Mark 6:21-28

“Damsel” is a term often found linked with “virgin” as in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 which says: If a man find a damsel that is a virgin, which is not betrothed…Also, Mark helpfully clarifies exactly what the term means…

And he took the damsel by the hand, and said unto her, “Talitha cumi;” which is, being interpreted, Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. And straightaway the damsel arose, and walked; for she was of the age of twelve years. (Mark 5:39-42)

We are being told that Herodias’ daughter was a young virgin—perhaps betrothed–as discussed earlier and we will see again–virgins were most often kept indoors to preserve their virginity.  But we the reader have added to Salome’s character a voluptuous Lolita-like pre-teen pursuing her own perverted ways at the expense of God’s elect: a typical  teenager girl in some circles. But Herodias’ daughter could not have been a mere “damsel.”

Herodias…had a daughter Salome…married to Philip, the son of Herod, the tetrarch of Trachonitis… Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.V.4.

Let’s look at that: Continue reading “Salome the Damsel Queen”

Herodias sister of Mariamne III

Herodias_by_Paul_Delaroche
Herodias, look her up on Google images…this is the first image that comes up. It is almost impossible to find a decent representation of her without the head of John the Baptist. Yet, Josephus gives us a different side to her beside the evil she and her daughter have come to represent for over 2000 years.

Herodias was Mariamne III’s sister, also a granddaughter of Mariamne I and Herod the King and was kin to all the other Mariamnes in Josephus. Her father had been executed by her grandfather. Her other grandmother was Salome sister of Herod. She was a veteran of the harem wars and the “abuse of the virgins” trial along with her sister. If she hadn’t been cleared of the charge of un-virginity, she could never have been betrothed to Herod son of Mariamne II, daughter of Simon the High Priest.

But then, suddenly, Herodias, perhaps even still below the age of puberty” was on the outside looking in. Her mother-in-law was divorced by Herod for plotting against him and was thrown out of court and Herodias and her young husband with her. Her husband’s prophecy made in the Temple by Simon the High Priest and his alliance/betrothal to a granddaughter of Mariamne the Hasmonean queen was not fulfilled. There was no re-betrothal for either of them. When next heard from in Josephus Herodias has a grown daughter—unfortunately not a son—and was living in a palace in Caesarea and was still the wife of the same by-passed Herod. Continue reading “Herodias sister of Mariamne III”

An Unnamed Daughter of King Antigonus

wealthy-women-in-the-roman-world-and-in-the-church
Unnamed photo on the site Marg Mowczko, Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism, “Wealthy Women in the First-Century Roman World and in the Church” April 19, 2017

We need to backtrack a bit and look at the last year or so of Herod’s life from a different woman’s angle. Remember that when the sons of Mariamne the Queen had been brought back to court and were blaming Herod for killing their mother, Herod had brought to court also, his son from his first wife in the days before he married Mariamne I the Queen. He had sent Doris his wife and his son Antipater to the outback of Galilee. But then, with Antipater back at court and his mother Doris “back in Mariamne’s bed” and with the re-betrothals more in his favor, Antipater, along with just about everybody at court, now turned their attention to getting rid of his aging father. He plots with his uncle Pheroras, Pheroras’ women and his own mother but not with Salome, his aunt. She runs to tell her brother Herod everything she hears…and she has spies everywhere. Herod again banishes Pheroras and his women from court and forbids them to contact Antipater. Continue reading “An Unnamed Daughter of King Antigonus”

The Virgin Mary on Trial

431px-Alfonso_boschi,_presentazione_di_maria_al_tempio
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 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]

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 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. .

[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

Mariamne II the High Priest’s Daughter

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Livia Drusilla, or Julia as Josephus calls her, wife of Octavian. They will both be deified after they died and were then called Augusta and Augustus. Salome, sister of Herod, was a good friend of Livia, who was a true force to be reckoned with in Roman politics. http://www.womeninthebible.net/jewish_princess.htm#Salome

With the deaths of Alexandra and Mariamne and a whole generation of Hasmonean males their dominance in the royal record recedes and we learn of other royal and noble women, some will be Hasmonean and some will not. Some we will know the names of and some we will not. But from now on—with Mariamne’s heirs half-Herodian—the royal bloodline is no longer pure…the very thing the priests tried so hard not to let happen. The House of Herod now rules…even though its women are often Hasmonean princesses now safely married off to members of Herod’s family. That is the way of the world. It was the Hasmonean women’s due as royalty to be part of the new government though they could not do much but maintain spy rings, plot and bide their time, as we will see.

A Man Possessed

As mentioned in the last post, Herod appears to have had a nervous breakdown after the execution of his “beloved” Queen: Continue reading “Mariamne II the High Priest’s Daughter”