John Hyrcanus son of Simon the High Priest and Ruler of Judea for the House of the Hasmoneans and the unnamed daughter of the last Oniad High Priest, (my theory) ran into a bit of trouble because of his mother. If he had indeed tried to deify his “sainted” mother by saying she was one of the stars in the Pleiades (see previous post), for instance, it created a backlash. A frontal assault was made on her chastity as a way to stop him from officiating as the High Priest.
However, this prosperous state of affairs moved the Jews to envy Hyrcanus; but they that were the worst disposed to him were the Pharisees…Now Hyrcanus was a disciple of theirs, and greatly beloved by them. And when he once invited them to a feast… there was one of his guests there, whose name was Eleazar, a man of an ill temper, and delighting in seditious practices. This man said, “(I)f thou wilt be righteous in earnest, lay down the high priesthood, and content thyself with the civil government of the people.” And when he desired to know for what cause he ought to lay down the high priesthood, the other replied, “We have heard it from old men, that thy mother had been a captive under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes.”…This story was false, and Hyrcanus was provoked against them… Antiquities of the Jew XIII.X.5 (Use of bold emphasis is mine.)
John’s mother may well have been held hostage as a child of the High Priest Onias III who died in exile when the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes occupied Judea. That was what nations did then. The implication, of course, was that Hyrcanus’ mother could not have made it through being held as a hostage/captive as a virgin—no matter how young she was at the time. (More later.) The point being that she wasn’t a virgin when she married Simon, which totally disqualified her to be the wife of a High Priest…and more importantly, the mother of the next High Priest according to the law.
And he that is high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured…he shall take a wife in her virginity. A widow, or a divorced woman, or profane, or an harlot, these shall he not take: but he shall take a virgin of his own people to wife… Leviticus 21:10-15
The sect called the Pharisees arose at just this time in Josephus’ Jewish history. They had two main areas of contention with the Sadducees, the High Priestly sect: one was that the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and all that stuff about heroes being up among the stars. And two, the Sadducees were the “conservatives,” wanting to keep the Laws as written and Pharisees, in some respects, were more liberal and wanted to make the laws more responsive to their times. (Yes, Red vs. Blue went back at least that far!)
Josephus, bless him, actually gives an example of a change the Pharisees made to the exact law quoted above.
As for the priests, he (Moses)… forbade them to marry harlots. He also forbade them to marry a slave or a captive, and such as got their living by cheating trades, and by keeping inns: as also a woman parted from her husband, on any account whatsoever. Nay, he did not think it proper for the high-priest to marry even a widow of one that was dead, though he allowed that to the priests; but he permitted him only to marry a virgin, and to retain her. Antiquities of the Jews III.XII.2 (My underline to illustrate the portion added by the Pharisees that would affect Hyrcanus’ mother.)
I feel they made the change in the Law expressly to be used against Hyrcanus’ mother as a way to challenge his right to be the High Priest. Royal, priestly women in a war had to deal with being a hostage or a captive and therefore rape and may be why it wasn’t spelled out in the Law because the necessity of High Priestly women’s virginity…wives and daughters…was written into Mosaic Law. Hyrcanus could not let the accusation against his mother stand, though. He had contributed to her martyred death. Nor could he let the challenge to his right to the High Priesthood stand.
…the party of the Pharisees, and abolished the decree… and punished them that observed them…But when Hyrcanus had put an end to this sedition, and after that lived happily…and then died, leaving behind him five sons, he was esteemed by God worthy of the three privileges—government of his nation, the dignity of the high priesthood, and prophecy; for God was with him, and enabled him to know futurities. Antiquities of the Jews XIII.X.7
The first version of the life of John Hyrcanus that Josephus wrote in his earlier Wars of the Jews I.II.8, did not mention this passage on John’s mother but he does add it to his revision in Antiquities. Often his rewrites are to include or exclude passages on royal women. He goes to great lengths to include the stories of royal Hasmonean women, as we will see—in part, I think, because, as we will also see later, his own mother was a royal Hasmonean descended from Jonathan son of Mattathias son of Hasmon.
The Royal Seven
But it wasn’t just ancient history and old myths. The Book of Revelation in the New Testament uses the number seven and seven stars that scholars take to be a reference to the Seven Sisters:
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
Somewhere along the line, Mary became conflated with the queen in Revelation and the stars increased to twelve…but I think it is possible that the whole theme of a woman raised up into the firmament as a star, a very Catholic concept, might…in Judaism…go back to John Hyrcanus’ mother…just a thought. I sure wish we knew her name.