So we know from the last post that an Essen prophet predicted that a young Herod would grow up to be the king and that certain Pharisees were making prophecies with life and death consequences during the last days of Herod about who would inherit the kingdom from him. Daniel’s prophecy also seems to have been revived, predicting that a “prince shall come” that will have “all things in his power.” I’ve even suggested that the virgin prophecy in the New Testament for Mary could fall into this same category of political prophecy about the kingdom…. stressing her virginity as the gospels do.
Following Josephus’s narrative, he now shares a more clear-cut prophecy; this one for Pheroras’ wife, the culprit in the “abuse of the virgins” trial. “Pheroras’ wife” was the second wife of Pheroras, Herod’s brother. When Herod was made king of the Jews, he had secured for his brother a political alliance to a previously unheard-of unnamed sister (or half-sister) of Queen Mariamne I which helped Herod “beg” a tetrarchy for Pheroras “beyond Jordan” from Caesar Augustus. But when the princess died childless, Herod betrothed Pheroras to one of his own daughters by Mariamne I, a prime alliance, but Pheroras wouldn’t marry her. He married a maid servant instead: Continue reading “The Handmaiden Prophecy”→
Josephus, writing well after the Jewish war with Rome in 65-70 A.D., looking back with hindsight, blames the destruction of their nation on an “oracle” which seems to state that a world leader will be born in Israel.
“But now, what did elevate them(the rebels fighting Rome) in undertaking this war was an ambiguous oracle, that was also found in their sacred writings, how about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular; and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination…Wars of the Jews VI. VI.4
I will go into this prophecy more in chronological order, but Josephus also relates many other prophecies during Herod’s reign and immediately after his death, including this one made by an Essen prophet for Herod himself when he was yet a schoolboy in Jerusalem… Continue reading “The Virgin Prophecy”→
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 Protoevangelium of James, probably written in the second century is 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” given at the discretion of the High Priest as more than mere dust.
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]
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 was 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. .
[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 knowhow you appeared in my womb.”
We should now have a slightly better understanding of the role that royal women could and did play in the political life of the Jewish nation…mostly through their marriage alliances and their advocacy for their children as heirs…but not always.
We have also seen the beginning of religious sects and political parties who will vie for dominance until the nation’s last days…the Sadducees, Pharisees, and the Essene. We know that there is a purist/priest/warrior faction/militia that believes in Holy Wars and bodily resurrection and/or resurrection as a star into heaven as a reward for martyrdom. We will see the rise of another cycle of this group as we go along from both Josephus and the New Testament…
As we approach that great dividing line in history, the B.C./A.D. divide, I hope to show that all things progressed along a continuum. I don’t have the expertise or inclination or even space to show all of what befell this small nation, of course. Josephus wrote reams of pages on all of it, and it is fascinating, and one gets pulled this way and that…but…my red thread running through it all is the very fact of the existence of royal/noble women even if often unnamed.
The generation of Mariamne I were of an age to be the grandmothers of the people around Mary mother of Jesus—and how odd that there is a young virgin princess in a key political position on both sides of that timeline…. named Mariamne/Mary…as we will see. Both these young girls, though two generations apart, carry with them the story of what happened next to the House of the Hasmoneans and the nation. Josephus and his sources give speaking roles to the Jewish queens who are the same royal women that are in the New Testament. Mariamne/Mary will become a popular name among the royal and high priestly houses and among the multitudes, first because of Princess Mariamne and then into Christian circles because of Mary. They are relevant and they have been “veiled,” both by Jewish historians and New Testament theologians alike…both came to be known for their problematic betrothals…as we will see.
As we pick up the story of the first Mariamne–daughter of Alexander son of King and High Priest Aristobulus son of Regent Salome Alexandra AND also daughter of Alexandra daughter of Hyrcanus Ethnarch and High Priest son of the same Salome–with both sides of the civil war in her very person, being the eldest child and not a boy…about 9-10 years old and about to be betrothed….
During the time of Josephus’ priestly “oligarchy” nothing much is known about the lives of women. If wives of High Priests were treated as queens, we don’t know about it. But here is a portion of a story that shows both the evolution of angels and demons and how young virgin daughters of upper class families were treated. The story is an early fictional tale with elements, perhaps, of an Egyptian story of “Khons,” about how a demon was cast out of a princess. The tale is from the Book of Tobit and likely dated to the “beginning of the second century B.C.”