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.
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). 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.
 The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Barbara G. Walker, Harper & Row Publishers NYC 1983
After the death of Judas, his brother Jonathan took up his mantle. Little Judea was a ping-pong ball in the Greek kings’ wars that were spanning generations. Jonathan sided with one Greek King, Alexander Balas—husband of Cleopatra Thea from the last post—and was rewarded with the title of High Priest/Ruler of the Jews after seven years without a High Priest.(152-142 BC) (Antiquities of the Jews XIII.II.2-3)
When Jonathan was also killed by “treachery,” and young Onias IV son of the last true High Priest of the old order had decamped to Egypt[i] (ca 143 B.C.). Jonathan’s younger brother, Simon, was then officially awarded the dynastic High Priesthood by the priests and the multitudes, thereby establishing the House of the Hasmoneans, named for Judas Maccabee’s grandfather. (ca 142-135 B.C.)
And the Jews and their priests resolved that Simon should be their leader and high priest forever… and that he should be their general…and that he should wear purple and gold. I Maccabees 14:41-42
But would the 15-generation Oniad/Jesus son of Josadeck House who took power after the last Davidic son was ousted from ruling after the return from Babylon, just turn over the High Priesthood to the upstart priest Simon. He was heroic and the nation owed their continued existence to them, yes, but they were of lessor priestly ranking. And why did their heir, young Onias IV run off to Egypt in the first place and not stay and fight for the High Priesthood of his father’s house. Perhaps Onias IV was unfit to rule in the Temple for some reason. What does a ruling House, be it High Priest or King, do under the circumstances when a male of the line can’t take the head position…or the people don’t want him too? By now we know that from the days of David the King that the old House marries their daughter to the new guy…and either the new guy assimilates into the old House…as we will see as we go along…or…they start a new ruling house…as Simon the Hasmonean was allowed to do.
So why did the House of Onias allow a new House of the Hasmoneans to inherit the role of High Priest?
Working from hindsight, knowing about an event that comes a bit later, and now being aware of the role of daughters of rulers/kings/high priests/princes of the congregation, this is what I think happened. I’m already in over my head, but here goes.
The Books of the Maccabees tell us that the children of Onias III were held as hostages by Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek king bent on destroying the Jews. After years of war, when the Jews had won back their right to rule their nation again under Judas’ brother Jonathan, one of the first things Jonathan does is release the hostages and captives. We first hear of Onias IV, heir to the Oniad High Priesthood, in this same section where Jonathan released the captives, as told by I Maccabees and Josephus. But Onias IV does not become the next High Priest, as was his due. No reason is definitively given but during the same time frame Jonathan is “killed by treachery” which would leave the door open for Onias IV…one would think…But that is not what happened. Jonathan’s younger brother Simon was made the High Priest for life and for his House to become the dynastic High Priestly House…by the priests of Jerusalem. So, what happened?
I think that when Simon and his House were given the High Priesthood “until a Prophet should come” it was because he married a daughter of Onias III…it would have been her due as the daughter of the last ruler to marry the next ruler…and because Simon was a member of the heroic family/priestly house that saved them all from the Greeks. That left Onias IV with no path to the High Priesthood, and he took off for Egypt. It would have been helpful if not necessary for Simon to have the High Priest’s daughter by his side at his coronation…as David had to have Michal daughter of Saul by his side. She is the elephant in the room. (See www.jewishvirtuallibrary, Jewish History.org, Jewish Women’s Archives)
A High Priest’s Daughter
At last, a woman of a High Priestly house enters history, though unnamed. She will later be a heroine in her own right and a symbol of unity for the nation…and perhaps the woman behind the widow with seven sons’ story of martyrdom. Because after a fairly peaceful reign, (144-135 B.C.) Simon was also killed by “treachery.” An ambitious son-in-law strikes…as often happens:
Ptolemy son of Abubus, who had been made governor over the plain of Jericho…was the son-in-law of the high priest… plotted deceitfully against Simon and his sons to remove them. I Maccabees 16:11-14
Ptolemy killed Simon and two of his sons and took his mother-in-law, our unnamed wife of Simon and her two younger sons captive and used her to set a trap to kill a third son, “young” John Hyrcanus who inherited his father’s “kingdom.”
So Ptolemy retired to one of the fortresses that was above Jericho, which was called Dagon. But Hyrcanus having taken the high priesthood that had been his father’s before…made an expedition against Ptolemy…and was rendered weaker than he, by the commiseration he had for his mother and his brethren…for Ptolemy brought them upon the wall, and tormented them in sight of all, and threatened that he would throw them down headlong, unless Hyrcanus would leave off the siege…However, his mother spread out her hands, and begged of him that he would not grow remiss on her account…and that he would do his utmost to take the place quickly…and then to avenge upon him what he had done to those that were dearest to himself; for that death would be to her sweet, though with torment, if that enemy of theirs might but be brought to punishment for his wicked dealings to them. Antiquities of the Jews XIII.VIII.1, I Maccabees 16)
…But John’s case was this: When he considered the courage of his mother, and heard her entreaty, he set about his attacks; but when he saw her beaten, and torn to pieces with the stripes, he grew feeble, and was entirely overcome by his affections. And as the siege was delayed by this means, the year of rest came on, upon which the Jews rest every seventh year, therefore, Ptolemy was freed from being besieged, and slew the brethren of John with their mother…Wars of the Jews XI.II.4
Hyrcanus had just taken over the High Priesthood. He could not save his mother because a Sabbath Year had just then begun. It was required of Jews that they abstain from work for one year every seventh year and war was work. He had no choice but to follow the Law and break the siege and withdraw, leaving his mother a martyr to the Sabbath Year—the ultimate number seven.
[i] The story of how the Onias IV took off for Egypt and built a Temple there, believe it or not, will be an issue in the life of a Queen named Mariamne/Mary in the days of Herod…and by extension for Mary mother of Jesus.