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Josephus, Antiquities XIII, 398-432: Queen Salome Alexandra

Coin of Salome AlexandraAlexander Janneus was soon succeeded by his wife, Salome Alexandra (76-67 B.C.E.) whose reign brought the Pharisees back to power. But the Queen’s rule sowed the seeds of the eventual decline if the Hasmonean House after her death.

(398) After this, King Alexander 53 fell ill because of hard drinking and had a quartan fever for three years, but he would not give up going out with his army until he was quite exhausted from the labors he had undergone, and died while besieging Ragaba, a fortress beyond the Jordan. (399) But when his queen saw that he was ready to die, and no longer had any hopes of surviving, she came to him weeping and lamenting, and bewailed the desolate condition in which she and her sons would be left. And she said to him, “To whom do you thus leave me and my children who are without any other support, and this when you know how much ill will your nation bears you?”

(400) So he gave her the following advice, which, if she would but follow his suggestions, would allow her to retain the kingdom securely for her children- that she should conceal his death from the soldiers until she captured that fortress. (401) After this, she should go triumphantly and victoriously to Jerusalem and put some of her authority into the hands of the Pharisees. For they would commend her for the honor she had done them and would reconcile the nation to her. For he told her they had great authority among the Jews, both to do harm to whomever they hated and to bring advantage to those to whom they were friendly. (402) For they are believed best of all by the multitude when they speak harshly against others, even though it be only out of envy at them. And he said that it was by their means that he had incurred the displeasure of the nation whom indeed he had injured. (403) “Therefore,” said he, “when you come to Jerusalem, send for the leading men among them and show them my body, and with great appearance of sincerity give them permission to treat it as they themselves please, whether they will dishonor the dead body by refusing it burial for having severely suffered by my hands, or whether in their anger they will offer any other injury to that body. Promise them also that you will do nothing without them in the affairs of the
kingdom. (404) If you do but say this to them, I shall have the honor of a more glorious funeral from them than you could have made for me; and when it is in their power to abuse my dead body, they will do it no injury at all, and you will rule in safety.”

When he had given his wife this advice, he died, after he had reigned twenty-seven years and lived forty-nine years.

(405) So Alexandra, when she had taken the fortress, acted as her husband had suggested to her, and spoketo the Pharisees, and put all things into their power, both as to the dead body and as to the affairs of the kingdom. Thereby she pacified their anger against Alexander and made them bear good will and friendship to him. (406) They then went to the people and made speeches to them, laid before them the actions of Alexander, and told them that they had lost a righteous king. By the commendation they gave him, they brought them to grieve and to lament for him, so that he had a funeral more splendid than had any of the kings before him. (407) Alexander left two sons, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, but committed the kingdom to Alexandra. Of these two sons, Hyrcanus was indeed unable to manage public affairs and delighted rather in a quiet life, but the younger one, Aristobulus, was an active and a bold man. As for this woman herself, Alexandra, she was loved by the multitude because she seemed displeased at the offenses of which her husband had been guilty.

(408) So she made Hyrcanus high priest because he was the elder, but much more because he did not care to meddle with politics and permitted the Pharisees to do everything. She also ordered the multitude to be obedient to the Pharisees. She then restored those practices which the Pharisees had introduced according to the traditions of their forefathers which her father-in-law, Hyrcanus, had abrogated. (409) So she had indeed the name of the sovereign, but the Pharisees had the authority for it was they who allowed many who had been banished to return and set prisoners free, and, in a word, they differed in nothing from absolute rulers. However, the queen also took care of the affairs of the kingdom, got together a great body of mercenary soldiers, and increased her own army to such a degree that she struck terror in the neighboring tyrants and took hostages from them.

(410) The country was entirely at peace, except the Pharisees, for they pestered the queen desiring that she should kill those who persuaded Alexander to slay the eight hundred men. After this they cut the throat of one of them, Diogenes. After him they did the same to several, one after another, (411) until the men who were the most powerful came into the palace, and Aristobulus was with them, for he seemed to be displeased at what was done. It appeared openly that, if he had an opportunity, he would not permit his mother to go on so. They reminded the queen of the great dangers they had gone through and the great things they had done, whereby they had demonstrated the firmness of their fidelity to their master, as a result of which they had received the greatest honors from him. (412) They begged of her that she would not utterly destroy their hopes, for when they had escaped the hazards that arose from their [open] enemies, they were now to be slaughtered at home by their [private] enemies, like brute beasts, without any help whatsoever. (413) They said also that if their adversaries would be satisfied with those that had been slain already, they would take what had been done patiently, on account of their natural devotion to their masters. But if they must expect the same for the future also, they requested of her to be dismissed from her service, for they could not bear to think of attempting any method for their deliverance without her, but would rather die willingly before the palace gate if she would not forgive them. (414) It was a great shame, they added, both for themselves and for the queen, that when they were abandoned by her, they should be given shelter by her husband’s enemies. For Aretas,the Arabian king, and other monarchs would give any reward if they could get such men as foreign auxiliaries, to whom their very names, before their voices were heard, caused them to shudder. (415) But if they could not obtain this second request, and if she had determined to prefer the Pharisees over them, they still insisted that she should place each one of them in her fortresses. For if some evil genius were angry with Alexander’s house, they would be willing to bear their part, and to live in humble circumstances there.

(416) After these men had spoken so and called upon Alexander’s spirit to take pity on those already slain and those in danger of it, all the bystanders broke out into tears. But Aristobulus chiefly made manifest what his sentiments were, and used many reproachful expressions to his mother [saying], (417) “But, indeed, the case is this, that they have been themselves the causes of their own calamities for permitting a woman who, against reason, was mad with ambition, to reign over them, when her sons were in the prime of life.” So Alexandra, not knowing what to do with any decency, committed the fortresses to them, all but Hyrcania, 54 Alexandrium, 55 and Machaerus, 56 where her principal treasures were. (418) After a little while also, she sent her son Aristobolus with an army to Damas-cus against Ptolemy, who was called Menneus, who was such a bad neighbor to the city. But he did nothing considerable there, and so returned home….

(422) After this, when the queen suffered with a dangerous disease, Aristobolus resolved to attempt to seize the government. So he stole away secretly by night with only one of his servants, and went to the fortresses, where his friends from the days of his father were settled. (423) For although he had been for a long time displeased at his mother’s conduct, he was now much more afraid lest, upon her death, their whole family should be under the power of the Pharisees, for he saw the inability of his brother who would then succeed to the government. (424) No one was conscious of what he was doing except his wife whom he left in Jerusalem with their children. He first of all came to Agaba 57 where Palestes was, one of the powerful men mentioned before, and was received by him. (425) On the next day, the queen perceived that Aristobolus had fled, but for some time she supposed that his departure was not in order to start a revolt. But when messengers came one after another with the news that he had secured the first fortress, the second fortress, and all the fortresses, for as soon as one had begun, they all submitted to his will, then it was that the queen and the nation were in the greatest disorder, (426) for they were aware that it would not be long before Aristobulus would be able to establish himself firmly in the government. What they were principally afraid of
was that he would inflict punishment upon them for the excesses his house had suffered from them, so they decided to take his wife and children into custody and to keep them in the fortress that overlooked the temple.

(427) Now there was a mighty conflux of people that came to Aristobolus from all parts so that he had a kind of royal entourage around him. For in little more than fifteen days, he took twenty-two fortresses which gave him the opportunity of raising an army from Lebanon and Trachonitis, 58 and the local princes; for men are easily drawn to the stronger side and easily submit to it. And, besides this, by affording him their assistance when he could not expect it, they, as well as he, should have the advantages that would come by his being king because they had been the means of his gaining the kingdom. (428) Then the elders of the Jews, and Hyrcanus with them, went in to the queen and requested that she give them her counsel about the present state of affairs, for Aristobulus was in effect ruler of almost all the kingdom by possessing so many strongholds, and it was absurd for them to take any counsel by themselves, however ill she was, while she was alive; and yet the danger was not at all far off. (429) But she bade them do what they thought proper to be done, saying that they had many circumstances in their favor still remaining—a nation in good condition, an army, and money in their various treasuries; for she had little concern about public affairs now when the strength of her body was failing her.

(430) A little while after she had said this to them she died, after reigning nine years, 59 and she had lived in all seventy-three. She was a woman who showed no signs of the weakness of her sex, for she was sagacious to the greatest degree in her ambition of governing, and demonstrated by her deeds at once that her mind was fit for action, and that sometimes men themselves show the little understanding they have by the frequent mistakes they make in government. (431) For she always preferred the present to the future and preferred the power of absolute dominion above all things, and on account of that had no regard to what was good or what was right. However, she brought the affairs of her house to such an unfortunate condition that she was the reason for the removal of that authority from it not so long afterward. She had obtained it by a vast number of dangers and misfortunes out of a desire for what does not belong to a woman, and all by compliance in her sentiments with those who bore ill will to their family, and by leaving the administration lacking the proper support of great men. (432) Indeed, her management during her administration, while she was alive, was such as filled the palace after her death with calamities and disturbance. However, although this had been her way of governing, she had preserved the nation in peace, and this is the conclusion of the affairs of Alexandra.

53. Alexander Janneus, who ruled between 103-76 B.C.E.

54. Khirbet Mird, about eight miles southeast of Jerusalem.

55. About three miles southwest of the confluence of the Jabok and Jordan Rivers.

56. About five miles east of the Dead Sea.

57. Perhaps emend to “Ragaba,” a fortress in Transjordan.

58. A province of the area of Bashan east of the Jordan River and north of the Yarmuk River, today in the Golan Heights.

59. 76-67 B.C.E.

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