A New Account, Pt. 7—The founder: Who was he?

Just a couple of hours ago, while researching another post that was actually scheduled for publication today (but is now forthcoming), I read a few words in the writings of Josephus that have apparently been overlooked heretofore, words that have a momentous bearing on our investigations into the founder of Christianity. It looks like somebody will have to change at least one Wikipedia article to reflect the new information. The matter has to do with relations among the Hasmonean royal family, as well as with the parentage of Yeshu, and I will now have to revise some of the information I posted recently in that regard.

As you can imagine, writing these posts is not only exciting for me, but I never really know from where the next clue will come, or even where exactly it is all leading… You, the reader, are along for the ride. So, keep you seatbelt fastened, smile, and if we just happen to rewrite history in the process, well, no harm done!

Josephus writes in his Wars of the Jews:

[Pompey, upon taking Jerusalem] reinstated Hyrcanus [II] as High Priest, in return for his enthusiastic support shown during the siege, particularly in detaching from Aristobulus [II] large numbers of the rural population who were anxious to join his standard… Among the prisoners was the father-in-law of Aristobulus, who was also his uncle. (War 1.150)

On the face of it, this is a fairly plain passage. The year is 63 BCE. The Roman general Pompey has invaded Palestine and put an end to the bloody civil war between the brothers Hyrcanus II and Aristobulus II, both sons of the late King Alexander Janneus. In laying siege to Jerusalem, Pompey received “enthusiastic” assistance from Hyrcanus. We learn from Josephus that Aristobulus resisted the Romans, barricaded himself and his last supporters in the Jerusalem temple compound, but gave himself up in an effort to sue for peace, was taken prisoner, and that the supporters of Aristobulus continued to fight on to the end and were massacred.

Of interest to us at this time, however, is the last sentence of the above citation: “Among the prisoners was the father-in-law of Aristobulus, who was also his uncle.”

We may ask: Who was this “father-in-law” and “uncle” of Aristobulus? Examination of the above chart shows that Aristobulus II’s father was Alexander Janneus, and that he had four uncles. The eldest, Aristobulus I, died as king and High Priest in 103 BCE. Antigonus I was assassinated by Aristobulus I, also in 103 BCE. This leaves only Absalom (whom we have identified as the father of Yeshu ha-Notsri) and a certain unnamed uncle who is quite unknown to history. (Josephus merely informs us that he was of a “retiring nature.”)

The matter is settled when we read the parallel passage in the Antiquities:

Absalom, who was at once both uncle and father-in-law to Aristobulus [II], was taken captive [by the Romans with the aid of Hyrcanus II]. (Ant 14.71)

Thus, we learn here that Absalom was the father-in-law and the uncle of Aristobulus II. Now, “uncle” is completely to be expected… But “father-in-law”?! What does this mean?

Does it not signify that the mother of Aristobulus II—namely, Queen Salome Alexandra—married Absalom, the younger brother of her late husband Janneus, who died in 76 BCE? Of course, this is the only possible explanation for what, in a few words, Josephus casually tells the reader.

Implications for Yeshu

We now must revise the parentage of Yeshu and, in doing so, must incorporate some startling revelations. First of all, the above new information means that Queen Salome Alexandra was not the “aunt-in-law” of Yeshu, as I concluded in a recent post. She was even more closely related to him: Queen Alexandra was no less than Yeshu’s mother-in-law! She married his father Absalom after her second husband died. It appears that Alexandra was going down the line, marrying in succession each succeeding brother by levirate as her husbands died in turn. It also appears that Yeshu’s mother had already died—thus, his father could remarry. Finally, the above citations of Josephus inform us that Absalom was taken prisoner by the Romans in 63 BCE. This tells us that the son, Yeshu, in all likelihood predeceased his father. After all, we have postulated that Yeshu died by execution of the Sanhedrin c. 66 BCE. Absalom, his father, was still alive three years later. Thus, the order of deaths would be: Queen Salome Alexandra (67 BCE); Yeshu ha-Notsri (c. 66 BCE?); Absalom (sometime after 63 BCE).

Let us review: first, Salome marries Aristobulus I. Then, when he dies (103 BCE) she marries his next-younger brother Janneus by levirate. Then, when Janneus dies (76 BCE), Salome marries the next surviving brother, who is Absalom, the father of Yeshu ha-Notsri.

Let us continue: The marriage of Queen Salome Alexandra and Absalom took place after 76 BCE, the year that Janneus died. Is this not precisely the time when Yeshu returns from exile in Egypt?

Of course. Yeshu’s father was now the queen’s husband! Even were Yeshu excommunicated by God Himself, he would have very powerful support in Israel.

We will look in the next post at why Yeshu, in fact, did not return to Jerusalem but went instead to Samaria. After all, he had been excommunicated by the most powerful Pharisee in the land, Joshua ben Perachiah, and Yeshu now had many enemies among the Pharisees. Despite his enviable connections to the government, his position in that tumultuous age was still tenuous.

Jesus said: “Two will rest upon a bed; one will die, the other live.”
Salome said: “Who are you, man, whose son? You have mounted my bed and eaten from my table.”
Jesus said to her: “I am he who comes forth from the one who is equal; I was given of the things of my Father.”
[Salome said:] “I am your disciple.”
                    (Gospel of Thomas 61, Blatz translation)

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