The prophet Yeshu, Pt. 7—The founder: Who was he?

Note: This post was substantially revised on 10/23/20 after its initial publication (on 8/29/2020). I incorporate new material that more correctly describes the family ties of Yeshu ha-Notsri ( = Jonathan, son of Absalom the Hasmonean).—RS

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. The matter has to do with relations among the Hasmonean royal family, as well as with the parentage of Yeshu.

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 1.154)

On the face of it, this is a fairly straightforward 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 elsewhere 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 Aristobulus II married the daughter of Absalom? Of course, this is the only possible explanation for what, in a few words, Josephus casually tells the reader.

Implications for Yeshu

We can now detail the relationship of Yeshu to the ruling Hasmonean family. First of all, Yeshu’s sister (name unknown) was married to a potential future king: Aristobulus II. Second, Yeshu had two uncles (Aristobulus I, Alexander Janneus) who had reigned over Israel both as king and High Priest. Third, both those uncles had been married in turn to Salome Alexandra, who after their deaths reigned as queen during Yeshu’s career of preaching during the 70s and 60s BCE.

Thus, Yeshu had multiple and powerful connections to Israel’s ruling Hasmonean family. Despite his excommunication by Perachiah, Yeshu would have very powerful support in Israel.

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).

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. Nevertheless, he may have had a trump card—it is possible that Queen Salome Alexandra herself was one of his followers:

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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About René Salm

René Salm is the author of two books on New Testament archeology and manages the companion website


The prophet Yeshu, Pt. 7—The founder: Who was he? — 2 Comments

  1. This is really interesting! I need to read more. This very much parallels my own investigations into how the Hasmonean kingdom was related to the origins of Christianity.

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