The prophet Yeshu: Pt.12—Family ties (and a correction)

As you are well aware, this website is a creation in real time. It is technically a blog, a record of my researches from day to day or week to week. It is a process of discovery and you, the reader, witness that process live.

Of course, I don’t have fact checkers or an editorial board. Your comments sent to this site or to my email (see “Contact” on the front page) help me correct mistakes, improve the argument, and modify statements or positions—thanks! Such corrections can also be quite fascinating.

And there have been (and will be) mistakes. After all, the process of discovery is not a straight line. It’s more like a zigzag or a spiral, with occasional dead ends, backtracks, and false starts. Well, that’s typical of scientific exploration in general.

Here I need to correct the record on one very important point: Queen Salome Alexandra did not marry Yeshu’s father, Absalom—as I wrote a couple of weeks ago. Yes, it sounded improbable to me, too… But that’s what Josephus initially seemed to imply to me in his casual statement:

[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)

The parallel passage in Antiquities of the Jews (14.71) informs us that this “uncle” of Aristobulus II was named Absalom. He, in fact, is the figure that I identify as the father of Yeshu. Despite checking the Greek of Josephus, I hastily interpreted “father-in-law” as “stepfather.” Of course, there’s a big difference. A father-in-law is the father of one’s spouse. A stepfather is one’s non-biological father, that is, a mother’s second (or third, etc) husband. In this case the correction greatly impacts the relationship of Yeshu to the Hasmonean royal family. The details are important, so please keep reading…

If Absalom were the stepfather of Aristobulus II—as I first interpreted Josephus—then Queen Salome Alexandra would have indeed married a third time by levirate, wedding Absalom the father of Yeshu after the death of Alexander Janneus, her second husband. This, in turn, would make Yeshu the stepson of the queen herself.

However, we must now reject that too-venturesome scenario. The correct translation of Josephus’ πενθερος [link: top line] is “father-in-law.” This means that Aristobulus II’s wife was the daughter of Absalom, who also happened to be Aristobulus’ uncle. It was a marriage between cousins.

So now we know that Jonathan/Yeshu had a sister who, in turn, was married to Aristobulus II, king and High Priest from 67 to 63 BCE. The corrected chart diagramming the relationship of Yeshu to the Hasmonean royal family can now be more correctly set forth:

I have also revised a couple of recent posts (here and here) to reflect the above updated information and suggest that readers review those posts, which have substantially changed.

My main argument is not affected: Yeshu ha-Notsri, the founder of Christianity, was closely related to the Hasmonean government of Israel—as implied by the Talmudic use of the word malkuth (“royalty”) to describe his background (b. Sanh. 43a; cf. NazarethGate 425). Indeed, Yeshu’s relationships to royalty were multiple and close:

(1) Yeshu came from a family of High Priests (noted in red font in the above chart). His great-grandfather Simon and his grandfather Hyrcanus I were both High Priests of the Jews. In addition, Yeshu’s uncles Aristobulus I and Alexander Janneus were High Priests in turn.

(2) Yeshu came from a family of kings. Technically, Yeshu’s great-grandfather Simon and his grandfather Hyrcanus I repudiated the title “king,” though they indeed functioned as head of state. Yeshu’s uncle Aristobulus I was the first to assume the title “king” (in 104 BCE), and Yeshu’s uncle Janneus also did so. Finally, Yeshu’s brother-in-law, Aristobulus II, was king from 67 to 63 BCE. (Hyrcanus II served as High Priest during those years.)

As for Queen Salome Alexandra (Jewish name Shalomzion), she was married in turn to two of Yeshu’s uncles. Also—and not to be overlooked—Yeshu’s brother-in-law (his sister’s husband, Aristobulus II) was none other than Queen Salome’s second son by Alexander Janneus.

The actual family ties of Yeshu ha-Notsri are now much clearer. He was indeed very close to royalty—as close as one can be without being in the direct line of succession. It is no wonder that the young Yeshu was deemed important enough for the pharisaic leader, Perachiah, to take to Egypt in flight from Yeshu’s bloodthirsty uncle Alexander Janneus. For we see from the above chart that Janneus sided with the Sadducees (who had held power in Jerusalem for many generations), but that Absalom’s side of the family sided with the emergent Pharisees. And, indeed, on a single day Janneus crucified 800 Pharisees while Perachiah and Yeshu were in Egypt.

Though she was married to Janneus, Salome covertly sided with the Pharisees. Her own brother, Simon ben Shetach, was a leading Pharisee. In fact, Shetach took over the title nasi (head) from Perachiah during Salome’s reign. It was Shetach who probably officiated at the final trial and conviction of Yeshu before the Sanhedrin about 66 BCE.

Upon the death of her second husband Alexander Janneus in 76 BCE, Salome became queen with ultimate political power over the Jews. However, she deferred much of that power to the Pharisees during her reign (76–67 BCE). In the Talmud, the rabbinic descendants of the Pharisees looked back on Salome’s reign as their glory days. It was also during her reign that Yeshu preached, mostly in Samaria. And it was towards the end of her reign—or possibly very shortly thereafter—that he was arrested, tried, and executed.

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About René Salm

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

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