Monday, December 13, 2010

A Story of a Spurious Alexander and a Living Aristobulus (As told by the Church Fathers)

A Story of a Spurious Alexander and a Living Aristobulus (Ant.17. 324-338, or Chapter 12)  

This section is a very garbled version of the appointment of Aristobulus, the son of Herod and Marriamne to be king of Judea, by Augustus.  The story was created by the Church Fathers because they didn't want their existing text (of Antiquities 18) to reveal the real cause of a war which was between the priests rebelling against Aristobulus and his forces. The priests were led by the priest Caiaphas and his son Eleazar. The rebellion was put down.  But it was resumed after Aristobulus died and his son Agrippa came to power. Aristobulus and Agrippa were considered by the Romans to be trustworthy rulers like Herod before them.  Romans under Nero only intervened later when things got out of hand and the priests had killed king Agrippa (the great), the son of Aristobulus. In the above passage, the writer's spurious Alexander spins a fanciful tale to Caesar Augustus. Historian Martin Goodman, in his book Rome and Jerusalem, naively takes this story about a spurious Alexander, as literally true (Goodman devotes the whole of page 419 to it).  Goodman doesn’t see the story as a Church Father cover-up for the appointment of Aristobulus as king.  Aristobulus did "recover the dominion that was due to his high birth" (Ant.17.334) It was given to him by Ceasar Augustus on the death of his father Herod.   Aristobulus was obviously very much alive, and the writer knows it. He stayed on the island of Crete, probably on his way to Judea.  There was danger from the sea (335).  Ships often sheltered from storms in ports.  This was done so that "the posterity of Mariamne might not utterly perish, but that Aristobulus might survive, and punish those that laid such treacherous designs against them." (335)   "Them" referred to Herod's Hasmonean sons.  Then in 17.339, the Church Fathers had Archelaus the son of Herod by Malthace falsely made ethnarch of Judea.  In reality it was Aristobulus who was made king.  Aristobulus continued his father's support for the prophets (falsely interpolated as Essenes in various places by the Church Fathers). This was bound to cause trouble with the priests who had been cast out of the temple by Herod.  The church Fathers wanted to create their own 'history' about Jesus.

Aristobulus, the son of Mariamne the Hasmonean and Herod the Great, was the father of Agrippa the Great.  Aristobulus was not strangled as described in Ant.16.11.7 - this was a pure fabrication of the Church Fathers.  He was educated in Augustus's palace.  After the death of Herod, and was declared king by Augustus.  Herod always wanted one of his Hasmonean sons to succeed him.  Herod didn't want Aristobulus to meet the same fate as his son Alexander (supposedly executed by his father).    

The Church Fathers portray Josephus as a Hasmonean of royal descent.  This of course is pure fabrication.  In Josephus, the Church Fathers appear to show an unhealthy interest in what happened to two Hasmoneans, Herod's sons Alexander and Aristobulus by Mariamne.  The whole of Antiquities 16 and 17 is focused on these two sons.  Thus (after the digressions of Ant.16, chaps. 5 and 6) at the end of chap.6,  we have: "I now return to the thread of my history", which is Herod's family tragedy by which the writer is consumed.    

Aristobulus did survive to take the kingdom. 

1.WHEN these affairs had been thus settled by Caesar, a certain young man, by birth a Jew, but brought up by a Roman freed-man in the city Sidon, ingrafted himself into the kindred of Herod, by the resemblance of his countenance, which those that saw him attested to be that of Alexander, the son of Herod, whom he had slain; and this was an incitement to him to endeavour to obtain the government; so he took to him as an assistant a man of his own country, one that was well acquainted with the affairs of the palace, but, on other accounts, an ill man, and one whose nature made him capable of causing great disturbances to the public, and one that became a teacher of such a mischievous contrivance to the other, and declared himself to be Alexander, and the son of Herod, but stolen away by one of those that were sent to slay him, who, in reality, slew other men, in order to deceive the spectators, but saved both him and his brother Aristobulus. Thus was this man elated, and able to impose on those that came to him; and when he was come to Crete, he made all the Jews that came to discourse with him believe him to be Alexander. And when he had gotten much money which had been presented to him there, he passed over to Melos, where he got much more money than he had before, out of the belief they had that he was of the royal family, and their hopes that he would recover his father's principality, and reward his benefactors; so he made haste to Rome, and was conducted thither by those strangers who entertained him. He was also so fortunate, as, upon his landing at Dicearchia, to bring the Jews that were there into the same delusion; and not only other people, but also all those that had been great with Herod, or had a kindness for him, joined themselves to this man as to their king. The cause of it was this, that men were glad of his pretenses, which were seconded by the likeness of his countenance, which made those that had been acquainted with Alexander strongly to believe that he was no other but the very same person, which they also confirmed to others by oath; insomuch that when the report went about him that he was coming to Rome, the whole multitude of the Jews that were there went out to meet him, ascribing it to Divine Providence that he has so unexpectedly escaped, and being very joyful on account of his mother's family. And when he was come, he was carried in a royal litter through the streets; and all the ornaments about him were such as kings are adorned withal; and this was at the expense of those that entertained him. The multitude also flocked about him greatly, and made mighty acclamations to him, and nothing was omitted which could be thought suitable to such as had been so unexpectedly preserved.

2. When this thing was told Caesar, he did not believe it, because Herod was not easily to be imposed upon in such affairs as were of great concern to him; yet, having some suspicion it might be so, he sent one Celadus, a freed-man of his, and one that had conversed with the young men themselves, and bade him bring Alexander into his presence; so he brought him, being no more accurate in judging about him than the rest of the multitude. Yet did not he deceive Caesar; for although there was a resemblance between him and Alexander, yet was it not so exact as to impose on such as were prudent in discerning; for this spurious Alexander had his hands rough, by the labors he had been put to and instead of that softness of body which the other had, and this as derived from his delicate and generous education, this man, for the contrary reason, had a rugged body. When, therefore, Caesar saw how the master and the scholar agreed in this lying story, and in a bold way of talking, he inquired about Aristobulus, and asked what became of him who (it seems) was stolen away together with him, and for what reason it was that he did not come along with him, and endeavor to recover that dominion which was due to his high birth also. And when he said that he had been left in the isle of Crete, for fear of the dangers of the sea, that, in case any accident should come to himself, the posterity of Mariamne might not utterly perish, but that Aristobulus might survive, and punish those that laid such treacherous designs against them; and when he persevered in his affirmations, and the author of the imposture agreed in supporting it, Caesar took the young man by himself, and said to him, "If thou wilt not impose upon me, thou shalt have this for thy reward, that thou shalt escape with thy life; tell me, then, who thou art, and who it was that had boldness enough to contrive such a cheat as this. For this contrivance is too considerable a piece of villainy to be undertaken by one of thy age." Accordingly, because he had no other way to take, he told Caesar the contrivance, and after what manner and by whom it was laid together. So Caesar, upon observing the spurious Alexander to be a strong active man, and fit to work with his hands, that he might not break his promise to him, put him among those that were to row among the mariners, but slew him that induced him to do what he had done; for as for the people of Melos, he thought them sufficiently punished, in having thrown away so much of their money upon this spurious Alexander. And such was the ignominious conclusion of this bold contrivance about the spurious Alexander.

Aristobulus Appointed King by Augustus

Martin Goodman, discusses Archelaus on pages 397 and 398 of Rome and Jerusalem.  The date he implies for the end of the supposed reign of Archelaus is given in his remarkable statement (page 397): "Nor was violence continuous: a long-lived Jerusalemite could have passed the the whole period from 6 to 66 CE without ever witnessing the horrors of war."  Herod's death was in 4 BCE.  Thus a long-lived Jerusalemite could have passed the the whole period from 4 BCE to 66 CE without witnessing the horrors of war, because in 4 BCE, the Hasmonean Aristobulus living at Rome, was appointed king by Augustus.  This was in a seamless transition of power, and began another Hasmonean dynasty which was stable and peaceful.  Herod favoured the prophets, and the priests had conspired in the murder of Herod's wife and relatives while they lived in the fortress of Alexandrium 

For most of the time from Judas Maccabeus until 66 CE the priests  put themselves in self-imposed exile from the temple, as in 4QMMT.  The writings attributed to Josephus give some hints that Aristobulus was appointed king.  They tell a story about a spurious Alexander?  Why not a spurious Aristobulus also?  The spurious Alexander said he had "left Aristobulus in the isle of Crete, for fear of the dangers of the sea, that, in case any accident should come to himself, the posterity of Mariamne might not utterly perish, but that Aristobulus might survive, and punish those that laid such treacherous designs against them"; Aristobulus is living in the story yet he had previously and supposedly been murdered by his father.   Herod's plan for Aristobulus was that he should inherit his kingdom. 


Kokkinos asks the question, how come the kingdom established by Herod the Great disappeared overnight?    Kokkinos writes (p193 of The Herodian Dynasty): 

“From the imposition of direct Roman rule in CE6 (direct roman rule was a fabrication) to this embassy in CE 40 (the ridiculous fabrication of an embassy concerned with Caligula wanting to erect his statue in the temple at Jerusalem), and with the exception of Salome’s death in her household in CE 10, and a few of the building activities of Antipas and Philip in their own territories, Josephus has nothing to say about the status or even the existence of the Herodian family in Judea. However, is it possible that a royal court of such magnitude, a ruling centre for over half a century, with its established political, economic and military mechanisms, lost its well placed manpower in a spectacular overnight disintegration? Could the Romans have replaced all the people of experience, for example in local administration, with their own nominees, of which we hear nothing, or could they have filled the vacancies with a batch of unpopular priests, to which Herod had merely allowed the role of running the Temple?”  

Of course, I disagree that the priests were allowed the role of running the temple. From the time of Judas Maccabeus, they were exiled from the temple. The power of the priests had certainly disappeared.  It was the Herodians who continued to rule.   Aristobulus was a Hasmonean/Maccabean 


Kokkinos says Goodman's assessment is 'perplexed'.  He objects to Goodman's assessment, and says we have a false impression of the power of the high priests in the period before Agrippa I.  I say the Goodman and Kokkinos are wrong.  The priests and chief priests then had no official power.

On p194 of The Herodian Dynasty, Kokkinos says Goodman wrote as follows: “Nonetheless it was to such High Priests [i.e. of doubtful background promoted by Herod] that Rome handed over power in A.D. 6. It might seem a little strange that the Romans desired these priests as rulers rather than Herod’s Idumaean associates, especially since by the fifties A.D. the relatives of Herod himself and of Herod’s close Idumaean [sic] friend Alexas…did indeed become prominent in Judean politics; it might reasonably be expected that when the province was founded, such Idumaeans would already gladly have cooperated with Rome and that…the Romans would have trusted them…But Josephus does not attest any role for such men…and though it is possible that this silence arises from the historian’s comparative ignorance about the period of the first procurators, it is more than likely that they remained in political isolation on their estates in the southern part of the province until Agrippa brought them into prominence during his brief but popular reign. (Goodman 1987:42-43)”  

We know the reason for the writer's silence about the first procurators, apart from their appointment and removal.  Their appointment and removal was fabricated. The Romans under Vespasian wanted to blame supposed Roman procurators under Nero for provoking the so-called war.  There were no Roman procurators, only Governors of Syria, and prefects in Ceasarea.      


 “Many objections must be raised here.”  Kokkinos gives a number of them (see p194-196 of The Herodian Dynasty). The third objection Kokkinos gives is: “Third no Herodian isolation should be postulated under the prefects, since the Herods would not have emerged so suddenly in vital positions some 30 years after they had effectively abandoned their public functions. In fact the prominence of members of the Herodian family in the Judaean society, despite Goodman, is on record before the time of Agrippa I. Philo expressly states that under Pontius Pilate, apart from other Herodian descendants, Herod’s ‘four sons enjoyed prestige and rank equal to that of kings’.” (Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 300).  In effect, Kokkinos has contradicted himself as well as writing a rejoinder addressed to Goodman. The Herodians were in power all the time up to or just before 66.  Aristobulus I was to be followed by his son Agrippa I.

The reference in Philo was supposedly about “Pilate” wanting to dedicate some “gilt shields” to "Tiberias" in the “palace of Herod” in Jerusalem. The “people” had appealed to “the four sons of the ‘king’” to remonstrate with “Pilate”. The shields were supposedly inscribed with two names which the “people” said would bring about “an alteration in their national customs”. Apparently, the “people” objected to a certain “name” in whose honour they “were so placed there”, and the certain name of the person who placed them there. Laughably, we are meant to assume that the honoured person was “Tiberias” and that it was was “Pilate” who wanted to honour him.  This, apparently, would have altered “national customs”. Clearly, the text of Philo has been fabricated.  

On p196 of The Herodian Dynasty, Kokkinos has: “For example, under Gratus (CE 15-26) the only information he (the writer of Josephus) adduces is the succession of four high priests in the space of three years. Naturally such a bare narrative gives the false impression that besides the Roman governor, the power in Judaea was monopolized by the high priesthood. Although there was an enhancement compared to Herod’s time, the ‘priestly class’ as the sole ruling class in Judaea under Rome is a myth, certainly for the period before Agrippa I.  The evidence known to us shows that in political disputes with the Romans, the Jewish embassies dealing with the case were ‘aristocratic’, but headed by Herodians not high priests.”  Thus the "high priests" (in reality the chief priests) were not in any sort of power and the wheeler-dealers were the Herodians in a continuous unbroken line of Hasmonean kings.  The priestly class as the sole ruling power was worse than a myth.  The priests were totally disenfranchised.   

The incident of the “shields” in Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 300 has sounded a very loud bell, at least in my ears. This was really a complaint made to a king by priests about some goings-on (i.e. not goings-on) in the temple that was against the Law.  This was what the Embassy to Gaius was all about. The story (if you read between the lines of propaganda) has a strong resemblance to a scroll, 4QMMT- Acts of Torah, which is a list of complaints made by one group who had separated themselves from the temple against a second group who the first group reckoned were not keeping the Law. The complaint was made to a royal person whose name just happens not to be there by virtue of the wear and tear of 4QMMT. The priests put their complaints to the king in a servile roundabout fashion because as a supporter of the prophets the king (whoever he was) was about keeping the Scrolls under his power in the Citadel of the temple.