Noble Death and Dynasty: A Popular Tradition from the Hasmonean Period in Josephus

in Journal for the Study of Judaism
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The First Book of Maccabees ends its historical narrative with the murder of Simon at the hands of his son-in-law, Ptolemy. Flavius Josephus offers a more elaborate narrative of the same event. According to his account, Ptolemy took Simon’s wife and two of his sons as hostages and tormented them when John Hyrcanus besieged him in the fortress of Doq. Josephus praises Simon’s wife for taking a heroic stance and stresses her willingness to die for the dynasty. A close analysis of the story suggests that Josephus drew on a popular tradition that emerged shortly after the historical events and adopted stylistic and narratological elements commonly associated with martyrdom stories. The story thus offers insights into dynastic representation in the early Hasmonean period and indicates that the wife of Simon played a prominent role in the propaganda and self-fashioning of the new ruling house.

Journal for the Study of Judaism

In the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period




1 Macc 16:11. Cf. Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names, 304-5.


Cf. Bévénot, Makkabäerbücher, 167. James C. VanderKam, From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after Exile (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004), 286-87 n. 126, stresses that 1 Maccabees does not refer to Ptolemy as being of priestly origin. However, it is equally plausible that 1 Maccabees omitted Ptolemy’s priestly identity to suppress any notion of a priestly opposition against Hasmonean rule. Vasile Babota, The Institution of the Hasmonean High Priesthood, JSJSup 165 (Leiden: Brill, 2014), 264, argues that the priesthood may have supported Ptolemy since Josephus explicitly states that Ptolemy was repelled by the multitude (δῆµος/πλῆθος), Josephus, B.J. 1.55; A.J. 13.229.


Josephus, B.J. 1.54-56; A.J. 13.228-229.


Josephus, B.J. 1.54; A.J. 13.228.


Josephus, B.J. 1.55-56; A.J. 13.230.


Josephus, B.J. 1.57-59; A.J. 13.230-233.


Josephus, B.J. 1.60; A.J. 13.234-235.


Most prominently Gustav Hölscher, Die Quellen des Josephus für die Zeit vom Exil bis zum jüdischen Kriege (Leipzig: Teubner, 1904), 11-14; Henry J. St. Thackeray, Josephus: The Man and the Historian (New York: Ktav, 1967), 40-41; Kenneth Atkinson, Queen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century B.C.E. (Jefferson: McFarland, 2012), 70. Tal Ilan, Integrating Women into Second Temple History, tsaj 76 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2001), 99-100 argues that Nicolaus may have invented the story.


Josephus, B.J. 1.56; A.J. 13.230.


Sievers, Hasmoneans and Their Supporters, 130-31.


Josephus, B.J. 1.57-59; A.J. 13.230-234.


Josephus, B.J. 1.55, 57; A.J. 13.229, 231.


Josephus, B.J. 1.36; A.J. 12.270; Sievers, Hasmoneans and Their Supporters, 31.


Josephus, B.J. 1.60, A.J. 13.235. Cf. Hanan Eshel, The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hasmonean State (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 72-74.


1 Macc 16:22. Cf. Abel, Livres des Maccabées, xxxii, 282.


Josephus, B.J. 1.54, 57, 60; A.J. 13.228, 230-231, 235.


Josephus, A.J. 13.289-296 (for the quote see 13.292: ὅτι [. . .] ἀκούοµεν παρὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων αἰχµάλωτόν σου γεγονέναι τὴν µητέρα βασιλεύοντος Ἀντιόχου τοῦ Ἐπιφανοῦς.).


Josephus, B.J. 1.58 (ἡ δὲ µήτηρ οὐδὲν οὔτε πρὸς τὰς αἰκίας οὔτε πρὸς τὸν ἀπειλούµενον αὐτῇ θάνατον ἐνδιδοῦσα χεῖρας ὤρεγε καὶ κατηντιβόλει τὸν παῖδα µήτι πρὸς τὴν αὐτῆς ὕβριν ἐπικλασθέντα φείσασθαι τοῦ δυσσεβοῦς, ὡς αὐτῇ γε κρείττονα τὸν ἐκ Πτολεµαίου θάνατον ἀθανασίας εἶναι δόντος δίκας ἐφ᾽ οἷς εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῶν παρηνόµησεν; translation Thackeray, lcl); cf. A.J. 13.232.


1 Macc 13:25-30; cf. Josephus, A.J. 13.211-212; Wilker, “Dynasty without Women?” 238-39.


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