Salome Alexandra

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SALOME ALEXANDRA (Heb. שְׁלוֹמְצִיּוֹן, Shelomẓiyyon; Gr. Salina, Salampsio ; 139–67 b.c.e.), queen of Judea and wife of *Aristobulus i and *Alexander Yannai, upon whose death she ascended the throne to reign as sole Jewish monarch during the years 76–67. Josephus first mentions her as an accomplice in the plot to assassinate Antigonus, brother of her husband Aristobulus i, but most historians attribute this accusation to the animosity toward the Hasmonean rulers of those historians whom Josephus saw as his source. Upon the death of Aristobulus (103 b.c.e.), it seems that the widow of the presumably childless king was required to marry his brother Yannai, in accordance with the Jewish law of *levirate marriage. However, Josephus nowhere mentions this explicitly, and this has led some scholars to believe that Yannai in fact married another woman of the same name. It is probable that the first assumption is the more correct. On Aristobulus' death she released his three brothers (including Yannai), who had been imprisoned for some time. There are no reports of Alexandra's political influence during the reign of Yannai, although she seems to have opposed the king's persecution of the Pharisees. It is certain, however, that she won the affection of the Judean populace, thereby convincing her husband before his death that the Jews would bow to her authority as they would to no other. Alexandra's accession in 76 b.c.e. was considered a moral and political victory for the Pharisees, and the close relations between that sect and the queen are referred to in rabbinic traditions. Simeon b. Shetaḥ, leader of the Pharisees (see Ber. 48a; Gen. R. 91:3), was reportedly received by Salome at the palace at the period of her husband's dispute with the Pharisees. After her accession he was recalled from Egypt and appointed joint judicial and religious head of the Sanhedrin with *Judah ben Tabbai. The Pharisees immediately demanded that the Temple ritual be reformed in accordance with their practices, and that the fixing of the calendar and judicial leadership be under their control. Josephus, while admitting that the Pharisees may have used the queen's favor to assume the practical administration of the state, nevertheless stresses that she retained the reins of government with regard to larger matters. The queen was a strict observer of religious traditions, and dismissed any violator of religious law. The Pharisees used their privileged position to settle old scores. In one instance they brought about the execution of Diogenes, one of the advisers of Yannai, who was accused of having incited the king to crucify 800 Pharisees. Alexandra took no reprisals, however, against the Sadducees who had fought under her husband and were at the mercy of their enemies.

Alexandra's foreign connections were extensive, and her influence was felt and respected by neighboring monarchs. By continual recruiting, and by collecting foreign troops, she doubled the size of her army. However, the Pharisees were sufficiently powerful to prevent her from continuing the traditional Hasmonean wars abroad, although a military expedition to Damascus was led by her son Aristobulus. It proved ineffectual, and by means of treaties and gifts she warded off the occupation of her kingdom by Tigranes, king of Armenia, who had invaded Syria and was marching toward Judea (c. 70 b.c.e.). Shortly after this success the queen fell ill, and internal dissension again threw Judea into bitter turmoil. Of the queen's two sons by Yannai, the elder, *Hyrcanus, had been appointed high priest, and was considered sole heir to the throne. His younger brother, *Aristobulus, not content with the secondary role accorded him, courted the support of those elements whose power had diminished under the rule of the Pharisees. Gathering a large mercenary force, Aristobulus took possession of numerous fortresses throughout the country and proclaimed himself king. Before the queen could move against him, she died, leaving the incompetent Hyrcanus to agree to the terms dictated by Aristobulus. Josephus praises Alexandra for keeping the nation at peace. The rabbis relate how Ereẓ Israel was so fertile in her reign that the grains of wheat, oats, and lentils grew to extraordinary sizes and were kept to show to future generations what piety could achieve.


Jos., Wars, 1:76–77, 85, 107–19; Jos., Ant., 13:320, 405–32; 20:242; Pauly-Wissowa, 1 (1894), 1376, no. 2; Schuerer, Gesch, 1 (19014), 286–90; Halevy, Dorot, 1 pt. 3 (1923), 455–6, 459–60, 503–46; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 3 (19502), 142–5, 165–78; Zeitlin, in: jqr, 51 (1960/61), 1–33; L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees, 1 (19623), 275–6; 2 (19623), 612–3.

[Isaiah Gafni]