Queen Salome Alexandra has been aptly called by Kenneth Atkinson, in his article published in Biblical Archaeology Review titled, “The Salome Nobody Knows.” Bible students and most Christians are all too familiar with the Salome who preformed an erotic dance for King Herod Antipas, but few have ever heard of this Iron Lady of Judea. She skillfully navigated the turbulent political waters of Judean politics in the first century BCE to ascend to the throne of Judea.
The effects of her political actions, patronage of the Pharisaic party and restoration of the Great Sanhedrin dramatically changed the direction of what would become Rabbinic Judaism and also that of Christianity.
She was able to bring peace and prosperity to the nation-state of Judea during her nine year reign through diplomacy and expansion of the military. She fortified the frontier with stout, walled cities and castles that intimidated the gentile nations on her borders.
The main sources for this article are Josephus the First Century Jewish Historian and the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.
ALEXANDRA (SALOME [acc. to Eusebius Σαλίνα]; full Jewish name Shalom Zion)
1906 Jewish Encyclopedia
By: Louis Ginzberg
The only Jewish queen regnant with the exception of the usurper Athaliah; born 139 B.C.; died 67 B.C.; she was the wife of Aristobulus I., and afterward of Alexander Jannæus.That Alexandra, the widow of Aristobulus I., was identical with her who married his brother Alexander Jannæus, is nowhere explicitly stated by Josephus, who no doubt took it for granted that the latter performed the levirate marriage prescribed by the law for the widow of a childless brother deceased. Josephus’ statement (“Ant.” xv. 6, § 3), that Hyrcanus, Jannæus’ eldest son, was eighty years old when he was put to death by Herod, in 31 B.C., must be erroneous, for that would set the year of his birth as 111 B.C., and Jannæus himself was born in 125, so that he could have been but fourteen when Hyrcanus was born to him. It is difficult to understand how a thirteen-year-old boy married a widow of thirty. The statement, made by Josephus (“Ant.” xiii. 11, §§ 1, 2), that during the reign of Aristobulus she brought about the death of the young prince Antigonus I., because she saw in him a rival of her husband, lacks confirmation. On Aristobulus’ death (103 B.C.), she liberated his brother Alexander Jannæus, who had been held in prison. During the reign of Alexander, who married her shortly after his accession, Alexandra seemed to have wielded only slight political influence, as is evidenced by the hostile attitude of the king to the Pharisees. The frequent visits of the chief of the Pharisaic party, Simon ben Sheṭaḥ, who was said to be the queen’s brother, to the palace, must have occurred in the early years of Alexander’s reign, before he had openly broken with the Pharisees. Alexandra does not seem to have been able to prevent the cruel persecution of that sect by her lord; nevertheless the married life of the royal pair seems to have been a happy one, and on his deathbed Alexander entrusted the government, not to his sons, but to his wife.
Her Political Ability.
This last political act of the king was his wisest; for the queen fully justified the confidence reposed in her. She succeeded especially in quieting the vexatious internal dissensions of the kingdom that existed at the time of Alexander’s death; and she did this peacefully and without detriment to the political relations of the Jewish state to the outside world. Alexandra received the reins of government (76 or 75 B.C.) at the camp before Ragaba, and concealed the king’s death until the fortress had fallen, in order that the rigor of the siege might be maintained. Her next care was to open negotiations with the leaders of the Pharisees, whose places of concealment she knew; and, having been given assurances as to her future policy, they declared themselves ready to give Alexander’s remains the obsequies due to a monarch. By this step she astutely avoided any public affront to the dead king, which, owing to the embitterment of the people, would certainly have found expression at the interment, and might have been attended with dangerous results to the Hasmonean dynasty.
Reestablishment of the Sanhedrin.
The queen’s accession brought freedom to hundreds whom Alexander had sent to languish in dungeons, and liberty to return home to thousands whom the same cruel monarch had driven into exile. The Pharisees, who had suffered such misery under Alexander, now became not only a tolerated section of the community, but actually the ruling class. Alexandra installed as high priest her eldest son, Hyrcanus II.—a man wholly after the heart of the Pharisees—and the Sanhedrin was reorganized according to their wishes. This body had hitherto been, as it were, a “house of lords,” the members of which belonged to the aristocracy; but it lost all significance when a powerful monarch was at the helm. From this time it became a “supreme court” for the administration of justice and religious matters, the guidance of which was rightfully placed in the hands of the Pharisees. Thus, the reign of Alexandra marks a most important epoch in the history of Jewish internal government.
Her Internal and External Policy.
That the Pharisees, now that the control of affairs was in their hands, did not treat the Sadducees any too gently is very probable; although the execution of Diogenes, by whose advice King Alexander had 800 Pharisees nailed on the cross, speaks rather for their moderation than for their cruelty, inasmuch as the special reference to the execution of this reprobate shows that such acts of revenge must have been few. It was rather the evil conscience of the Sadducees that moved them to petition the queen for protection against the ruling party. Alexandra, who desired to avoid all party conflict, removed the Sadducees from Jerusalem, assigning certain fortified towns for their residence. Here, again, her shrewdness was displayed in so arranging that the important fortresses of Hyrcania, Alexandrion, and Machærus were not entrusted to their somewhat uncertain keeping. Alexandra’s sagacity and tact succeeded in accomplishing what all the military genius of her husband had failed to effect; namely, to make Judea respected abroad. She increased the size of the army, and carefully provisioned the numerous fortified places; so that neighboring monarchs were duly impressed by the number of protected towns and castles which bordered the Palestinian frontier. Nor did she abstain from actual warfare; for she sent her son Aristobulus with an army to raise the siege of Damascus, then beleaguered by Ptolemy Menneus. The expedition was without result. The peril threatening Judea in the year 70 B.C. from the Armenian king Tigranes, in whose hands Syria then lay, fortunately passed over, as Alexandra’s shrewd politics kept him away from Palestine. Only the last days of her reign were tumultuous. Her son Aristobulus endeavored to seize the government; and only her death saved her from the sorrow of being dethroned by her own child.
Rabbinical legend still further magnifies the prosperity which Judea enjoyed under Alexandra. The Haggadah (Ta’anit, 23a; Sifra, ḤuḲḲat, i. 110) relates that during her rule, as a reward for her piety, rain fell only on Sabbath (Friday) nights; so that the working class suffered no loss of pay through the rain falling during their work-time. The fertility of the soil was so great that the grains of wheat grew as large as kidney-beans; oats as large as olives; and lentils as large as gold denarii. The sages collected specimens of these grains and preserved them to show future generations the reward of obedience to the Law.
The Wife of King Aristobulus I Arranges the Death of His Brother (103 BCE)
Josephus Antiquities of the Jews 13.11.1-2
NOW when their father Hyrcanus I was dead, the eldest son Aristobulus, intending to change the government into a kingdom, as he was resolved to do, was the first to put a crown on his head, four hundred eighty and one years and three months after the people had been delivered from the Babylonian slavery and had returned to their own country.This Aristobulus loved his next younger brother Antigonus and treated him as his equal; but his other brothers he kept in chains. He also cast his mother into prison, because she disputed the government with him; for Hyrcanus had left her to be mistress of all. He also proceeded to that degree of barbarity, as to kill her in prison with hunger….When Antigonus was once returned from the army, and the feast was then at hand [Succoth] when the Jews make tabernacles to the honor of God, it happened that Aristobulus was fallen sick, and that Antigonus went up most splendidly adorned, with his soldiers about him in their armor, to the temple, to celebrate the feast and to put up many prayers for the recovery of his brother. Some wicked persons, who had a great mind to raise a difference between the brothers, made use of this opportunity of the pompous appearance of Antigonus and of the great actions which he had done in battle, and went to the king, and argued that all these circumstances were indications of a pretense to royal authority; and that his coming with a strong body of men must be with the intention to kill the king.Aristobulus yielded to these imputations, but took care both that his brother should not suspect him and that he himself might not risk his own safety; so he ordered his guards to hide in a certain place that was underground and dark (he himself then lying sick in the tower which was called Antonia). And he commanded them, that in case Antigonus came in to him unarmed they should not touch him, but if armed, they should kill him. So did he send to Antigonus, and desired that he would come unarmed.But the queen, and those that joined with her in the plot against Antigonus, persuaded the messenger to tell him the direct opposite: that his brother had heard that he had made himself a fine suit of armor for war, and so desired him to come to him in that armor, that he might see how fine it was.So Antigonus, suspecting no treachery but depending on the good-will of his brother, came to Aristobulus armed as usual, with his entire armor, in order to show it to him; but when he was come to a place called Strato’s Tower, where the passage happened to be exceedingly dark, the guards slew him.His death demonstrates that nothing is stronger than envy and calumny, and that nothing does more certainly divide the good-will and natural affections of men than those passions.
Comment. Aristobulus soon dies of his illness. In the next citation we learn that the name of Aristobulus’ queen, involved in this plot, was Alexandra. She is thus the only one who survives the partnership of the two royal brothers.
Alexandra, Widow of Aristobulus I, Frees Jannaeus from Prison and Appoints him King of Judea (103 BCE)
[At this time, King Aristobulus I has died from a tuberculosis-like illness.]WHEN Aristobulus was dead, his wife Salome, who by the Greeks was called Alexandra, let his brothers out of prison, for Aristobulus had kept them in chains, as we have said already. And she made Alexander Jannaeus king, who was the superior in age and in moderation.This child happened to be hated by his father as soon as he was born, and could never be permitted to come into his father’s sight till he died. The occasion of which hatred is thus reported: when Hyrcanus chiefly loved the two eldest of his sons, Antigonus and Aristobulus, God appeared to him in his sleep, of whom he inquired which of his sons should be his successor. Upon God’s representing to him the countenance of Alexander, he was grieved that he was to be the heir of all his goods, and suffered him to be brought up in Galilee However, God did not deceive Hyrcanus; for after the death of Aristobulus, he certainly took the kingdom; and one of his brethren, who affected the kingdom, he slew; and the other, who chose to live a private and quiet life, he had in esteem.
Comment. Here we find that the wife of King Aristobulus was named Alexandra, with Hebrew name Salome. (Then as now, Jews kept two names, one Hebrew and one fitting to the language of the dominant culture — in this case, Greek.) It was she who appointed Alexander Jannaeus king. How did she do this? What gave her this power?
Although he does not say so explicitly, a good possibility is that this Alexandra, the widow of the previous king, enforced Alexander Jannaeus’ rights to the throne by marrying him. This assumes that two women named Alexandra, the wife of Aristobulus and the wife Alexander Jannaeus, were one and the same. From information given later we find Jannaeus’ wife is thirty-seven at this time, while he himself is twenty-two [Ant. 13.15.5, 13.16.6]; normally one would expect a royal heir to marry a woman his own age or younger, unless there were some political reason not to, supporting the idea that Alexandra was the prior queen. They may also have been satisfying the requirements of the Levitical marriage injunction, as Aristobulus apparently had died without giving Alexandra children.
If these are the same Alexandra, than she seems to have been interested in power from the start. She arranged the murder of one of the heirs to the throne, and married another. Conspiracy theorists might contemplate whether she secretly had a hand in the death of her first husband, Aristobulus.
Alexander Jannaeus Dies and Leaves the Kingdom to His Wife Alexandra (76 BCE)
After these conquests [of much of Syria and neighboring territories], King Alexander Jannaeus fell ill from heavy drinking and suffered a recurrent malarial fever for three years. Yet he would not give up going out with his army, until he was exhausted from his labors, and died while besieging Ragaba, a fortress beyond the Jordan.But when his queen saw that he was ready to die and had no longer any hopes of surviving, she came to him weeping and lamenting, and bewailed herself and her sons on the desolate condition they should be left in; and said to him, “To whom are you leaving me and the children, who are without all other help, especially as you know how much ill-will the nation bears toward you?”But he gave her the following advice: That she need but follow what he would suggest to her, in order to retain the kingdom securely, for herself and her children: that she should conceal his death from the soldiers till she should have captured the fortress [of Ragaba]. After this she should go in triumph, as upon a victory, to Jerusalem, and put some of her authority into the hands of the Pharisees; for if they would praise her in return for this honor, they would dispose the nation favorably toward her. For he told her these men had great authority among the Jews, both to do hurt to such as they hated, and to bring advantages to those to whom they were friendly; for they are believed by the multitude when they speak harshly against others, even if it were only out of envy. And he said that it was by their means, whom had been injured by him, that he had incurred the displeasure of the nation.”And so,” he said, “when you come to Jerusalem, send for the leading men among them, and show them my body; and with a great appearance of sincerity, give them leave to do with it as they please, whether they will dishonor it by refusing it burial, because they have severely suffered by my actions, or whether in their anger they will offer it any other injury. Promise them also that you will do nothing in the affairs of the kingdom without their consent. If you say this to them, then I shall have the honor of a more glorious funeral from them than you could have made for me; and when it is in their power to abuse my dead body, they will do it no injury at all; and you will rule securely.”So when he had given his wife this advice, he died, after he had reigned twenty-seven years, and lived forty-nine years.
Comment. Alexandra, and her two sons, here appear helplessly dependent on the king, in contrast with the schemer who had been wife of Aristobulus I. She is sixty-four years old at this time. The conversation reported here appears to be a private one attended only by the king and the queen; one wonders if it took place, or if it was an invention of the queen in order to seal her own rule. In this case Josephus’ source here may have been the queen’s official biographer. But the speech may also have been invented by Josephus himself, for some purpose of his own.
The party of the Pharisees held influence over the populace; explains Josephus at this point, the Pharisees “are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately.” (War 1.5.2) They had long challenged the authority of the Hasmonean kings. There was an attempt at open revolt against Jannaeus that ended in the deaths of tens of thousands of Jews. One of Alexandra’s skillful moves was to distance herself at the outset from the policies of her husband, which immediately brought popular sentiment to her side. As Josephus describes, “She was loved by the populace because she seemed displeased at the offenses of which her husband had been guilty.” (Antiquities 13.16.1 407) She preferred to cooperate with the power groups of the nation rather than to do battle.
Alexandra’s Succession (War Version)
NOW Alexander left the kingdom to Alexandra his wife, and depended upon it that the Jews would now very readily submit to her, because she had been very averse to such cruelty as he had treated them with, and had opposed his violation of their laws, and had thereby got the good-will of the people. Nor was he mistaken as to his expectations; for this woman kept the dominion, by the opinion that the people had of her piety; for she chiefly studied the ancient customs of her country, and cast those men out of the government that offended against their holy laws.
Comment. Here is a hint of Alexandra’s activity during the reign of her husband. This passage implies that she opposed his harsh actions even during his lifetime, and that the people were well aware of this. Perhaps her gentle public character served as a political balance against her husband’s strength, letting the people believe he would never go to far. She was also very religious, and studied Torah, the religious laws – something not expected of women in later times. In this description, she appears to have been friends with the Pharisees even during her husband’s reign, so that the deathbed conversation described above would be a fiction, having the effect of making Jannaeus responsible for this troublesome alliance. This supports the notion that the speech is derived from the queen’s official biographer, shifting the blame for this problem.
The Rule of Alexandra (76 BCE – 67 BCE)
The Pharisees Gain Power
So Alexandra, after she had captured the fortress, acted as her husband had suggested to her, and spoke to the Pharisees, putting all things into their power, both as to the body and as to the affairs of the kingdom, and thereby pacified their anger against Alexander, and made them bear goodwill and friendship toward her. Accordingly they went among the populace and made speeches, recounting the deeds of Alexander, and telling them that they had lost a righteous king. By their eulogies of him, they brought the people to grieve, and to be in heaviness for him, so that he had a funeral more splendid than any of the kings before him.
The Children of Alexandra
Alexander left behind him two sons, Hyrcanus [II] and Aristobulus [II], but committed the kingdom to Alexandra. Now, as to these two sons, Hyrcanus was indeed unable to manage public affairs, and delighted rather in a quiet life; but the younger, Aristobulus, was an active and a bold man; and for this woman herself, Alexandra, she was loved by the multitude, because she seemed displeased at the offenses her husband had been guilty of. She made Hyrcanus high priest, because he was the elder, but much more because of his lack of energy.
Alexandra Restores the Religious Practices of the Pharisees
She permitted the Pharisees to do as they liked and ordered the multitude to be obedient to them. She also restored again those practices which the Pharisees had introduced, according to the traditions of their forefathers, and which her father-in-law, Hyrcanus I, had abolished. So she had the title of sovereign, but the Pharisees had the power. It was they who restored those who had been banished, and who freed prisoners, and, in short, they differed in no way from monarchs.
The Queen’s Army
However, the queen also was concerned with the well-being of the kingdom, and got together a great body of mercenary soldiers, and increased her own army to such a degree that she became a terror to the neighboring tyrants and took hostages from among them.
Alexandra and The Pharisees (War Version)
War 1.5.2And now the Pharisees joined themselves to her, to assist her in the government. These are a certain sect of the Jews that appear more religious than others, and seem to interpret the laws more accurately. Alexandra hearkened to them to an extraordinary degree, as being herself a woman of great piety towards God. But these Pharisees artfully insinuated themselves into her favor by little and little, and became themselves the real administrators of the public affairs: they banished and reduced whom they pleased; they bound and loosed [men] at their pleasure; and, to say all at once, they had the enjoyment of the royal authority, whilst the expenses and the difficulties of it belonged to Alexandra. She was a sagacious woman in the management of great affairs, and intent always upon gathering soldiers together; so that she increased the army the one half, and procured a great body of foreign troops, till her own nation became not only very powerful at home, but terrible also to foreign potentates, while she governed other people, and the Pharisees governed her.
The Assassinations of the Former Counselors
And the country was entirely at peace, except for the Pharisees; for they would disturb the queen, and urge that she kill those who persuaded Alexander to slay eight hundred men. Later they cut the throat of one of those, Diogenes; and after him they did the same to several more, one after another.At last the most powerful [among those threatened] came into the palace, Aristobulus [her son] with them — for he was clearly displeased at what was being done, and let it be seen that if he had an opportunity, he would not permit his mother any power. These men reminded the queen of the great dangers they had gone through and great things they had done whereby they had demonstrated the firmness of their loyalty to their master [Alexander Jannaeus], and had received the greatest honors from him. Then they begged her not to utterly blast their hopes, for they had escaped the hazards war, they were to be slaughtered by their enemies at home like brute beasts, without any help whatsoever.They said also, that if their adversaries would be satisfied with those that had been slain already, they would take what had been done patiently, on account of their natural loyalty to those in authority; but if they must expect the same for the future also, they implored of her to be dismissed from her service; for they could not bear to think of escaping to safety without her approval, but would rather die willingly within the palace if she would not forgive them. And that it would be a great shame, both for themselves and for the queen, if they should be neglected by her and sheltered instead by her husband’s enemies; for Aretas, the Arabian king, and the other monarchs, would give any reward if they could get such men as mercenaries, whose very names, before they be heard, evoked terror. But if they could not obtain this, and if she was determined to prefer the Pharisees over them, then they insisted that she place each one of them in her fortresses; for if some fatal demon had a constant hostility against the house of Alexander, they at least would be willing to stay with her in humble circumstances.As these men said this, and called upon Alexander’s ghost for commiseration of those already slain and those in danger of it, all the bystanders broke out into tears. But Aristobulus in particular made plain his sentiments, and reproached his mother, [saying,] “Indeed, the case is this, that they have been themselves the authors of their own calamities for having permitted a woman who, against reason, was mad with ambition, to reign over them, when there were sons in the flower of their age fitter for it.”So Alexandra, not knowing what to do with dignity, entrusted the guarding of the fortresses to them, all but Hyrcania, and Alexandrium, and Macherus, where her principal treasures were.
Comment. This would prove to be a fatal mistake. It was necessary for Alexandra to curtail the power of the old Jannaeus faction, but she let the Pharisees go too far, provoking her opponents to threaten joining with hostile powers and no doubt threatening the popularity upon which she depended. Thus the containment of this faction became weak.
Her Son’s First Military Assignment (c. 70 BCE)
A little while later she sent her son Aristobulus with an army to Damascus against Ptolemy, the one called Menneus, who was a troublesome neighbor to the city. But Aristobulus did nothing considerable there, and returned home.
The Threat of Tigranes (c. 70 BCE)
About this time news was brought that Tigranes, the king of Armenia, had made an incursion into Syria with five hundred thousand soldiers and was coming against Judea. This news, as may well be supposed, terrified the queen and the nation. Accordingly they sent Tigranes many and very valuable presents, and also envoys, as he was besieging Ptolemais. Queen Selene, who was also called Cleopatra, ruled over Syria at this time, and had persuaded the inhabitants to shut their gates against Tigranes. But the Jewish envoys met with him and entreated him to form good ties with the queen and her people. He commended them for coming so great a distance to pay their respects and gave them good hopes of his favor. But as soon as Ptolemais was captured, news came to Tigranes that [the Roman commander] Lucullus, in his pursuit of Mithridates [King of Pontus], could not catch him as the latter had fled into Iberia, and so was laying waste to Armenia and besieging its cities. When Tigranes discovered this he returned to his own country.
Alexandra Falls Ill; Her Son Moves to Depose Her (67 BCE)
After this, when the queen was fallen into a dangerous illness, Aristobulus resolved to attempt the seizing of the government; so he stole away secretly by night, with only one of his servants, and went to the fortresses where his father’s friends had been placed. He had been a great while displeased at his mother’s conduct, and now he was much more afraid lest upon her death their whole family come under the power of the Pharisees, for he saw the inability of his brother, who was next in succession to the throne. Only his wife was conscious of what he was doing, whom he had left at Jerusalem with their children [two sons and two daughters].He first of all came to Agaba, where was stationed Galestes, one of the powerful men mentioned before, and was received by him. When it was day, the queen perceived that Aristobulus had fled, and for some time she supposed that his departure was not in order to start any revolution; but when messengers came one after another with the news that he had captured the first fortress, the second, and then all of them — for as soon as one started it off they all submitted to his disposal — then it was that the queen and her people were in the greatest disorder. They were aware that it would not be long before Aristobulus would be able to settle himself firmly in the throne, and were very much afraid that he would inflict punishment on them for the mad treatment his house had received from them. So they decided to take Aristobulus’ wife and children into custody and keep them in the fortress that overlooked the Temple.Now there was a mighty conflux of people that came to Aristobulus from all parts, so that he had a kind of royal entourage about him. In a little more than fifteen days he had secured twenty-two fortresses, which gave him the opportunity of raising an army from Libanus, Trachonitis, and other local monarchs, as men are easily led by the stronger side and easily submit to them. And by affording him their assistance when he could not rightly expect it, they as well as he would have the rewards that would come of his becoming king, as they would have contributed to his gaining the kingdom. Now the elders of the Jews, and Hyrcanus [his brother] with them, went to the queen and desired that she give them her sentiments about the present posture of affairs: that Aristobulus was in effect master of almost all the country due to his possessing so many fortresses, and that it was inappropriate for them, however ill she was, to make any decisions by themselves while she was alive, yet the danger would be upon them before long..But she bid them do what they thought proper to be done; that they had many circumstances in their favor still remaining: a nation in sound condition, an army, and money in several treasuries. As for herself, she had small concern about public affairs now, as the strength of her body was nearly gone.
Josephus’ Eulogy of Alexandra (67 BCE)
Not long after she had spoken these words, she died, when she had reigned nine years, and had in all lived seventy-three.She was a woman who showed no signs of the weakness of her sex, for being formidable to the highest degree in her love of power she demonstrated, through her deeds, the resolve to carry out her plans and the senselessness of men who incessantly stumble in their leadership. For she always valued the present over the future, and made everything secondary to absolute rule.Yet because of this she paid attention to neither what was good nor what was just. In any case, she brought the affairs of her house to such an unfortunate condition that the authority which had been obtained by a vast number of hazards and misfortunes was taken from it not long afterward. This was because of a desire for things not belonging to a woman; and by expressing the same opinions as those that bore ill-will to her family, and by leaving the kingdom destitute of anyone to take care of it. And her management during her administration while she was alive filled the palace after her death with calamities and turmoil. However, although this had been her way of governing, she preserved the nation in peace. And this is the conclusion of the affairs of Alexandra.
Comment. It was her “desire for things not belonging to a woman” that is blamed for the loss of power of the Hasmonean dynasty that began with the invasion of Pompey in 63 BCE and was completed with the rise of Herod in the year 37. One cannot see how Alexandra could be blamed for, essentially, the expansion of the Roman Empire. What is true is that the nation fell into two warring camps after her death as her sons battled for power, the more vigorous younger son attempting to depose the elder; she could be blamed for not securing the succession. The weak elder son became dominated, not by his brother, but by his own advisor Antipas, who would pass on his position of power to his son Herod.
What is the reason for blaming her for desiring what is inappropriate for a woman? One notes the summation of Alexandra’s reign does not entirely follow from the facts Josephus has presented, as he had not previously indicated she did not care for what was good or just, or that she had a love of absolute power. These sentiments may have been derived from one of his sources, who may have thought that what was “good and just” was that she admit a woman should not rule and step down, and that her failure to do so must therefore stem from an extraordinary ambition to power.
She is also blamed for joining with the Pharisees, who opposed the Hasmonean dynasty; yet elsewhere this alliance is attributed to the death-bed wish of Jannaeus, and she is praised for carrying it out. On the positive side, we read the grudging admission that she did keep the nation in peace for nine years, and that she was more successful than many men in her handling of power.
A striking feature of Alexandra’s reign is her reversal of the policies of the men who preceded her. Her husband’s father had tried to eliminate the Pharisaic practices; she “restored” them, making them the law of the kingdom. Her husband waged war, was cruel to his people, who accordingly hated him, and encouraged Greek cultural additions to the Jewish state; she had peace as her first concern, and turned away the most serious threat, Tigranes, with gifts and offers of friendship; she was a religious scholar and dedicated to the Jewish way of life; she was kind to the people and they loved her. A peaceful reign in this tumultuous part of the world is an unusual accomplishment for any leader.