Jesus the son of Antipater and Mariamne I ?

In Robert Graves’ King Jesus, Graves puts forth the idea that Antipater secretly married at the age of 15 Mary, who was of a royal Jewish line. The marriage served to strengthen the position of Antipater among Herod’s many sons as future King of the Jews. Antipater was killed by his father five days before Herod’s own death according to Josephus. (Some records indicate a period of two years between Antipater’s death and Herod the Great’s death). According to Graves, a pregnant Mary is compelled to pretend to marry an old, pious carpenter, Joseph, to protect herself and the unborn Jesus. Author Joseph Raymond supports this hypothesis as a fact. Unlike Graves, however, Raymond specifies that Mary was actually the unnamed daughter of Antigonus who would later become Antipater’s wife.

Throughout history different groups have had different traditions and theories about the father of Jesus. Some of those include the following:

  1. Jesus was the son of Mary and her husband Joseph. It was also the view of the early Jewish-Christian Ebionites and Nazareans, according to Epiphanius (4th century). See also Gospel of Barnabas (probably 14th–16th centuries). and Gospel of Philip (4th century). This is also the modern secular view.
  2. Jesus was the son of God and the Virgin Mary. Although not physically descended in the male line from King David, Jesus was the Davidic heir to the throne as the adopted son of Joseph, and perhaps also as a descendant of King David through his mother. This has been traditional belief of Christians (Gospel of MatthewGospel of Luke).
  3. Jesus was the son of Mary, and her lover, or rapist, a soldier named Panthera. This was the belief circulated among Jews (Toledot Yeshu, probably 4th-6th centuries; cf. Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 104b, Sanhedrin 67a). In the Talmud there several spellings for the father’s name (Pandera, Panthera, Pandira, Pantiri, and Pantera). This was also the view publicized by Celsus (2nd century), a Greek philosopher. 
  4. Jesus was created in his mother’s womb. So, he had no human parents but is called the son of Maryam because she bore him. This has been traditional belief of Muslims (Qur’an, Surah 3:38-48).
  5. Jesus was the heir to the Jewish kingdom as the son of Antipater and grandson of Herod the Great. This is a modern idea first suggested by Robert Graves in his novel, King Jesus (1946). He followed up the idea in Nazarene Gospel Restored (1954). Graves claimed to have discovered proof, but never presented it. The idea was taken up by Graham Phillips in The Marian Conspiracy (2000), reissued as The Virgin Mary Conspiracy (2005). Most recently, the idea was explored by Joseph Raymond in Herodian Messiah: Case For Jesus As Grandson of Herod (2010). 
  6. Jesus was heir to the Jewish kingdom as heir of the Hasmoneans. This is another modern idea. It takes dozens of forms, but no central theory has emerged. 

Antipater II (Greek: Ἀντίπατρος, translit. Antípatros; c. 46 – 4 BC) was Herod the Great’s first-born son, his only child by his first wife Doris. He was named after his paternal grandfather Antipater the Idumaean. He and his mother were exiled after Herod divorced her between 43 BC and 40 BC to marry Mariamne I. However, he was recalled following Mariamne’s fall in 29 BC and in 13 BC Herod made him his first heir in his will. He retained this position even when Alexander and Aristobulus (Herod’s sons by Mariamne) rose in the royal succession in 12 BC, and even became exclusive successor to the throne after their execution in 7 BC (with Herod II in second place).

However, in 5 BC Antipater was brought before Publius Quinctilius Varus, then Roman governor of Syria, charged with the intended murder of his father Herod. Antipater was found guilty by Varus; however, due to Antipater’s high rank, it was necessary for Caesar Augustus to approve of the recommended sentence of death. After the guilty verdict, Antipater’s position as exclusive successor was removed and granted to Herod Antipas. Once the sentence had approval from Augustus in 4 BC, Antipater was then executed, and Archelaus (from the marriage with Malthace) was made heir in his father’s will as king over Herod’s entire kingdom (with Antipas and Philip as Tetrarchs over certain territories).

Concerning Antipater’s execution following on the heel of Herod’s executions a couple of years before of his sons Alexander and Aristobulus, it would be recounted in the compendium Saturnalia (compiled by Macrobius) that Augustus remarked “It is better to be Herod’s pig than his son.”

We know two of Antipater’s wives through the writings of Josephus. First was his niece Mariamne III, daughter of Aristobulus IV. The second was a high-ranking Hasmonean princess whose first name is lost to history. She was the daughter of Antigonus the Hasmonean, the last Hasmonean king who also served as high priest. This wife of Antipater was also a first cousin of Mariamne I, renowned royal wife of Herod the Great. Josephus records that she was at the palace with Doris, Antipater’s mother, in support of her husband during his trial before Varus in 5 BC.

Family tree of the Herodian dynasty

Antipater the Idumaean
procurator of Judea
2.Mariamne I
3.Mariamne II
Herod I the Great
king of Judea
5.Cleopatra of Jerusalem
governor of Jerusalem
(1) Antipater
heir of Judaea
(2) Alexander I
prince of Judea
(2) Aristobulus IV
prince of Judea
(3) Herod II Philip
prince of Judea
(4) Herod Archelaus
ethnarch of Judea, Idumea
(4) Herod Antipas
tetrarch of Galilea & Perea
(5) Philip the Tetrarch
of Iturea & Trachonitis
Tigranes V of ArmeniaAlexander II
prince of Judea
Herod Agrippa I
king of Judea
Herod V
ruler of Chalcis
Aristobulus Minor
prince of Judea
Tigranes VI of ArmeniaHerod Agrippa II
king of Judea
ruler of Chalcis
Gaius Julius Alexander
ruler of Cilicia
Gaius Julius Agrippa
quaestor of Asia
Gaius Julius Alexander Berenicianus
proconsul of Asia
Lucius Julius Gainius Fabius Agrippa

Mariamne I (died 29 BCE), also called Mariamne the Hasmonean, was a Hasmonean princess and the second wife of Herod the Great. She was known for her great beauty, as was her brother Aristobulus III. Herod’s fear of his rivals, the Hasmoneans, led him to execute all of the prominent members of the family, including Mariamne.

Her name is spelled Μαριάμη (Mariame) by Josephus, but in some editions of his work the second m is doubled (Mariamme). In later copies of those editions the spelling was dissimilated to its now most common form, Mariamne. In Hebrew, Mariamne is known as מִרְיָם‎, (Miriam), as in the traditional, Biblical name (see Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron).


Mariamne was the daughter of the Hasmonean Alexandros, also known as Alexander of Judaea, and thus one of the last heirs to the Hasmonean dynasty of Judea. Mariamne’s only sibling was Aristobulus III. Her father, Alexander of Judaea, the son of Aristobulus II, married his cousin Alexandra, daughter of his uncle Hyrcanus II, in order to cement the line of inheritance from Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, but the inheritance soon continued the blood feud of previous generations, and eventually led to the downfall of the Hasmonean line. By virtue of her parents’ union, Mariamne claimed Hasmonean royalty on both sides of her family lineage.

Her mother, Alexandra, arranged for her betrothal to Herod in 41 BCE after Herod agreed to a Ketubah with Mariamne’s parents. The two were wed four years later (37 BCE) in Samaria. Mariamne bore Herod four children: two sons, Alexandros and Aristobulus (both executed in 7 BCE), and two daughters, Salampsio and Cypros. A fifth child (male), drowned at a young age – likely in the Pontine Marshes near Rome, after Herod’s sons had been sent to receive educations in Rome in 20 BCE.

Josephus writes that it was because of Mariamne’s vehement insistence that Herod made her brother Aristobulos a High Priest. Aristobulos, who was not even eighteen years old, drowned (in 36 BCE) within a year of his appointment; Alexandra, his mother, blamed Herod. Alexandra wrote to Cleopatra, begging her assistance in avenging the boy’s murder. Cleopatra in turn urged Mark Antony to punish Herod for the crime, and Antony sent for him to make his defense. Herod left his young wife in the care of his uncle Joseph, along with the instructions that if Antony should kill him, Joseph should kill Mariamne. Herod believed his wife to be so beautiful that she would become engaged to another man after his death and that his great passion for Mariamne prevented him from enduring a separation from her, even in death. Joseph became familiar with the queen and eventually divulged this information to her and the other women of the household, which did not have the hoped-for effect of proving Herod’s devotion to his wife. Rumors soon circulated that Herod had been killed by Antony, and Alexandra persuaded Joseph to take Mariamne and her to the Roman legions for protection. However, Herod was released by Antony and returned home, only to be informed of Alexandra’s plan by his mother and sister, Salome. Salome also accused Mariamne of committing adultery with Joseph, a charge which Herod initially dismissed after discussing it with his wife. After Herod forgave her, Mariamne inquired about the order given to Joseph to kill her should Herod be killed, and Herod then became convinced of her infidelity, saying that Joseph would only have confided that to her were the two of them intimate. He gave orders for Joseph to be executed and for Alexandra to be confined, but Herod did not punish his wife.

Because of this conflict between Mariamne and Salome, when Herod visited Augustus in Rhodes in 31 BCE, he separated the women. He left his sister and his sons in Masada while he moved his wife and mother-in-law to Alexandrium. Again, Herod left instructions that should he die, the charge of the government was to be left to Salome and his sons, and Mariamne and her mother were to be killed. Mariamne and Alexandra were left in the charge of another man named Sohemus, and after gaining his trust again learned of the instructions Herod provided should harm befall him. Mariamne became convinced that Herod did not truly love her and resented that he would not let her survive him. When Herod returned home, Mariamne treated him coldly and did not conceal her hatred for him. Salome and her mother preyed on this opportunity, feeding Herod false information to fuel his dislike. Herod still favored her; but she refused to have sexual relations with him and accused him of killing her grandfather, Hyrcanus II, and her brother. Salome insinuated that Mariamne planned to poison Herod, and Herod had Mariamne’s favorite eunuch tortured to learn more. The eunuch knew nothing of a plot to poison the king, but confessed the only thing he did know: that Mariamne was dissatisfied with the king because of the orders given to Sohemus. Outraged, Herod called for the immediate execution of Sohemus, but permitted Mariamne to stand trial for the alleged murder plot. To gain favor with Herod, Mariamne’s mother even implied Mariamne was plotting to commit lèse majesté. Mariamne was ultimately convicted and executed in 29 BCE. Herod grieved for her for many months.


  • son Alexander, executed 7 BCE
  • son Aristobulus IV, executed 7 BCE
  • daughter Salampsio
  • daughter Cypros

Talmudic reference

There is a Talmudic passage concerning the marriage and death of Mariamne, although her name is not mentioned. When the whole house of the Hasmoneans had been rooted out, she threw herself from a roof and was killed. She committed suicide because Herod had spared her life, so that he could marry her. If he were to marry her, then he would be able to claim that he was not actually a slave, but rather that he had royal blood. Out of love for her, Herod is said to have kept her body preserved in honey for seven years. There is an opinion that he would use her to fulfill animalistic desires. In the Talmud this sort of action is called a “deed of Herod”. Josephus relates also that after her death Herod tried in hunting and banqueting to forget his loss, but that even his strong nature succumbed and he fell ill in Samaria, where he had made Mariamne his wife. The Mariamne Tower in Jerusalem, built by Herod, was without doubt named after her; it was called also “Queen”.

Mariamne in the arts

She is remembered in De Mulieribus Claris, a collection of biographies of historical and mythological women by the Florentine author Giovanni Boccaccio, composed in 1361–62. It is notable as the first collection devoted exclusively to biographies of women in Western literature. From the Renaissance to contemporary times, there has been a long tradition of works of art (dramas, operas, novels, etc.) devoted to Mariamne and her relationship with Herod the Great. The list includes:

  • Marianna (1565), an Italian drama by Lodovico Dolce
  • The Tragedy of Mariam, the Faire Queene of Jewry (1613) an English drama by Elizabeth Tanfield Cary
  • Herod and Antipater, with the Death of Faire Mariam (1622), an English drama by Gervase Markham and William Sampson
  • Mariamne (1636), a French drama by François Tristan l’Hermite
  • El mayor monstruo los celos (1637) a Spanish drama by Pedro Calderon de la Barca
  • La mort des enfants d’Hérode; ou, Suite de Mariamne (1639), a French drama by Gathier de Costes de la Calprenède
  • Herod and Mariamne (1673), an English drama by Samuel Pordage
  • Herodes en Mariamne (1685), a Dutch translation of Tristan l’Hermit’s play by Katharina Lescailje
  • La Mariamne (1696), an Italian opera by Giovanni Maria Ruggeri (mus.) and Lorenzo Burlini (libr.)
  • Mariamne (1723), an English drama by Elijah Fenton
  • Mariamne (1723), a French drama by Voltaire
  • Mariamne (1725), a French drama by Augustin Nadal
  • La Marianna (1785), an Italian ballet by Giuseppe Banti (chor.)
  • Marianne (1796), a French opera by Nicolas Dalayrac (mus.) and Benoît-Joseph Marsollier (libr.)
  • “Herod’s Lament for Mariamne” (1815), an English song by Isaac Nathan (mus.) and George Byron (libr.)
  • Erode; ossia, Marianna (1825), Italian opera by Saverio Mercadante (mus.) and Luigi Ricciuti (libr.)
  • Herodes und Mariamne (1850), a German drama by Christian Friedrich Hebbel
  • Mariamne Leaving the Judgment Seat of Herod (1887), a painting by John William Waterhouse
  • “Herod and Mariamne” (1888), an English poem by Amelie Rives
  • Myriam ha-Hashmonayith (1891), a Yiddish drama by Moses Seiffert
  • Tsar Irod I tsaritsa Mariamna (1893), a Russian drama by Dmitri Alexandrov
  • “Mariamne” (1911), an English poem by Thomas Sturge Moore
  • Herodes und Mariamne (1922), incidental music by Karol Rathaus
  • Lied der Mariamne (ohne Worte) (1927), incidental music by Mikhail Gnesin
  • En Idealist (1929), a Danish drama by Kaj Munk
  • Hordos u-Miryam (1935), a Hebrew novel by Aaron Orinowsky
  • Herod and Mariamne (1938), an English drama by Clemence Dane
  • Mariamne (1967), a Swedish novel by Pär Lagerkvist

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s