Shelamzion in Qumran
- New Insights
[Editors' note: 4Q223-5 is an error. It should be 4Q322-25.]
Shelamzion is mentioned twice by name in a Qumran document (4Q223-5 - no. 1 on the handout - the more complete of the two fragments). The context of the document in which she is mentioned strongly suggests that the person bearing this name is the famo
us Hasmonean queen. This is borne out by the fact that the calendarical work 4Q223-5 mentions, aside from the priestly courses who served in the Temple, also Hyrcanus (probably Hyrcanus II, Shelamzion's son), and Aemilius (probably Aemilius Scaurus, Pompe
y's Roman general, who played an important role in the Roman subjugation of Palestine in 63 BCE). Unfortunately, the fragmentary nature of the document does not allow us any clear understanding of how these historical figures relate to one another or to t
he priestly courses, who are the real topic of the document. Thus, despite Michael Wise's courageous attempt to resolve the difficulties inherent in 4Q223-5,1 nothing much can be said about it, except th
at it confirms that the sect was indeed interested in the Hasmonean rulers and had something to say about them. It further confirms beyond a doubt Clermont-Gannaus' ancient hypothesis about the Hebrew spelling of Queen Alexandra's Hebrew name, but this is
not the subject of this paper.2
Taking 4Q223-5 as a queue, I would like to explore the possibility that Queen Shelamzion is also alluded to in other Qumran documents, more specifically in two (or perhaps three) pesharim. Furthermore, these allusions may inform on some of the exegeti
cal techniques employed by the Dead Sea Sect, on their overall relationship with the regime of the Queen and may perhaps throw light on some interesting aspects of intertextuality.
The most acclaimed historical document in the Qumran corpus is Pesher Nahum. It has attained this privileged position due to the fact that it actually mentions two Greek rulers by name, and also because it describes events which seem familiar to us du
e to Josephus' description of the Hasmonean kingdom.3 It is, however, important to note that despite this seemingly historian-friendly document, the only reason we understand what it is talking about is
our total dependence on information mentioned in Josephus. Without his consciously historical narrative, Pesher Nahum would be just as meaningless to us as the other pesharim. It is, therefore, hardly surprising that my use of this pesher for the reign of
Shelamzion will also be highly dependent on Josephus' writings.
Pesher Nahum code-names King Yannai The lion of wrath ( ). Having described his wicked rule in column I, based on Nahum chapter 2, in column II the exegesis now turns to chapter 3 in Nahum and uses it to describe the government of the seekers of smoo
th things ( ) (no. 2 on your handout). Column I had already made clear to us that the seekers of smooth things had been persecuted and executed in the times of the lion of wrath. It makes sense, therefore, to assume that if the text now talks of the gov
ernment of the seekers of smooth things, a change of administration has taken place. Once again, based on Josephus, we learn that this is indeed so. After King Yannai had persecuted the Pharisees, his wife and successor, Queen Shelamzion, put them in powe
r. We read in Pesher Nahum that although the Dead Sea Sect was critical of the lion of wrath's attitude toward the seekers of smooth things, they were in no way favourably disposed toward the new regime. In their minds it was as guilty as the previous one
of bloodshed and persecution of its enemies, who were compelled to seek refuge abroad. The Sect lays the blame for this situation at the doorstep of the seekers of smooth things, but do they also make a statement about the ruler in whose name they pract
ice? I think they do, although in a rather subtle way. Verse 4 of chapter 3 in Nahum lays the blame for the suffering bloody city with the countless harlotries of the harlot, graceful and of deadly charms who betrays nations with her harlotries and people
s with her charms.The text then goes on to say that this refers to the liars of Ephraim (namely, the seekers of smooth things, who are the Pharisees) who lead the people astray with their teachings. However, the negative female imagery of the verse itself
is forceful enough to suggest that, taken by itself, it refers to the woman who was in power at the time and that the readers of the text were aware of this allusion. The compilers of the pesher crafted it in such a way that the verse referring to the ha
rlot would appear exactly at the historical-chronological juncture where the queen became the object of the discussion.
From this interpretation we can deduce two things. The first is that just as the Sect disliked the Pharisees, it similarly disliked the new Hasmonean ruler. They could hardly have used a worse symbol to convey this notion than the harlot. In this resp
ect the queen's gender was of no particular importance. All Hasmoneans were bad. However, gender plays an important role in the way the sect's exegesis was applied. It seems that the presence of females was better left as an allusion from the verse rather
than an explicit mention in the commentary. Shelamzion receives no code-name. The suggestion that this is a repeated exegetical technique employed with regard to gender differences relies also on another verse in the commentary of Nahum. In column I we r
ead verse 12 of chapter 2 in Nahum: The lion tore enough for his whelps and strangles prey for his lionesses which is then interpreted as referring to the crucifixion of the seekers of smooth things by the Lion of Wrath. No mention is made of the lionesse
s in the interpretation, but it is of some interest to note that Josephus, when describing the crucifixion of Yannai's opponents, informs us that he had eight hundred of his captives crucified in the midst of the city, and their wives and children butcher
ed before their eyes while he looked on, drinking with his concubines reclining beside him (BJ 1.97). Josephus' story in this context is derogatory to the utmost, and probably reflects Nicolaus of Damascus' negative attitude toward Yannai. Nicolaus himsel
f, however, may have based his description of Yannai feasting with his concubines on gossip that circulated at his time. Pesher Nahum may actually be also alluding to the same hearsay. The image of the lion tearing prey for his females may remind the read
er of a story he may have heard, of Yannai and his concubines feasting and at the same time feasting their eyes on the horrific executions. If this interpretation is correct, we find a second instance in Pesher Nahum where an event involving women is allu
ded to through a biblical verse rather than stated outright. The lionesses of the verse, which are fed by the lion, could be understood as the concubines of Josephus' narrative.
On the basis of this interpretation I would like to suggest that another verse mentioned in Pesher Hosea A (4Q166) also alludes to Queen Shelamzion and her reign. Two different pesher interpretations of Hosea were found in Qumran. Both are very fragme
ntary. They have been divided one from the other based on the script,4 and, as I will show presently, also on chronology. The one termed A discusses three verses from chapter 2 of Hosea (no. 3 on the han
dout). The only attempt at a historical interpretation of this pesher that I found was by Joseph Amusin.5 Despite the spars information that the pesher affords (as you can see before you) Amusin suggeste
d that the famine alluded to in the interpretation of verses 11-12 was the one of spring 65 BCE, mentioned both in Josephus (AJ 14.28) and in rabbinic literature (e.g. bSotah 49b). This famine occurred during the sibling war waged between Hyrcanus and Ari
stobulus, the sons of Queen Shelamzion. Amusin writes "Strangers are the troops of the Nabatean King Aretas. He together with Hyrcanus II, who was supported by the Pharisees (those who lead others astray) was besieging Aristobulus and his allies, who were
hiding in the Jerusalem temple. The siege coincided with the celebration of Passover (Nisan 65 BC). During the siege the country was devastated by famine which Josephus and the Qumran Commentator considered to be Gods punishment for the crimes committed
during the civil war."6 If his interpretation is correct, it would suggest that the prosperity described ruefully in the previous verse (For and they shall be satiated and they shall forget God who his
commandments [they] threw above their shoulder 4QpHos A) refers to the time of the queen's reign. Once again, the queen is not specifically mentioned either by name or by code name, but the verses used to describe her are gendered and negative. They desc
ribe an unfaithful wife who has played the harlot. The gendered verse alludes to the gendered ruler. Amusin was probably right, and the Qumranites, faithful to their exegetical approach, once again use the verse rather than its exegesis in order to lament
the queen's reign. There exists some further evidence to support this conjecture.
Chapter 2 of Hosea is a typical diatribe by the prophet against Israel who has committed idolatry, by comparing the people to an unfaithful woman who has played the harlot and been unfaithful to her husband. For this her husband (God) will punish her.
Hosea says: She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain the wine and the oil ... Therefore I will take back my grain in its time and my wine in its season ... This verse is playing strongly on another verse found in the book of Deuteronomy (11:
13-14), in which these gifts exactly are mentioned as reward for Israel's obedience: If you will obey my commandments which I command you this day to love the Lord your God ... he will give the rain of your land in its season, the early rain and the later
rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil ... On this positive verse, which describes an ideal existence, the rabbis appended a midrash alluding to the reign of Queen Shelamzion (no. 5 in the handout). In this midrash, found in t
he tannaitic halakhic midrash on Deuteronomy, Sifre, the time (perhaps the only time) in Jewish history in which the promise of God's bliss to Israel came true was in the days of the queen. It reads: [This refers to the way rains] fell in the days of Quee
n Shelamzion (Sifre Deut. 42).7
Since I wish to make a case here for intertextuality between this rabbinic midrash and the Qumranic Pesher on Hosea, some observations on chronology are in place. The date of the final reduction of Sifre on Deuteronomy is not known exactly, but it is
not earlier than the third century CE. Pesher Hosea A, on the other hand is Qumranic, and could therefore not be dated to much later than the Herodian period.8 If it indeed refers to political events of
the reign of Shelamzion, it also does not make sense that it was composed much later. Thus, to claim that a first century BCE document is found in dialogue with a third century CE compilation hardly shows sound historical judgement. I, therefore, suggest
that we consider for a moment the composition of the rabbinic midrash on Deuteronomy 11:13-14 independently of the compilation in which it is embedded. If we compare the rabbis' appraisal of Queen Shelamzion's reign with that of Josephus Antiquities, we d
iscover a striking disparity. The rabbis love her; Josephus (or rather his source - Nicolaus of Damascus) hates her (AJ 13.430-2). Far from claiming that one source is biased and the other is telling the truth here, I would claim that if rabbinic literatu
re preserves the Pharisee tradition to a certain degree, one of these descriptions is the appraisal of this reign by Shelamzion's co-rulers and the other is that of her detractors (and particularly the Herodians who deposed her dynasty). When would the Ph
arisees have formulated the midrash embedded in Sifre on Deuteronomy? They would probably have idealised the reign of the queen to such a degree only some time after its termination, when things began to go really wrong from their point of view. Also, it
could not have been composed much later, when the rule of the queen had already faded into the mists of the forgotten past. I would claim that the early Herodian period would serve such a date well. This date is not so far removed from the date of composi
tion assigned above to the pesher on Hosea.
It is further interesting to note that although the editors of Sifre Deuteronomy included the midrash on Shelamzion in their composition, it does not really fit into the general ethos of this compilation. The editors of Sifre Deuteronomy did not appro
ve of queenship, as another, midrash in the book suggests (no. 6 on your handout): You will set a king over you (Deuteronomy 17:14) a king, not a queen (Sifre Deut. 157). In favour of this being an editorial statement it is useful to note that Sifre Deute
ronomy in general used this gender-exclusionist exegetical strategy all along: Deuteronomy 1:13 states: Choose wise understanding and experienced men according to your tribes and I will appoint them as your heads. On this statement the midrash inquires: [
why did the text say] men? would we have assumed women? Obviously not. Deuteronomy 13:12-13 reads: If you hear in one of your cities ... that certain base men have gone out among you and the midrash adds men; not women. Deuteronomy 17:15 reads You may not
put a foreigner over you and the midrash adds: One appoints a man to supervise the public but one does not appoint a woman to supervise the public (Sifre Deut. 157). Deuteronomy 21:15 reads If a man has two wives ... and they have borne him sons the mid
rash comments sons are discussed in this Torah, not daughters (Sifre Deut. 215). Verse17 in the same chapter reads: for he is the first issue of his strength ( ) to which the midrash notes: his strength and not the strength of a woman (Sifre Deut. 217)
. Verse 18 reads: If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son on which the midrash instructs a son, not a daughter (Sifre Deut. 218). Verse 22 maintains If a man has committed a crime punishable by death ... you hang him on a tree to which the midrash
responds The man is hanged but the woman is not hanged (Sifre Deut. 221). Deuteronomy 23:4 states: No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord and the midrash continues: A Moabite man, not a Moabite woman; an Ammonite man, not an Ammonite
woman (Sifre Deut. 249). Verses 7-8 continue in the same vain: You shall not abhor an Edomite , for he is your brother; you shall not abhor an Egyptian , because you were a sojourner in his land. The sons of the third generation that are born to them may
enter the assembly of the Lord and the midrash adds sons; not daughters (Sifre Deut 253). Sometimes the issue is not quite so simple. Deuteronomy 15:12 reads If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman is sold to you, he shall serve you six years. On
the complication that ensues in a case where the owner dies during this period, the midrash comments: a Hebrew slave (continues to) serve the son but not the daughter. Furthermore in Deuteronomy 19:17 it is stated: Then both men disputing shall stand bef
ore the Lord. Here the midrash must concede both men: does this refer only to cases were there are two men? How about a man and a woman or a woman and a man or two women? It is written disputing [and] this means all. However, just in case we misunderstoo
d the uniqueness of this case, the midrash adds: Does this mean that a woman is a reliable witness? It is written here both and it is written both elsewhere (verse 16). Since both there means men and not women, so too here both means men and not women (Si
fre Deut. 190). Thus even in cases which are not straightforward, the gender exclusive exegesis is maintained.
The midrash on queen Shelamzion is thus unique in the context of Sifre Deuteronomy in that it affirms the queenship of Shelamzion over and against the exclusivist editorial approach of the compilation and specifically against the texts which exclude w
omen from queenship and other leadership roles. This aspect, together with the considerations discussed above, confirm the relative antiquity of this text.
We may, thus, conclude that the Qumranic midrash on Hosea is a sectarian response to the notion circulated by the Pharisees that Queen Shelamzion's reign was so idealic, that at that time the promise of God's bounty on earth materialised. The Dead Sea
Sect reiterated by recruiting a verse in Hosea - the biblical antithesis of the verse of bounty from Deuteronomy - and applied it to the reign of Shelamzion (together with the wanton woman mentioned in it, who in their mind represented the queen). They a
lso went on to refer to the wars between the Queen's sons that raged after her death and to the terrible famine that followed.9 This was their answer to the Pharisee propaganda.
I would like to finish this paper by a short note on the second Hosea pesher found in Qumran (4Q167). It had been identified as a separate composition due to script and parchment analysis, although it does not discuss the same verses as Pesher Hosea A
. The extant fragments of this pesher discuss chapters 5-8 of the book of Hosea, namely parts that come after chapter 2, discussed in Pesher Hosea A. From fragment 2 of Pesher Hosea B, it becomes clear that, chronologically, this Pesher is discussing even
ts that pre-date those mentioned in Hosea A, at least according to my reconstruction, since it mentions the lion of wrath, which, in Pesher Nahum, is the Qumranic code name for King Alexander Yannai, who was Queen Shelamzion's husband and predecessor. It
comes as no surprise that verse 5:14 of Hosea evoked in the imagination of the Qumranites the vision of King Yannai persecuting the Pharisees. The verse reads: For I will be like a lion to Ephraim and like a young lion to the house of Judah. From Pesher N
ahum we understand that for the Sect, Ephraim meant the Pharisees and Judah the Sect itself. In fact, this verse in Hosea may well have been the incentive for Yannai, the Pharisees and the Sect acquiring these code names in the Sect's terminology. If King
Yannai had persecuted both, this was the ultimate verse to bear this out, Yannai himself being envisioned as a lion.
I believe the Qumranites intended the Pesher to expose history chronologically. If verse 14 of chapter 5 discusses something that happened during the 80s of the first century BCE, the next verses will discuss something that happened later. A good examp
le for this chronological order is found in Pesher Nahum. Column I of the pesher describes the reign of King Yannai. Column II discusses the reign of his wife and successor Shelamzion and the fragmentary column III probably discusses the Roman conquest th
at followed. In Hosea, however, while verse 5:14 seemed to describe precisely the relations between the Sect and King Yannai, verse 2:11-12 served as an excellent answer to the Pharisee claims about Shelamzion. The order of the verses did not fit the chro
nology of the period. The Pesher was, thus cut into two. The early chapter described the later period and the latter chapters described the earlier period. On the basis of this analysis we my guess that if verse 5:14 was interpreted as referring to King Y
annai, verses 6:9-10 could now be interpreted as referring again to the reign of Shelamzion. These verses speak of "Lechery committed. In the house of Israel I have seen a horrible thing. Ephraim's harlotry is there, Israel is defiled." Although the fragm
ent of the pesher contains but part of the verses and no interpretation (no. 4 on the handout), we would not be far off the mark in guessing that the interpretation would now go on to decry the rule of the Pharisees - Ephraim. The Queen, however, would be
left unmentioned. The harlotry of Ephraim mentioned in the verse would be a fitting gendered allusion to the sects judgement of her and her henchmen.
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