Book Write-Up: Jerusalem’s Queen, by Angela Hunt

Angela Hunt. Jerusalem’s Queen: A Novel of Salome Alexandra. Bethany House, 2018. See here to purchase the book.

Jerusalem’s Queen is the third book of Angela Hunt’s “Silent Years” series, which is about the period between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. The first book is about Cleopatra VII, and the second book concerns Judah the Maccabee. This third book is about Salome Alexandra. Salome Alexandra was the queen of Judea in the early first century BCE. She empowered the Pharisees.

Jerusalem’s Queen alternates between the perspective of Salome Alexandra, originally called “Shelamzion,” and Kissa, her servant from Egypt. The book goes from the reign of John Hyrcanus I, through the oppressive reign of Alexander Jannaeus, to the death of Salome and the rivalry between her sons, which led to the Roman takeover of Judea and the end of Jewish political independence. In the book’s moving ending, one of the characters encounters Simeon, the man in Luke 2 who saw Jesus Christ before his death.

Overall, the book effectively explores theological issues, as Sadducees dialogue with Pharisees, and Essenes get into the discussion. Honi the circle-drawer has a cameo. Shelamzion questions her uncle John Hyrcanus’s Hellenism and the royal airs he puts on as high priest. Political tensions recur in the book, and powerful personalities encounter powerful personalities. Hunt makes use of ancient sources, such as Josephus, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and rabbinic literature, and she presents her critical assessment of the sources in an appendix.

Reading about Salome, there are additional stories that Hunt could have included, which may have rounded out the book a little more, but Hunt chose as she did. I disagree somewhat with something she says in the appendix. She presents Shelamzion and Kissa together in the Jerusalem temple, and she says that this is plausible because, prior to Herod’s temple, there were only two courts: one for the people, and one for the priests. There was not yet a “Court of the Women” or “Court of the Gentiles.” Yet, Antiochus III’s decree in 200 BCE (Josephus, Ant. 12.145–46) presumes that Jewish law forbids Gentiles to enter the temple enclosure. That should factor into the discussion somewhere. Incidentally, I do not remember the scene in which Shelamzion and Kissa are together at the Jerusalem temple—only the scene in which they are at the Heliopolis temple. If Kissa was a slave when she was at the Jerusalem temple, perhaps she would have been allowed at its enclosure, since slaves were considered part of Israelite households (Genesis 17:12; Exodus 12:44).

The book has an evangelical perspective, which influences the issues that are placed on the table. In one part of the book, a Pharisee was saying that the Messiah would be a king and a priest, like a Christian would. (Elsewhere in the book, an Essene says that there would be two Messiahs, one priestly Messiah and one royal, and that is what is in the Dead Sea Scrolls.)  I wondered how plausible the Pharisee’s speech was, or if Hunt was placing evangelical beliefs into the mouth of the Pharisee. I suppose it is not impossible that a Pharisee would say that, since the Hebrew Bible does sometimes depict David as a priest-king (II Samuel 8:18; Psalm 110:4), and perhaps a Pharisee could pick up on that. On whether such a sentiment occurs in rabbinic literature, that is a question that deserves further research.

The book’s evangelical perspective does lead to an interesting discussion: is obeying the rites of the law sufficient to be righteous, or is something further than that necessary? In a poignant scene, Kissa acknowledges that she obeys the law as part of Shelamzion’s household, yet she does not feel a connection with God.

There is an intriguing statement on page 305. An Essene Torah teacher is responding to Shelamzion’s question of whether the Messiah will overthrow her husband Alexander Jannaeus. The Torah teacher replies: “The Teacher of Righteousness has called your husband ‘the wicked priest,’ but I do not believe he considers Alexander Jannaeus the wicked priest described in the text. Your husband does not rule Egypt and Syria.” Shelamzion then sighs and says, “So we should not expect the Messiah until later?” At the moment, I do not know where the Dead Sea Scrolls say that the Wicked Priest rules Egypt and Syria. But there have been different ideas about the identity of the Wicked Priest, and whether there was only one.

This is my favorite book in the series thus far.

I checked this book out from the library. My review is honest.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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