interesting queens in Jewish history

BAT-SHEVA (BATHSHEBA)

Queen Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah and later of King David. According to the story in the Tanakh, King David saw her bathing and lusted after her. He got her pregnant, and so after trying to convince Uriah in vain to have sex with her so that he would think the child was his, King David sent Uriah to fight in the frontlines, thinking he was most likely to get killed that way. The plan worked, and King David married Bathsheba after Uriah’s death.

Most notably, Bathsheba was the mother to King Solomon and ensured his succession to the throne, instead of King David’s sons by other wives.

Bathsheba’s beauty was legendary. She was likely the daughter of Eliam and was of noble birth.


ATHALIA

Athalia was the queen regnant (the ruling monarch) of the Kingdom of Judah between 841-835 BCE. She was the first of only two queen regnants to rule over the Kingdom of Judah/Judea, the other being Salome Alexandra (Queen Shalom Tzion), who ruled during the period of the Hasmonean Kingdom of Judea.

Athalia was the daughter of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab of Israel. She married King Jehoram of Judah to seal a treaty between the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel. She ruled the Kingdom of Judah after the death of her husband and the later death of their son, Ahaziah.

After the death of her son, Athalia seized the throne of Judah and ordered the execution of all possible claimants to the throne. Because of this, she’s known as the “usurper queen.” She used her reign to establish the worship of the Canaanite god, Baal. However, her rule was short-lived, as her grandson had secretly survived the purge and was raised in secret and rebelled against her. She was captured and executed.


ESTHER

Queen Esther was the Jewish wife of Persian king Ahaseurus during the period of the First Persian Empire (550-330 BCE). King Ahaseurus reportedly chose her for her beauty after his wife Vashti disobeyed him. After Esther’s guardian Mordecai offended the king’s chief advisor, Haman, Haman arranged for the king to have all of the Jews in the empire killed. However, Queen Esther foiled his plan and instead was granted permission from the king to kill her enemies. Jews commemorate this event each year during the holiday of Purim.

The historicity of this event is debated. Many historians believe Ahauserus is a fictionalized version of Xerxes I. For example, Persian kings generally did not marry outside of Persian nobility (although this wasn’t always the case).

Nevertheless, we know that the events of Purim were commemorated as far back as 2500 years ago. In 1904, a Persian tablet was found which likely mentioned Mordecai during the early period of Xerxes I’s reign, giving some credence to the story.



SHALOM ZION (SALOME ALEXANDRA)

Shalom Zion was the second of only two regnant queens in Jewish history. She ruled between 76-67 BCE, during the period of the Hasmonean Kingdom of Judea (110-37 BCE), a short semi-sovereign Jewish period.

She ascended to the throne after the death of her husband, King Alexander Jannaeus and was succeeded by their son, Hyrcanus II. She was known for her diplomacy, particularly for her negotiations with the Pharisees.

Her reign was one of prosperity for Judea. Reportedly, rain only fell during Shabbat, which ensured that workers suffered no loss of wages due to rainfall. The soil was so fertile that the sages collected specimens of grains to show future generations. The kings of the surrounding kingdoms were said to be impressed with her rule.



SHUSHANDUKHT

Queen Shushandukht was the wife of King Yazdgerd I of the Sassanian (Persian) Empire, who reigned between 399-420. She was the daughter of a leader of the Persian Jewish community, the largest diasporic Jewish community of the time, Huna bar Nathan.

Her prominent position greatly improved the conditions for the Persian Jewish community. For example, Jewish leaders were afforded regular attendance to the shah’s (king’s court). She built the cities of Susa and Sustar.

She was the mother of Bahram V, king of the Sassanian Empire between 420-438, the only Persian king of Jewish birth.



QUEEN OF SHEBA

The Queen of Sheba was, according to Jewish historian Josephus and the narrative in the Tanakh, the queen of Egypt and Ethiopia, who came to Israel “with a very great retinue, with camels bearing spices, and very much gold, and precious stones.” It’s more likely, however, that she ruled the Kingdom of Saba (8th century BCE-275 CE) in southern Arabia, though no such records of her exist. Some argue that she ruled over the Ethiopian Kingdom of Axum; however, such a kingdom did not exist during the reign of King Salomon. According to the Tanakh, the Queen of Sheba came to Jerusalem to test King Solomon’s legendary wisdom. After he answered many riddles to her satisfaction, she converted to Judaism and they married. Though she bore him a son, she returned to her kingdom so that she could rule over it.

Talmudic scholars argued that the “Queen of Sheba” was not a literal queen but a metaphor for a kingdom. Though her historicity is debated, her legend transcends a number of cultures in Southwest Asia.

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