King Jesus (1946) by Robert Graves
Before getting to Graves novel, let me start with background from the Bible. "And Pilate wrote an inscription also, and put it on the cross. And it was written, 'Jesus the Nazarene, The King of the Jews.'" John 19:19 (see also, Matthew 27:37 and Mark 15:26).FN1 The Latin for this phrase is "Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum" which may be shortened to the first letter of each word: "INRI". These letters, by tradition, are depicted above Jesus's head on the cross in Catholic churches and in numerous paintings of the crucifixion from the middle ages. Thus, the Bible tells us the Romans crucified Jesus upon the charge of claiming to be King of the Jews. In Roman eyes, only the Emperor in Rome had the power to determine who was to be the lawful king in Judea (a Roman territory).
Consider further Luke's version of the interrogation of Jesus before Pilate:
"And Pilate asked him, saying, "Are you the King of the Jews?" And he answered him and said, "It is as you say." FN2
Luke 23:3-4. That is an astonishing sequence. Jesus admits to the Roman magistrate that he claims to be the king of the Jews (a serious political crime under Roman law) and Pilate's response is "I find no guilt in this man"? It makes no sense unless Jesus did in fact possess some legitimate claim to the Jewish throne under Roman law.
And Pilate said to the chief priests and the multitudes, "I find no guilt in this man."
Enter Robert Graves. His theory, set forth in the plot of King Jesus, is that Jesus was the son of Antipater, the eldest son of Herod the Great by Doris (his first wife). Thus, per Graves, Jesus had a claim to the Jewish throne in a Roman legal sense as being the only son of Herod's eldest son. According to Graves, the Jews in ancient times followed matrilineal descent under which Jewish kings ruled by marriage to a princess of the ruling house. He further states that the line of Michal is older than, and became part of, the line of Eli (to which David belonged). Thus, a Jewish king in the time of Jesus would gain a claim to the Jewish throne under Jewish law through marriage to a princess from the house of Michal. Mary, the mother of Jesus, again according to Graves, was by matrilineal descent a princess in the house of Michal. Thus, Jesus was in fact the true Jewish king under both Roman and Jewish law.FN3
In the book, Antipater (son of Herod) marries Mary (mother of Jesus and princess of the house of Michal) but the marriage is kept a secret for several reasons: (a) Herod's penchant for killing his heirs (Mary is endangered by marriage to Antipater), (b) this marriage, under Jewish law, would give Antipater a superior claim to the throne thus further endangering him with Herod, and (c) the Jews may protest having a princess from the house of Michal married to a Herodian. So Mary is contracted to marry Joseph (an old but trustworthy man) as a way to hide her marriage to, and pregnancy by, Antipater. Unfortunately, Antipater is arrested and (few months later) executed by Herod days before his own death. Mary (who gave birth to Jesus just before Antipater's execution) is left to live a life with Joseph and have Jesus raised as the son of the elderly and obscure Joseph. In truth, Jesus was born as the lawful son of Antipater and heir to the Jewish throne. The generally accepted historical date for the death of Antipater is 4 b.c.e.
King Jesus is far from a breezy read. Graves rambles on various tangential subjects including the origins of the Jewish god, Jehovah (he claims Jehovah and Set are one in the same).FN4 It is not until page 138 in the book that Jesus is even born. The story of his life, as told by Graves, starts in Egypt and this is where the book becomes more interesting and readable. I shall not babble on with the details but, suffice it to say, Graves weaves an interesting tale. Jesus' mission was to bring about a theocracy in Israel with Jesus at its head. But Graves, although unorthodox in his views, does not see Jesus as breaking with Jewish tradition regarding the place of women in society: "Women would have no part in government, yet they would be honored citizens of the Kingdom and permitted to perform sacred choirs, as among the Essene Therapeutics of Egypt ... ." P. 285. In the story, Jesus is indeed married to Mary of Bethany (sister of Lazarus). However, Jesus has this to say in reference to her: "All women are daughters of the Female; and the Female is the mother of all witches." P. 336. Thus, Graves' work is not really a precursor to the now famous "Da Vinci Code" which claims Jesus was married and that his wife was a high-ranking disciple.
Unfortunately, Graves states in the epilogue that he declines to give the sources for each historical point as it would take too much work to write it all down (the resulting source work being several times longer than the book itself). What a shame that Graves did not preserve for us the evidence for the theory.
My book Herodian Messiah builds a factual case for the central thesis of the Graves novel, i.e., that Jesus was a Hasmonean and Herodian prince with his two grandfathers being kings Antigonus and Herod. We will never know if my research matches what Graves compiled but I spent years collecting the material for Herodian Messiah.
Additional Thoughts On "King Jesus"
Mary The Mother of Jesus, Who Was She?
Footnote 1: Luke 23:38 also mentions this inscription on the Cross but he states that this sign was written in three languages: Greek, Latin and Hebrew.
Footnote 2: The King James Version of the bible translates the Greek original of Luke 23:3 as "And Pilate asked him, saying, Art thou the King of the Jews? And he answered him and said, Thou sayest it." Newer translations such as the New American Standard Translation have Jesus's response as "It is as you say." One translation sounds like a coy equivocation by Jesus while the other has Jesus boldly affirming to Pilate that he is in fact the King of the Jews. How to square the two competing translations?
The original Greek of Luke 23:3 reads: "o de IhsouV ejh, su legeiV." I do not read Greek but my friend Jan van Puffelen translates this passage literally as: "Says Jesus: you say it". Thus, a literal translation to English gives us the impression of an equivocation by Jesus. However, it is my understanding that, in Greek of the period, the words would rather be an affirmation. Thus, newer translations such as the New American Standard have Jesus confirming Pilate's statement with "It is as you say." Here is an historical list of English translations of Luke 23, verse 3. I accept the newer translation as it fits better with the prior context of Jesus's arrest set forth in the bible: i.e., he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (which, from the Old Testament, signifies the king is entering the city) and he attacked the temple complex challenging the authority of the chief priests. Those bold actions strike me as coming from one publicly claiming to be the King of the Jews.
Footnote 3: According to Roman law, a vassal king would name his successor in his will which was to be kept in Rome with the Vestal Virgins. Then, after the vassal king's death, the Roman Emperor would decide whether or not to confirm the heir named in the will as the new king. The Emperor could very well select another as king. In the case of Herod the Great, Antipater was named successor in his will up until the time of Antipater's arrest (and subsequent execution), which was a few days before Herod's own death. A new will was drawn up after Antipater's arrest dividing the kingdom among three other sons. A strong argument could be made that Herod's last will was invalid due to his mental illness at the time and, therefore, Antipater was the true heir of Herod and, as such, the only son of Antipater (Jesus) was the rightful King of the Jews.
Footnote 4: According to Graves, the Jewish god Jehovah was originally one in the same with the Egyptian god Set. He claims that Jews had been influence by the Egyptian religion during their years of captivity in Egypt and, upon their entry into Palestine, picked up the worship of Set from the Jebusites--the founders of Jerusalem who were originally a tribe of Egyptian shepherd. (page 120).