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Paul, Descendant of Herod



Yes, I know, it sounds ludicrous on its face but Professor Robert Eisenman of California State University at Long Beach has concluded that the apostle Paul, in all likelihood, was a member of the house of Herod. See Paul as Herodian. What's the case for Paul as a descendant of Herod? Granted, it's circumstantial but many a person has been convicted of a capital crime and sent to their death based on circumstantial evidence.

Evidence of Paul as Herodian

Evidence for Paul as a member of Herod's family is as follows:
  1. In his epistle to the Romans, Paul gives salutations to “my kinsman Herodian.” Romans 16:11. Similarly, "Greet those who are in the household of Aristobulus." Romans 16:10. Aristobulus is the name of a Jewish Hasmonean king and the family into which Herod the great married upon his appointment as king of Israel by the Romans. There were several descendants of Herod named Aristobulus. See Herod's family tree
    • The name Herodian, for me, equals "Herod". There were a boat full of "Herods" descended from Herod the Great. In the generation of Herodians roughly equivalent to that of Paul of Tarsus, there were three Herods and one Aristobulus. FN1
  2. The identity of Paul's companion in Antioch: "Manean who was a foster-brother of Herod the Tetrarch." (Acts 13.1)
  3. Paul was a Roman citizen. Few Jews outside of the house of Herod were Roman citizens. Roman citizenship was gained by a Jew in three ways: (a) being a member of Herod's family, (b) service in the Roman military, (c) purchase Roman citizenship from a government official. Paul says he was Roman citizen "by birth". (Acts 22.27-8). This cancels out possibilities (b) and (c) strongly inferring that Paul obtained his Roman citizenship through his descent from Herod.
  4. Paul's acquaintance and friend Epaphroditas, might well be the person of the same name who was a secretary to Nero (and who helped Nero commit suicide). He's greeted in one of Paul's letters (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:10-18) along with "Caesar's household". Epaphroditus served the next two Caesar but was put to death by the second one (Domitian) around AD 95 for his role in Nero's "suicide" (there was some suspicion that he may not merely have "helped" Nero fall on his sword, but may have actually killed him) and perhaps for being a secret Christian as well. He was, by the way, the reputed publisher of Josephus' works, and Josephus disappears from history about the same time.
  5. "Saulus, a kinsman of Agrippa" described by Josephus (Agrippa is identified by Josephus as a descendant of Herod) is thought by Prof. Eisenman to be one in the same with the apostle Paul / Saul. See Antiquities XX 9:4.

Paul as member of Sanhedrin

The Sanhedrin was something of a religious high court consisting of 70 priests plus a chief priest. What are the facts upon which the "Paul as Sanhedrin member" theory rests?
  1. Paul (Saul) was one of the official witnesses of the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:59), an action ordered by the Sanhedrin.
  2. Paul "cast his vote" against the Nazoreans who were condemned to death. Only the Sanhedrin can condemn a man to death. Ergo, Paul voted as a member of the Sanhedrin to condemn the Nazoreans to death.
    • "Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Acts, 26:9-11.
  3. Paul went before the high priest of the Sanhedrin requesting letters authorizing "official" prosecution of Christians (then called Nazoreans) by Paul. Acts 9:1–2.
  4. Paul was a disciple of Nasi Gamaliel, the president of the Sanhedrin. Acts 22:3.
At a minimum, one can say with confidence that Paul was an official within the Sanhedrin power structure who was commissioned to take official acts on behalf of the chief priests. Let's assume for the sake of our theory that Paul was a voting member of the Sanhedrin. Paul never claims in his writings to be of a priestly family. How does a young Jew born in the diaspora (Tarsus) not of a priestly family, but of a merchant class family (tentmaker), find his way onto the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish legislative and priestly body? One qualifies for the Sanhedrin in thre ways: (a) as a kohanim priest from a pre-eminent family, (b) a leading rabbi who has gained aclaim as a scholar of the Torah or (c) as an appointee of the king (i.e., Herod and his descendants) who were of priestly families whose policies favored the Herodians.

Paul's public background completely fails to explain how he could rise to an official position in the Sanhedrin. A provincial boy from Tarsus of merchant parents not of a priestly family has zero chance getting onto the Sanhedrin. He was too young to have been a leading rabbi (most agree he was in his twenties before conversion to the Nazarene movement) and, further, showed distain for Jewish law in his letters. However, if Paul was a descendant of Herod, then it becomes much more plausible.

To be a member of Herod's family and a member of the Sanhedrin would be unusual. The only instance I know from Josephus is cases of Herod's brother-in-law, the Hasmonean prince Aristobulus III, appointed high priest (only to kill him a year later). However, Herod did have descendants who were of priestly descent (although not Kohanim) through his queen Mariamne (the Hasmonean princess). The Hasmoneans, per Josephus, were the preeminent Jewish bloodline during Herod's reign. Thus, it is highly probably that any Herodian sitting on the Sanhedrin was also a Hasmonean.

Paul of the tribe of Benjamin, "Hebrew of Hebrews"

"I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin." (Romans 11:1 KJV)

The tribe of Benjamin gave the Jews their first king, Saul (immediate predecessor to King David). However, after the Battle at Gibeah (sometimes between 1200-1000 bce), the other tribes turned against Benjamin and extermined them down to 600 men. The Benjamites eventually fade from history presumably merging into the tribe of Judah. Paul of Tarsus is the only individual in the New Testament identified as coming from the tribe of Benjamin, a highly unlikely fact given that the tribe essential died out. See New Testament Concordance. Benjamin is the ancient royal Jewish line so it does hint at a claim to royalty for Paul.

I was "circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee." Philippians 3:5. Hebrew of the Hebrews? Paul is telling us he's a Jew's Jew, an ultimate Jew, a high ranking Jew. What's that mean? To my mind, it means only one thing--Paul claims royal blood. Paul was never zealous for the Jewish law (in fact, he openly clashed with James and the Jerusalem Christian authorities over his attempts to loosen the application of Jewish law). So I think the argument that "Hebrew to the Hebrews" means Paul was a zealous for Jewish law is implausible. His teacher Gamaliel was known as a liberal in the Pharisee party.

For Josephus, "royal" Jewish blood means one thing: Hasmonean blood. If Paul descended from the Hasmoneans, this would explain his claim to being a "Hebrew of the Hebrews." But the Hasmoneans were of the tribe of Levi, not Benjamin. How does one rectify these two points? One possibility is that the NT is using "tribe of Benjamin" as a pseudonem for Hasmonean. Under this theory, Luke is telling us that Paul is of royal Jewish blood. Although plausible, there may be an easier explanation. One's tribe is determined by the father; however, a Jewish child may rightly claim descent from the Hasmoneans through his mother. Thus, if Paul's father were of the tribe of Benjamin and mother Hasmonean, he would be of Jewish royal blood (Hasmonean) yet belong to the tribe of Benjamin through is father. Hasmonean blood was prized by the Jews. It was extremely rare for a Hasmonean princess to be married to one outside of Herod's family or the Temple priesthood (but Josephus did record two such instances).

Searching for Paul / Saul among the Herod's Family Tree

Processing all the above information and plugging it into the Herodian family tree leads to one conclusion:
  • We are looking for someone named Phasaelus (thus the Paul / Saul combination);
  • A descendant of Herod;
  • A Hasmonean; and
  • An individual whose mother was Hasmonean but father was not.
These four points lead us to only one branch of the extended family tree of Herod: Herod's brother Phasaelus. He killed himself while held captive by Hasmonean King Antigonus. His son, also named Phasaelus, married Herod's oldest daughter, Salampsio, by Mariamne I (a cousin of Antigonus). As a daughter of Mariamne I, Salampsio was herself an Hasmonean princess.

According to Josephus, Phasaelus and Salampsio had five children: Antipater, Herod, Alexander, Alexandra and Cypros. FN2. I find it incredibly odd that Phasaelus' oldest son was named "Antipater", not Phasaelus. I'm even more shocked that Phasaelus didn't name any of his three sons Phasaelus. Why? There are basically two naming patterns found within the Herodian family for males: (a) the first-born son is named after the paternal grandfather then the maternal grandfather or (b) first born son named after the father. As Phasaelus was the name of both this child's paternal grandfather and father, under either convention the oldest son of Phasaelus and Salampsio should have been named Phasaelus! Antipater is the name of the child's paternal great-grandfather. Note that in naming the second son Herod, Phasaelus and Salampsio followed the family convention by naming the 2nd son after the maternal grandfather.

Looking at the time line, the likely date of birth of Antipater (eldest son of Salampsio) is too early for him to have been Paul of Tarsus. It's hard to get a date on the birth of Paul of Tarsus but one would expect a birth around the beginning of the common era or slightly after. FN3. Mariamne I married Herod in 37 BCE and was executed in 29 BCE. Salampsio was her oldest daughter by Herod so, reasoned guess, she was born around 33 BCE. Let's further assume that Salampsio began having children by Phasaelus at age 20. This would mean her oldest son Antipater was born around 13 BCE or slightly after, about a decade to 15 years too old to be Paul of Tarsus. It's possible Salampsio had a child in her thirties that was unrecorded by Josephus. But if we take Josephus at face value upon the names of Salampsio's children, it pushes the search for "Phasaelus" in this branch of Herod's family back another generation.

To restate, the children of Phasaelus and Salampsio were Antipater, Herod, Alexander, Alexandra, and Cypros. The younger daughter, Cypros, is known to history as the wife of King Herod Agrippa (her cousin). Josephus has this to say about the older daughter: "Alexandra's [husband] was Timius of Cyprus, a man of some importance, in union with whom she died childless." Antiquities 18.130-41. Cyprus sounds much like Tarsus. Both cities are in the Mediterranean outside of the Jewish kingdom. Tarsus is located in modern day Turkey and, in Roman times, was the capital of Cilicia. If one conflates Timius of Cyprus, it's easy to get "Tarsus". Further, Cyprus is the first city Paul the apostle visited on his recorded missionary journeys. Perhaps just an interesting coincidence. Perhaps not.

Timius was a rich Jewish merchant not known to be a member of Herod's family by birth nor a Hasmonean. Josephus had a habit of noting ancestry when a character in his drama was related to Herod or the Hasmoneans. Thus, Timius and Alexandra fit the fact pattern of Paul / Saul's parents. Alexandra's father was a Herodian named Phasaelus and her mother Hasmonean. Timius could potentially be from the tribe of Benjamin, we just don't know for sure.

Conclusion

There is strong circumstantial evidence placing Paul in the family of Herod. If one accepts that Paul was a member of Herod's family, I feel comfortable assigning him to the branch headed by Phasaelus and Salampsio. Beyond that, it's pretty much speculation; however, I see smoke swirling around Timius and Alexandria. If forced to make a guess, I'd say Josephus has intentionally omitted mention of "Paul of Tarsus" from the family of Phasaelus and Salampsio (or that a later editor deleted said reference). My best guess is that he was the second son of Timius and Alexandra and, therefore, a great-grandson of Herod. If Timius (a Jew from the diaspora) is indeed the father of Paul-Saul, this may help explain Paul's claim to be of the tribe of Benjamin.

JJR
5-21-2008 (Updated 8-1-09)

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FN1 Herod 1: Second son of Phaselus (nephew of Herod) and Salampsio (Herod's oldest daughter by Mariamne the Hasmonean). Herod 2: Herod Agrippa, king of Judea. Herod 3: Herod Chalcis, brother of Agrippa. The one Aristobulus of this generation was the younger brother of Herod Agrippa and Herod Chalcis. All three Herodians named in this footnote were of Jewish royal Hasmonean descent.

FN2 "Herod the Great had two daughters by Mariamne, the [grand] daughter of Hyrcanus; the one was Salampsio, who was married to Phasaelus, her first cousin, who was himself the son of Phasaelus, Herod's brother, her father making the match; the other was Cypros, who was herself married also to her first cousin Antipater, the son of Salome, Herod's sister. Phasaelus had five children by Salampsio; Antipater, Herod, and Alexander, and two daughters, Alexandra and Cypros; which last Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus, married; and Timius of Cyprus married Alexandra; he was a man of note, but had by her no children." See Antiquities, Book XVIII Chapter 5:4.

FN3 Paul has some sort of official position on the Sanhedrin when Stephen is stoned to death in 32 CE. How young could Paul have been and have an official position on the Sanhedrin? Younger than 30 would be hard to believe. He is taken into protective custody by the Romans in Jerusalem in 58 CE. Link. Thus, Paul is still active in his travels for the church in 58 CE. Given the harshness of travel in the first century of the common era, I would think Paul to be no more than 60 at the time of his arrest by the Romans in 58 CE.

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