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Author Topic: Chapter 4: The Ptolemaic Joseph  (Read 3076 times)
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« on: January 10, 2016, 02:05:43 PM »

Chap. 4-Heroes of the Hellensitic Age (2016) Charles N. Pope

Upon his succession, Seleucus II suppressed Berenice Syra (wife of his predecessor Antiochus II “Theos”) and her infant son, who corresponded to Prince Alexander of Egypt.  This was however only done so that she could remarry Seleucus under a new name, Laodice II, and the young prince be re-cast as his own “eldest son.”  Ptolemy III responded to the suppression of Berenice by leading his army through Palestine and Syria and all the way to Babylon.  Nevertheless, we are informed by Josephus that Ptolemy III almost immediately restored the administration of the Seleucid kingdom back to “Joseph,” the son and heir of Epigone/Seleucus II, that being Crown Prince Lysimachus (the future Antiochus III).  Ptolemy III became something of an action figure.  He was allowed to emulate his New Kingdom analog Thutmose III, but without a qualified heir he was for all practical purposes a dynastic dead end.  It is also extremely doubtful that he would have led an army out of Egypt without the approval of Seleucus II and Laodice/Arsinoe.  Ptolemy III is not particularly celebrated in royal history, but he is also not villainized, which he certainly would have been if he had acted in open defiance and aggression toward his royal superiors.  

Both Polybius and Josephus provided a detailed narrative of the Ptolemaic Period.  Surprisingly, Josephus writes about the first two kings named Ptolemy and praises them effusively, particularly Ptolemy II and his alter ego Antiochus II, of which he adds parenthetically, “… who by the Greeks was called ‘The God’.”  This is an unexpected admission from an ostensibly Jewish writer.  Josephus also speaks well of the first Seleucus (Lysimachus king of Thrace) and the contemporary High Priest Simon the Just (likely the Upper Egyptian priestly alter ego of Lysimachus).  Yet, he is suspiciously silent regarding Seleucus II & III.  He completely skips over these two kings and proceeds directly to the successor of Seleucus III, namely Antiochus III, who he calls “The Great” and “Lord-of-All-Asia.”

The uppity Ptolemy Epigone (a.k.a. Prince Seleucus/Seleucus II/III) is replaced in the account of Josephus with a story about his provincial counterpart, the jaded High Priest Onias (II).  Josephus shockingly throws Onias completely under pharaoh’s chariot by calling him “one of a little soul, and a great lover of money.”  There is absolutely no excuse made for Onias’ behavior, such as his former bad treatment from family members or concern for potential threats to his eminent status.  At the time of this story there was still at least some chance that Ptolemy III could produce a viable heir and reclaim the supremacy.  Instead, Josephus has the hero of the narrative, his namesake “Joseph son of Tobias,” apologize for Onias and essentially cover for him.  After the death of Ptolemy II, Epigone (Onias) became nominal head of the family.  As such, he was not required to pay tribute to Ptolemy III.  He is nevertheless criticized by Josephus for not demonstrating proper noblesse oblige by sharing the imperial revenues with his own younger half-brother.

Note:  The Hebrew name Tobiah (Gk Tobias), “Goodness-of-God” is a direct equivalent of the Greek epithet of Ptolemy III Euergetes, “The Good-Doer.”
Epigone had a superior pedigree, had sired a royal heir (as well as a spare), and was even more physically attractive than Ptolemy II.  Nevertheless, he was almost universally disliked (in the historical record, at least).  It is rare that the founder of a major dynasty would be spoken of so poorly.  However, it turns out that the dynasty of Epigone was itself eclipsed by that of the younger son of Ptolemy II, and that his explains both the veneration of Ptolemy II and the general lack of veneration for either Ptolemy III or Ptolemy Epigone.  Epigone’s alias of Hamilcar Barca is the only one that gained any admiration.  And even this identity did not become a positive one until around the end of Ptolemy II’s reign.  At this time, Epigone terminated his identity as Publius Claudius Pulcher in Rome.  Publius Claudius Pulcher (“The Handsome”) was “a man variously described as being mentally unstable, an arrogant snob and a drunk.” (1)  However, he eventually stopped pretending to be fighting (badly) for Rome, and concentrated on performing (effectively) on the Carthage side of this war of royal convenience.
(1) Richard Miles, Carthage Must Be Destroyed, p 191.

Was Seleucus II/III truly a stick-in-the-mud, or was Josephus only engaging in “character development,” i.e., stereotyping Epigone with the roles that this king was expected to play?  Recall that a Solomon/Noah-figure was to be resented as an oppressor and then entirely disrespected when renewing his kingship after a Flood/Exodus event.  In contrast to Onias, nothing bad can be said about the upright Joseph – not only because of the Joseph role, but because this particular Joseph (Antiochus III) had produced an heir (even for Ptolemy III) and was therefore entitled to order Ptolemy III’s affairs.  Yet, despite the reversal in royal rank, decorum was maintained at the Egyptian court. Joseph does not try to publicly upstage or disrespect Ptolemy III in his own kingdom.  Antiochus III as “Joseph” became the magnanimous son and heir of the niggardly Ptolemy Epigone as “Solomon.”

Josephus exercises consummate subtlety when explaining how Joseph acquired his all-important heir.  Joseph, we are told, was smitten with an “actress” at the court of Ptolemy, who is not named by Josephus but can easily be identified as the sensational contemporary historical courtesan known as Bilitiche.  Joseph could not be allowed to marry either an exotic dancer (even though it was really his own half-sister Berenice II playing dress-up).  However, it was kosher at the time for him to marry a niece, that is, to marry Berenice passed off as his niece, who was first asked by “her father” to bring back to life her former actress get-up as an aphrodisiac for Joseph!  In truth, she was not the true daughter of Solymius either, but only in the sense that Seleucus II had become head of the royal family and all women were his daughters save his mother.  Her actual father was Ptolemy II, and she had not only given birth to her first son (Prince Alexander) by her father, but was deified by him on account of it.  This only made her more desirable, not only to Joseph but also to Joseph’s father (Solymius), who desperately needed a royal grandson to secure his recent election to the Great Throne.

Conversely, rather than being called the “son of Solymius/Onias” which he was, Joseph is instead referred to as the “son of Tobias” (i.e., Ptolemy III Euergetes) and the “son of the sister of Onias.”  Apama, the mother of Lysimachus/Antiochus (“Joseph”) was in fact the half-sister of Epigone/Onias and therefore a typical and even ideal royal pairing.  Josephus is not outright lying, but is disguising the royal status of his hero “Joseph.”  Josephus is also offering up a veiled object lesson in royal protocol, which Onias has failed to uphold but Joseph is eager to restore.  In the land of the pharaohs, the future Antiochus III (“Joseph”) defers to Ptolemy as the leading authority, however within the larger Empire it is Antiochus that holds the superior rank.  Rather than assuming the rotten attitude of Onias, Joseph smooths things over with pharaoh (Ptolemy III).  Yet, he had far less to be bitter about than Onias.  Antiochus III did not have to wait nearly as long as his father had to receive his election as Great King.  It is not Antiochus III but instead Ptolemy III that succumbs to the sinking feeling of “sour grapes.”

Prince Lysimachus (future Antiochus III) was about 21 years old when his father became Great King (Seleucus II/III) in 246 BC.  After becoming a father himself to Seleucus (IV) in 245 BC, Lysimachus held the status of Crown Prince for 22 years, the same number of years that Josephus tells us that Joseph collected the taxes for the kingdom.  In 223 BC, Seleucus II/III surrendered the throne to Antiochus III, and went to the trouble of staging his own poisoning as a Judah-figure so his son and successor could “receive the birthright” as a new Joseph.  How much longer “Solymius” lived after this is difficult to say, but it seems likely that he presided (using his alias General Achaeus) over the crowning of Antiochus III, as well as the forced departure of Ptolemy III from Egypt in 221 BC and the succession of his own grandson there under the name of Ptolemy IV.  Around this time, Seleucus II/III also bequeathed the High Priesthood to his son Lysimachus/Antiochus III, who is called Simon (II) in that office by Josephus.

Note:  A record from Babylon gives the birth name of Antiochus III “The Great” as Lys-[imachus], which is additional indication that he was one and the same as Lysimachus son of Lysimachus son of Lysimachus (a.k.a. son of Epigonus “son of” Lysimachus/Seleucus).

Note:  Achaeus, means “griever,” but perhaps connoted “whiner” or “protester” in this case.  It is a name/epithet appropriate for a Jacob-the-Grabber figure such as Seleucus II/III.  Like Jacob-the-Grabber of old, he had “wrestled with God (Antiochus II Theos)” and ultimately prevailed!

The Queen Mother, Laodice the Elder, had attempted to keep the dynastic hopes of her younger son (Ptolemy III) by giving him the princely Seleucid identity of Hierax “The Hawk/Horus.”  However, as the succession of Lysimachus (Antiochus III) became increasingly certain, Ptolemy began to divest his aliases in the West, and even that of Ptolemy III by 221 BC.  The former heir apparent to the Great Throne subsequently turned to military exploits in the Far East as an attempt to conjure the “pothos” of his famous grandfather and perhaps in the belief that, like his grandfather, he could somehow reverse his fortunes in fatherhood.  Ptolemy III, like Alexander, would be remembered for a desperate quest for immortality.  He would perhaps even excel even Alexander in his drive to conquer to the furthest ocean.  But, the kingdom he founded there, the first imperial dynasty of China (under the name Qin Shi Huang Di), would only accrue to the benefit of his more fortunate (and therefore more fondly remembered) kinsmen.

Ptolemaic construction and even inscriptions are extremely rare in the Theban area before Ptolemy VIII.  Thebes simply was not under direct Ptolemaic control and had not been “Hellenized” in early Ptolemaic Period.  Investigators have proposed socio-economic, religious and nationalistic causes for the general Ptolemaic “neglect” of Thebes and the Great Revolt in Thebes and surrounding areas that followed.  However, the fundamental cause turns out to be that Ptolemy II and III had little or no influence in Thebes as it was being ruled by Queen Arsinoe and her son Epigone, followed by Epigone’s son Lysimachus (Antiochus III).

“The region of Thebes during the Ptolemaic period has been regarded by many writers, with amply argued justification, as a province that was separate both politically and culturally from the direct influence of the ruling dynasts resident in Alexandria and the north.”


Ptolemy III commissioned (or paid for) two gates at Karnak.  The first was built to complete an outer enclosure for the Temple of Montu at Karnak, which was originally planned and begun back in the Persian Period by Nectanebo I.  A similar gate created an outer court for the Temple of Khonsu.  These monumental gates were inscribed in Egyptian style and do not appear to be controversial unless Greeks/foreigners were being allowed to enter these new/reclaimed outer courts of the “holy places.”  Interestingly enough, the Great Revolt (of Upper Egypt) broke out just when gates were to be installed at the Temple of Edfu, and those gates would not be finished until well after the revolt ended (over 20 years later).


Note:  In the New Testament repetition, the Apostle Paul (in the role of Ptolemy) was accused of ushering Greeks into the temples.  However, he was thrown out and the gates shut against him.

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