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Herodians, #5

Phillip II as “Elijah”

To make his role as a substitute for Phillip (“Issachar”) more obvious, the Herodian Elijah was given the Greek name of Phillip, the same as his elder half-brother. However, in the Gospels, the child born to play the part of Elijah is curiously to be called by the Jewish name of John. The name John/Jochan is a variant of Joktan and also Joiachin. All of these names relate to the Hebrew Johanan, “favored by God,” an epithet of Osiris who was murdered on account of his great favor and widespread fame. The form Joiachin is especially interesting in that it was also the name of a pillar of Solomon. The matching pillar in the temple of Solomon was called Boaz. Together these names memorialized that Solomon had not descended from Joshua/Reu but from Eliezer/Joktan.

In the Egyptian Middle Kingdom, the scarlet thread of kingship did in fact pass through an Osiris figure. In the Biblical Exodus account, the eldest son of Middle Kingdom Moses is called Eliezer. He was killed (as the “Osiris”) shortly after the Exodus. The mantle of kingly succession then passed to Gershom (as the “Horus”), who is also called Joshua and Elimelech. However, when the two royal sons of Joshua died without producing heirs, the birthright was reclaimed by Boaz of Eliezer’s line. In the Book of Genesis, Middle Kingdom Moses (Au-ibre Hor/Hammurabi) is called Eber, “refugee.” Joshua (Abi-eshuuh/Salitis) is called Reu, “friend.” And Eliezer (Smenkhare/Samsu-iluna), “God of Ezer/Issachar,” is called Joktan, “diminished (i.e., beheaded).” Also in Genesis, Boaz (Ammiditana/Yakub-her) is called Serug, “twisted” (i.e., grafted), and he follows his adoptive father Reu in the succession.

By insisting that Phillip II be known by the contemporary Jewish name of “John,” Antipater ensured that this son of his would have at least a fighting chance to found a lasting royal dynasty, and even if the prince was himself made to suffer a gruesome death. The name John also linked him with the renowned Hasmonean king Jannes (Jonathan) Alexander and his father John Hyrcanus. It further suggested that John the Baptist was considered to be a replacement for Alexander son of the Hasmonean Mariamne, who had been executed primarily due to the instigation of Antipater. It was yet another posthumous blow inflicted on his vanquished sibling rival.

The elder prince Phillip, whose mother Mariamne II/Cleopatra (“Elizabeth”) of Jerusalem was of the priestly line of Aaron, was being groomed for the office of High Priest at the Jerusalem temple rebuilt by his father Herod. (Elizabeth is a New Testament form of Elisheba, the name of Aaron’s wife.) In fact, he would have received mentoring by the current High Priest, Simon son of Boethus, his own grandfather. The father of John is described in the Gospel of Luke as an old priest of the order of Abijah and named Zecharias, a Greek form of Zechariah/Issachar. (Inclusion of the name Abijah was probably also deliberate and significant as this was the kingly epithet of Elijah.) This old man also had the duty of entering the naos, that is, the “Holy of Holies,” of the Jerusalem temple.

Traditionally, the High Priest alone entered the Holy of Holies in the temple and only once a year. At the time Phillip II (John) was conceived, Phillip I was reportedly in Rome. Therefore, the priest of Luke’s account was likely not Phillip but his grandfather Simon, who may have had no sons through his actual priestly wife. He did have one or more daughters. His daughter Mariamne II, although barren for a long time due to the impotence of her husband Herod the Great, was not strictly speaking childless either. She was the mother of Phillip I. Certainly it can be said that the old priest and his daughter Mariamne II (Elizabeth) were together childless! And it would have been the elderly Simon who was dumbstruck over the “holy birth” arranged by Herod the Great to give him a second grandson by the same name and through the same daughter Mariamne II. The first Phillip would have been no less amazed. Although still a teenager, he was expected to claim the younger Phillip (John) sired by Antipater as his own son in order to fulfill the earlier precedent of Issachar gaining an heir by his own mother.