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Ancient Jewish History: Helena



HELENA (first century C.E.), sister and wife of *Monobazus I, king of *Adiabene (cf. Jos., Ant., 20:17–96). Helena and her son *Izates became converts to Judaism in about 30 C.E.through the influence of Ananias, a Jewish merchant. When her husband died, she appointed Izates as king in accordance with his expressed wish. As was customary in the East, the other sons of Monobazus were imprisoned and were in danger of being put to death, but Helena and Izates sent them to Rome – a humane act probably dictated by their new religion. Only her son Monobazus II, who ruled for a short time after his father's death, remained in Adiabene. Helena spent the latter part of her life in Jerusalem, where she built herself a palace (Jos., Wars, 5:252; 6:355). When a famine raged in Judea at the time of Claudius (Ant., 20:51), she bought grain and figs in Egypt and Cyprus for the starving people. Echoes of this are found in the Talmud (BB 11a; TJ, Pe'ah 1:1, 15b; Tosef., ibid., 4:18). Helena also made gifts to the Temple (Yoma 3:10), and was meticulous in the observance of the precepts of Judaism (Naz. 3:6). She died in Adiabene but her remains and those of Izates were transferred to Jerusalem by Monobazus, and interred in the mausoleum she had built at a distance of three stadia to the north of the city, known today as "the Tombs of the Kings" (Jos., Ant., 20:95; Jos., Wars, 5:55, 119, 147). Pausanius (Graec. Descrip. VIII, 16:4–5 (358)) provides a description of the Tomb of Helena and refers to a special mechanism that kept the door of the tomb closed. The inscription on the sarcophagus found by De Saulcy in the Tomb of the Kings was of great value in identifying Helena's tomb. The first line has the words מלכתא צדן and the second line מלכת א צדה. The language of both lines is Aramaic, but the script of the first line is Syrian and of the second, Hebrew. This proves that at least the second queen mentioned was Jewish and that she came from a Syrian royal family.


J. Derenbourg, Essai sur l'histoire et la géographie de la Palestine (1867), 223ff.; Graetz, Hist, 2 (1893), 216–9; Schuerer, Gesch, 3 (19094), 169ff.; M. Kon, Kivrei ha-Melakhim (1947); Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 5 (1951), 13, 44ff. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: N.C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia (1938); N. Kokkinos, The Herodian Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse (1998), 250; M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. 2 (1980), 196–97; T. Ilan, Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity. Part I: Palestine 330 BCE200 CE (2002), 317–18, S.V. "Helene."

[Abraham Schalit /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]



Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.