Incest in the period of Messianic Judaism
This period covers the Herodian dynasty, occupation of the Qumran monastery, the reign of Cleopatra VII in Egypt, and the founding of the Roman Empire up to and including the reign of Hadrian, who provoked the last two Jewish-Roman wars in order to end - eradicate - Messianic Judaism.

Though there had been a number of earlier rebellions - against Herodian rule - the three wars were massively devastating, amounting to a series of holocausts. I doubt that (Second-Temple) Judaism in the empire survived. Though Qumran was erased by the end of the final war, as we now know, the buried Dead Sea Scrolls survived. Among them, we learn how Messianic Jews abhored innovations to Jewish Law, of which one was incest, usually termed fornication in the scrolls.

The innovators were the rulers: Herodian genealogy is immensely complicated by familial relationships. One, important example:

Bernice, “a daughter of Agrippa (I), who married her uncle Herod, and afterwards Polemon king of Cilicia. She was accused by Juvenal of committing incest with her brother, Agrippa [II]. It is said that she was passionately loved by Titus, who would have made her empress, but for fear of the people.” Lempriere 105.

“Bernice...lived a widow a long while after the death of Herod, who was both her husband and her [paternal] uncle” (her father and Herod A both being sons of Aristobulus IV). Josephus AJ XX.VII.3.

“It was before him [Agrippa II] that Paul of the New Testament period made mention of his [Agrippa II’s] incestuous commerce with his sister Berenice.” Lempriere 105 and 25; 1826 Ed.

Qumran was dead set against any (religious) innovation; these were the Taliban (or even Al-Qaeda) of their day: fundamentalist fanatics (whose Zealots with their sicari blades scared the heck out of their enemies).

Another, important example:

John the Baptist vs. Paul
The only New Testament parody that is widely known to have a non-canonical counterpart is the spectacular Gospel tale of John the Baptist’s execution, supposedly demanded by Salome in compensation for the lascivious dance she did for her stepfather, Herod the Tetrarch (aka Herod Antipas). The Gospel versions do raise the issue of an illicit marriage, but their treatment of this is quite garbled, whether because they were working off incomplete sources or were just confused. In fact, it was actually John’s agitation against “fornication” and “incest”, in general, and with regard to Herod in particular, that cost him his life. Herod had divorced the daughter of the neighboring Arab ruler Aretas in order to obtain a more advantageous marriage to Salome’s mother, Herodias, who was King Agrippa I’s sister and so his own niece. Niece marriage was an important strategy of the Herodians for extending and integrating power but was regarded by the resistance, and no doubt much of the public, as fornication. Hence, the issue was central to deligitimizing the Herodian family, i.e., helping to consolidate the popular sense that they were foreigners who did not keep Jewish law or customs.
- Essay by Dr. Andrew P. Gould, Ohio State U. Distinguished Professor of Mathematical and Physical Sciences

Our single most important and detailed sources for this conflict in the early 1st century is Josephus, so it is interesting to see how he describes the opposing forces, remembering how he supported the Herodians (and Rome). He repeatedly condemns religious innovations, but - and this is his give-away - he accuses the fundamentalist Messianic Jews of this. Though he is an aristocrat in thrall to the Herodians and rather frowns (in the same manner as a conservative Roman) on the behaviour of Herod I, he is guilty of "spin" at the very least.

Similarly, the Paul of Tarsus of the New Testament allows incest, many think:
“But if any man thinks that he is behaving himself unseemly toward his virgin daughter, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so requires, let him do what he will; he is not sinning; let them marry” (1 Corinthians 7:36).

The New Testament and Josephus thus take the same stand on the innovation of incest as do the Herodians. This is because, simply, much of the former is drawn on the latter and they both serve the same, imperial purpose.

One further point: incest, like the New Testament, belongs to the panhellenistic world in which Greek culture syncretised with that of its conquered provinces, such as Ptolemaic Egypt:

It is generally accepted that sibling marriages were widespread among all classes in Egypt during the Graeco-Roman period. Numerous papyri and the Roman census declarations attest to many husbands and wives being brother and sister, of the same father and mother.[20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27] The most well known of these relationships were in the royal family, the Ptolemies; the famous Cleopatra VII was married to her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII. Her mother and father, Cleopatra V and Ptolemy XII, had also been brother and sister.
20 Jones, Ashley. "Incest in Ancient Egypt".
21 Strong, Anise (2006). "Incest Laws and Absent Taboos in Roman Egypt". Ancient History Bulletin 20.
22 Lewis, N. (1983). Life in Egypt under Roman Rule. Clarendon Press. ISBN 0-19-814848-8.
23 Frier, Bruce W.; Bagnall, Roger S. (1994). The Demography of Roman Egypt. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46123-5.
24 Shaw, B. D. (1992). "Explaining Incest: Brother-Sister Marriage in Graeco-Roman Egypt". Man, New Series 27 (2): 267–299. JSTOR 2804054.
25 Hopkins, Keith (1980). "Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt". Comparative Studies in Society and History 22 (3): 303–354. doi:10.1017/S0010417500009385.
26 remijsen, sofie. "Incest or Adoption? Brother-Sister Marriage in Roman Egypt Revisited".
27 Scheidel, W. "Brother-sister marriage in roman Egypt".

#history #christianity #rome #bible
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