Incest as a colonial Hellenistic marker

Fortified palace of Machaerus with the Dead Sea in the background, where according to Flavius Josephus, John the Baptiser was imprisoned and executed by order of Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea 4 BCE until 39 CE
We've always known how ancient Egyptian royalty used incest to retain the sacred bloodline; this continued with the Greek, Ptolemaic dynasty ruling Egypt (after the conquest by Alexander the Great):
All the male rulers of the dynasty took the name "Ptolemy", while princesses and queens preferred the names Cleopatra, Arsinoe and Berenice. Because the Ptolemaic kings adopted the Egyptian custom of marrying their sisters, many of the kings ruled jointly with their spouses, who were also of the royal house. This custom made Ptolemaic politics confusingly incestuous, and the later Ptolemies were increasingly feeble.
The most famous of these relationships were in the Ptolemaic royal family; Cleopatra VII was married to her younger brother, Ptolemy XIII, while her mother and father, Cleopatra V and Ptolemy XII, had also been brother and sister. 
Siblings: gold octadrachms of the Ptolemaic Dynasty
I suggest that this practise can be used as a marker for Hellenism in the region originally conquered by Alexander and then colonised by Greeks. Judea ruled by the Herodian dynasty is one 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. (Robert Eisenman’s “New Testament Code”)
Incest was common among this family; two examples:
Herodias, King Agrippa’s sister is immortalized in the New Testament as the femme fatal who instigated the execution of John the Baptist. According to Josephus, she was first married to her uncle Herod, son of King Herod and Mariamme (II) daughter of the high priest. They apparently had one daughter Salome (II). Later, however, according to Josephus, a visit to her house by another uncle—Herod Antipas, son of Cleopatra of Jerusalem—made her abandon her husband in order to marry his brother (Ant. 18:110). This, according to the New Testament, was the reason for John the Baptist’s condemnation of Antipas’s rule (Mark 6:17–18; Matthew 14:3–4). Jewish law saw such a marriage as incest. (Herodian Women by Tal Ilan)
"Judea Capta" issued by Herod Agrippa II
The New Testament mentions Berenice’s presence with her brother at Paul’s trial (Acts 25:13). Even in rabbinic literature she is mentioned as the queen alongside her brother [Herod Agrippa II], the king (BT Pesahim 57a). In two sources this constant companionship is interpreted as incest. One source is the Roman satirist Juvenal, who mentions their relationship in passing as a well known fact (Juvenal, Saturae 6.155–158). The other is Josephus, who claims that rumors of the siblings’ inappropriate relationship led Berenice to seek a third match (Ant. 20.145–146). (Berenice by Tal Ilan)
In Greece, there were restrictions on incest:
Greek law allowed marriage between a brother and sister if they had different mothers. For example, some accounts say that Elpinice was for a time married to her half-brother Cimon.
Incest is mentioned and condemned in Virgil's Aeneid Book VI: hic thalamum invasit natae vetitosque hymenaeos; "This one invaded a daughter's room and a forbidden sex act".
And, of course, they had Oedipus has an example.
Cleopatra VII offering to Isis, 51 BCE

Rome also placed limitations:
Roman civil law prohibited marriages within four degrees of consanguinity but had no degrees of affinity with regards to marriage. Roman civil laws prohibited any marriage between parents and children, either in the ascending or descending line ad infinitum. Adoption was considered the same as affinity in that an adoptive father could not marry an unemancipated daughter or granddaughter even if the adoption had been dissolved. Incestuous unions were discouraged and considered nefas (against the laws of gods and man) in ancient Rome. In AD 295 incest was explicitly forbidden by an imperial edict, which divided the concept of incestus into two categories of unequal gravity: the incestus iuris gentium, which was applied to both Romans and non-Romans in the Empire, and the incestus iuris civilis, which concerned only Roman citizens. Therefore, for example, an Egyptian could marry an aunt, but a Roman could not.
This places Judea under Herodian rule within the Ptolemaic cultural orbit, even when the rule of Cleopatra VII gave way to Rome. This is how incest is a marker.

Considering how Chrestianity came from Ptolemaic Egypt and included Egyptian and Herodian Chrestians identified earlier, we can say that incest is practised, recognised and allowed within the Chrestian elite.

Saul would not criticise the Herodian monarchy, of which - as a descendant of Costobarus - he was a part:
What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. (1 Corinthians 5)
The Damascus Document lists the objections of the Qumran community to the ruling class and incest is a prime example of this.

We see how even in modern times, men create cults with the intention of gaining sexual access to nubile females and so it was with the Herodian monarchy, who were, basically, dirty old men willing to abuse their power for self-gratification and the pleasure of corruption. Chrestians were unpleasant people by any measure.

Earlier in G+: Incest in the period of Messianic Judaism

Share this: