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MARIAMNE CONCLUDED. ALEXANDRA.-SALOME.
Josephus is silent both as to the period elapsing between Mariamne's trial and her death, and as to the manner of that execution. Stoning had originally been the Jewish penalty for all crimes; but the Roman punishment of decapitation had very probably taken its place, and by the axe, no doubt, the last of the Asmonæans fell.
Whatever the death, no doubt attends the last moments of the victim. Calmly, unflinchingly, we are told, she walked to the place of execution. No terror, no unseemly indignation at the injustice dealt her, marred the modest and tranquil dignity which had marked her life, and left her not in death. There she was, in her touching youth and exquisite beauty, accused of crimes, which not one of those vast multitudes who looked on believed, though none dared tempt the tyrant's wrath, by rising in her cause. Not a sound broke the awful stillness-the very emissaries of Salome, scattered in large numbers amongst the crowds to silence the faintest semblance of murmuring or pity, appear to have been awed by the dignified composure of the prisoner, and horror-struck, even as the rest of the spectators, by the sudden appearance of Alexandra, not, as might be supposed, to lament and mourn over her child, but to heap upon her reproaches and abuse, declaring “ that her punishment came justly upon her
for her ingratitude to her husband, and her insolent behaviour in not making proper returns to him who had been their common benefactor.” The motives of this fearful hypocrisy, terror for herself, and the consequent desire to avert all personal danger from Herod, by publicly condemning her child, whom she, above all persons, knew to be innocent, appear to have been penetrated, even at that moment, by the multitudes, and excited their loudest condemnation ; but no word of reproach, or suffering, escaped the lips of her whom a mother thus assailed. Yet how bitter must have been the pang of such unexpected conduct. How fearfully must the cold selfishness which could, at such a moment, seek personal security, by asserting belief in the guilt of her own child, whom she knew to be unstained, have sunk on the heart of the prisoner. But all human emotions had been stilled-she was standing on the threshold of that glorious eternity, which to her, as a woman of Israel, a descendant of priests, was revealed in all its fulness, all its bliss. A brief, brief pang, and she knew she should be with the idolised brother of her youth, whose angel spirit might even at that moment be hovering near her, to waft her released soul to the footstool of her God. For Israel death had no terrorimmortality was to them revealed. They knew that with God was the fulness of joy, and at His right hand were everlasting pleasures. And in the calm fortitude, the meek endurance, yet lofty bearing of the Asmonæan princess, we read, not the stoicism of the Roman martyr, but the rejoicing faith, and unshrinking courage of the Hebrew believer, firm in the blessed consciousness of Immortality and Heaven!
One look of pitying forgiveness fell from the eyes of the injured, on her unnatural mother, and a few words addressed to those near her, expressed the deep concern for Alexandra's degradation. Not for its injury towards herself, but as it concerned her mother individually, exposing her, as it did, to the contempt of the populace, and little likely to conciliate the king. These appear to have been her last words; “for herself,” Josephus continues, "she went to death with an unshaken firmness of mind, and without even changing the colour of her face, and thereby discovered the nobility of her descent to the spectators, even in the last moments of her life.”
We do not think that “nobility of descent” is or was the real lesson derived from such a death. It was the calm intrepidity of innocence—the composed and gentle firmness of a soul at peace with itself, and resting on its God. She had lived long enough to learn, and feel too sadly, that not in this world may we“ distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God, and him that serveth Him not;" and, the pangs of parting from her children once subdued, she gladly turned to that everlasting home where her innocence was known, where her wearied spirit would find its yearned-for rest, and her desolate heart, which earth had crushed, be filled with love infinite as perfect, bliss unending as complete.
We have endeavoured to make manifest throughout this eventful history, how mistaken and contradictory are the impressions with which Josephus would burden the character of Mariamne. Whereas Salome, whose actions it is utterly impossible to misunderstand, and whose dark thoughts and sinful machinations are distinctly visible, from the moment she appears on the theatre of life to the end of her existence, he dismisses without a shadow of blame, either written or implied. Thus leaving the idea, that trifling errors of education, the only faults which can be applied to Mariamne, are, because visited with suffering and death, infinitely more culpable and heinous than the palpable and uncalledfor crimes of calumny, false witness, murder, and a long list of atrocities, either actually performed by Salome herself, or planned and committed by her sole orders and persuasions, but whose blackness becomes white in the eyes of the historian, through the marvellous transformation of temporal elevation and success. Surely, we ought to be careful how we place such opinions in the hands of our children, and not rest contented with merely giving them history to peruse. As an author, Josephus is most valuable; we have no doubt of his accuracy with regard to events, but we cannot depend upon either his discrimination or impartiality in the delineation of character, or in the justice and entireness of his conclusions. We repeatedly find that his drawing up, as it were, of a character, is contradicted by the whole tenour of previous events, which being related by himself as facts must guide us much more correctly than his own conclusions. We have seen this already in the life and character of Alexandra; and we shall perceive it as clearly in his winding up of the character of Mariamne, which we subjoin :
“ And thus died Mariamne; a woman of excellent character both for chastity and greatness of soul ; but she wanted moderation, and had too much contention in her
nature. Yet had she all that can be said, in the beauty of her body, and her majestic appearance in conversation : and thence arose the greatest part of the occasions, why she did not prove so agreeable to the king, nor live so pleasantly with him as she might otherwise have done, for while she was most indulgently used by the king, out of his fondness for her, and did not expect that he could do any hard thing to her, she took too unbounded a liberty. Moreover, that which afflicted her was, what he had done to her relations, and she ventured to speak of all they had suffered by him; and at last greatly provoked both the king's mother and sister, till they became enemies to her, and even he himself also did the same, on whom alone she depended for her expectations of escaping the last of punishments.”
Now we would ask any casual reader, what would be the impression of this extraordinary passage? Would they not suppose, that Mariamne had not only drawn down her fate upon herself, but had actually deserved it? That she was the only one to blame, and Herod, Cypros, and Salome, all alike were guiltless? And yet even, in leaving this most unfounded and most unjust impression, of what does he accuse her ? Compelled (it would seem almost in spite of himself) to acknowledge her chastity and greatness of soul, all he can bring against her is, that her “majestic appearance in conversation” (ineaning, we imagine, the calm dignity of her manner) rendered her less agreeable to the tyrant, than she would have been could she have resembled her mother, and condescended to deceive. We are told that “ she was most indulgently used by the king, who out of his great fondness for her could do no hard thing to