Open main menu

Helena of Adiabene

Helena of Adiabene (Hebrew: הלני מלכת חדייב) (d. ca. 50-56 CE) was a queen of Adiabene (modern-day Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan) and Edessa (modern-day Urfa, Turkey) and the wife of Monobaz I, her brother, and Abgarus V. With her husband, Monobaz I, she was the mother of Izates II and Monobaz II. Helena became a convert to Judaism about the year 30 CE.[1] The names of some of her family members and the fact that she was married to her brother[2] indicate an Iranian, Zoroastrian or Magian origin. According to Josephus, Helena was the daughter of King Izates,[3] and according to both Josephus and Moses of Chorene, she was the chief wife of Abgar V king of Edessa.[4][5]

Helena of Adiabene
Queen of Adiabene and Edessa
Helena of Adiabene Sarcophagus 1.JPG
Sarcophagus of Helena, Louvre
Died50-56 CE
SpouseMonobaz I and Abgar V
IssueIzates bar Monobaz and Monobaz II
ReligionConvert to Judaism from Zoroastrianism

Sources of informationEdit

What is known of Helena is based on the writings of Flavius Josephus, Moses of Chorene, Kirakos Ganjakets, and the Talmud. Josephus, although younger, was almost contemporary with Helena, living in Jerusalem at the time when she lived and was buried there, and he wrote substantial parts of his work from first-hand knowledge. The earliest parts of the Talmud, while based on older sources, were compiled and redacted from around the year 200 onward.


Helena of Adiabene was noted for her generosity; during a famine at Jerusalem in 45-46 CE she sent to Alexandria for corn (grain) and to Cyprus for dried figs for distribution among the sufferers from the famine.[6] In the Talmud, however (Bava Batra 11a), this is laid to the credit of Monobaz I; and though Brüll[7] regards the reference to Monobaz as indicating the dynasty, still Rashi maintains the simpler explanation—that Monobaz himself is meant. The Talmud speaks also of important presents which the queen gave to the Temple at Jerusalem.[8] "Helena had a golden candlestick made over the door of the Temple," to which statement is added that when the sun rose its rays were reflected from the candlestick and everybody knew that it was the time for reading the Shema'.[9] She also made a golden plate on which was written the passage of the Pentateuch[10] which the rabbi read when a wife suspected of infidelity was brought before him.[11] In the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Yoma iii. 8 the candlestick and the plate are confused.

The strictness with which she observed the Jewish law is instanced in the Talmud: "Her son [Izates] having gone to war, Helena made a vow that if he should return safe, she would become a Nazirite for the space of seven years. She fulfilled her vow, and at the end of seven years went to Judah. The Hillelites told her that she must observe her vow anew, and she therefore lived as a Nazirite for seven more years. At the end of the second seven years she became ritually impure, and she had to repeat her Naziriteship, thus being a Nazarite for twenty-one years. Judah bar Ilai, however, said she was a Nazirite for fourteen years only."[12] "Rabbi Judah said: 'The sukkah [erected for the Feast of Tabernacles] of Queen Helena in Lydda was higher than twenty ells. The rabbis used to go in and out and make no remark about it'."[13] Helena moved to Jerusalem, where she is buried in the pyramidal tomb which she had constructed during her lifetime, three stadia north of Jerusalem.[14] The catacombs are known as "Tombs of the Kings." A sarcophagus bearing two inscriptions was found there, the funerary epigram reading: Ṣaddan Malkata (Palmyrene: צדן מלכתא), and Ṣaddah Malkatah (Aramaic: צדה מלכתה), interpreted by scholars to mean: "Our mistress, the Queen."[15] The sarcophagus was discovered by Louis Felicien de Saulcy in the nineteenth century and later taken to France. It is thought to be that of Queen Helena of Adiabene.

Jerusalem palace of the AdiabenesEdit

The royal palace of Queen Helena is believed to have been discovered by archaeologist Doron Ben-Ami during excavations in the City of David in 2007.[16][17] According to Josephus, the palace was built by (the otherwise unknown) "Grapte, a kinswoman" of Izates.[18] It was a monumental building located in the City of David just to the south of the Temple Mount and was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. The ruins contained datable coins, stone vessels and pottery as well as remnants of ancient frescoes. The basement level contained a mikveh (ritual bath).[19]


  1. ^ Oren, Yitzhak; Zand, Michael; Prat, Naftali, eds. (1982). "Елена". Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia (in Russian). 2. Jerusalem: Society for Research on Jewish Communities. col. 475. ISBN 965-320-049-6.
  2. ^ Josephus, "Ant." xx. 2, § 1.
  3. ^ Josephus, War, p.298
  4. ^ Moses of Chorene, History of Armenia
  5. ^ The Sociology of MMT and the Conversions of King Abgarus and Queen Helena of Adiabene, Professor Robert Eisenman.
  6. ^ Josephus, l.c. § 5.
  7. ^ "Jahrb." i. 76.
  8. ^ Yoma 37a.
  9. ^ Yoma 37b; Tosefta Yoma 82
  10. ^ Numbers v.19-22
  11. ^ Yoma l.c.
  12. ^ Nazir 19b.
  13. ^ Suk. 2b.
  14. ^ comp. Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History ii., ch. 12.
  15. ^ Corpus Inscriptionum Semiticarum, Volume 2, plate 156, p. 179
  16. ^ Israeli archaeologists uncover 2,000-year-old mansion 06/12/2007 [1]
  17. ^ "Photo of palace". Archived from the original on 2012-09-15. Retrieved 2012-09-15.
  18. ^ Josephus, War, p 279
  19. ^ Second Temple palace uncovered. By Etgar Lefkovits, Jerusalem Post, December 5, 2007; updated Dec. 24, 2007 [2]

Further readingEdit

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGottheil, Richard; Seligsohn, M. (1901–1906). "Helena". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls., which cites:

  • Josephus, Jewish Antiquities xx. 4, § 3;
  • Nehemiah Brüll Jahrbücher (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1874–90) i. 70-78;
  • Grätz, Heinrich, Geschichte der Juden von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart 3d ed., iii. 403-406, 414;
  • Emil Schürer, Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (1886–1890) 3d ed., iii. 119-122.m