H-Net Review: Atkinson, Queen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century B.C.E.

Kenneth Atkinson. Queen Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the
First Century B.C.E. Jefferson McFarland and Company, 2012. 296
pp. $45.00 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7864-7002-0.

Reviewed by Karl C. Randall
Published on H-War (February, 2013)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey

Queen Salome is an interesting but long-overlooked figure in ancient
history. Kenneth Atkinson has finally redressed this oversight in his
work _Queen Salome__._ Atkinson has taken great pains to gather every
source of information on Salome Alexandra, making it the only
comprehensive work about her life. The author’s evaluation and
collation of sources relating the same event are both careful and
clear. Some materials, such as Josephus, are stripped of their bias
while others, such as sections of the _Gemara_, which are often
discounted as non-contemporary, have been included–but only after
proving that they are either clearly based on or match earlier works.
In short, Atkinson has done a masterful job of gathering and vetting
his source material.

Given the topic of the book and the fact that a number of the primary
sources take a strongly patriarchal slant, it is only natural that
_Queen Salome_ includes a fair amount of information regarding the
life and lot of females during the first century BCE and female
rulers in particular to provide contextual balance not shown in
source material. Atkinson skillfully teases out the truth hidden
behind the almost complete purge of Queen Salome’s accomplishments
that has occurred with the passage of time. At times, however,
Atkinson pushes the issue somewhat harder than necessary and his tone
occasionally takes on a decidedly feminist slant.

The sum total of information directly mentioning or alluding to Queen
Salome, however, remains woefully small, a fact that will remain
unchanged unless new sources come to light. To compensate for such a
narrow array of sources, Atkinson wisely chose to expand his focus to
include Queen Salome’s immediate family, ancestors and descendants,
and other female rulers of her time. While this expansion is well
done and natural given the dearth of source material, the finished
work is somewhat less of a biography of a single person than a
history of Hasmonean-ruled Judea. That being said, Atkinson’s work
remains the first and only unified work on Queen Salome and as such
it is worthy of praise.

The book provides sufficient amount of background information on
early Jewish beliefs that adds a layer of depth and understanding to
not only the Jewish religion and its early beliefs, but also to how
those beliefs affected the relationship of first-century Judea with
foreign influences and foreign nationals and others in the region.
The inclusion of this background information is vital to anyone not
conversant with Jewish customs and traditions of the period, making
it a boon to both laymen and professional historians not specialized
in biblical or Judean studies.

_Queen Salome_ does have its flaws though. Atkinson’s prose
occasionally becomes slightly repetitive, and transitions are choppy
early on–most particularly in the preface. This flaw largely
subsides as the work progresses, as the author becomes more
comfortable with his task. The book also contains upward of a dozen
typographical errors. While none of the errors are critical, the
combination of these two problems gives the impression that _Queen
Salome_ could have benefited from a slightly more stringent editorial
process prior to release.

It is my sincere hope that the lack of polish does not deter
prospective readers, for Atkinson has managed to create a volume that
is both comprehensive and original in focus, a rare accomplishment
indeed. For anyone wishing to learn more about Queen Salome’s
remarkable life and accomplishments, Atkinson’s volume is the first
and only source on the subject. Of interest for anyone in gender
studies, or classical or biblical history, it manages to be of use to
both the layman and the serious scholar alike.

Citation: Karl C. Randall. Review of Atkinson, Kenneth, _Queen
Salome: Jerusalem’s Warrior Monarch of the First Century B.C.E._.
H-War, H-Net Reviews. February, 2013.
URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=37106

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
License.

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