Tigranes II ‘the Great’ and ‘Nebuchadnezzar’ of Judith


 Damien F. Mackey



The invasions of the supposed C1st BC Armenian ruler, Tigranes ‘the Great’, have been suggested as providing the basis for the Jewish story of the heroine Judith.






Encyclopaedia Iranica introduces the C1st BC King Tigranes II (Tigran) ‘the Great’ as follows (http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/tigran-ii):


TIGRAN II, THE GREAT, king of Armenia (r. 95-55 BCE). Tigran (Tigranes) II was the most distinguished member of the so-called Artašēsid/Artaxiad dynasty, which has now been identified as a branch of the earlier Eruandid dynasty of Iranian origin attested as ruling in Armenia from at least the 5th century B.C.E …. During Tigran’s reign Armenia briefly reached its widest extension in the vacuum of power resulting from the final decline of the Seleucids, the still incomplete consolidation of the Parthian empire, and the absence as yet of Rome’s full commitment to an expansionist policy in the East. Despite considerable information, Tigran’s achievements have been difficult to reconstruct and evaluate, because of the almost exclusively classical sources, whose treatment of him, as the son-in-law and supporter of Rome’s greatest enemy Mithradates VI Eupator (r. 120-63 BCE) of Pontus, is invariably hostile, and the much later and anachronistic account in the Armenian History of Movsēs Xorenac’i.

The beginning of Tigran II’s reign in 95BCE was not auspicious. He apparently succeeded his father Tigran I, of whom nothing is known beyond a few possible copper coins, rather than his uncle, as has sometimes been argued. ….

[End of quote]

Unfortunately, there seems to be a fair amount of obscurity here, “Tigran’s achievements have been difficult to reconstruct and evaluate”, “the much later and anachronistic account …”, “his father Tigran I, of whom nothing is known beyond a few possible copper coins …”.

Yet, the military activities of Tigranes have been proposed as the model for the story of Judith, which can also be thought – again wrongly, I suggest – to have been Maccabean influenced


Book of Judith Not a Maccabean Product




And so we read of the theories of Samuel Rocca and Gabriele Boccaccini on this http://www.4enoch.org/wiki4/index.php?title=Category:Salome_Alexandra–history_(subject:


In 2005 Samuel Rocca first suggested that the story of Judith could contains echoes of the crisis generated by the invasion of the Armenian King Tigranes the Great.

The argument was taken up in 2009 by Gabriele Boccaccini who drew attention on the Armenian and Roman sources that seem to confirm the chronological and geographical details provided in the Book of Judith about the military campaign of the new “Nebuchadnezzar,” Tigranes the Great.

[End of quote]


We read further of the striking similarities between the Judith account and Queen Salome against Tigranes in Rocca’s article, “The Book of Judith, Queen Salome Alexandra, and Tigranes of Armenia”:



Tigranes did not stop at Seleucid Syria. The Armenian King was ready to move against Judaea. For the Eastern potentate to face a small kingdom, moreover under the leadership of a woman, would have been nothing more than a promenade! He thus came against Judaea. According to Josephus, the queen and the nation were terrified! It was then that Queen Salome Alexandra opted for a diplomatic solution. She sent ambassadors to Tigranes. It seems that the ambassadors, with the help of many expensive gifts, persuaded Tigranes not to move against Judaea, for the time being at least. Queen Salome Alexandra had then the time to organize an army to face the Armenian despot. But she was not going at war alone. She cleverly bought enough time to allow her Roman ally, Lucullus to move against Tigranes, striking at the Armenian heartland. Thus as soon as Seleucid Ptolemais fell to the Armenian horde, Tigranes received the bad news that Lucullus, pursuing Mithridates was lying waste Armenia. Tigranes had to go home. And after him now there was a professional army of around 40.000, a Hasmonean Army, ready to fight …! In fact in 69 BCE Lucullus invaded Armenia, defeated Tigranes and conquered Tigranocerta his capital. The Hasmonean Queen and her subjects could now breath freely. This important episode makes up the main part of the Book of Judith.

[End of quote]


Returning again to

http://www.4enoch.org/wiki4/index.php?title=Category:Tigranes_the_Great–history_(subject) we read this:


Tigranes the Great is quite a neglected figure in Biblical and Judaic Studies. Only Armenian scholarship has preserved vivid memory of his military campaigns, in which Judea also was subdued. As an example of the way in which the relationship between Tigranes and Queen Alexandra is retold in modern Armenian culture, we may read the passage in Armen’s biography (1940):


“As the king’s forces poured into southern Phoenicia, Jews were alarmed at the proximity of such vast hosts to Judea. Queen Alexandra of Jerusalem, and the Jewish leaders already visioned Armenian cuirassiers riding into the sacred city, and once more the recollection of Babylonian captivity intensified their present panic. The undimmed prestige of Tigranes as a conqueror, who moved peoples, among them Jews from Syria, to populate his native territories, made him appear as a new Nebuchadnezzar, while the prospect of singing the songs of Zion on the banks of Euphrates and Tigris to satisfy the disdainful curiosity of their enslavers terrified them. For “how shall we sing the Lord’s songs in a strange land!” Trembling Jewish ambassadors met Tigranes in Phoenicia, they “interceded with him, and entreated him he would determine nothing that was severe about their queen and nation.”


Tigranes alleviated their fears and assured then of his peaceful intentions toward Judea” (p.150).

[End of quotes]


It reads suspiciously like a pinch from the Hebrew Book of Judith.


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