Simon 'Nicodemus' ben Boethus, High Priest

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About Simon 'Nicodemus' ben Boethus, High Priest

Simon Boethus, Citizen of Jerusalem, according to Josephus: .Mariamne II was the third wife of Herod the Great. She was the daughter of Simon Boethus the High Priest. Josephus recounts their wedding thus: “ There was one Simon, a citizen of Jerusalem, the son of one Boethus, a citizen of Alexandria, and a priest of great note there; this man had a daughter, who was esteemed the most beautiful woman of that time; and when the people of Jerusalem began to speak much in her commendation, it happened that Herod was much affected with what was said of her; and when he saw the damsel, he was smitten with her beauty, yet did he entirely reject the thoughts of using his authority to abuse her, as believing, what was the truth, that by so doing he should be stigmatized for violence and tyranny; so he thought it best to take the damsel to wife. And while Simon was of a dignity too inferior to be allied to him, but still too considerable to be despised, he governed his inclinations after the most prudent manner, by augmenting the dignity of the family, and making them more honorable; so he immediately deprived Jesus, the son of Phabet, of the high priesthood, and conferred that dignity on Simon, and so joined in affinity with him [by marrying his daughter].

[The problem with this version is that Herod marries Boethus' daughter 5 years before he makes Simon High Priest. Sharon Doubell Aug 2013]


The Boethusians

were a Jewish sect closely related to, if not a development of, the Sadducees.

Origins according to the Talmud

The post-Talmudic work Avot de-Rabbi Natan gives the following origin of the schism between Sadducees and Boethusians: Antigonus of Sokho having taught the maxim, "Be not like the servants who serve their masters for the sake of the wages, but be rather like those who serve without thought of receiving wages", his two pupils, Zadok and Boethus, repeated this maxim to their pupils. In the course of time, either the two teachers or their pupils understood this to express the belief that there was neither an afterlife nor a resurrection of the dead and founded the sects of the Sadducees and the Boethusians. They lived in luxurious splendor; using silver and golden vessels all their lives, not because they were haughty, but because (as they claimed) the Pharisees led a hard life on earth and yet would have nothing in the world to come.[1]

Historical in this story is the statement that these two sects denied the immortality of the soul and resurrection. Again, the Midrash is on the whole correct in saying that the sects found their followers chiefly among the wealthy; but the origin of the sects is legendary. The Mishnah, as well as the Baraita, mentions the Boethusians as opposing the Pharisees in saying that the sheaf due at the Passover (compare Omer) must be offered not on the second feast-day, but on the day after the actual Shabbat of the festival week, and, accordingly, that Pentecost, which comes seven weeks and one day later, should always be celebrated on Sunday.[2] In another passage it is narrated that the Boethusians hired false witnesses in order to lead the Pharisees astray in their calculations of the new moon.[3] Another point of dispute between the Boethusians and the Pharisees was whether the high priest should prepare the incense inside or outside the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement[4]

As the beginnings of this sect are shrouded in obscurity, so also is the length of its duration. The Talmud mentions a Boethusian in a dispute with a pupil of Akiba (Shab. 108a; Soferim i. 2); yet it is probable that the word here means simply a sectarian, a heretic, just as the term "Sadducee" was used in a much wider sense later on. A Boethus, son of Zonim, and nearly contemporaneous with Akiba (compare Yer. l.c. 10b), is mentioned in the Mishnah (B. M. v. 3); he was not, however, a Boethusian, but a pious merchant. A Jew amora, c. 300 C.E., was also called "Boethus".

Relationship to the Sadducees

A parallel to the Yoma 19b has "Sadducees" instead of "Boethusians"; and in other passages the Talmud undoubtedly uses these two terms indifferently in designating the same sect. Graetz's assumption, therefore, that the Sadducees were the political and the Boethusians the religious opponents of the Pharisees, is untenable.

A High-Priestly family

According to a highly probable assumption, the Boethusians were associated with the members of the high-priestly family of Boethus.

Simon, son of Boethus from Alexandria - or, according to other sources[who?] Boethus himself -, was made a high priest about 25 or 24 B.C. by Herod the Great, in order that his marriage with Boethus's daughter Mariamne might not be regarded as a mésalliance.[clarification needed][5] The family of Boethus produced the following high priests:

  • Simon, son of Boethus, or Boethus himself (24-5 BC)[5]
  • Joazar, son of Boethus (4 BC and before 6 AD), unpopular and an advocate of compliance with the Roman census[6]
  • Eleazar, son of Boethus (4-3 BC)[7] independently attested in the Mandaean Sidra d-Yahia.
  • Simon Cantheras, son of Boethus (41-42 AD)[8]
  • Elioneus, son of Simon Cantheras (43-44 AD)[9]
  • Joshua, son of Gamaliel (64 AD), whose wife Martha belonged to the house[10]

The hatred of the Pharisees toward this high-priestly family is shown by the words of the tanna Abba Saul b. Baṭnit, who lived about the year 40 CE at Jerusalem.[11] It must be especially noticed that "the house of Boethus" heads the list of the wicked and sinful priestly families enumerated by Abba.


  • Eduard Baneth, "Ueber den Ursprung der Sadokäer und Boethus." Berliner-Hoffmann, Magazin, ix.1-37, 61-95 (also printed separately, Dessau, 1882);
  • Geiger, Urschrift, 1857, pp. 105 et seq.;
  • Heinrich Grätz, Gesch. der Juden, iii.89, 223, 4th ed.;
  • Emil Schürer, Gesch. ii.217-218, 409-419.


^ ARN 5:2; Ab. R. N. v., ed. Schechter, p. 26.[clarification needed] ^ Men. x. 3; compare also Ḥag. ii. 4.[clarification needed] ^ Tosef., R. H. i. 14; Bab. ib. 22b; Yer. ib. ii. 57d, below; compare Geiger, "Urschrift," p. 137, 138.[clarification needed]

  • Tosef., Yoma, i. 8; Yer. ib. i. 39a.[clarification needed]
  • a b Josephus, "Antiquitates", xv. 9, § 3; xix. 6, § 2.
  • Josephus, "Antiquitates", xviii. 1, § 1.
  • Josephus, "Antiquitates", xvii. 13, § 1.
  • Josephus, "Antiquitates", xix. 6, § 2.
  • Josephus, "Antiquitates", xix. 8, § 1.
  • Yeb. vi. 4.[clarification needed]
  • Pes. 57a; Tosef., Men. xii. 23.

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906.

High Priest under Herodians and Romans

During the First Jewish-Roman War

  • Phannias ben Samuel 67-70

The House of Boethus

  • Simon ben Boethus 23-5 BC (his daughter Mariamne was third wife of Herod the Great)
  • Joazar, son of Boethus (4 BC and before 6 AD), unpopular and an advocate of compliance with the Roman census
  • Eleazar, son of Boethus (4-3 BC)
  • Simon Cantheras, son of Boethus (41-42 AD)
  • Elioneus, son of Simon Cantheras (43-44 AD)
  • Joshua, son of Gamaliel (64 AD), whose wife Martha belonged to the house

See Project Herod & the Hasmoneans