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HELENA:

Queen of Adiabene, wife of Monobaz I., and mother of Monobaz II.; died about 56 C.E. Her name and the fact that she was her husband's sister (Josephus, "Ant." xx. 2, § 1) show that she was of Greek origin. She became a convert to Judaism about the year 30. She was noted for her generosity; during a famine at Jerusalem she sent to Alexandria for corn and to Cyprus for dried figs for distribution among the sufferers from the famine (Josephus, l.c. § 5). In the Talmud, however (B. B. 11a), this is laid to the credit of Monobaz II.; and though Brüll ("Jahrb." i. 76) 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 (Yoma 37a): "Helena had a golden candlestick [] made over the door of the Temple," to which statement is added (ib. 37b; Tosef. 82) that when the sun rose its rays were reflected from the candlestick and everybody knew that it was the time for reading the Shema'. She also made a golden plate on which was written the passage of the Pentateuch (Num. v. 19-22) which the high priest read when a wife suspected of infidelity was brought before him (Yoma l.c.). In Yer. Yoma iii. 8 the candlestick and the plate are confused. The strictness with which she observed the Jewish law is thus 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 Nazarite for the space of seven years. She fulfilled her vow, and at the end of seven years went to Palestine. The Hillelites told her that she must observe her vow anew, and she therefore lived as a Nazarite for seven more years. At the end of the second seven years she became impure, and she had to repeat her Nazariteship, thus being a Nazarite for twenty-one years. R. Judah said she was a Nazarite for fourteen years only" (Nazir 19b). "R. Judah said: 'The booth [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'" (Suk. 2b).

When Helena died Monobaz II. caused her remains to be removed to Jerusalem, where they were buried in the pyramidal tomb which she had constructed during her lifetime, three stadia north of Jerusalem (comp. Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl." ii., ch. 12). The catacombs are now called the "Tombs of, the Kings." A sarcophagus with the inscription , in Hebrew and Syriac, found some years ago, is supposed to be that of Helena ("C. I. S." ii. 156). See Adiabene.

Bibliography:
  • Josephus, Ant. xx. 4, § 3;
  • Brüll's Jahrb. i. 70-78;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 403-406, 414;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., iii. 119-122.
G. M. Sel.
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