There are some things a person expects to learn from the Bible -- consciously wants to learn.
"Tell me how to love!"
"Guide me when I parent!"
"What was that one king's name? Wait, was he an emperor or a king? Or a pharaoh?"
What I love about these questions is that if you allow yourself to follow this trail, if you channel your inner Alice and let Google be your white rabbit, you can learn some really interesting stuff.
Before I write anything I always open my bible. If you aren't like-minded this may sound bonkers: Everything in there is give or take 2,000 years old, but this is the meaning of "The Living Word." It can and will speak to you.
Recently, I opened on 1 Maccabees 10:57, and the first thing I saw was Cleopatra.
Understand that not every version of the bible has Maccabees included in it. Catholic, Orthodox and Coptic religions tend to include it as historical reference, while many Protestant religions leave it out because it's purpose is viewed as historical.
The bible I used this time, did.
Cleopatra is one of those names that always seems to appear in lights, black ink on a white page with all the font size the same but it just leaps up and off and straight into your imagination. And this was where I found my white rabbit to chase.
Keep in mind this is a recording of what happened, it is not the bible advising parents to give away daughters to mend kingdoms, it is not advice on how to handle your teenagers and it should not be viewed as such. History is what did happen, not what should happen. Just because it is in the bible does not mean it is God telling you to do it.
So Ptol′emy set out from Egypt, he and Cleopatra his daughter, and came to Ptolema′is in the one hundred and 62nd year. Alexander the king met him, and Ptol′emy gave him Cleopatra his daughter in marriage, and celebrated her wedding at Ptolema′is with great pomp, as kings do. -- (1 Maccabees 10:57-58)
This was not that Cleopatra. It was her great, great, great, great, (one more) great grandma. The Cleopatra most everyone knows was actually Cleopatra VII, and her family history is just as intriguing as she was. And while I am no historian and make no claims to be an expert, I will do my best to represent what we know of their story as accurately as possible but keep in mind, even historians differ on their interpretation and understanding of Ancient Egyptian history.
Maccabees starts with the reign of Alexander, the first Cleopatra's father, who is now known as "Alexander The Great". Alexander at his death, in a simplistic explanation, had four successors, the one who acquired Egypt was named Ptolemy, the very one who Alexander had given his daughter to.
Cleopatra and Ptolemy started the Ptolemaic Dynasty which ruled Egypt for three centuries ending with Caesarian, the 17-year-old son of Julius Caesar and the Cleopatra, the one that Elizabeth Taylor brought to life for so many of us.
Reading that there was not one but a whole dynasty of Cleopatras started a series of excited exclamations in my house that were about three minutes apart and all started with "Did you know?" There are a few I would like to share with you:
Did you know Egypt's capitol was once in Memphis?
I had never thought the country music capitol of the world had received it's name from an Egyptian capitol city, but it did. Memphis, Tennessee aspired to be a great trading town on the Mississippi so it made sense to name it after one of the greatest trade towns on one of the most famous rivers in the world. The first Ptolemy and Cleopatra moved the Egyptian capital to Alexandria, which was founded by her father and named after him.
Did you know that underneath all the snake head dresses Cleopatra wasn't Egyptian?
She was Greek. All the Cleopatras were. Cleopatra VII was the first in her line to even learn the Egyptian language. After six generations of ruling Egypt, it seems like it was well past due and explains the large amount of Egyptian writing about this particular Cleopatra.
Did you know the Greek Old Testament, known as the Septuagint, was written for the Jewish people in Alexandria?
It was. Letting the Jewish culture record and keep their historical and spiritual documents safe during their reign was big, and very different than previous rulers. I can't help to think that Alexander's respectful treatment and regard for Israel during previous campaigns set a precedent for the respect shown to the Jewish people, even if it wasn't up to the tolerance and equality standards of today. The translation of the scripture to Greek was sponsored by Ptolemy II for the use of Alexandrian Jews who were not fluent in Hebrew but were fluent in the common Greek. It took 70 translators to complete and that is where it got it's name.
Did you know that Augustus Caesar was adopted by Julius Caesar after Julius had already died?
He was. He was named Gaius Octavian at the time and being Julius' grand-nephew, they were seeking to solidify the throne for him. Cleopatra VII had stolen Marc Antony from the sister of Octavian which made the defeat of Marc Antony a personal matter for him and his family. Long story as short as possible, Marc Antony killed himself after losing to him, and Cleopatra VII soon followed him with the famous snake bite incident. Which left Octavian to take the name Augustus Caesar, and to form the Roman Empire.
Did you know that Augustus Caesar is also in the bible?
Ok, more of you know this one. This is always a pretty educated and well-versed crowd, but some of us need things a little more spelled out for us. Augustus Caesar was the one who ordered the census that brought Josef and his very pregnant new wife, Mary, to Bethlehem.
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled. This was the first enrollment, when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, each to his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David [see also The Chosen People and Ruth], to be enrolled with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7)
This is disputed among scholars and some say it was Herod, but Luke calls Augustus by name and that brings us all the way back through the Cleopatras and the interwoven tapestry of history, whether Luke "got it wrong" or not.
I never know where opening my bible will take me, on what emotional or historical journey I'll be going on once the pages separate, and although I've read the thing cover to cover, it seems that when I did that, I missed everything. It is said in countless places that the word of God reveals itself to us as we grow and mature as followers of Christ.
For me, this time, I learned some very interesting things I didn't previously know about history or had forgotten, the fifth grade Egypt unit was awhile ago for me, and while on the surface these are historical facts, I know that God has never shown me something or lead me somewhere without a greater purpose so I will be keeping this in my toolbox for when it comes in handy.