Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Sheva the Fair, my most famous Great-Grandmother

For today's carnival of genealogy I've chosen to tell you about my most famous ancestor who changed the course of Jewish History. Sheva of Alexandria also known as Sheva the Fair.

Sheva is the seventeenth great-grandmother of my father's mother through my Sylvester, Streeter and Schram lines. She was born in 34AD in Alexandria, Egypt and brought by her parents to En-Gedi Israel in 45AD. From the extant sources we know that she grew up happily with her two older brothers there by the spring in En-Gedi where her father was a sandal maker.

Sheva changed the course of history in 74 AD when she was taken prisoner by General Lucius Flavius Silva, the Roman commander of the 10th legion stationed at Masada. As I'm sure you know, Masada was one of the last strongholds of the Jewish people after the fall of Jerusalem. As described by Flavius Josephus in his book Jewish War (7:143) the seige of the Romans against the Jewish Sicarians on the inpenetrable Masada was one of the great military standoffs in history. The Romans withstood the heat of the Negev desert to build 4 forts and lay siege to the fortress, eventually building a siege ramp of thousands of tons of rock which still stands today. According to Josephus (Jewish Antiquitites 2:434), the fortress walls were breached by the battering ram on 16 April 74AD where the Romans found that 961 of the 966 men, women and children who had occupied the mount had taken their lives in a mass suicide rather than be captured by the Romans.

The famous Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin discovered Sheva's papyrus codex journal when he excavated Masada in 1964. It was found with a primitive roman mirror, linen scarf and some high heeled sandals (only worn by Roman nobility.) The journal has shed much light on the life of the Roman soldiers and specifically Silva. While Sheva wrote of her growing love for Silva and their deep relationship, it also describes her gentle turning of his heart towards compassion and respect for the Jewish people. It is because of Sheva that Silva became a life-long advocate for the Jewish people. Through Sheva's journal that we know of Silva's response to the suicide at Masada, "A victory? What have we won? We've won a rock in the middle of a wasteland, on the shores of a poisoned sea." Tragically, while the fortress was under seige, Silva gave her the choice of returning to Rome with him or taking the means necessary for her to live independently of him. Rather than being a kept woman, she chose to take the wealth and soldiers Silva offered her and return to Alexandria. It was with Silva's money that she became one of the founding benefactors of the famous Library of Alexandria, one of the largest libraries in the ancient world. The sculpture above stands in the library courtyard. Later fragmentary sources tell of her finding love with Demetrius of Phaleron. While she had three children with Demetrius, including my sixteenth great-grandfather Theophrastus, it is known that she always felt her soulmate was Flavius Silva.

Much has been written and said about Sheva in the many books, articles and etc. about Masada and the Library of Alexandria. In fact, Sheva was portrayed by Barbara Carrera in the 1981 movie Masada. Barbara met with me and my grandmother to do research for the role early in 1981. She ended up doing an ok job I think but didn't really capture the beautiful grace of this amazing woman.

Genealogical information on my father's mother's mother's line is from Ancestry's One World Tree and these personal websites.

5 comments:

Kristen and Co. said...

I had no idea. Thanks for sharing!

Pat said...

Are you for real???? Happy April Fool's Day to me. I had no idea we had such a famous ancestor!
Love, Mom

Gramma said...

Great joke...If you were serious, I would never believe your credentials again. We know about those people who trace their ancestors back to Adam. However, I traced my son-in-law to Old King Cole! :)

pastprologue said...

Janet,
This was great!
Donna

Kiril The Mad Macedonian said...

U 2, huh?

I recently learned of information that traced MY ancestry back to an associate of Alexander the Great!

Hee, hee! ;-D

Great story! ;-D