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The Queen Mother

by Brant Pitre May 23, 2019 0 Comments



Anyone who reads the New Testament would agree that Jesus (if he’s anything), is the King of Israel. That’s what it means to refer to him as “The Messiah”. He is the new Davidic king. But the question we don’t often ask ourselves is, “Well if he’s the king, then who is the queen?” And the reason we don’t ask ourselves that is because we just don’t read the Old Testament like we should.


Any 1st Century Jew, going back to the Old Testament, would have recalled that in the time of David’s kingdom, the queen was not the king’s wife. The queen was his mother. She was actually referred to in Hebrew as the Gebirah, which often gets translated as “Queen Mother” but it actually means “Great Lady”. A Gebir is “a powerful man”, like a great man. A Gebirah is a “powerful woman”, a great woman (the great lady, a royal lady). So she’s referred to for example in 1st Kings 15:13. And if you walk through the books of Kings (1st & 2nd Kings), as well as 1st and 2nd Chronicles, which don’t get made into movies (and that’s why we don’t know about The Queen Mother), what you’re going to see is every time they introduce a new king, they don’t tell you who his wife is. They give a little genealogy and they tell you the king’s name and they tell you his momma’s name. They tell you his mother’s name because she holds the rank of 2nd in the kingdom. She holds the office of Queen Mother.


And you can see this in office from a few things. First, she wears a crown (Jeremiah 13:18). Just like the king, she wears a crown. Also, in Psalm 45, it says “She stands at the king’s right hand” (remember the Psalm, “dressed in gold of Ophir” – there’s the gold again). Why is she standing at his right hand? Well, anytime in the Old Testament, you see someone at a king’s right hand, it means they share in his authority (“The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand”). So she has authority, she has an office, she also acts (this is important) as a kind of royal intercessor. And you can see this custom reflected in a famous story from the book of Kings, 1st Kings 2.


Now, this is a story about Bathsheba. And Bathsheba really is the most famous of all of the Queen Mothers of Israel, because of the story of the adultery between her and David. So we all know Bathsheba from that story. When David’s out on the roof he looks down, he sees Bathsheba taking a bath, which makes one wonder if her parents should have called her “Don’t-take-a-Bathsheba”. No. Come on, that’s good! I was waiting all day to do that. And then he commits adultery with her and the child dies, but then the next child of their union he marries her (after he murders her husband). The next child of their union is Solomon. Now when you fast forward to 1st Kings 1, while David is still alive (when he’s the king), and Bathsheba comes into the royal court room, Bathsheba bows to him. She’s the wife but she bows to the king. But in the next chapter (1st Kings 2), David has died and now Solomon is king. And when Solomon is king, and Bathsheba comes into the room (the royal court room), he bows to her. It’s reversed. And he doesn’t just bow to her. He gets his men to bring a throne in for her, and she sits at his right hand. So this is 1st Kings 2:

Bathshe′ba went to King Solomon, to speak to him on behalf of Adoni′jah.

So Adoni′jah came, he wanted to get Ab′ishag (who was David’s concubine) to be his (it’s kind of a long sordid story), and look what she says:

The king rose to meet her, and bowed down to her;

Why? Well, because she’s the queen, and she’s his mother (4th commandment). Honor your father and your mother. In Hebrew (literally), glorify (kavod), your father and your mother. It’s not just honor, it’s “glorify” them. Now I need to go to confession. Now that’s a strong commandment. So he honors her as the Queen Mother, bows down to her, then he sat on his throne and he had a throne brought in for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right. Now pause there. Some translations say he had a “seat” brought in for her. Even though the Hebrew word is kisseh (it’s the word for throne), it’s the same word for his throne, kisseh. But the translators change it. Because they’re like, “Why is she getting the throne?” That doesn’t makes sense. “She should just get a seat.” That’s not what it says. It says “a throne” (because she’s the Queen Mother).


Then she said, “I have one small request to make of you, do not refuse me.” And the king said to her, “Make your request, my mother. For I will not refuse you.” (1st Kings 2:19-20). So two things here, real quick. What does Adoni′jah’s request to Bathsheba and then Bathsheba’s request of Solomon presuppose? It presupposes a custom of asking the Queen Mother to take the role of intercessor with the king (which makes sense). If you want the king to do something for you, ask his mom. Now some people will object because they’ll say, “Aha, but if you keep reading in 1st Kings 2, Solomon actually doesn’t obey her request, because he sends an assassin to kill his brother.” Well yes, but Solomon does lots of things that aren’t exactly morally admirable. That doesn’t undo the fact that they reflect the custom (the presumption, the presupposition) of what? The Queen Mother acting as intercessor. Effectively what Solomon says is, “I’d love to fulfill your request mother, he just happens to be dead.” Sorry, can’t do it. In any case though, everybody see what’s going on here? The queen has an office; she acts as intercessor; and she’s close to the king.


Now, those aren’t the only passages about the Queen Mother. She’s also mentioned in various prophecies in the Old Testament. The most famous one being the virgin who will conceive and bear a child and his name will be called “Emmanuel”. It goes on to say, “He will be a wonderful counselor, mighty God, prince of peace, God with us (all those things)”. That’s Isaiah 7-9. Now we know those passages from Christmas and Advent; preparation for the birth of The Messiah, and the application to Mary. But what we often forget is that if the woman, that virgin, who’s mentioned in Isaiah 7, is going to have a child who is a king, then guess what that makes her? The Queen Mother (by definition).


Same thing, Micah 2 describes a woman who’s going to give birth to the ruler in Bethlehem. So it locates the Queen Mother as having the child in Bethlehem. Again, these aren’t just prophecies of anybody, their prophecies of the Queen Mother of the kingdom of the Messiah. So, with those prophecies in mind, just put yourself in the shoes of a 1st Century Jewish woman like Mary. One of the things that Jewish women would have known is that “One of us is going to be the mother of The Messiah.” And whoever God chooses to be the mother of The Messiah is also by definition, going to be exalted to the office of Queen.  Now I have 4 daughters. And they’re all princesses. And they all want to be queens. So this is just a natural desire, you can also imagine Mary, “Who’s going to be the queen? Who’s the future queen?” And when then the angel Gabriel appears to her and tells her, she would have known. Not only is she going to bear the Son of God, she’s going to be the Queen Mother. If you have any doubts about that, just look at the New Testament. Couple of key points: Number 1, the story of the nativity; really fascinating. When Matthew tells you the account of Jesus, he begins with that long genealogy, remember? “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot…” Why are you groaning? Isn’t that your favorite reading at mass? Whenever they start, they read the whole genealogy and you think. “Oh man, this guy needed an editor, right?” I mean, “What is he doing beginning the book with a genealogy?” And one of the things that’s weird is, usually these genealogies focus on priests and kings. And yet, Matthew throws in a number of women into the genealogy and then he ends with Mary. Now, if you go back to the Old Testament, it’s interesting, in the books of Kings, whenever these little genealogies are given of the kings, guess who appears? Whenever a woman’s in the genealogy it’s often his mother (a little implicit clue that she’s the Queen Mother).


But even more explicit, Matthew 1:20-23, he describes Mary as the mother of Emmanuel. Let me just read this passage to you real quick. If you have your bible with you, Matthew 1:23, this is really important for understanding Mary’s identity in the New Testament as Mother of God. Because many people say, “Where does the New Testament ever call Mary ‘The Mother of God’?” And sometimes Catholics will say, “Well, Elizabeth calls her ‘Mother of my Lord’”. That’s close, and it’s true. “Lord” can be used not just for the king but also for “God”. But Matthew 1 is really where they get this from, because in Matthew 1:22-23, it says this:

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emman′u-el”

Which means what? “God with us”. Now, although we say “Mother of God”, the actual Greek term is theotokos, “God bearer”. It comes from the Greek word, theos (we get “theology” from that), and then tikto (or tokos) which means “a bearer” or “a woman who bears someone”. But where do those terms come from? The first page of the New Testament. When Matthew says that a woman will conceive and bear (tikto), a son, she’ll be called the mother of Emmanuel, God (theos), with us, you just put those two things together: tikto and theos, what do you get? Theotokos, “God bearer”. Mother of God. It’s right there. Because ancient Christians weren’t reading English. They were reading it in Greek, and that’s where they got that title from. So, that’s the nativity.


What about The Visitation? Well, not only does Mary get called “Mother of my Lord” by Elizabeth, but this is so important: After she hears the message of Gabriel, she hears the words of Elizabeth, there’s a clue to her identity as the Queen Mother in The Magnificat. You all know The Magnificat, right? You love The Magnificat, right? This is something prayed every single day by religious and priests throughout the world. And there’s a little clue here about Mary as Queen Mother because in The Magnificat, what does Mary say? In Luke 1:46 and following, she says, “For behold, henceforth some generations will call me” (I mean, wait…) “Most generations”, “Many Christians”, “Just Catholics”, No? “All generations will call me blessed; for the almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” What does she say? “He has regarded the lowest state of his handmaiden.” And if you skip down to verse 52 it says, (Mary says) “he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly;” now that Greek word for “lowly”, tapeinosis, is exactly what she just referred to herself as. “The Lowly Handmaid”, and now God has taken the mighty from their thrones and exalted the lowly. Hmm. Why is there more than one throne, and who are these lowly who have been exalted? It’s Mary and her son. Because he is the king, and she’s the queen. Because that’s who sits on thrones in the Kingdom of David.


And then finally, Revelation 12:1, this one’s really easy. When John sees the woman clothed with the sun, she’s wearing what on her head? A crown of twelve stars. Now I know in our day and time, lots of women wear crowns (Miss America, Miss USA, I even wore a crown once when I was playing “Pretty, pretty princess” with my daughters), but that doesn’t make just any person into royalty. But in ancient Israel, if a woman’s wearing a crown, and the crown has 12 stars, who is she? The Queen of Israel, the Queen Mother.


So the New Testament depicts Mary as the new Eve, the new Ark, and the new Queen. What’s the implication of this? Quite simply, that if Mary is the new Queen Mother, then it makes sense that we as Catholics do two things: We should honor her. It’s hard for us as Americans to get our brains around this because our whole country came into existence in a revolt against a monarchy. We’re not a monarchy here; we’re a republic. But try to think back into the fact that in the Bible, it’s the “kingdom” of God that Jesus has proclaimed. That’s what we belong to. We belong to a kingdom. And we have a queen. And if earthly queens of earthly kingdoms deserve the honor of their subjects, then how much more, the holy queen of the kingdom of heaven. I’m sorry; she’s not just an ordinary woman. She’s the queen.


Second, if she is the queen, then it makes sense that we would ask her to intercede for us. Because she’s not dead; she’s alive, in heaven. That’s why we call it “eternal life”, not “eternal death”. She’s not dead, she’s alive. And so she is with Christ, in heavenly holy holies and can ask Christ (she can intercede on behalf of us as members of the kingdom and as children of God).  It makes perfect sense if you think of her that way. Now sometimes people will say, “Now wait. But you Catholics are worshiping her by praying to her, asking her to pray for you —singing songs to her and all that kind of stuff that you do.” Well, no – we’re honoring her. There’s a big distinction, an infinite difference between honoring Mary and worshiping her. And, I have a whole section in the book on this distinction. In the 4th Century A.D., there was a heresy, a heretical group called the Collyridians, and they were denounced as heretics because (you know what they were doing?), they were offering the Eucharist to Mary. Collyra is the Greek word for “A loaf of bread”, so they were worshiping Mary as a goddess by offering the sacrifice of the Eucharist to her.


That’s exactly what Catholics do not do with Mary, and orthodox either. We do not offer the holy sacrifice of the mass to Mary. Amen? Because sacrifice is offered to God and to God alone. But if you’re not Catholic, if you don’t grow up Catholic (or Orthodox) and you’re looking in at what we do, it’s easy to be confused because like my wife — she grew up Baptist — in her church, worship is singing songs, listening to the sermon, and prayer. It’s song and prayer. So when we sing songs to Mary, or we pray to Mary in the sense of asking her to intercede for us, it feels like (to someone outside of the tradition) that we’re worshiping her. Because they don’t have a priesthood. They don’t have a sacrifice. The service is not a sacrifice. Do you follow what I’m getting at? But for Catholics, worship in its essence, is sacrifice. And that worship is offered to God, and to God alone. We offer the body of Christ, through the Spirit to the Father. So, this is a crucial difference. So whenever Christians (these heretics) were sacrificing and worshiping Mary, they were immediately condemned by St. Ambrose and St. Epiphanius as heretics. That’s not what we do with Mary. We honor her, we’re devoted to her. We ask her to pray with us, and for us because she is our mother.

Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre


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