Saturday, August 06, 2011

A Jewish warrior queeen

His/Her Story: A Jewish warrior queen

08/05/2011 16:18 By RENÉE LEVINE MELAMMED (Jerusalem Post)

The story of the Jewish Berber queen, her success as a warrior, and her own destruction.

With the rise of Islam in the seventh century, Arab tribes sought to conquer North Africa and continue to Europe via Spain. The major obstacle to a conquest of the Magreb was the presence of a Berber queen in the mountains of presentday Algeria. Her tribe, the Gerawa, had converted to Judaism earlier in the century; their queen, Dahia al-Kahena, daughter of Mathia ben Tifan, either converted with them or was Jewish by birth.

This era signaled the end of the Byzantine dynasty in a geographical area that was home to Byzantines, Arabs and Jews, as well as Christian Berbers. The fathers of Kahena’s two sons were equally diverse, for one was Berber and the other Greek.

I didn't know about Kahena. Slightly outside PaleoJudaica's normal time frame, but interesting enough to stretch the definition of "late antiquity" to include her. This in particular caught my eye:
Interestingly enough, Kahena is sometimes referred to as an augur; according to Arab lore, Hassan was destined to destroy a Jewish soothsayer before he could proceed apace. The meaning of this queen’s name has been debated for years, as to whether it means catastrophe, a major problem or a sly person. “Kahena” could be derived from “kohen,” and thus would refer to a priestess, a prophetess or even a wizard. Perhaps she indeed lived up to her names.
A Jewish priestess is, as far as I know, unprecedented, although she doesn't seem to have a been a priestess in the biblical sense of a priest. There were Jewish prophetesses in the Bible (Deborah, Huldah) and there have been plenty of female Jewish magicians.