A woman ruled Judea more than 2,000 years ago whose influence affects three major religions today.
Yet, little is known about her.
Altoona native Judy Petsonk hopes to change that. She has written a novel based on the life of Queen Salome Alexandra, who lived in the first century B.C.
Petsonk of Highland Park, N.J., will discuss her book "Queen of the Jews" during a meet-the-author event to be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon Sunday at Temple Beth Israel, 3004 Union Ave.
Petsonk said she first learned of Queen Salome's existence from a street sign she saw while visiting Jerusalem. She did not recognize the name and was curious about the unfamiliar queen.
Using the Talmud, the writings of historian Josephus and visits to archeological sites in the Middle East, Petsonk began to do research on Queen Salome and imagined what her life was like.
If you go
Who: Judy Petsonk
What: Meet-the-author event and brunch
When: 10:30 a.m. Sunday
Where: Temple Beth Israel
Seven years later, she finished the book that brings to life a woman who took her Jewish faith and the needs of her country seriously.
Petsonk said during Queen Salome's time, the Jewish priests were being influenced by the Greek culture and had become corrupt. She said it was a time when the people turned to the rabbis for leadership.
Under Queen Salome, the rabbis studied the Jewish scriptures and passed on their knowledge to the people. She said people were used to taking animals to the Temple for the priests to sacrifice for sin. Now, the rabbis were starting schools and teaching the Torah to the communities.
"That was new," Petsonk said.
She said the priests normally led prayer, but now the rabbis were composing prayers for the people to say. She said the people learned that prayer could be as powerful as sacrifice in getting right with God.
Today, Petsonk said, not only Jews, but Christians and Muslims use prayer and the study of scriptures in their worship. Queen Salome also had Mikvah pools built for purification, similar to baptisms today, Petsonk said.
But life was not easy. Under her husband, the king, civil war broke out, and the king had 800 pious scholars crucified.
Queen Salome ruled for nine years after the king's death. Petsonk said during her reign, Queen Salome signed a treaty with Cleopatra III which gained Judea access to a port and gave more financial rights to divorced women.
"I just had to write about her," Petsonk said.
She said Queen Salome was known as Shalom-Zion or the peace of Zion and many families named their daughters after her.
Rabbi Audrey Korotkin, spiritual leader at Temple Beth Israel, said the book reads almost like a romance novel.
She said Queen Salome was a member of the Maccabean family, who years earlier restored the Temple after it was desecrated by the Seleucids. It is the miracle of the lamp in the Temple burning without oil for eight days during this restoration that led to the celebration of Hanukkah.
Korotkin said Queen Salome's life has been glossed over by history.
She said she had a reputation for being extremely intelligent, a good ruler and administrator and being very sensible.
Judy puts herself in Queen Salome's position when she is writing the book, Korotkin said.
Petsonk said she tried to think like the queen for the novel and wrote dialogue and actions as if she were observing the characters during their lifetime.
Petsonk, who grew up in Altoona during the 1950s and '60s, is also the author of two nonfiction books, "Taking Judaism Personally; Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life," and "The Intermarriage Handbook: A Guide for Jews and Christians" with co-author Jim Remsen.