Helena of Adiabene was the wife of the ruler of a vassal kingdom in the domain of ancient Parthia (northeast of Babylonia).
Sometime in the early 1st century CE, she converted to Judaism together with her sons, Monobaz and Izates, and was probably followed by other members of the family and perhaps others of her court. The conversion was influenced by two itinerant Jewish merchants, Eleazar and Hananiah. This was a period when Jews were actively engaged in propagating the Jewish faith, and the two travelers may have been engaged in a missionary venture. Preceding the conversion was an interesting conflict of opinion between the two Jews, for and against the requirement of circumcision for male converts.
The new royal proselytes immediately immersed themselves in activity on behalf of the Jewish people. Queen Helena herself, and members of her family, made their first pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, and the queen added to its luster by contributing various objects, including a golden candlestick and vessel handles of gold. In the year 46 she came to the aid of the famine-stricken Jews of the Holy Land.
She lived the last part of her life in Jerusalem, where she built herself a palace. The Jewish sages tell of her twenty-one years of Nazirite chastity following her conversion.
Modern day Jerusalem contains the archaeological remains of the royal proselyte family’s mausoleum, known as the Tomb of the Kings.
A revealing illustration of the Adiabene proselytes’ total involvement in Jewish affairs is provided in yet another Talmud passage in which Izates’s successor, also named Monobaz, is chided for the large sums he squandered on various Jewish charities. His reply: “My fathers stored up below [i.c., earthly possessions], and I am storing above [in heaven, i.e., things of the spirit].”
Helena figures prominently as an object lesson in many discussions of a legal nature in Talmudic literature. Some of these, such as the description of the huge sukkah (tabernacle) she provided for the town of Lydda, again attest to her generous philanthropies. A striking example of the results of the step initiated by the former pagan queen was the prominent participation of members of her family in the Jewish revolt against Rome, which erupted in the year 66 CE.