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Was Cleopatra mentioned in the Bible?

Cleopatra VII, the last active ruler of the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt, is one of the most famous women in ancient history. Known for her intelligence, ambition, and romantic relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, Cleopatra has been the subject of countless books, films, and works of art over the centuries.

Given her prominence in ancient Mediterranean history, some have wondered if Cleopatra is mentioned at all in the Bible. The Bible includes mentions of Egypt, Egyptian rulers, and queens, but does it specifically refer to the famous Cleopatra VII?

Examining References to Egypt in the Bible

To determine if Cleopatra appears in the Bible, it is helpful to examine the biblical references to Egypt and any mentions of its rulers. Egypt is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, which covers the history of the Israelites and events dating back as far as the time of Abraham and Joseph in Genesis.

References to Egypt continue through the Exodus story, when Moses leads the Hebrews out of enslavement in Egypt, to the era of the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, when Egypt is sometimes portrayed as an enemy or place of exile for the Israelites. The New Testament also includes some references to Egypt, primarily in the Gospel accounts of Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus fleeing there to escape the persecution of Herod the Great.

The Old Testament includes many Egyptian characters, like the pharaoh who enslaved and then freed the Israelites in the book of Exodus. However, most pharaohs are not named, making positive identification difficult. The queen of Egypt mentioned in 1 Kings is anonymous. Some scholars believe this may have been a reference to Hatshepsut or another Egyptian queen who ruled during the early Israelite period, but it does not appear to point specifically to Cleopatra.

When Did Cleopatra Live?

To understand if the Bible could refer to Cleopatra, it is essential to consider when she lived versus the historical timeframes covered in the Old and New Testaments. According to the Greek biographer Plutarch, Cleopatra VII Philopator was born around 69 B.C. and died in 30 B.C.

This places Cleopatra’s lifetime after most of the Old Testament history recorded in the Bible, which largely focuses on events from the creation up through the 5th century B.C., describing the origins of the Israelites, their exodus from Egypt, and establishment of a kingdom in Canaan.

Cleopatra lived a little more than a century after the last events and prophets described in the Old Testament. She rose to power in Egypt just before the Roman takeover of the region, which is the world power backdrop against which the New Testament Gospels are set.

Cleopatra’s Interactions with Rome

Cleopatra became the female ruler of Egypt after the deaths of her father Ptolemy XII and her brothers. She initially ruled jointly with her brothers Ptolemy XIII and Ptolemy XIV, whom she eventually dispatched so she could reign alone. She sought to defend Egyptian power and autonomy, opposing the expansion of the Roman Republic into the region.

This conflict with Rome led to her relationships with the Roman leaders Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. She allied with Caesar, bearing his son Caesarion. Later, she allied with Mark Antony, bearing twins and engaging in a famous romance that led to war with Rome after Antony’s rival Octavian came to power following Caesar’s assassination.

Octavian defeated Antony and Cleopatra’s forces in 31 B.C. and took control of Egypt. According to Plutarch’s account, Cleopatra committed suicide by poison soon after to avoid being led through Rome in disgrace during Octavian’s triumphal procession.

Could Cleopatra Be Mentioned in the New Testament?

Given her dates, it seems possible Cleopatra could have been mentioned in the New Testament, since she held power during the decades just before Jesus Christ’s birth. The New Testament Gospels focus on Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection in Judea under Roman control between approximately 4 B.C. and 33 A.D.

Cleopatra had died about three decades before the events described in the Gospels. However, her conflict with Rome directly paved the way for Egypt to become a province under the Roman Empire’s control. This historical context shapes the world Jesus was born into in the Gospels.

Some have speculated that Cleopatra’s relationship with Mark Antony could be alluded to in references to the Herods and other rulers who were supported by Rome. However, there is no clear textual evidence linking any specific Gospel passages or figures directly to Cleopatra herself.

Other Historical Figures Likely Not in the Bible

In the centuries between the end of the Old Testament period and the events recounted in the Gospels, many influential figures like Cleopatra rose to power in the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African regions. In addition to Cleopatra, rulers like Alexander the Great and Hannibal are also not believed to be directly mentioned in the Bible.

The texts instead jump ahead historically to focus on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The world he inhabited was certainly shaped by Greece, Rome, and Egypt. But the Gospels seem to avoid specific references to figures like Cleopatra or Alexander in favor of concentrating on Christ’s story and message told through his disciples and early followers.

Examining Other Ancient Sources on Cleopatra

Since Cleopatra does not seem to be mentioned directly in the Bible, we have to rely on other ancient sources for biographical information on her life and rule. Classical writers like Plutarch, Cassius Dio, Strabo, and Josephus provide glimpses into Cleopatra’s interactions with Caesar and Mark Antony as well as her conflicts with rival rulers and Rome.

Archeology and study of Egyptian art and artifacts from Cleopatra’s era also provide insights into her reign. Her image is recognizable from the striking coins she minted. Efforts to learn more about Cleopatra’s life and how she was viewed in her own time continue today through ongoing research.


In summary, while Cleopatra VII ruled Egypt during a pivotal time in ancient history, there are no clear, direct references to her in the Bible text itself. The Old Testament covers earlier eras, ending centuries before her birth. The New Testament focuses on the story of Jesus Christ and does not delve into the biographies of specific Greco-Roman rulers in the decades preceding his life.

Cleopatra’s interactions with Rome do provide useful historical context, even if she is not expressly mentioned. But the Bible’s focus is on the spiritual story of the Israelites and early Christians, not on recording the deeds and names of all kings and queens, no matter how famous they were in their day. So while her legacy shaped her era, Cleopatra herself does not seem to appear directly in the Bible narrative.


Source Reference
Plutarch Parallel Lives – Life of Antony
Cassius Dio Roman History, Book 51
Strabo Geography, Book 17
Josephus Jewish Antiquities, Book 15

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