Holy Land Pilgrimage and Biblical Archeology

 

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"WHEN HEROD DIED, AN ANGEL OF THE LORD SUDDENLY APPEARED
IN A DREAM TO JOSEPH IN EGYPT AND SAID, 'GET UP, TAKE THE
CHILD AND HIS MOTHER, AND GO TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL, FOR
THOSE WHO WERE SEEKING THE CHILD'S LIFE ARE DEAD' "             
                   MATTHEW 2                                 
                                                   

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's revisit Herod's Mausoleum at Herodion

When Herod died in Jericho in 4 B.C., his body was carried in a lavish funeral procession 24 miles, all the way to Herodion.  There was a solid gold bier adorned with precious stones and draped with deep purple.  On it lay the body of the late king, wrapped in crimson with a crown on his head and a scepter by his right hand.

The bier was escorted by Herodís sons, relatives, his officers in full uniform, the mercenaries from Germany and Gaul, house slaves and free men bearing exotic spices. Once at Herodion, the body was apparently lowered into a polished red limestone sarcophagus decorated with stylish rosettes and placed in the mausoleum so artfully planned by Herod himself.

Map showing location of Herodion, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jericho

Adapted from a USA CIA satellite map in public domain

Herodion is located about 7 miles southeast of Jerusalem

I wonder, though, about the eulogy.  Herodís surviving sons could have praised his architectural accomplishments Ė the enormous temple courtyard in Jerusalem, the three-tiered refuge palace carved into a Judean precipice at Masada, the sophisticated harbor at Caesarea and the upper palace right there at Herodion, whose 90-foot eastern tower could be seen as far away as Jerusalem.

But I doubt there would have been any praise for his pious character or good heart. Herod, aware of his extremely low ratings, ordered, just five days before he died, that the heads of all Judean families be arrested and imprisoned so that when he died, they could all be slaughtered.  Then every last person in Judea would have cause to weep when he was dead.  (His sister Salome freed them upon hearing of Herodís death, so every family in Judea had cause to rejoice!)

Although the burial site was found two years ago, after a search of 150 years, we  are no further along in our quest of determining what really made Herod tick.  We know that in addition to the slaughter of the innocent infants in Bethlehem, he killed his beloved wife Mariamne in a fit of jealousy and then their two sons, heirs to the high priesthood and the Hasmonean dynasty.  A mere five days before he died, Herod ordered that his eldest son, Antipater, be killed so that he would not inherit the kingdom.

Podium of Herod's square-based mausoleum

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Finely-crafted podium of Herod's square-based mausoleum

Nonetheless, itís hard not to be impressed by all the finds at Herodion over the past two years.  Ehud Netzer, the archeologist who dedicated 35 years to a search for the tomb, has revealed a square-based mausoleum that would have stood seventy-five feet high, visible even from Jerusalem.  In addition to hundreds of fragments from the royal red sarcophagus which was apparently smashed deliberately by Jewish zealots who hated Herod and his affinity to Rome, two more sarcophagi were found.  One was relatively intact with a lid, and was beautifully decorated with a chain of woven leaves.

Ehud Netzer by King Herod's lavishly decorated sarcophagus

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Archeologist Ehud Netzer next to the lavishly decorated royal sarcophagus

When the mausoleum was constructed, possibly around 10 B.C., after Herod turned sixty, a private, intimate theater built earlier by Herod was covered over.  It was only discovered by Ehud Netzer this past year. As far as I know, no one had even a clue that there was a theater built into the slopes of Herodion, facing Bethlehem.

Previously unknown theater at Herodion faces Bethlehem

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Previously unknown theater unearthed at Herodion in 2009

In a private April tour with Professor Netzer this year, I had the privilege of viewing the colorful well-preserved wall paintings being painstakingly uncovered in the exclusive royal box. 

Ehud Netzer revealing colorful wall painting at Herodion's theater

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Professor Netzer admiring a wall painting in Herod's colorful VIP box

In 15 B.C., Herod hosted General Marcus Agrippa, the Emperor Augustusí right-hand man, during his grand tour of Herodís Judean monuments.  I wonder what sort of entertainment Herod provided as he and Marcus Agrippa sat comfortably in Herodionís richly decorated VIP box above the 300-seat theater.  The Roman general had defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium two decades earlier.

After a search of 150 years, Herod's tomb was found at an unlikely location

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The unexpected location of Herod's Tomb at Herodion

Herodion tops my list of favorite sites in Judea.  Itís just so easy to look out and eliminate the trees and houses that have sprouted up over the past sixty years and imagine Bethlehem at the fringe of the Judean wilderness at the time of Jesusí birth. Today, Herodion offers so much insight into the cultural and physical milieu in which Jesus was born; it may become one of your favorite sites as well.

I invite you to revisit Herodion with me!

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Postscript

EHUD NETZER 1934 -- 2010

On October 28, 2010 Ehud Netzer died from injuries sustained from a fall at Herodion when a wooden railing he was leaning against collapsed.  He tumbled down the steep slope below Herodís mausoleum, not far from where he and his team had found hundreds of pieces of Herodís smashed sarcophagus.

What a very sudden and tragic end to a man who had spent decades enriching exponentially our knowledge of Herodís architecture and the entire second temple period.  Ehud Netzer excavated many key places on our pilgrim route: Caesarea Maritima (by the Mediterranean), Caesarea Philippi (Banais), Masada, Sepphoris, Jericho and Herodion.

I first met Ehud in November 1980 as a rookie guide. I was renewing my license for the first time which required a full-day seminar on site.  Professor Ehud Netzer showed us New Testament Jericho which he had been excavating for six seasons.
We sat on top of the hippodrome (which hadnít been excavated) while Ehud colorfully related the Herod narrative which culminates (almost) in the arrest of the elders of every Judean household and their imprisonment in the hippodrome at Jericho.  This was shortly before Herodís death and his subsequent burial at Herodion.

As we learned about building methods (opus reticulatum), bath houses and aqueducts, Ehud recreated for us a Jericho lush with sunken gardens, verdant terraces and stately date palms.  We saw the swimming pool where Herodís gorgeous 18-year-old brother-in-law (who happened to be high priest) drowned ďby accidentĒ (in other words by Herodís order).  He told us about Cleopatra and her designs on Herod and his lucrative properties.  It was at Jericho with Ehud Netzer that I could concretely imagine, for the first time, all those funky historical characters of two thousand years ago.
The following year I enrolled in a seminar at Herodion.  Ehud gave us an extensive tour of the Lower City and showed us where he thought he would find Herodís tomb the very next season.  I waited for the announcement.  But he was wrong.  It took him another 26 years.
After the discovery of the tomb in 2007, one of my close friends was commissioned to write an article on Herodion for a major American magazine.  I tagged along on her two private tours with the by now world-famous expert.

The second tour with Ehud, in April 2009, was particularly memorable, but not for the archeology.  Before our private tour, Ehud had agreed to show the site to a group of German tourists led by a man with connections to a prestigious German archeological institute.  My writer friend and I were invited to join.
It happened to be Holocaust Memorial Day and during the whole tour I was wondering how Ehud was going to handle the ten oíclock memorial siren with a German group.  A few minutes before ten, Ehud stopped at a spot opposite Jerusalem and told the Germans that he believed he was conceived in Berlin.  His parents. Palestinian Jews, were studying for their doctorates in Berlin.  But in 1933 they were forced to leave Germany and luckily as citizens they were able to return to Palestine.  He spoke briefly, yet frankly, about his attitude towards Germany.  Then we heard the blare of the siren and all stood silently for two minutes overlooking Herodís mausoleum facing Jerusalem.
Itís with incredible sadness, yet intense admiration for Ehud Netzer that I now visit Herodion.

Ehud Netzer by Herod's tomb monument in 2009

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ehud Netzer by Herod's tomb monument in April 2009

Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living now in King David's court, has been enthusiastically sharing archeological discoveries with pilgrims for nearly three decades.  You are invited to contact Gila while you are planning your pilgrimage to ensure that your itinerary is feasible, inspiring and allows for biblical adventures.
More Biblical Archeology:

Let's visit Gezer, Solomon's wedding gift

Let's explore Solomon's digs in Jerusalem

Let's saunter through Solomon's Stables at Megiddo

Gezer & Solomon's wife

Solomon in Jerusalem

Solomon's Stables: Megiddo

Let's look for the clay tablet treasure at Hazor

Let's find Herod's tomb at Herodion

Let's follow Abraham all the way to DAN

Hazor & Joshua

Herod's Tomb

Dan & Abraham

Read an earlier article on the discovery of Herod's Tomb with photos.
"Let's revisit Herod's Mausoleum" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was ""Let's hear the call to Samuel at Shiloh."  This month's highlight is "Let's claim our heritage at the Temple Mount."  The next highlight will be "Let's overlook the site of Jacob's wrestling match."

Copyright 2009, 2010 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.


GILA YUDKIN ē TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A ē JERUSALEM ē ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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