Friday, October 29, 2010
Ehud Netzer and the Herodium
Yesterday brought sad news regarding the death of Ehud Netzer, one of the giants of Israeli archaeology. He died in a tragic accident at the Herodium, a site he has been excavating for the past 35 years.
Ehud Netzer spent much of that time trying to find the tomb of Herod the Great. He focused on the Herodium because the ancient Jewish historian Josephus said that was where Herod was buried. Many doubted Josephus' account, but Ehud Netzer did not. He looked on the top of the cone-shaped hill and around the bottom of the hill, but his search seemed to be in vain. Then he excavated on the side of the hill...and in 2008 made his remarkable discovery. He found the tomb--with Herod's smashed sarcophagus still inside!
It looks as if many of the secrets of the Herodium are still waiting to be uncovered. National Geographic produced an excellent DVD on the discovery of Herod's tomb, and they have also posted and update on their website that includes pictures of the recently excavated theater, including Herod's royal theater box. The picture above is from their website and shows the excavations taking place on the side of the hill.
Why did it take so long to discover Herod's tomb? Perhaps because everyone was thinking too small. They were looking for a simple mausoleum--a stand-alone structure. Herod had much grander plans. Much like the ancient pharaohs of Egypt, he wanted his larger-than-life reputation to extend beyond his death. So he buried the theater, which had only been used for a few years, and turned the entire hill into a pyramid-like tomb...with his mausoleum located halfway up the slope. How impressive is the site? It stands out like an ancient volcanic peak and can be seen from Bethlehem, and even from the southern end of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
If you are planning a trip to Israel anytime soon, ask the tour host if your group will be going to the Herodium. It needs to become a must-see stop for any trip. And if you aren't planning on visiting Israel in the near future, click on the links above--especially the link to the National Geographic article. Read the entire article and look at all the pictures. It will give you a new perspective on Herod the Great, the one in charge of all Judea when the wise men came to announce the birth of a new "King of the Jews."