Tag Archives: Herod the Great

Herod – Design and Realpolitik

The New York Times article reporting on the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum concludes with my comments.

Shmuel Browns, a tour guide and expert on Herodium who helped Netzer excavate the site as a volunteer, said he was awed by the meticulous reconstruction, particularly of a large basin adorned with several heads that was found in pieces in two disparate places at the site, now an Israeli national park.

“They’ve built things from what was found that you could never imagine from what you saw at the site,” Mr. Browns said. “The message is very, very strong about who Herod is and what he did. He wasn’t intimidated by topography, he wasn’t intimidated by material, he wasn’t intimidated by lack of water.

“He’s a fascinating character,” Mr. Browns added. “He just got very, very bad press.”

Silenoi headsWhile excavating Lower Herodium, archaeologist Ehud Netzer found marble pieces of a wash basin in the bath-house, including a pair of Silenoi heads – the companion and tutor of the wine god, Dionysos. Conceivably, it was a gift from the Emperor Augustus that his deputy Marcus Agrippa presented to Herod, on his tour of Judea in 15 BCE and installed as a fountain. Imagine this fragile and heavy object making its journey from Greece to Rome to Judea and the bath-house at Herodium. The conservation staff of the museum painstakingly reconstructed the basin with its ornate decoration.

Greek 3-footed basin

Though it is not known to what degree Herod observed traditional Jewish practices, he appears to have respected them. Aside from this basin, no other human images, in sculptural form, have been found in any of Herod’s palaces.

Loggia trompe l'oeil painting

Boat billowed sailWhen Netzer excavated above the theater at Herodium he found the loggia, the VIP box for Herod and his guests, like Marcus Agrippa. Delicate trompe l’oeil paintings were on the walls, done in secco – painting on dry plaster, a technique unusual for this area. Scenes of nature through a painting of an open-shuttered window, itself a painting hanging on the wall. Dudi Mevorah, one of the curators of the exhibit, pointed out a painting of a boat with billowing sail on plaster from the loggia, alluding to Marcus Agrippa’s history-changing victory over Mark Anthony at the naval battle of Actium. Herod dictated the images in the paintings as a lead-in to the discussions that Herod was interested in having with his guest.

Herod the Great: The King’s Last Journey is a monumental exhibit that should not be missed. It gives us new insights into the very complex figure that is Herod, his determination not be constrained by nature, topography or materials and his consummate grasp of realpolitik.

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Monumental enough for Herod the Great?

My article with Bonna Devora Haberman in Jerusalem Post:

So they went eight furlongs [a mile, per day] to Herodium; for there by his own command he was to be buried. And thus did Herod end his life.  Josephus, Antiquities, XVII, 8.3.

Herodium

From 37 B.C.E. until his grisly demise in 4 B.C.E., Herod the Great ruled over Judea. World history has anointed few with the epithet “the Great”. He masterminded and engineered the Jerusalem Temple – among the magnificent temples in the ancient world, the fortress-complex at Masada – the most-visited site in Israel, Caesarea – in its day, the largest all-weather harbor built in the open sea, imposing cities, aqueducts, and finally, Herodium – the most spacious palace known to us in the Greco-Roman world before the common era. A giant who moved mountains, Herod was respected, feared, and despised. Reckoning with Herod is indispensable to interpreting the historical and material landscape of Israel.

Herod’s passion lives on. Herod proved to be archaeology professor Ehud Netzer’s nemesis. The Israel Museum staff have been toiling for three years to present Netzer’s discoveries in the first exhibit in the world dedicated to Herod. Commensurate with his life and work, “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey” is unprecedented in grandeur and expense – displayed in 900 square meters, approximately 250 artifacts related to Herod are exhibited, many for the first time. To show even this tiny sampling of his massive production, Herod fittingly required the museum to reinforce its very foundations.

The Jewish Roman historian Josephus Flavius records extensive narrative about Herod – nearly a century after the events. Though he describes in precise detail Herod’s majestic funeral procession to Herodium – performed according to Herod’s own orders – Josephus mysteriously neglects to mention the location of Herod’s tomb. [Read more]


For an in-depth day with Herod – at Herodium and the Israel Museum and/or personalized guided tours of Herod’s other sites and more, please contact Shmuel.

Archaeology in Israel Tour

I’m delighted to announce that Dan McLerran at Popular Archaeology and I are creating a phenomenal tour of archaeological sites in Israel that I will be guiding October 2013.
I invite you to join us on this adventure, 12 days of touring in Israel, where we’ll cover the famous sites like Megiddo and Hazor and uncover some of the less well-known gems like Sussita-Hippos, one of the Decapolis cities overlooking the Sea of Galilee that was destroyed in the earthquake of 749CE and never rebuilt.

Sussita excavation

We’ll start by going back 6500 years to the Chalcolithic period and tour up on the Golan Heights to learn about burial at that time. We’ll see dolmens, the megalithic tombs consisting of a flat rock resting on two vertical rocks that mark a grave. We’ll hike to the cultic site of Rujm el Hiri – is it a site that is connected to the calendar or to burial? At Ein Gedi we’ll see the ruins of a Chalcolithic temple. We’ll see artifacts at the Israel museum, examples of clay ossuaries and fine bronze castings of ritual objects.

We’ll follow in the path of the Kings from 1000BCE to 586BCE by traveling from Dan where a piece of a basalt victory stella in Aramaic was found mentioning the kings of Israel and the house of David. We will explore the City of David, the walled Jebusite city on the ridge between the Kidron and Tyropean valleys. We’ll walk through Hezekiah’s tunnel that brought the water of the Gihon spring to the Siloam pool inside the walls. From there we will follow in the steps of pilgrims to the Temple mount. Part of the 650m distance will be in Jerusalem’s drainage channel until we come out right under Robinson’s Arch. We’ll see the Broad wall, the remains of an 8 meter high wall that protected Jerusalem from the north in the time of the Kings.

Khirbet Qeiyafa

We’ll explore the walled Judean city of Khirbet Qeiyafa, with two gates and hence identified as Shaarayim, situated on the border of Judea facing the Phillistines.

We’ll learn about the Second Temple Period, specifically the time of the Hasmoneans and King Herod who ruled under the auspices of the Romans. We’ll check out Herod’s impressive building projects. At Caesarea, we have the temple to Augustus, the protected harbor, the palace as well as a theater and a hippodrome later used as an amphitheater. At Sebaste there is another temple to Augustus. Josephus writes that Herod built a third temple at Banias. It’s unclear whether the temple was at Banias or nearby, perhaps at Omrit. We’ll visit Herod’s palaces at Masada, the Western palace and the 3 tier hanging palace on the northern end of the site. We’ll explore the palace and administrative complex at Lower Herodium and the palace/fortress on the top of a manmade mountain where the base of a mausoleum was discovered by Prof. Ehud Netzer in 2007.

Herodium Palace:fortress

We’ll visit the newly opened exhibit at the Israel museum Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, artifacts from Herodium on display for the first time. We’ll also visit the Second Temple period model that displays Jerusalem at its peak just before its destruction at the hand of the Romans. We’ll visit the Shrine of the Book that houses the Dead Sea scrolls and other artifacts and combine that with the archaeological site of Qumran by the Dead Sea where the scrolls were found.

We’ll focus on the architecture of sacred space and check out various churches, in the basilica and martyrium form from the Byzantine period (4th to 7th century) and synagogues from the same period. We’ll see some amazing mosaics by visiting the  museum at the Inn of Good Samaritan, the archaeological sites of Sepphoris/Tzippori, and the synagogue at Beit Alfa. We’ll visit sites off the beaten path like the Kathisma church on the way to Bethlehem and Samaritan site on Mount Gerizim.

Synagogue mosaic floor at Israel Museum

Besides the Western wall, Judaism’s holy site, we will visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity and go up onto the Haram el-Sharif to see the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site to Islam.

We’ll travel around the Sea of Galilee stopping at sites important to Christianity like Kursi, Capernaum and Magdala. We’ll even go up to the Golan Heights to the Jewish city of Gamla, the Masada of the north.

Gamla

For anyone who enjoys taking photographs, there will be plenty of opportunities and as an special incentive to join the tour, participants will be able to submit their best photographs from the tour to a special Pinterest site and will have a chance to win up to $1000. for the “best photo”.

If you’re interested in participating in an archaeological tour of the Holy Land, contact  me.