God, Science and the Bible: Tomb of Biblical King Herod Likely Found

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Tomb of Biblical King Herod Likely Found

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After 35 long years of searching (from 1972 to 2007), Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer thinks he has finally found his long-sought prize—the tomb of Herod the Great. If true, it sheds more light on this important biblical figure.

Back in 1983 Professor Netzer wrote: "Whether I will eventually achieve my goal is still an open question, but the search itself is instructive and enjoyable. Although I cannot, in all honesty, conceal my desire to find the tomb of the Holy Land's greatest builder, I shall nevertheless consider myself richly rewarded even if I continue to fail.

"We know that Herod was buried at Herodium because Josephus tells us so. On a matter such as this, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of this well-known, first-century Jewish historian, who was born in Palestine about 40 years after Herod's death in 4 B.C." ("Searching for Herod's Tomb," Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 1983, online edition).

At a news conference on May 9, 2007, Professor Netzer joyously announced, "The long search for Herod the Great's tomb has ended with the exposure of the remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum on Mount Herodium's northeastern slope" ("At Herod's Site, New Hopes and Fears," Washington Post, May 9, 2007, online edition).

Herod is called "the Great" not because of his conquests or greatness as a king—for he was a brutal ruler—but because he was a prolific and magnificent builder. Besides many great works inside and outside of Israel, he helped rebuild and greatly expand the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The beauty of the temple so impressed Jesus Christ's disciples that one of them exclaimed, "Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!" Jesus responded, "Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down" (Mark 13:1-2 Mark 13:1-2 [1] And as he went out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, Master, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here! [2] And Jesus answering said to him, See you these great buildings? there shall not be left one stone on another, that shall not be thrown down.
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). This prophecy was fulfilled some 40 years later when Roman armies destroyed the temple, crushing a Jewish revolt.

Matthew 2:1-18 Matthew 2:1-18 [1] Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, [2] Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. [3] When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. [4] And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. [5] And they said to him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, [6] And you Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, are not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of you shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. [7] Then Herod, when he had privately called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. [8] And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. [9] When they had heard the king, they departed; and, see, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. [10] When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. [11] And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented to him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. [12] And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way. [13] And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be you there until I bring you word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. [14] When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: [15] And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son. [16] Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men. [17] Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying, [18] In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.
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records that Herod the Great ordered the massacre of the infants in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to murder Jesus the Messiah. Herod died shortly thereafter of a horrible illness.

Of several great palace complexes Herod built, Herodium was the only one he named after himself. He loved it so much he chose to be buried there. The palace looked like it was built on top of a volcano. He equipped it with aqueducts, a Roman bathhouse and lush gardens.

After his death, his son and heir-apparent, Archelaus, resided there. When Judea became a Roman province, its governors made it their residence. With the outbreak of the Jewish revolt against the Romans, Herodium was briefly conquered by the Jewish insurgents, but was surrendered to the Romans after Jerusalem fell in A.D. 70.

What Netzer discovered is instructive. Among other tomb objects, he found the shattered remains of an ornate sarcophagus, with evidence that it had been intentionally destroyed. The elegant sarcophagus "had been smashed in ancient times, likely by participants of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (67-70 A.D.)—a reflection of how widely hated Herod was by his subjects, who saw him as a cruel puppet of Rome" ("Herod's Tomb Found," Biblical Archaeological Society, May 8, 2007, online edition).

Decorations from the sarcophagus were virtually identical with decorations found in the great temple complex in Jerusalem. These may indicate that even in death, Herod wanted to be remembered for the magnificent temple he constructed.

Hershel Shanks, editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, recently visited Herodium with Netzer and reported: "Ehud Netzer is 100 percent certain he's found King Herod's tomb . . . but recognizes that because he did not find an inscription with Herod's name not all scholars will accept his conclusion that this is indeed the tomb of ancient Judea's at-times mad king . . .

"Netzer has been living with Herod the Great for 50 years, so he feels the man. He also brings an architect's eye to his work," he added. "If anyone understands Herod, it's Ehud Netzer" ("Herod's Tomb Update," Biblical Archaeology Society, May 10, 2007, online edition).