1. Herod the Great was the only one known as “King Herod.” And he was never known as “Herod the Great.” His grandson tried to apply the title to himself, unsuccessfully.
  2. We have more information about Herod than about all other figures of antiquity, largely owing to Josephus’ detailed accounts. Josephus includes more negative material about Herod in Jewish Antiquities, written 10-15 years after The Jewish War.
  3. Herod married a Samaritan woman (Malthace), and two of her offspring inherited parts of the empire (Archelaus ruled Judea and Antipas was over Galilee and Perea).
  4. Herod had ten wives; he executed only one of them.
  5. Herod’s mother was a Nabatean or from an Arab tribe near the Nabateans. (More well known is the fact that his father was an Idumean.)
  6. Herod was initially ruler of four provinces: Judea, Galilee, Peraea, and Idumaea. In the course of his rule, Samaritis, Hulitis, Gaulanitis, Batanea, Auranitis, and Trachonitis were added to his kingdom.
  7. Though Herod built monumental works throughout the eastern Roman world (as far west as Greece), he apparently did not do significant construction in Idumea, where his father was from, or Galilee, where he initially ruled.
  8. The Tomb of the Patriarchs (Machpelah) in Hebron is believed to have been built by Herod, but no ancient source credits him with this building. The same is true for the structure at Mamre to the north of the tomb.
  9. Though no statues of Herod have been found in modern Israel, one has been discovered in modern Syria (in Sia).
  10. Herod built one temple for the Jews in Jerusalem.  He built three pagan temples elsewhere in his kingdom (Caesarea, Sebaste, Panias)

Inscription reading “of Herod,” from Eretz Israel museum, Tel Aviv

Haaretz has broken the story of the discovery of Herod’s tomb.  The excavating team has been working on it for weeks (or months) and managed to keep it a secret until the night before the press conference.  The length of the article may mislead as to what the writer has learned.  He reveals only one new fact: Herod’s tomb was discovered by Ehud Netzer between the upper and lower palaces of Herodium.  Everything else in the story is well-known background.

The main question I’ve been getting concerns the authenticity of the find.  On this, there is only one piece of relevant evidence at this time: the tomb was discovered by Ehud Netzer.  He is a highly respected archaeologist in Israel, and he’s been looking for the tomb for a long time.  I think that if he was one to jump to premature conclusions, he would have done so long ago.  Instead, he has proposed possibility after possibility and acknowledged coming up short.  I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t be making such an announcement without solid evidence.

Ehud Netzer is sometimes known as “Mr. Herod” because of his excavation of numerous Herodian sites, including Jericho (1973-87, 1998), Caesarea (1975-76, 1979), possible family tomb of Herod in Jerusalem (1977), Masada (1989), and Herodium (1970-present, with breaks).  Netzer is professor emeritus in the Department of Classical Archaeology at Hebrew University.

View of lower Herodium from upper palace 
Some new, unpublished BiblePlaces photos of Herodium can be viewed here

The Edmond Sun has a brief article on three local college students who spent five months excavating the so-called “palace of David” in Jerusalem.  Much of the article is not new to those following the story, but some information that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the fact that phase 3 of the project will begin this summer, and only 20% of the excavation is considered complete.  Apparently the dig will continue to the west of the present area, if the comment about moving “inland” is any indication.  Mention is made again of a wall that is 7 meters thick and 20 meters long.

HT: Explorator


A museum of archaeological discoveries from the Masada excavations opened this weekend at the visitor center at the base of the mountain.  The display includes 700 artifacts, including 12 inscribed potsherds which might be related to the final casting of lots described in Josephus’ account.  The Jerusalem Post has the story.

The visitors’ museum experience begins in the lobby, where they receive audio headsets. They then pass through nine rooms, each of which features artifacts placed in three-dimensional scenes that depict facets of the Masada story.
In the Herod room, for example, visitors enter a display of black, statue-like figures at a banquet scene. Spread amongst these figures are artifacts such as a stone table, amphoras which held Herod’s provisions, and terra sigillata ware (the finest dishware of the time.) As visitors move from room to room, their headsets automatically begin the narration for the corresponding space.
The first eight rooms delve into the worlds of the Jewish rebels, the Romans, and Josephus Flavius, while the final room pays homage to Yadin’s work.

Masada from the east; the new museum is located at the bottom left-center of the photo.

My friend Tom Powers is something of an independent scholar and I was happy to note recently that he has made several of his studies available online.  His ground-breaking article on the ossuary of Simon of Cyrene (who carried Jesus’ cross) was published by the Biblical Archaeology Society, which is quite a notable feat for one not formally trained as an archaeologist.  A version of that article, and a recent follow-up, is available at Tom’s site.  Among others, Tom has posted:

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre: Some Perspectives from History, Geography, Architecture, Archaeology and the Holy Scriptures – this is an extensive article on the history of the church.  If you have only one hour and want to get the story of the church, this is highly recommended.

The Ancient Aqueduct System of Jerusalem – Tom and I spent a full day recently tracing various aqueducts south of Solomon’s Pools.  They are more fascinating (and better preserved!) than you imagine.  Tom’s study synthesizes some of the more difficult and expensive works on the subject.

Horatio & Anna Spafford and Jerusalem’s American Colony – I read this several years ago and asked Tom if I could put it online so that others could read it.  I am happy to see that it now is available for all.

I should note that Tom is a trained tour guide living in Israel, and his knowledge is voluminous.  I could relate some anecdotes to illustrate that, but I’ll suffice with saying that I’m happy to recommend both his articles and his guiding.


Interest in the “Jesus Tomb” seems to be fading, but here are a few recent stories of interest:
The Jerusalem Post headlines their story “Jesus tomb film scholars backtrack.”  I don’t think that’s entirely accurate.  In reality, there were never any scholars besides James Tabor (and possibly Shimon Gibson) supporting the claim.  The story explains how the statistician revised his claim, so perhaps that is the point of the headline.

The article is largely based on (but without a link) a recent essay by Dr. Stephen Pfann entitled, “Cracks in the Foundation.”  He summarizes the problems with the theory and cites scholars who claim to have had their remarks taken out of context.

As before, you can get the other side of the story from the blog of Dr. James Tabor.  He has just left Jerusalem and promises more information in coming days.  Ironically, he says this:

I have wanted as much as I can in my own work on the Talpiot tomb to separate the site and its evaluation from the discussion of the issues related to the film itself and its role in the ensuring heated discussion. That is of course not wholly possible and my intent is to address, as much as possible, the factual matters related to this later flash of media coverage on Talpiot. In the end I am confident that the truth will win out and that a time will come when the Talpiot tomb site, and all we can know about it, will be considered in a less biased manner and with a more professional style and approach.

This, of course, is what all the other scholars claimed was the problem from the start.  Tabor appears to be claiming that he is the victim of the media sensationalism, when it seems that he was party to creating it.  The existence of non-disclosure agreements contribute to the impression that the film and its supporters were not interested in a professional, non-biased discussion of the factual matters.

I spoke last week with an Israeli archaeologist who was present at the excavation of the “Jesus tomb.”  As far as I know, he has not been quoted in any of the discussion, but Dr. Gabriel Barkay is highly respected in the field and without any personal interest in the matter.  In his words, the tomb is “not news.”