'Great mystery' solved with discovery of Herod's tomb
By Shabtai Gold May 8, 2007, 17:49 GMT
A view from the top of the hilltop fortress and palace called Herodium, after King Herod, shows a cyclist (front L) nearby ancient ruins and a huge structure that was a pool filled with water during the era of King Herod in Herodian, West Bank, 08 May 2007. It was announced today that the Tomb of King Herod has been excavated on the slopes of the fortress several km south of Bethlehem, in the Judean Desert hills of the West Bank. EPA/JIM HOLLANDER
Jerusalem - It took 35 years, but on Tuesday Professor Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem could finally announce that he had solved a 'great mystery' and found the final resting place of the Biblical King Herod the Great, and an elaborate sarcophagus which had been smashed to 'hundreds of pieces.'
'We have located the burial site of Herod, at the Herodium,' Netzer told a packed news conference in Jerusalem, describing the find as a 'high point' for research on Herod.
Herod was buried some 2011 years ago in the sarcophagus, which was made of a Jerusalemite reddish limestone and extensively decorated.
The sarcophagus, Netzer said, was rare, with one similar to one found in the Tomb of the Kings in East Jerusalem.
The writings of the Roman-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, combined with the 'unique' tomb, and a grand stairway six metres wide leading to it, as well as other evidence, such as a large podium, make Nezter believe that he has finally found the spot he has long searched for.
'We just knew,' he said of what he called the 'big moment' when his team found the evidence.
Herod is perhaps best remembered today as the Biblical tyrant who reigned when Jesus was born and who, according to the New Testament Gospel of Matthew, '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 enquired of the wise men' in his search for a rival 'king of the Jews.'
In Jewish tradition he is known as the despised and feared Roman client king who murdered his own countrymen, including one of his wives and three of his sons.
But scholars also point to his extensive building works, including the famed hilltop fortress of Masada, overlooking the Dead Sea, the Roman port of Caesaria on the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa, the Herodium, and the expansion of the Jews' Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Researchers have long believed that the Herodium, a desert fortress some 15 kilometres south of Jerusalem, was Herod's final resting place, based on the writings of Josephus, and on archaeological evidence at the site, but they had, until now, found no solid evidence to back up their assumptions.
While Josephus described the funeral procession in his 'Jewish Wars,' he did not go into details about the actual tomb, writing only that 'the body was thus conveyed for a distance of two hundred furlongs to Herodium, where, in accordance with the directions of the deceased, it was interred. So ended Herod's reign.'
Netzer has been excavating sites associated with Herod, including Masada and the Winter Palace in Jericho, for about 40 years, and began digging at Herodium in 1972.
A 'Tomb Estate' had been found on the Lower Herodium, complete with a ritual bath and a path for a funeral procession, but no grave was discovered there.
'Herod changed his mind about the burial site,' Netzer believes.
The general location of the burial site was chosen because it had particular significance for Herod.
'He escaped from Jerusalem to the area when he was pursued (by rivals), thought that his mother died near the Herodium when her chariot overturned, and eventually was attacked by his enemies who caught up with him' although he ultimately defeated them.
Netzer believes the elaborate, ornate sarcophagus was 'intentionally destroyed, in anger' some 70 years after his death in 4 BC by Jewish rebels against Rome who still had a burning hatred for the former Roman client king.
The archaeologist says he will continue to excavate the site, in hopes of finding inscriptions, as none have yet been found.
'The dig is not over, it will continue,' he said.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur