First Person: What Should We Do with $25,000?

As published in the May/June 2015 Biblical Archaeology Review


We have $25,000 available for an archaeological project!

Yes, it’s true, and we’re inviting proposals.

Here’s how it happened: Herod the Great lives on.

It all happened as a result of the search for Herod’s tomb. We know he was buried at Herodium. Josephus tells us so, in a detailed dramatic description of his funeral.1 But the question is, where at Herodium? This is what Josephus does not tell us.

After a 35-year search, the great Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer found the tomb in a small mausoleum on the side of the mountain that is Herodium. Then Netzer fell to his death when a wooden railing at the site gave way. An exhibit featuring the site and Herod’s mausoleum drew thousands at the Israel Museum.a

The Herodium Expedition
Built by King Herod the Great, Herodium is a palace-fortress in the Judean Desert near Jerusalem that dates to the first century B.C.E. After 35 years of excavation, Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer—tragically killed in a fall at the site—believed he located Herod’s mausoleum on the side of the site. Doubts surround Netzer’s theory, so the search for Herod’s tomb goes on.

But then doubts surfaced. Or rather doubts that already had been there surfaced more audibly. BAR wrote about them.b Was this really Herod’s tomb? The primary alternative location for it was a suspicious solid tower at the site. Was Herod buried somewhere in this apparently solid tower? Was it really solid? Deep down was there a mausoleum in it for Herod’s tomb?

After we published an article about this, we received a letter from a leading Israeli tourist guide and adjunct professor at Hebrew University named Danny Herman. Danny had excavated with Netzer and his long-time staff at Herodium, which now led the expedition. The triumvirate, which later proved critical, comprised doctoral student Roi Porat and two colleagues (Yakov Kalman, an M.A. student who describes himself as a farmer/archaeologist, and architect Rachel Chachy-Laureys).

In his letter to the editor, Danny told of guiding “an influential individual, who at the end of the tour expressed his consent to sponsor new research and a possible dig into the base of the eastern tower” that might settle the question of the location of Herod’s tomb. Danny worked with Porat and Kalman to estimate the cost of such a project: Their estimate was $100,000. Then, “unfortunately,” Danny wrote, “the potential sponsor retreated from his offer.”

I was reluctant to print this letter. I know Danny personally, so I wrote him of my hesitation: “Dear Danny: A hundred thousand dollars is a terrible, artificial, round, made-up, unrealistic figure. It scares people off. It is a number pulled out of a hat. It says there is no thought behind it. Other than that,” I added to soften things a little jocularly, “it is OK.”

Danny replied that it was not a figure pulled out of a hat but was the result of a careful four-stage research proposal prepared by Porat and Kalman. The total was $103,000, which Danny rounded to $100,000.

With this, I decided to publish Danny’s letter in the September/October 2014 issue of BAR.c

Masada, the mountaintop fortress that set the stage for one of the ancient world’s most dramatic tragedies, is today one of the world’s most iconic archaeological sites. In the free ebook Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress, discover what archaeology reveals about the defenders’ identity, fortifications and arms before their ultimate sacrifice.


Todd Bolen/
The enigmatic eastern tower that may enclose Herod’s tomb.

Wayne Shepard is a long-time BAR subscriber from Florida who has attended a number of our programs. And he is a man of action: When he read Danny Herman’s letter to the editor, he promptly sat down and wrote a check for $20,000 for the project. I was obviously delighted. I replied that we would not take any administrative fee for handling the project and, in addition, we would add $5,000 to the pot, making $25,000 available to study the question of whether Herod’s tomb was in the large solid tower at Herodium.

True, the amount available was far less than the $103,000 needed for the overall project and even considerably less than the $37,000 which Porat and Kalman had estimated for Part 1 of the project, which included a laser survey of the tower, a geophysical survey including radar penetration, deep drilling into the core of the tower and exposure of the base of the tower to locate a possible entrance to the tomb.

Painfully aware that our $25,000 was far less even than the estimated cost of Part 1 of the research plan, I wanted “to assure that the money is wisely spent, that we get the biggest bang for the buck … I want to squeeze as much information as possible from $25,000.”

Danny, who would be honchoing the project from our end, responded that his participation would be on an entirely voluntary basis, without remuneration. My instructions to Danny were to “make sure that every penny’s expenditure is justified and justifiable. Make sure we get a service at the best possible price for the finest quality … All we have at this point is $25,000.”

Danny wrote me that the three codirectors of the project—Porat, Kalman and Chachy-Laureys—had approved the research “and are excited about it as well.”

The excitement was contagious. Danny wrote me that Porat was already getting a quote for the cost of drilling and filming with a mini camera.

Then the sky fell. Danny reported on a meeting he had with the three codirectors in which Porat did all the talking. As Danny described the meeting: “It was pretty insulting.” Porat would not permit the money to come through BAS; he wanted another conduit such as the Israel Exploration Society, which would allow the money to be withdrawn on request without any substantive review. As Danny reported Porat’s words, “They want full autonomy on the use of the budget.”

Porat estimated the actual cost of the work to be only $7,000–10,000. The rest of the fund would be for data processing and publication (and, presumably, staff salaries).

Moreover, Porat did not want to work with BAS. He was afraid of our “demands.” Moreover, he feared that we would “sensationalize” any discoveries.

Danny waited two days before he reported further: “I wanted to be more rational and less emotional. Yet 48 hours did not help. I am still somewhat in the same mood as Hershel—insulted. I initiated the project. I did not ask for a penny. I did not ask for any share in the publication. Nor did Hershel. I expected a red carpet for raising this sum. [Porat’s] response was an insult to all my efforts (including getting there [to the meeting] on crutches).”

So BAR is left with $25,000. What should we do with it? Do you know of a worthwhile project—a study, a test, an excavation, a renovation, a restoration, a plan, etc.? We would be pleased to hear from our readers or governmental authorities or archaeologists or others regarding what we should do with $25,000.

In commemoration of the scholarship of Ehud Netzer, the Biblical Archaeology Society has made a special collection of his groundbreaking articles from the BAS Library available for free. Click here to read Netzer’s articles >>



a. Ehud Netzer, “In Search of Herod’s Tomb,” BAR, January/February 2011; Milestones, “Ehud Netzer,” BAR, January/February 2011; Suzanne F. Singer, “Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey,” BAR, March/April 2013. See Hershel Shanks, ed., Herod’s Palace-Fortresses, Digging Deeper Series (Washington, DC: Biblical Archaeology Society, 2015).

b. Hershel Shanks, “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” BAR, May/June 2014.

c. Queries and Comments, “Fund-raising for Finding Herod’s Tomb,” BAR, September/October 2014.

1. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 17.197–199.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Herod the Great—The King’s Final Journey

Herodium: The Tomb of King Herod Revisited

Monumental Entryway to King Herod’s Palace at Herodium Excavated

Herod’s Death, Jesus’ Birth and a Lunar Eclipse


Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works, Biblical Archaeology Topics.

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21 Responses

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  1. Dave says

    How about doing something in the ancient roman city of Herculaneum which was destroyed at the same time as Pompeii?

  2. Avinoam says

    May I suggest the restoration of the ancient Synagogue at Anim adjacent to the village of Biblical Shani / Livna and part of it’s surrounding cave dwellings with their ancient agricultural equipment. (Oil, wine and wheat presses.)

    Ben Dor Avinoam

  3. Art says

    A suggestion: How about looking at the Tombs of the Kings on the lower, Southeast side of Silwan? Digging and excavating is probably out of the question, but maybe a thorough and professional study of the remains of the rock-hew tombs that are still there, possibly some examination with modern ground-penetration testing equipment, etc? It is one of my favorite places to just “hang out” in Jerusalem, and to wonder if David’s tomb is somewhere about. As you know, Scripture says he was buried “in the City of David”, but the last mention of his tomb is in the writings of Josephus if I am not mistaken. Strange that such a revered spot is never mentioned again historically.

  4. Curtis says

    I would suggest giving the money back to those who gave it first of all since it is not being used for the intended purpose. However if they choose to have the funds repurposed, then I would suggest giving it to the Associates for Biblical Research. The dig at Khirbet el-Maqatir is outstanding where many biblical discoveries are confirming the text of Joshua chapters 7, 8. It is the largest dig in operation in Israel as well as Khirbet el Maqatir has also produced the number one discovery in 2013 according to Charisma magazine. The staff is outstanding and in the top of their fields. The funds would allow further research and assure funding for future seasons at the site.

  5. Nicole says

    I would suggest giving the money to an excavation in Jordan – Tall el-Hammam. Tall el-Hammam has been ongoing for the past ten years and is completely funded by donations. I have participate on this excavation for the past two years and I know that at the end of the season they have struggle a bit to make ends meet. This past season they had unexpected fees rise way more than they had expected with caused their funds to go not as far as they had planned. I think they would be very grateful with the money and would put it to great use.

  6. RoseThistle says

    Study the ancient Hebrew found in Las Lunas New Mexico, USA, with petroglyphs depicting a solar eclipse that happened September 15, 107 BC ?

  7. Kurt says

    Burial Places of the Kings or of David. On Pentecost, Peter stated: “David . . . both deceased and was buried and his tomb is among us to this day.” (Ac 2:29) This indicates that the burial place of King David was still in existence as of the year 33 C.E.
    First Kings 2:10 tells us that David was buried in “the City of David,” and apparently this became the customary burial place of later kings of Judah. Twelve of the 20 kings following David are directly mentioned as being buried in the City of David, though not all of these were placed in “the burial places of the kings”—Jehoram, Joash (Jehoash), and Ahaz being specifically mentioned as not buried there. (2Ch 21:16, 20; 24:24, 25; 28:27) Instead of being one common tomb of many chambers, “the burial places of the kings” may have constituted a particular area within the City of David where the memorial tombs of the kings were located. King Asa was buried in a “grand burial place that he had excavated for himself in the City of David” (2Ch 16:14), and Hezekiah is spoken of as being buried “in the ascent to the burial places of the sons of David.” (2Ch 32:33) Leprous King Uzziah was buried “with his forefathers, but in the burial field that belonged to the kings, for they said: ‘He is a leper.’” This would seem to indicate the placement of his diseased body in the ground rather than in a tomb hewed out of rock.—2Ch 26:23.
    Of the other kings of Judah, Manasseh and Amon were evidently buried in a different location, in “the garden of Uzza.” (2Ki 21:18, 23, 26) The statement that Amon’s son, faithful King Josiah, was buried in “the graveyard of his forefathers” may refer either to the royal tombs in the City of David or to the burial places of Manasseh and Amon. (2Ch 35:23, 24) Three kings died in exile: Jehoahaz (in Egypt), Jehoiachin and Zedekiah (in Babylon). (2Ki 23:34; 25:7, 27-30) Jehoiakim received “the burial of a he-ass,” “thrown out to the heat by day and to the frost by night” in fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.—Jer 22:18, 19; 36:30.
    Righteous High Priest Jehoiada was accorded the honor of a burial in “the City of David along with the kings,” the only person not of the royal line mentioned as having received such distinction.—2Ch 24:15, 16.
    The location of these royal burial places has not been determined. On the basis of the reference to “the Burial Places of David” at Nehemiah 3:16 and the mention of “the ascent to the burial places of the sons of David” at 2 Chronicles 32:33, some believe the likely location to have been on the SE hill of the city near the Kidron Valley. A number of what appear to be ancient rock-cut tombs have been found in this area, their entrances being in the form of sunken rectangular shafts. However, no positive identification can be made; any effort at identification was complicated not only by the destruction of the city in the year 70 C.E. and again in 135 C.E. but also by the use of the southern part of the city by the Romans as a stone quarry. Hence, the above-mentioned tombs are in a greatly deteriorated state.
    The mausoleum of Queen Helena of Adiabene, located in the N of the modern city of Jerusalem, has acquired the misleading name of the “Tombs of the Kings.” It was actually built in the first century C.E. and should not be confused with the royal burial grounds mentioned in the Bible account.
    The City of David is in red.(Click to enlarge image) During the reigns of David and Solomon. See the City of David

  8. daniel says

    Hi, Some say the Temple that was destroyed in AD 70 wasn’t were most people say it was today.
    That south on a hill with a spring is the true place. The place called the temple site today was is what’s left of a Roman fort.

  9. Jon says

    I’d recommend obtaining the necessary permissions to excavate the west side of the Pool of Siloam in the lower City of David (Jerusalem).

  10. cindy says

    Do a feasibility study on the hydroplate theory proposed/written by Walt Brown in his book, “In The Beginning” (8th edition i believe). I have found the evidence of a global and catastrophic flood in this book simply amazing.

  11. cindy says

    “In The Beginning: Compelling Evidence For Creation and The Flood”, by Dr. Walt Brown

  12. James says

    You might want to put together a list of projects that you want to do, given that money comes available, with a rough guess of how much the project ought to cost. Put in some kind of order, this gives a very concrete response to questions such as, “What do we want to do with this extra money?”
    It also gives a quick response to the question, “What would you do if you had some extra money?”
    Or, “What are your coming projects?”
    This should be put together by the board that make decisions on these matters so that there is not a question of whether the listing is taken seriously when a question is raised.
    If your minds are fertile, you might end up with more than one list: one list for funding at a certain level, and another listing for larger projects, and another list for funding of really big projects.
    If you are saying, “Why would we want to put the effort into such a thing, I would say, so you don’t find yourself again in this situation. The world is a fluid place; success belongs to those who act immediately, but in a carefully planned and nuanced manner.

    I grew up in Butler, just a ways off from Sharon, PA.

  13. Bunnee says

    Buy as many high-resolution red sleds to read the data below ground and/or invest in satellite imagery to track earth’s ancient roads like as in Nova’s “Road to Ubar” in 1997-98.

  14. Stan says

    Alexandria Troas in North – West Turkey waits for christian archaeologists. The same i could say about Colossae, Lystra, BinTepe by Sardis (mounds).

  15. Axel says

    There is one sentence I would have expected in the article and which I’m missing: “Tho donor, Mr Shepard, has agreed to this redication and is happy with it.” Unless you can honestly claim that, I side with Curtis

  16. Kurt says

    The Tombs of the Kings:Discovery Awaits
    Excavation in recent years is bringing the history of Israel’s kings—even back to King David—back to life from the ancient soil of Jerusalem. A substantial portion of David’s palace has been uncovered in the City of David. More excavation has yet to take place there.

    Will the Tombs of the Kings be located under that palace? It would be an electrifying discovery that would give even greater credence to the reliability of the veracity of the historical account contained within the pages of the Bible.

  17. matthew says

    For over 100 years the Albright Institute of Archaeological research has been a home base for American archaeological excavations in Israel and Palestine. Its basement lab was the first place that the significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls was realized when John Trever first photographed the Isaiah scroll in 1948. For $25,000, the institute could assemble an outdoor laboratory for the processing of archaeological finds. The laboratory would be made available to all excavation projects and continue the Albright’s legacy of discovery and publication. BAS members and BAR readers would be welcome any time they are in Jerusalem to see (and touch!) first-hand the exciting work going on in the lab.

  18. The says

    Greetings Hershel Shanks

    Hi, I’m Rick Johnson and I have a proposal for what to do with the $25,000. I know a very erudite Biblical Scholar and Pastor by the name of Bishop R. A. Campbell,
    and we believe that we can prove that Herod’s Tomb DOES NOT EXIST – according to the Bible. We would like to do this not only through research and writing, but also through producing a video about it.

    Starting with Acts 12:21-23, we will do an on-the-scene filming and research project in Israel. We would use the $25,000 to cover Travel Expenses, Room & Board, Transportation, Local Guides, & Video Production Equipment. Our travelling research team would consist of a Biblical Scholar, namely Bishop R. A. Campbell, a Videographer, namely Elder Raymond L. Hill and and myself as Director, Minister Rick Johnson.

    Our Church is called the HOUSE OF GOD of the Apostolic Faith, located at 3863 Reading Road, Cincinnati, OH 45229. And we have a 501(c)(3).

    We are very excited to do this project as it will be a beneficial contribution to Biblical Scholarship at large.

    If you have any further questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. My contact information is below.

    Thanks for your thoughtful consideration of this matter.


    Min. Rick Johnson
    3863 Reading Road
    Cincinnati, OH 45229
    (513) 443-2090

    Bishop R. A. Campbell – (513) 861-9148 or (513) 608-5841

  19. charlie says

    What you are looking for you won’t find in the ground.Its on top of the ground.the greatest find has not been found.I will explain.don’t waste your time digging holes.I can show you how to extract information from everything.take a have nothing to loose.Jesus tell you where to look in front of you.if you want to hide a great treasure you put it in front of you.I will explain to you how to extract the information.but I do not want my name mentioned

  20. Kenneth says

    My Historical chase is to proove that the Universe and the Tree of Life are one in the same and that we are located within the tree. I would use the funding to pay for any tests that have not been done. I have mostly done research givin to all of us. Of course the outcome will still only be Theory. It does tie Science and Religion together. As it should be.
    Thankyou Kenneth B.

  21. Heather says

    I’d recommend investing the money into some sort of high interest-bearing investment, for the next 30 years or something, or until some really compelling question such as the Herod one comes knocking again. Beyond that, I really like Jon’s idea about the pool of Siloam, or Kurt’s idea about the tombs. Funding a survey done by infrared satellite imagery could turn up a lot of fun and exciting new excavation sites too.
    But – please stay away from all of the fantasical Young Earth Creationist ideas being presented on this thread.

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