Was Herod’s tomb really found?
“Herod was borne upon a golden bier studded with precious stones of various kinds and with a cover of purple over it. The dead man too was wrapped in purple robes and wore a diadem on which a gold crown had been placed, and beside his right hand lay his scepter. [Thousands must have been in the procession, including] the whole army as if marching to war … followed by 500 servants carrying spices. And they went eight stades [or 200 furlongs] toward Herodium, for it was there that the burial took place by his own order.”
—Josephus, Antiquities 17.197–199
After Herod died in 4 B.C., he was buried at Herodium—but where? A few years ago, it seemed that the question was solved. Eminent Herodium archaeologist Ehud Netzer declared that he had found Herod’s impressive mausoleum. (Netzer passed away in 2010, and all of his BAR articles—including his posthumously published article on the discovery of Herod’s Tomb—are available here for free).
The Israel Museum put together the exhibit Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey around the 25-mile procession from the throne room in Jericho to the tomb Netzer discovered in Herodium. This extremely popular exhibit guided visitors around the modest tomb of the megalomaniac ruler. This discrepancy gave some scholars pause; would one of history’s most renowned builders (and, let’s not forget, largest egos) really have been interred in a simple tomb?
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Hebrew University scholars Joseph Patrich and Benjamin Arubas are just as confident that this was not Herod’s tomb as Netzer was sure that it was. In “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” in the May/June 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, editor Hershel Shanks examines the evidence and weighs in as the hunt for Herod’s tomb continues.
Shanks writes, “Netzer did find an impressive mausoleum at Herodium. It contained three remarkable sarcophagi. It is located, however, on the slope of the dramatic man-made mountain that marks the site from afar.” Patrich and Arubas compare Herod’s tomb at Herodium with contemporary royal tombs of the period, and Herod’s pales in light of the others’ monumentality.
So where was King Herod’s tomb at Herodium? Shanks writes:
On top of the mountain-like mound that is Herodium is a glorious, but relatively small, palace/fortress encircled by two concentric walls… On the four compass points of the enclosing wall are four towers. Three of them are half circles extending outward from the wall. The fourth (on the east) is not just a half circle but a full circle—and much larger than the others (55 feet in diameter compared to 45 feet of the three semicircular towers)—and solid! This large solid tower extends deep into the interior of the enclosure wall. The upper part of this tower no longer exists. Now only 50 feet high, it has been estimated to have originally been 120 feet high. Although its original height can only be guessed, it was surely much higher than the other three semi-circular towers.
Read Shanks’s article in the BAS Library to learn more about the eastern tower, including geophysical testing, assemblages of fine pottery at Herodium and the ongoing hunt for Herod’s tomb.
BAS Library Members: Read “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” by Hershel Shanks as it appears in the May/June 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 2, 2014.
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