Monday, July 27, 2009

Weekend Roundup

The Israel Antiquities Authority has posted a 9-minute video tour of the City of David led by archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukrun.  Sites visited include Warren’s Shaft, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Siloam Tunnel, the Pool of Siloam, and the recently discovered Herodian street.

The cover story of this month’s Smithsonian magazine is the tomb of Herod the Great at the Herodium.  If you don’t have access to the beautifully illustrated print edition, you can read it online here.

A review of last year’s work at Khirbet Qeiyafa (aka “Elah Fortress, Shaarayaim) is the subject of a two-part radio interview at Arutz-7.

Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that the government must establish a national park along part of the eastern wall of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount in order to protect important antiquities from the expanding Muslim cemetery.

Five well-preserved Roman shipwrecks dating from the 1st century B.C. to the 4th century A.D. have been found off the western Italian coast. 

The Biblical Archaeology Society has just produced a free 45-page e-book entitled, From Babylon to Baghdad: Ancient Iraq and the Modern West. The four articles are:

  • The Genesis of Genesis, by Victor Hurowitz
  • Backward Glance: Americans at Nippur, by Katharine Eugenia Jones
  • Europe Confronts Assyrian Art, by Mogens Trolle Larsen
  • Firsthand Report: Tracking Down the Looted Treasures of Iraq, by Matthew Bogdanos

Elad has asked the city of Jerusalem for permission to construct in the City of David “several apartment buildings, a 100-car-capacity parking lot, a synagogue, a kindergarten, roads and additional tourism infrastructure.”

HT: Joe Lauer and Explorator

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Discoveries at Herod’s Tomb

In advance of the upcoming National Geographic special on Herod’s tomb, as well as the cover story of the same on the December issue of NG, archaeologist Ehud Netzer held a press conference today announcing the most recent discoveries.  You can read the Hebrew University press release (with photos) and articles in Arutz-7, Haaretz, and National Geographic.  Below are selected portions of the articles.

Summary

The findings include coffins of Herod’s family, a theater with a VIP room, and two coffins containing the remains of most likely Herod’s wife and the wife of Archelaus, Herod’s son. The new findings further support the idea that the grave discovered last year belongs to Herod the Great. (Arutz-7)

Netzer described the winter palace, built on a largely man-made hill 680 meters high, as a kind of country club, with a pool, baths, gardens fed by pools and aqueducts and a 650-seat theater. (Haaretz)

Herodium with lower pool, tb021407740dxo

Herodium with lower pool

Theater

A theater that could hold an audience of 750 was discovered not far from the mausoleum. In front of the seating area is a large room for VIPs, from which the king and his close friends would watch the shows. (Arutz-7)

"In Herod's private box at the auditorium, the diggers discovered delicate frescoes depicting windows opening on to painted landscapes, one of which showed what appeared to be a southern Italian farm," said Roi Porat, one of Netzer's assistants on the digs. Just visible in the paintings, dating from between 15-10 B.C., are a dog, bushes and what looks like a country villa. (Haaretz)

"Normally in Judean art you wouldn't paint scenes such as these with animals. The style is so similar to what is known from Italy, it really looks like a team came over to do the painting," said Rachel Chachy-Laureys, a surveyor working with Nezter. "It fits the context." (National Geographic)

The theater, its two side rooms and VIP section, were intentionally destroyed when Herod constructed the cone-shaped artificial mountain, which enclosed the round structure that stood at the top of the hill. (Arutz-7)

Tomb

"What we found here, spread all around, are architectural fragments that enable us to restore a monument of 25 meters high, 75 feet high, very elegant, which fits Herod's taste and status," [Netzer] told The Associated Press. (Haaretz)

In the excavation that took place this year in the area of the mausoleum, the remains of two white-colored tombs were found, most likely belonging to Herod’s family. The bright red and elegant coffin of Herod, which was displayed last year, is now completely restored, along with a large tomb. Prof. Netzer ascertains that the red coffin is the burial coffin of Herod. In contrast to the white coffins, the red coffin was shattered into hundreds of pieces, and spread throughout the mausoleum area. Prof. Netzer estimates that Malthace the Samaritan was buried in the larger of the two white burial coffins. (Arutz-7)

One big question remains: Where is Herod's body?  "We have only found a very small number of human bones at the site and have not been able to come to any conclusions," Netzer said. "We have not yet finished digging and have only uncovered a small area."  But he does not believe the king's remains will ever be recovered. (National Geographic)

Previous discussion and photos of Herod’s tomb can be found here.

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Herod, Gath, and Free Maps

National Geographic is promoting its upcoming special on “Herod’s Lost Tomb” with a number of special features on its website, including photos, reconstructions, video clips, and a game.  HT: BibleX

The Gath expedition has produced a DVD of the 2008 season with dozens of photographs and a couple of PowerPoint presentations.  You can get it for $15 including shipping.

If you’ve ever needed a quick, colorful map of a biblical site, bibleatlas.org can help.  When you arrive at the website, you may be put off with a block of apparently endless text.  Don’t give up though – simply search for the name of your city, click the link, and you’ll have a map.  Click the map box itself and you can get a high-resolution version of the region.  The maps are made using BibleMapper (which we’ve praised before here), and the quality is excellent.  To summarize, on the positive side: incredibly fast, pre-made maps, with liberal usage allowances.  On the negative side, it gives maps labeling cities, not events.  The Bible Atlas is part of a much larger site, Biblos.com, which has many free resources, and more coming.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Work Continuing on Herod’s Tomb

Since most people don’t read comments on blogs, especially on posts from a year and a half ago, I’ll note one made today by Sigho concerning Herod’s tomb at Herodium.

Thanks for your information. I was preveledged to be able to enter the site of Herod's Tomb Yesterday (Sept. 21, 2008). The site is open for public from a distance. But we (3 people) were granted by on site-archaeologists to enter the site. It is still being excavated. Unfortunately, pictures I took yesterday cannot be publicized. Just wait for the official publication by the archaeologists.

I did not realize that work was on-going here.  The restriction on taking photos may indicate that they’re doing more than sweeping dirt.

Herodium tomb of Herod, tb051708036dxo Herod’s tomb, May 2008

UPDATE (9/23): Ferrell Jenkins has given me permission to post a photo he took of construction work going on at the tomb last month.

Herodium
Photo courtesy of Ferrell Jenkins, August 23, 2008

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Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Herod's Tomb: Press Conference

Arutz-7 appears to be the first with a detailed report from the press conference.  The Jerusalem Post and Haaretz are still reporting only the basics.

The approach to the burial site was via a monumental flight of stairs 6.5 meters wide, leading to the hillside; the stairs were especially constructed for the funeral procession. Herod died in Jericho, but left instructions to be buried in the area known as the Herodium.

The mausoleum itself was almost totally dismantled in ancient times, but part of its well-built podium remains. Spread among the ruins are pieces of a large, unique coffin, nearly 2.5 meters (over 8 feet) made of a Jerusalemite reddish limestone, decorated by rosettes. The sarcophagus (coffin) had a triangular cover, which was decorated on its sides. Only very few similar sarcophagi are known in the country, and can be found only in elaborate tombs such as the famous one at the King’s Tomb on Salah a-Din Street in eastern Jerusalem.

The tomb was found on the slope of the hill, and not in the complex that Herod had prepared for his burial.  Some possibilities: 1) Herod ordered the location change in order to thwart tomb robbers (if so, he failed).  2) Herod's subjects buried him here, defying the wishes of the king (as did Herod's sister in ordering the leading men of the kingdom released before Herod's order to kill them could be carried out).  3) Herod's body was moved at a later time.  4) This isn't Herod's tomb.

On the last point, I would simply note that the basis for this "definite" identification is "a combination of the location, type of work at the tomb, the decorations, and pieces of the coffin."  In other words, there is no inscription.  In order to make a convincing case, the workmanship of the tomb and coffin are going to have to be of the highest quality.  It is interesting that "location" is factored into the identification, as it seems that the location, not in the prepared burial place, would argue against the identification.  But of course, it is at the Herodium, and presumably, not just any wealthy citizen could be buried there.

I look forward to seeing photographs of the discoveries, and hope that soon the tomb area will be open to visitors.


Herodium with swimming pool and lower city in foreground

Update: Yahoo has the AP story with a nice slideshow showing the area of the excavation.

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King Herod: Ten Things You Didn't Know

  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

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Herod's Tomb - Initial Report

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

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