Herod the Great, king of Israel from 37 to 4 B.C., transformed Judea architecturally into a Hellenistic-Roman realm that competed with the best in the empire. In this issue, BAR features three Herodian sites—Herodium, a wilderness palace-fortress where Herod was buried; Caesarea, where he built a great harbor; and a magnificent tomb-monument he built for his family in Jerusalem.
In 1963, Ehud Netzer was a young Israeli architect working at the Masada excavations under Yigael Yadin. When Virgilio Corbo, the Italian excavator of Herodium, came to visit Masada, Netzer showed him the site and then listened, fascinated, to Corbo’s descriptions of the huge mountain-palace of Herodium in the Judean wilderness where Corbo was excavating. Netzer had to wait four years to visit Herodium, until after the Six Day War, when the site became accessible to Israelis for the first time. Subsequently Netzer spent a decade, from 1972 to 1982, excavating the vast remains at Herodium and at Herod’s winter palace at Jericho, earning his Ph.D. in archaeology from Hebrew University in 1977.
Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian, writes that Herod’s elaborate funeral procession ended at Herodium. Although funding Herod’s tomb was not the original purpose of his excavations, Netzer now admits to a single-minded determination to uncover the burial place of the man whose architectural style, ingenuity, and profusion of building projects is unsurpassed in the Holy Land. “Searching for Herod’s Tomb” chronicles the Herodium excavations, highlighting the extensive remains at the base of the mountain, which include a pool, formal gardens, and lavish living quarters.
Jerusalem tourists may be familiar with a site near the King David Hotel that guidebooks identify as the tomb of Herod’s family. In “Herod’s Family Tomb in Jerusalem,” Netzer identifies a different site near the Old City’s Damascus Gate as Herod’s family tomb and funerary monument. Netzer explains why the elegant tomb near the King David Hotel was not built by Herod.
Netzer was born in Jerusalem and graduated from the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa as an architect, a vocation he has pursued along with archaeology since the late 50s. He is now architect and senior lecturer at Hebrew University’s Institute of Archaeology.
The excavations of Herod’s magnificent harbor and city at Caesarea, built from 23 to 10 B.C., were featured in the May/June 1982 BAR (“Caesarea Maritima: The Search for Herod’s City,” BAR 08:03, and “Caesarea Beneath the Sea,” BAR 08:03). In this issue, News from the Field presents an unexpected discovery that occurred in the last season of the underwater excavation of Caesarea’s harbor—wooden beams, preserved for 2,000 years by sand and silt, and massive concrete blocks, one measuring 50 feet long, all of which were used by Herod to construct his grandiose harbor project. Lindley Vann, co-director of the Caesarea Ancient Harbor Excavation Project (CAHEP) and assistant professor of architecture at the University of Maryland, describes “Herod’s Harbor Construction Recovered Underwater.” Vann has previously excavated at Sardis in Turkey, and at Carthage in Tunisia, although on land, rather than underwater. He has excavated at Caesarea for five years, but did not become an underwater archaeologist until 1981 when he borrowed a diving mask with corrective lenses and was able to see underwater for the first time.
The works of Josephus are critical to understanding the time of Herod. In Books in Brief, an in-depth review of Josephus—The Jewish War, by Louis Feldman, one of the world’s leading authorities on Josephus, includes a revealing biography of this ambitious and controversial Jewish soldier and scholar who became a Roman citizen and widely read historian.
In Numbers 15:37–41, the Lord commands the Israelites to wear tassels, each with a blue cord, on the corners of their garments “throughout the generations”—and ever since, Jews have followed this commandment. Today the garments take the form of prayer shawls worn in the synagogue and at home for certain prayers and the tallit katan worn at all times by strictly observant Jews. But the origin of these tassels has keen largely forgotten. In “Of Hems and Tassels,” Jacob Milgrom combines art history, Bible interpretation and rabbinic legal discourse to explain the significance of the blue cords and tassels and of the hems to which they were attached in antiquity. Milgrom also explores the ancient blue dye industry, which was based on harvesting millions of small snails from the Mediterranean Sea. Milgrom is currently professor of Bible at the University of California at Berkeley, where he founded the Jewish Studies Program.
An explanation for another episode in the Bible is offered in “How Moses Turned a Staff into a Snake and Back Again,” by Leon Shalit. After witnessing a modern snake tamer in Israel, Shalit wonders if the technique he observed could have been used in the Biblical confrontation between Pharaoh’s magicians and Moses and Aaron. Shalit was born in England, but came to help during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. When he retired, Shalit became a permanent resident of Israel. An archaeology buff, Shalit lives in Jerusalem in an apartment overlooking the Judean wilderness.
A magnificent statue of a 22nd-century B.C. Mesopotamian ruler was recently acquired by the Detroit Institute of Art. The exquisitely sensitive portrayal of this young king is a triumph of art expressing humanity. In the photographs accompanying “Gudea of Lagash Ends Long Journey,” BAR readers may experience the serene beauty of this ancient king.
Herod the Great, king of Israel from 37 to 4 B.C., transformed Judea architecturally into a Hellenistic-Roman realm that competed with the best in the empire. In this issue, BAR features three Herodian sites—Herodium, a wilderness palace-fortress where Herod was buried; Caesarea, where he built a great harbor; and a magnificent tomb-monument he built for his family in Jerusalem. In 1963, Ehud Netzer was a young Israeli architect working at the Masada excavations under Yigael Yadin. When Virgilio Corbo, the Italian excavator of Herodium, came to visit Masada, Netzer showed him the site and then listened, fascinated, to Corbo’s […]