Category Archives: Places in Israel

King Herod’s Tomb at the Israel Museum

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster) at the Israel Museum that I mentioned in my previous post, fragments from the roof of Herod’s Tomb at the Herodium are also on display in the Israel Museum.

HerodiumTombFragmentsOn the left notice the concave roof and on the right one of the acroteria (urn).  For both of these, compare the style of “Absalom’s Tomb” in the Kidron Valley that is slightly earlier in date than Herod’s Tomb.

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“Absalom’s Pillar” (2 Samuel 18:18) in the Kidron Valley. Note especially the “hat” that is similar to the fragments found at the Herodium.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note, this tomb is NOT from the days of David’s son Absalom (2 Sam 18:18), but was probably constructed in the first century B.C.  It is of mixed styles. The conical-shaped roof is Syrian style, while the columns on the lower portion are of the Greek Ionic style.  Behind, and to the left of, the “Pillar of Absalom,” is the so-called “Tomb of Jehoshaphat.” The grave markers scattered in the green grass are from the “modern” Jewish cemetery on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives.

model-of-herod-s-tombThis is the model of the reconstructed Tomb of Herod that is on location at the Herodium.  Note the “pilasters” (rectangular column–like protrusions) on the base portion and the five “acroteria” (urns) on the roof of it—see one of the originals above.  It is evident that those who made this reconstruction based it not only on the archaeological finds, but also on parallels like “Absalom’s Pillar” above and tombs found at Petra.

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The Treasury (Khasneh) at Petra. Note on the center top the “urn” (like that found at the Herodium) on the top of the tholos (circular structure at the top of the “temple/tomb”).  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The “Treasury” was probably constructed during the reign of the Nabatean ruler Aretas III Philhellene (82-62 B.C.).  Since Herod married a Nabatean woman it is probable that he was familiar with this structure—probably a temple and not actually a tomb.

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The “Monastery” (Deir; Arabic) at Petra—from slightly after the time of Herod the Great. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The Deir, or monastery, was probably built by the Nabatean ruler Malichus (40–70 A.D.)—thus slightly after the time of Herod.  In the upper center of the monument note the rounded tholos and the “urn” (like the one found at the Herodium) on the top of it.

It is also suggested that it dates to the time of King Rebal II in the early 2nd century A.D.  And because of its two side benches in the interior (and altar), that it was used for the meetings of religious associations.

In summary, the near parallel to the “tomb of Herod at the Herodium” is the “Pillar of Absalom” in the Kidron Valley, but its probable predecessor—known to Herod—was the “Treasury” at Petra, and its successor was the “Deir” at Petra.

Did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum and nor the sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

Herodium Display in Israel Museum

When visiting the Israel Museum this past summer I was pleasantly surprised to find that a number of wonderful finds from the Herodium were prominently displayed in the Second Temple Section.

These included two wall paintings from the Royal Box that was associated with the theater.

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Naval Battle A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It depicts a naval battle with two ships with sails billowing the wind. On the deck are soldiers armed with shield and spears.

“The painting may represent the victory at Actium and possibly the beginning of Augustus’s rule following the conquest of Egypt. The choice of theme supports the possibility that the royal Room was decorated in anticipation of the visit of Marcus Agrippa, Augustus’s second–­in–­command, in 15 BCE, since he was the general responsible for the victory.” — From the description of the painting in the Israel Museum.

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Nature A wall fragment/painting from the Royal Box of the theater at the Herodium. Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

“In this painting the artist depicts a sea view along with a bull, trees, a temple, a palm tree, and a boat, recalling sacred scenes from the time of Augustus while also alluding to the conquest of Egypt.

“The walls of the Royal Room were decorated with wall paintings in the secco technique [painting on dry plaster] and stuccowork. They were divided vertically by stuccowork pilasters and decorated with painted ‘hanging pictures’ that were suspended by imaginary ‘strings’ and ‘nails.’ [See the picture above] The pictures imitate windows with open shutters affording views of imaginary landscapes.” — From the description of the painting in the Israel Museum.

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The Royal Box in the spring of 2014.

Royal Box A view of the interior of the “Royal Box” above the theater at the Herodium. Note the well–preserved paintings on the wall.

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Attempt to Burn Down the el-Aqsa Mosque

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View looking southwest at the el–Aqsa Mosque. The seven exterior arches mark the seven interior aisles. The focus of the mosque—towards Mecca—is under the black dome on the left (south) side of the image.

I have visited the Haram esh-Sharif (= Temple Mount) many times and know the rough outline of the attempt by the Australian Christian, Denis Michael Rohan, to burn down the el–Aqsa Mosque—21 August 1969.

For those who might be interested, Ynet Magazine has an interesting article that describes this event in more detail—The ‘king of Jerusalemwho almost burnt down Al Aqsa [mosque].  It is about a 4 minute read.

The article is very informative, at least to me, but  I did recognize several oddities in it—there may be more:

  • “set fire to the mosque’s stage (stage is an odd translation of the Arabic minbar or raised platform from which the mosque’s leader delivers messages).  Since only one person at a time occupies it, a better translation (if that is possible) might be “pulpit”—as in a Christian church.
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The minbar of the Mosque of the Patriarchs in Hebron from the days of Salah edh-Dhin—the same person who defeated the Crusaders at the Horns of Hattin on 4 July 1187 and who dedicated the minbar that Michael Denis Rohan destroyed by fire.

View in the interior of the present “Tomb of the Patriarchs” looking east at the Minbar, or pulpit. On the right side are wooden doors that open to a staircase that leads up to an elevated platform from which the Imam addresses the assembled faithful. This wooden minbar was constructed in Ashqelon in A.D. 1091 and moved by Saladin to Hebron ca. 1191.

  • “a plume of black smoke billowed above the golden dome.” (the dome of the el-Aqsa has never been “golden,” as the Dome of the Rock.  It has been “black/grey” = lead or “silver-colored”).
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View looking south southwest at the Dome of the Rock (right, west) and the smaller Dome of the Chain (left, east).

Baram — The Synagogue

BaramAlmost all travelers to Israel will visit the justly famous synagogue at Capernaum on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee—and some will even visit the one at nearby Chorazin.  However, the best preserved of the “Galilean Type” synagogues is the one located at the not-too-frequently visited site of Baram.  It is located in Upper Galilee, about 1.2 mi. [2 km.] south of the Israeli Lebanese border.

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View looking northeast at the southern façade of the synagogue at Baram
This southern wall is still intact—in contrast to the rebuilt walls of the synagogues at Capernaum and Chroazin
Click on Image to Enlarge

Note the light color of the building.  The darker grey upper portion was exposed to the elements over the years while the lighter lower portion was buried—until excavated.

There were eight columns that supported the roof of the porch—the one on the right (east) side is still standing!  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.  Stylistically, this synagogue is very similar to the more well–known ones at Capernaum and Chorazin.

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View looking southeast at the interior of the synagogue
Click on Image to Enlarge

Like the synagogues at Capernaum and Chorazin, the one at Baram has a central nave, two side aisles, and a back aisle.  The three main doors faced south—towards Jerusalem.   The floor of this synagogue was paved with limestone slabs (not mosaics).  There are indications that there were benches along the two side walls.

The dating of these “Galilean” synagogues is much debated with dates ranging from the third century A.D. (unlikely) to the six century (more probable).

To view additional images of the Baram Synagogue Click Here.

On Friday I will comment on the “modern” history of Baram—Kfar Bir’im.

Unusual Ritual Bath Discovered in Jerusalem

Many ritual baths from the Second Temple Period have been excavated in Jerusalem, but today (Wednesday, 5 August 2015) the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the excavation of one in the Arnona neighborhood in south Jerusalem.  This large mikveh has inscriptions, written in Aramaic, and symbols of a boat, palm trees, plants and possibly a menorah written or carved on its walls!

The Times of Israel has published an article describing this discovery along with 9 clear photos and an informative (partially in Hebrew) 5 minute video of the exterior and interior of the mikveh and its inscriptions.

Mt. Tabor and En Dor

Mount Tabor is one of the most distinctive hills/mountains in Israel, yet many tour groups will only see it from Megiddo (but only on  a very clear day) or from a crowded moving bus and will try to get photographs of it through the bus’ windows!#$@!  Mount Tabor deserves better treatment than that!

t View north towards Mount Tabor, with En Dor on the left (west) side of the image

One terrific way of viewing Mount Tabor is after visiting Tel Jezreel (see last week’s tip) head east southeast towards Beit Shean on route 71, BUT turn north on route 716 (it is a good paved road, but not traveled too often by tour buses).   After crossing the watershed, and just north of the Tamra junction, there is a bus stop.  I suggest stopping there and walking with your group 20 yards north for a great unobstructed view of Mount Tabor from the south.

View north to En Dor — Home of the Medium that Saul Consulted — Note the distinctive palm trees

But not only is Mount Tabor visible in all its glory, below you, clearly visible with its distinctive palms trees, is the possible site of En Dor.

From this vantage point the tour leader/guide can talk about:

  1. The praise of Tabor found in the Bible (Psalm 89:12).
  2. Tabor as a marker of Tribal Boundaries (Joshua 19:12, 22, 34).
  3. Deborah and Barak — the battle and the retreat of Sisera and the deed of Yael (Judges 4 and 5; Psalm 83:10 [En Dor]).
  4. Saul’s visit to the medium at En Dor (you may have just left Jezreel where he mustered his troops! 1 Samuel 28, especially v.7).
  5. At least a mention of Jesus’ raising of the son of the widow at Nain (Luke 7:11–15; almost visible to the west).
  6. And Mount Tabor as a possible (IMHO not probable) site of the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–8; the transfiguration probably occurred closer to Caesarea Philippi/Mount Hermon).

When stopping at this not-too-well-known place in the late afternoon, the lighting is perfect, the view is spectacular, and there is ample time to digest very important biblical and extra biblical material!

To view additional images of En Dor Click Here.

Next Tuesday — did you know that there was a “Swiss Forest” in Israel?

For additional information see Jerome Murphy–O’Connor, The Holy Land, 5th edition, pp. 412–415 and Peter Walker, In the Steps of Jesus, pp. 96–97.

Magdala: The Rest of the Story

MagdalaPanoIn two previous posts I described and posted images of the beautiful chapel and the first century synagogue at Magdala.  Besides these two structures a number of others have been discovered including an “Elite House” (=mansion) that contains three(!) ritual baths, a mosaic floor, etc.

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View looking east at a portion of the foundation walls of an elite residence that is located south of the synagogue. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the center of the image is a doorway and below it to the left are hewn steps that lead down into a miqveh (ritual bath).  The thickness of the walls indicates that there was more than one story to the house.  There is a mosaic under the permanent covering—that is still covered for protection.   Because of the ritual baths found in the house, it seems that wealthy/religious Jews that lived there.

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View of one of the three ritual baths that are part of an elite house that is located south of the synagogue at Magdala.

Hewn stairs lead down into the water.  The bath still contains water—actually a spring in the area still supplies the bath with water.

Between the synagogue and the mansion an extensive Market Area has been excavated.

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View looking east at the market of Magdala.

In the shops, pottery, woven goods, and fresh produce were sold.  In several of the shops there were plastered pools designed to hold fresh fish.  These pools had access to fresh underground water.

In addition, what is being called a “port,” was excavated—although the remains are not too impressive.

Finally, to the northwest is a very large freshwater pool called En Nun.

en-nun

View looking northwest at the large freshwater pool of En Nun.

This pool collects water from the springs that are located to the west of it.  It was apparently used for irrigation as far back as the Roman (= New Testament) Period.  It is possible that water was used in the fields north of Magdala.  Or, maybe it was used by another city that was located to the north of Magdala (Dalmanutha?? Mark 8:10).