Tag Archives: Herod the Great

Murder of a Jewish High Priest at NT Jericho

For the few tour/academic groups that visit New Testament Jericho usually, because of time constraints, the main (northern) site is viewed from the south of the Wadi Qilt, but an exploratory walk on the north side of the wadi does pay dividends.

One of the distinctive structures north of the wadi is a double pool that was built in conjunction with the Hasmonean Palace during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE).  It was refurbished by Herod the Great.

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View of the double swimming pool where the handsome, eighteen year old, Hasmonean High Priest, Aristobulus III was murdered by Herod’s colleagues. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Each pool measures 42 x 60 ft. and each is 10 ft. deep.  Note the staircases that lead down into the north (near) and south (far) basins.  A wide wall separates the two basins.

It was probably here, in 35 BC, that the brother-in-law of Herod, the young High Priest Aristobulus III, “accidently” drowned while “playing” with some of Herod’s youth.  His death marked the end of potential Hasmonean take over of Herod’s throne.

(53) Upon all this Herod resolved to complete what he had intended against the young man [Aristobulus III]. When therefore the festival was over, and he was feasting at Jericho with Alexandra, who entertained him there, he was then very pleasant with the young man, and drew him into a lonely place, and at the same time played with him in a juvenile and ludicrous manner.

(54) Now the nature of that place was hotter than ordinary; so they went out in a body, and of a sudden, and in a vein of madness; and as they stood by the fish ponds, of which there were large ones about the house, they went to cool themselves [by bathing], because it was in the midst of a hot day.

(55) At first they were only spectators of Herod’s servants and acquaintances as they were swimming; but after a while, the young man, at the instigation of Herod, went into the water among them, while such of Herod’s acquaintances as he had appointed to do it, dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening, as if it had been done in sport only; nor did they desist till he was entirely suffocated.

(56) And thus was Aristobulus murdered, having lived no more in all than eighteen years, and kept the high priesthood one year only; which high priesthood Ananelus now recovered again. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15:53–56).

This is the same Herod (r. 37–4 B.C.) who murdered his beloved wife Mariamne, a mother-in-law, an uncle, and three of his sons.  The Herod who was alive when Jesus was born (ca. 5 B.C.) and before whom the “Magi” asked “where is he who is born king of the Jews?” and who subsequently slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–3, 16–18).

To view 18 high–resolution images of Herodian Jericho Click Here.

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Herod the Great and The Stadium and Theater at Jericho

About half way between Old Testament Jericho and the Second Temple Palaces of Jericho there is a site called Tell es–Samarat.  This tell was partially excavated and the area surveyed by Ehud Netzer.

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View looking south from the top of Tell es–Samarat at the “stadium” of Second Temple Jericho. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the foreground is the top of the cavea of the small (3,000 seat) theater that faces south.  The flat area beyond it from the house in the lower right to beyond the hot houses is were the “stadium” of Herodian Jericho was located.  The stadium was bounded on the right (west) by the asphalt road and on the left by a line of green trees.

The first–century Jewish historian Josephus mentions several  important events that happened here.

It was in this stadium (also called an amphitheater) where the sickly Herod reprimanded those responsible for the removal of the eagle from the Temple, where Herod had locked up the Jewish leadership that was to be executed upon his death, and where his death and will were announced to his troops prior to the procession to the Herodium where he was buried (Josephus Antiq. xvii.161, 173–179, 193–195).

Trial in the Theater of Jews for the Removal of the Golden Eagle in the Temple Precincts  (160) . . .  And when the king had ordered them to be bound, he sent them to Jericho, and called together the principal men among the Jews; (161) and when they were come, he made them assemble in the theater, . . .  He then cried out, that these men had not abstained from affronting him, even in his lifetime, but that, in the very daytime, and in the sight of the multitude, they had abused him to that degree, as to fall upon what he had dedicated, and in that way of abuse, had pulled it [the golden Eagle] down to the ground. They pretended, indeed, that they did it to affront him; but if anyone consider the thing truly, they will find that they were guilty of sacrilege against God therein.

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View looking west northwest at the cavea (semi-circular seating area) of the 3,000 seat “theater/odeum” at Tell es–Samarat. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

It was in this area where the sickly Herod reprimanded those responsible for the removal of the eagle from the Temple (see text above), where Herod had locked up the Jewish leadership that was to be executed upon his death (texts below), and where his death and will were announced to his troops prior to the procession to the Herodium where he was buried (Josephus Antiq. xvii.161, 173–179, 193–195).

Herod Commanded the Execution of Jewish Elite so that there would be Mourning at His Death  (173) . . .  and though he [Herod] was near his death, he contrived the following wicked designs. (174) He commanded that all the principal men of the entire Jewish nation wheresoever they lived, should be called to him. . . . And now the king was in a wild rage against them all, the innocent as well as those that had given him ground for accusations; (175) and when they were come, he ordered them all to be shut up in the hippodrome, and sent for his sister Salome, and her husband Alexas, and spoke thus to them:—“I shall die in a little time, so great are my pains; which death ought to be cheerfully borne, and to be welcomed by all men; but what principally troubles me is this, that I shall die without being lamented, and without such mourning as men usually expect at a king’s death.” (176) For that he was not unacquainted with the temper of the Jews, that his death would be a thing very desirable, and exceedingly acceptable to them; because during his lifetime they were ready to revolt from him, and to abuse the donations he had dedicated to God: (177) that it therefore was their business to resolve to afford him some alleviation of his great sorrows on this occasion; for that, if they do not refuse him their consent in what he desires, he shall have a great mourning at his funeral, and such as never any king had before him; for then the whole nation would mourn from their very soul, which otherwise would be done in sport and mockery only. (178) He desired therefore that as soon as they see he hath given up the ghost, they shall place soldiers round the hippodrome, while they do not know that he is dead; and that they shall not declare his death to the multitude till this is done, but that they shall give orders to have those that are in custody shot with their darts; and that this slaughter of them all will cause that he shall not miss to rejoice on a double account; that as he is dying, they will make him secure that his will shall be executed in what he charges them to do; and that he shall have the honor of a memorable mourning at his funeral. (179) So he deplored his condition, with tears in his eyes, . . . and begged of them that they would not hinder him of this honorable mourning at his funeral. So they promised him not to transgress his commands.

Jewish Elite Released at Herod’s Death  and the Reading of His Will  Antiq.17.8.2. (193) But then Salome and Alexas, before the king’s death was made known, dismissed those that were shut up in the hippodrome, and told them that the king ordered them to go away to their own lands, and take care of their own affairs, which was esteemed by the nation a great benefit; (194) and now the king’s death was made public, when Salome and Alexas gathered the soldiery together in the amphitheater at Jericho; and the first thing they did was, they read Herod’s letter, written to the soldiery, thanking them for their fidelity and good will to him, and exhorting them to afford his son Archelaus, whom he had appointed for their king, like fidelity and good will. . . .  so there was presently an acclamation made to Archelaus, as king, and the soldiers came by bands, and their commanders with them, and promised the same good will to him, and readiness to serve him, which they had exhibited to Herod; and they prayed God to be assistant to him.

Herod’s Burial Procession from Jericho to the HerodiumAntiq.17.8.3. (196) After this was over, they prepared for his funeral, it being Archelaus’s care that the procession to his father’s sepulchre should be very sumptuous. Accordingly he brought out all his ornaments to adorn the pomp of the funeral. (197) The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones of great variety, and it was covered over with purple, as well as the body itself; he had a diadem upon his head, and above it a crown of gold; he also had a sceptre in his right hand. (198) About the bier were his sons and his numerous relations; next to these was the soldiery distinguished according to their several countries and denominations; and they were put into the following order:—First of all went his guards, then the band of Thracians; and after them the Germans; and next the band of Galatians, everyone in their habiliments of war; and behind these marched the whole army in the same manner as they used to go out to war, (199) and as they used to be put in array by their muster-masters and centurions; these were followed by five hundred of his domestics, carrying spices. So they went eight furlongs, to Herodium; for there, by his own command, he was to be buried;—and thus did Herod end his life.

BTW: the only other place in the Roman world where a theater is connected with a stadium is at the beautiful/well–preserved site of Aizanoi in Turkey!

PS: Caution Visiting Tell es–Samarat  The last time we visited this site our group of about 35 was harassed by five 10-12 year old boys who kept touching the women in our group and would not stop—even our Palestinian bus driver tried to intervene, but to no effect.  Unfortunately we had to quickly leave because of this.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 72–80.

Herodium Display in Israel Museum

There is an impressive display in the Israel Museum where a number of wonderful finds from the Herodium are 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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BAR March/April 2017 — Supplemental Photos

My electronic version of the March/April 2017 issue of the Biblical Archaeological Review arrived on my iPad last week.  As usual, it contains some very interesting articles.  Since some of the readers of this blog also read BAR and share its contents with their students I thought you folk might be interested in some “free to download for personal use,” high-resolution images that you might find useful for your PowerPoint Presentations.  Here goes . . . .

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Menorah with Flames Flanked by a Lulav and Shofar — Above it a cross was inscribed — Click (actually two clicks) on Image to Enlarge and/or Download

Fairchild, Mark R. “Laodicea’s “Lukewarm” Legacy: Conflicts of Prosperity in an Ancient Christian City.” Biblical Archaeological Review 43, no. 2 (March/April, 2017): 30–39, 67–68.

Patrich, Joseph and Shlomit Weksler–Bdolah. “Old, New Banquet Hall by the Temple Mount.” Biblical Archaeological Review 43, no. 2 (March/April, 2017): 50–54.herodianhall-0007

 

Herod or Jesus: Which “King” Has Had the Most Lasting Influence?

A site located about 7.5 miles south of Jerusalem called the Herodium is a site that looks like a volcano—but it is not!   The Herodium was built by Herod the Great (Matthew 2).  According to Josephus, a Jewish historian, the Herodium served as a palace/fortress for Herod the Great.  Herod was buried here in 4 B.C.  Later the Herodium served as a base for Jewish rebels during the first (A.D. 66-70) and second (A.D. 132-135) revolts against the Romans.

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View looking southwest at the volcanic-shaped Herodium
The Palace, Fortress, and Burial Site of Herod the Great
Click to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost/obligation

In addition, the Herodium is located only 3.5 miles southeast of Bethlehem—where Jesus (called the Christ) was born.

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The Grotto of the Nativity
The “Traditional” Site Where it is said that Jesus was born
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

Herod was the king when Jesus was born—the same one who killed not only three of his sons, his favorite wife (Mariamne), the High Priest, his mother-in-law, but also the babies of Bethlehem (Matt 2:16).

Visitors to Israel are keenly aware of all the places built by Herod the Great and will probably visit Caesarea Maritima, the Temple Mount, and Masada.  And there are many others.  If fact, the land is littered with archaeological remains of places and buildings built by Herod.  But really, one must consider the lasting (cosmic?) significance of Herod versus that of the child that was born in the insignificant hamlet of Bethlehem—namely Jesus.

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The Ascended  Jesus Surrounded by Mary and John the Baptist
From the Hagia Sophia Church in Istanbul
Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download — without cost or obligation

In spite of all the “oohing and aahing” at Herodian remains, today no one actually “worships” Herod—as they do Jesus.

Herod “The Great’s” Sarcophagus?

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster)  and the architectural fragments of the mausoleum that I mentioned in my previous posts, the so called sarcophagus of Herod that is also on display in the Israel Museum.

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The Sarcophagus of Herod? Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The  display of the reconstructed main sarcophagus found at “Herod’s Tomb” at the Herodium.  It appears to be made out of local limestone.  Please notice that it although it is nicely carved with a rosette pattern on the end along with a floral pattern under the gable of the lid it is really not all the elaborate.

Compare for example the following sarcophagus.

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View of the side of the sarcophagus that depicts Abdalonymos, the person buried in the sarcophagus, fighting the Persians along with Alexander the Great!  From the 4th Century B.C.!  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.[Alexander the Great is the figure on horseback on the far left—Abdalonymos is on horseback in the center]

This sarcophagus was found at Sidon (just north of Israel) in 1887.  It dates to the last quarter of the 4th century B.C.—the time when Alexander fought the Persians at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.  Abdalonymos was the King of Sidon at the time.  It was originally painted, and some of the pigments still remain!  The shape of the sarcophagus seems to be representing a temple.  Note the roof tiles, the “downspouts,” and the intricate carved detail!

This sarcophagus was crafted roughly 300 years before the death of Herod—so we know that this type of technology and craftsmanship was known and available to those living in the region of Herod—including Herod himself.  Would Herod really have been satisfied with such a “plain” sarcophagus as that found at the Herodium when the technology and craftsmanship  for something much more elaborate was available?

Again, 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 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.

Ancient Capital on Temple Mount?

Life on the Haram esh–Sharif (Temple Mount in Jerusalem) is not static but dynamic!  Over the years the Muslims have been refurbishing older structures and completely remodeling others.  In the process much debris has been discarded, some of which was from ancient structures—possibly even from the Second Temple Period.

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A well-carved ancient capital that was on the debris pile
of the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount
June 2011
Click on image to Enlarge (or download if you wish)

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Debris pile on the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount
located east of the Dome of the Rock — July 2009
Click on image to Enlarge (or download if you wish)

For additional images of “Life on the Haram esh–Sharif/Temple Mount”
Click Here.