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Ed Horner is the Jerusalem Bureau Chief for Shofar Communications, Inc. He is on special assignment in Israel to bring us first hand accounts of the news, as it happens, and to get exclusive interviews with newsmakers in that area. His wife, Allison Horner, is a photojournalist, and brings us images from the Israeli front.

Burial Site of Herod the Great Uncovered

May 10, 2007

After 30 years of searching, Israeli archeologist Ehud Netzer has uncovered the burial site of Herod the Great (74 BC – 4 BC). Located on the slopes of the mountain fortress Herodium, the broken sarcophagus of the Biblical character Herod was discovered and identified.

Dr. Netzer addresses reporters concerning the discovery of Herod the Great's burial site

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Ed Horner discusses the discovery of the burial site of Herod the Great. Right-click to Download mp3 Play
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Herod was titled “The Great” because of his magnificent architectural plans and expansive building projects. He is best known for the refurbishing of the Second Temple about 20 years before the birth of Jesus. Herod also constructed a Roman theatre and an amphitheater in the city of Jerusalem. He built the port city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea as well as two mountain fortresses in the land of Israel. Herodium and Masada are engineering marvels and were built as military strongholds in the unlikely event that Herod was forced to retreat from his enemies.

This is said to be a piece of the stone box that once held the remains of Herod the Great

Herodium is an amazing piece of architecture and engineering. What started out as a mere hill 7 miles southeast of Jerusalem became a man-made mountain dominating the desert skyline. Herod raised the mountain considerably and built a fortress inside the mountain itself. From Jerusalem, Herodium appears to be a mountain that has had the top unnaturally removed, but in reality a fortress was built on a hill and the mountain erected around it. Engineers today still marvel at the planning and building of such an amazing structure. While searching for Herod’s tomb, Dr. Netzer and his team of archeologists uncovered massive retaining walls with compacted dirt between them indicating the incredible structure of the man-made mountain.

Dr. Ehud Netzer is an expert on Roman architecture and has been involved in excavating Herodium since 1972. The man-made mountain rises over an ancient city like the acropolis over Athens. Herod erected a palace on the lower slopes of Herodium and the expansive city spreads out on the plain in the shadow of the looming mountain. Josephus describes the location and speaks of the effort and expense involved in collecting and maintaining several luxurious pools of water, a resource that is naturally lacking in the Judean wilderness. Since the discovery of Herod’s tomb, Dr. Netzer now believes that Herodium itself was most likely planned and built by Herod as his crowning achievement and the immortalization of the man himself. To Herod, Herodium was similar to the Great Pyramids built by the Pharaohs.

Archeologists have discovered the lavish extents Herod took in planning his own funeral. At the corner of the palace grounds, archeologists uncovered a “monumental building” which they believed to be Herod’s tomb. Further inspection brought them to the conclusion that this was only a monument to Herod and built as the starting point for his funeral procession. Stretching north from the monumental building is a meticulous walkway 1000 feet long and 9 feet wide. At the end of the walkway archeologists discovered remains of a structure that had been Herod’s first choice of burial for himself yet he obviously changed his mind after laying the foundation. Instead of burial at the foot of the mountain he preferred 75 feet up the side of the mountain so that his burial chamber could be seen from any location in the city below or even from Jerusalem.

Archeologists realized they had found the burial site when they found several ornate broken pieces from a funeral sarcophagus, (a stone container holding the bones of the deceased). Upon further inspection of the site, a 30 feet by 30 feet platform podium was uncovered on which the funeral building would have sat. The detail and precision by which the platform and sarcophagus were constructed only could have been afforded by royalty. Pieces of a stone urn were also found and were indicative of commonly used Roman decoration for the tops of funeral buildings. Similar funeral buildings have been found other places in the former Roman Empire, and are always burial buildings for kings.

The sarcophagus had been intentionally vandalized and some stones showed evidence of ancient impact marks from metal objects. Archeologists believe that the burial site had been destroyed by the Jewish rebels during the Bar Kokhba revolt of 66 AD. Rebel soldiers used Herodium as a base of operations when they fought against the Romans in what is sometimes called the Third Jewish-Roman War. Archeologists discovered a coin from the Bar Kokhba era amongst the pieces of the broken sarcophagus. The Romans eventually overran the freedom fighters in 71 AD and destroyed Herodium in the process.

Dr. Netzer holds up a piece of Herod's Sarcophagus.

Although Dr. Netzer and his team discovered the sarcophagus of Herod, no bones or ashes of the body were found. Dr. Netzer indicated that he was not optimistic or concerned with finding any physical remains of Herod. The ornate remains of the building and sarcophagus were enough to convince him that this site was indeed the final resting place of Herod the Great. With great satisfaction he proclaimed to hundreds of journalists from around the world, “Because of the quality (of the find) there is no doubt” that this was Herod’s tomb that we have been searching for.

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