Although his period of reign was about 2,000 years ago, Herod still stands as one of the most significant rulers in the history of the Holy Land. Appointed by the Romans in 40 BCE, Herod reigned for over 30 years. He brought unprecedented prosperity to the land and transformed it with massive building projects. Caesarea, Jerusalem, Masada and Jericho are just some of the sites which he either founded, or dramatically changed.
He also created a fortified palace complex near Bethlehem, naming it after himself – Herodium. He was eventually also buried in it, a burial that marked the end of an era. Unfortunately, the exact location of the tomb was not described by the historical sources.
The site of Herodium has been excavated since the 1960s. This specially designed tour will follow the attempts to track Herod’s tomb, and the discoveries made so far. Prepare for the unknown!
Searching for Herod’s Tomb in Herodium
Our tour will start with a 30-minute drive from Jerusalem to Herodium. Set on a promontory hill near Bethlehem, the top of the Herodium’s Citadel provides some stunning views of the Judean Desert. On a good day, the Dead Sea and the Mountains of Moab can be seen. Resembling a volcano, the citadel is a really a massive scale man-made project, which was originally three flights higher than today. The Citadel proved to contain a lavish palace and giant water reservoirs beneath it. No signs of the Herod’s tomb were found there.
The lower city was excavated for more than 40 years by Prof. Netzer from the Hebrew University. He discovered a big size pool with a bath house, Jewish ritual baths and some public buildings, but no sign of the legendary tomb.
In 2007, in a last attempt before he retired, Netzer dug on the steep perimeter of the Citadel. To everyone’s surprise, one of the probes yielded the foundation of a structure with fine ornamentations. But the most exciting discoveries were framgents of 3 nicely decorated stone coffins. The discovery became international headlines, as Netzer stated he was certain he found the lost sepulchre of King Herod.
Our tour will follow the different attempts to track the lost tomb, both in the lower and the upper city. We will also walk through some underground water reservoirs, and finally view Netzer’s discovery. However, a close examination of the finds will also present the problem with identifying this discovery as Herod’s tomb. But if this is not Herod’s tomb, then who was buried here? And if Herod is not buried here, where is he buried??
Examining Tombs in the Kidron Valley
Following a short lunch break, we will drive back to Jerusalem and visit the famous tombs in the Kidron Valley opposite the Temple Mount.
Formed in the same time frame as King Herod, these tombs are a good parallel to the discovery made in Herodium. The comparative analysis will lead us to some interesting theories.
Studying the Finds at the Israel Museum
We will end the day with a visit to the Israel Museum, in western Jerusalem. Established as the national museum of Israel, the Israel Museum also has a big and important archaeological wing.
Our focus will be the display of the red limestone coffin, and the fragments of the sepulchre, that Netzer found in Herodium.
Are these all parts of Herod’s tomb? Have we really solved the riddle?