First Century Tomb Discovered


A New Testament king’s final resting place is uncovered at last.
 Mount Herodium
Mount Herodium: Site of Herod's Tomb

The remains of a tomb from the first century B.C.E. has been uncovered at Herodium, 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Unlike other tombs that have been in the news of recent date, this tomb can be linked unequivocally to a specific individual: King Herod, also known as Herod the Great, who ruled the Jewish nation from 37 to about 4 B.C.E. and who died shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Herodium was one of the monumental public works commissioned by Herod. His reign witnessed one of the most prolific building campaigns in Judaea. Herod not only refashioned Jerusalem but started to restore and enlarge the temple—a project that lasted for some 46 years—making the sacred structure a focus and magnet for Jews throughout the Diaspora. He also built a number of fortified palaces for himself at Jericho, Machaerus, Masada and Herodium, the latter becoming his burial place. 

Details of his funeral procession, circa 4 B.C.E., are given by Flavius Josephus. But the exact

Base of Herod's tomb

Tomb of Herod the Great

location of the tomb at Herodium was never recorded. For the past 35 years, Professor Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University has made it his goal to locate it. Initially the focus fell on the “Tomb Estate” on the lower levels of the tumulus, or hillock, on which Herodium is built. An extensive palace and administrative center were found, but no sign of a tomb. Other archaeologists such asJodi Magness believed that the tomb was in the fortified palace at the top of the mound. Since archaeologists discovered that the palace was no longer used after the Herod’s death, some reasoned that it could be the location of the tomb. 

Ultimately, Netzer found the tomb on the northeast shoulder of the mound at the top of a processional stairway that led to the burial site. Sadly for the professor, the mausoleum that contained the sarcophagus had been vandalized and destroyed, most likely after the 70 C.E. fall of Jerusalem. Herodium, like Masada, became an outpost for the Zealots and, also like Masada, was finally destroyed by Roman forces. The Zealots had no love for Herod, regarding  him as a puppet of the Roman Empire that had given him his role and legitimacy. The magnificent sarcophagus in which Herod was buried, estimated to be eight feet long (almost 2.5 meters), had been smashed. Despite the failure to recover anything more than fragments and decorations, the site is accepted as having been the final resting place of Herod and is being noted as one of the most significant of archaeological discoveries. 

Decorated Fragments Herod's Tomb

Fragments and Decorations from Herod's Tomb

Herod, of course, is known for his brutality and despotism. The account of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, is characteristic. He ordered the murder of at least one of his wives and two of his sons, and his dying wish was that all the leaders of Judaea perish with him so that the entire nation would mourn his death. Fortunately, those charged with his orders did not carry them out. 

Whether loved or hated by the people of his day, Herod made a major contribution to the region in a critical period of time. His life ended shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ, with the consequent spread of Jesus’ followers throughout the Roman world and beyond. Herod’s reign as a puppet of the Roman Empire also contributed to the ultimate fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of its people. 


Tags: Herod, Jesus Christ, Judaea, Josephus, Heroduium

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