Tuesday, May 08, 2007

King Herod's ancient tomb 'found'

King Herod's ancient tomb 'found'
The podium of the tomb (Photo: Hebrew University of Jerusalem)
Archaeologists believe this is the podium of Herod's tomb
An Israeli archaeologist says he has found the tomb of King Herod, the ruler of Judea while it was under Roman administration in the first century BC.

After a search of more than 30 years, Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University says he has located the tomb at Herodium, a site south of Jerusalem.

Herod was noted in the New Testament for his Massacre of the Innocents.

Told of Jesus' birth, Herod ordered all children under two in Bethlehem to be killed, the Gospel of Matthew said.

According to the New Testament, Jesus' father Joseph was warned of the threat in a dream and fled with his wife and child to Egypt.

Limestone fragments

"When I realised it was the tomb there was great happiness," said Prof Netzer, who has worked at the Herodium site since 1972.

A bust of King Herod from around 4 AD
Roman-appointed King of Judea from around 37 BC to 4 BC
A bloody ruler who killed political rivals
Ordered the Massacre of Innocents to protect his throne, the New Testament says
Behind ambitious building projects including expanding Second Jewish Temple and walls around Jerusalem

"Everyone has an interest in the Holy Land and Herod's tomb is part of that story."

It was an ancient staircase built for Herod's funeral procession - described in detail by First Century historian Josephus Flavius - that led Prof Netzer's team to the hill-top burial site.

"The monumental stairs were built specifically for the funeral," Prof Netzer said.

At the site, archaeologists found a smashed limestone sarcophagus that, when whole, would have been around 2.5m (8ft) long.

Ornate rosette decorations on the fragments alerted the team to the coffin's significance.

No bones were found at the site. Prof Netzer said that they had likely been removed by Jewish rebels who fought against Rome between 66 and 72 AD.

Major find

If the find is confirmed, this will rank as a major archaeological discovery, BBC Jerusalem correspondent Tim Franks says.


Experts have always believed that Herod was buried somewhere within the palace complex he had constructed on a flattened hilltop in the Judean desert, but they had repeatedly struggled to find any evidence to back up their theories.

Herod was appointed "King of the Jews" by the Roman authorities and ruled Judea from 37 BC until his death in around 4 BC.

He is known for his expansion of the Second Jewish Temple and the construction of walls around the Old City of Jerusalem.

He also built the fortress of Masada, which became the last stand of Jewish rebels in 73 AD.

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