Herod the Great’s Tomb May Not Be His

Herod
Wikimedia Commons

Israel is a country filled with ancient sites. One of the more popular ones to visit is the Herodium, the palace of the infamous Herod the Great, now part of a national park just outside Jerusalem. Herod was a lavish builder and created quite the crib between 23-15 BC. The historian Josephus, writing half a century after Herod’s death, says that when the king died in 4 BC, he was laid out on a gold bed in a tomb at the site.

Back in 2007, an archaeological team uncovered a tomb at Herodium and proclaimed they had found Herod’s final resting place. Ever since it’s been a popular stop for tourists who wander about the ruins of the palace, baths, and synagogue of the Jewish king who pledged allegiance to the Roman Empire.

Now another group of archaeologists say that it’s not the tomb of Herod. They say the 32×32 ft. tomb is too small for a king, especially one famous for his grandiose building projects such as the desert fortress Masada and the rebuilding of the Second Temple. Most royal tombs were larger and included coffins of marble or gold rather than the local limestone found in this structure. Royal tombs also had large courtyards in front of them so people could come pay their respects, something lacking in the Herodium tomb.The researchers suggest it was the tomb of one of Herod’s family.

Archaeologists have been quick to discover the tombs of famous people in recent years. The discoveries of the tombs of Caligula and the Apostle Philip have both been disputed. Now it appears that Herod will return to the long list of famous people for whom their final resting place remains a mystery.

Palestine, Israel In Controversy Over King Herod’s Tomb

PalestineAn upcoming exhibit is causing friction between Palestinians and Israelis, the Associated Press reports.

On February 13, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem will open “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.” It will be the first exhibition dedicated to the architectural legacy of the infamous Jewish king, who ruled as a vassal of the Roman Empire from 37-4 B.C.

Best known for the Biblical story of his killing the male children of Bethlehem to try to get rid of the baby Jesus, he was also one of the region’s great builders, expanding the Second Temple and erecting many other monuments.

The exhibition will display remains from his many building projects. The centerpiece will be his recently discovered tomb, shown here, and what may be his sarcophagus, painstakingly reconstructed from hundreds of shattered pieces. Archaeologists believe it was destroyed by Jews to show their hatred of Herod.

Almost all the artifacts are from the West Bank, part of Palestine, and here is where the problem lies. Palestinian Authority officials say they weren’t consulted about the exhibit and that excavating and removing artifacts from Palestine without their permission breaks international antiquities laws. The Israel Museum denies this and says they have authority over the artifacts. They also say the material will be returned to the West Bank after the exhibition closes October 5.

In this part of the world, history frequently gets enmeshed in politics, with both sides trying to claim the land by historical precedent.

The BBC has an interesting article on the troubles archaeologists face in Gaza. Besides a shortage of funding, sanctions keep them from getting many of the materials needed for excavation and conservation. War has also taken its toll, with Israeli bombs hitting the antiquities office and also damaging an early medieval mosaic in a Byzantine Church.

[Photo of Herod’s tomb courtesy Deror Avi]

Photo Of The Day: Tel Aviv’s Street Art

tel aviv's street art

Tel Aviv’s street art – in addition to sabich of course – was a highlight of my visit to Israel and the West Bank last spring. I snapped graffiti, spray-painted eggplants, political stencils and stickers.

Clearly I wasn’t the only one to find this element of Tel Aviv’s public culture interesting. Flickr user AlexSven photographed this complicated image in July of this year.

Upload your favorite images to the Gadling Group Pool on Flickr. We choose our favorites from the pool to be Photos of the Day.

Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem May Become Palestine’s First World Heritage Site

Bethlehem
The government of Palestine is applying to put the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It would be the first such site for the emerging nation.

The government of Palestine is eager to increase its recognition among the community of nations. While 130 countries recognize it as a country, a few don’t, most notably the United States and Israel. When Palestine was accepted into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization with a vote of 107-14, the U.S. and Israel protested being outvoted by not paying their UNESCO dues.

The church in Bethlehem is built on the supposed site of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has been a church here since the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine completed a basilica there in the year 333. That building burnt down and was rebuilt in 565.

Despite changes and expansions over the centuries, the interior has many original elements, including early Byzantine mosaics. Beneath the basilica lies a cave that is the purported birthplace of Jesus, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the exact spot.

The World Monuments Fund put the church on its list of a 100 Most Endangered Sites, citing decay of the structure. The Palestinian Authority responded by announcing a multimillion-dollar restoration campaign. Placement of the building on the UNESCO World Heritage List would help bring attention to its fragile state.

UNESCO will decide whether to put the church on the list later this month.

[Photo courtesy Lewis Larsson]

Museums and politics in the West Bank

West BankA new bill working its way through the Israeli government would put museums on Israeli settlements in the West Bank under Israeli law.

This piece of legislation is more than it seems, the Jerusalem Post reports. The real purpose of the bill, as its author, minister Uri Ariel of the National Union party makes clear, is to slowly annex the West Bank.

If this bill passes, Ariel hopes it will open the door for more Israeli law to be applied to the West Bank, gradually incorporating it into the rest of the country.

Currently museums on West Bank settlements are under military law, a product of the region being taken from Jordan in the 1967 war, and thus cannot get the same kind of funding as other Israeli museums.

The West Bank and Gaza strip are nominally part of the Palestinian Authority, but this government has had trouble receiving full international recognition and much of its land is actually owned by Israelis. Palestinians are barred from or have limited access to much of the West Bank because of Israeli settlements and their security zones, as this UN map shows.

The Knesset (Israeli parliament) education Committee has already passed the bill and it will probably be seen by the entire Knesset in the next two weeks.

I visited some West Bank museums when I was working as an archaeologist in the region in the early Nineties. The Israeli ones were mainly devoted to proving their right to the land and highlighting Muslim atrocities. The Palestinian ones were mainly devoted to proving their right to the land and highlighting Jewish atrocities.

In a country like Israel, history and politics always go hand in hand.