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]

Herod may not have completed Jerusalem’s Western Wall, archaeologists discover

Western Wall
It is one of the holiest spots in one of the holiest cities in the world. The Western Wall attracts Jews and Christians alike, and is on the limits of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a Muslim holy site.

It’s always been believed to have been built by King Herod, the king of Judea and a vassal of the Roman Empire who reigned from 37-4 BC. Herod expanded the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the Western Wall is the western boundary of that expansion.

Now archaeologists have found evidence that the Western Wall was finished after Herod’s death. The coins found under the foundations date to 20 years after Herod died.

This isn’t news to scholars. The ancient Jewish historian Josephus wrote that the project was finished by Herod’s great-grandson. Archaeologists also found a mikve (Jewish ritual bath), three clay lamps in a style popular in the first century AD, and other artifacts. Seventeen coins were found, including two minted by the Roman governor Valerius Gratus in 17 or 18 AD.

I visited Jerusalem several times when I was working as an archaeologist in the Middle East back in the early Nineties. On numerous occasions I saw where local tradition came up against the findings of archaeology and history. For example, the route of the Via Dolorosa, the trail Jesus supposedly took on his way to Calvary, was only established in the 19th century. In the centuries before that there were several different routes.

In the current debate between the faithful and the atheists, these facts change nothing. The deflating of a local tradition will not make anyone stop believing in God, and the atheists are equally convinced about their views.

Photo courtesy Chris Yunker.