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With first-century historian Flavius Josephus as his guide, Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer searched for more than three decades to find the tomb of Herod the Great. He believed it was located at a small, conspicuously symmetrical, flat-topped mountain called Herodium, home to the ruins of Herod's 2,000-year-old fortified palace. Herodium lies three miles east of Bethlehem, the scene where, according to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod ordered the infant massacre.

Finally, on May 8, Netzer's perseverance paid off: His team discovered remains of a mausoleum and pieces of an ornate, 8-foot-long stone coffin at the end of a ceremonial staircase. No inscription links the tomb to Herod, Netzer said, but "there is not really anyone else that it could be."

Paul Maier, a professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, is disappointed at the lack of identification. "It could well be Herod's tomb," he said, "but we have to withhold judgment."

From 1978 to 2006, Netzer's team excavated at the base of the mountain, the area he calls the Tomb Estate. "I'm convinced [Herod] intended to be buried there, until five to six years before he died," Netzer said.

Sometime shortly after Herod's death in 4 B.C., the tomb was ransacked. Netzer and Maier agree it was most likely the work of Jewish zealots, who provoked a revolt against Rome 70 years later. Even though Herod rebuilt the temple, Jews resented his rule. He imposed burdensome taxes, and though he identified himself as a Jew, he did not observe most Jewish religious practices.

Herodium, one of the largest palace complexes in the Roman Empire, boasted gardens, pools, and stables. Herod the Great earned his title by ordering monumental building projects. But he also murdered one of ...

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hide thisJuly July

In the Magazine

July 2007

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