A friend recently asked me if I get upset by proclamations issued  by secular archaeologists that challenge the claims of the Bible and my answer is always the same.

In a word No.

But why you might ask?

I remind them that archaeology is an important but an inexact science and falls into the category of detective work with a shovel and a spade.

In the virtuous pursuit of knowledge, the archaeologist assembles the fragments of the past and tries to draw some conclusions as to what they mean. His conclusions are colored by certain presuppositions and assumptions  that he brings to the table.

Also the game includes vigorous 0ne-up-manship.

Announcements  are often made breathlessly and with a eye to attracting headlines. Headlines attract attention and can result in funding for future digs by the now newly distinguished archaeologist who has successfully challenged another’s conclusions.

Bill's corrected Holy Land Pics 305


Such is illustrated by the discovery of the long sought tomb of King Herod the Great of Jesus’ fame.

In an earlier posting I described the announced discovery on the Herodium near Bethlehem,  of the fragmentary remains of a tomb identified by the eminent archaeologist Ehud Netzer as being that of Herod.

Now one of his students has challenged his discovery.

The interesting give and take of this so typical debate is described in the attached posting by Leen Ritmeyer based upon a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz (the land) Archaeology is an inexact science at best.

The author of this blog Dr Robert Grant (aka The Holy land Guru) has been traveling to the Holy Land for 46 years and annually schedules departures and invites pastors and others to accompany him there.

Herod’s Tomb at Herodium

Haaretz newspaper carried an article today by Nir Hasson, reporting on the seventh annual conference, “Innovations in Archaeology in Jerusalem and the Surrounding Area”. During that conference, two archaeologists, Joseph Patrich and Benny Arubas challenged Ehud Netzer’s identification of Herod’s Tomb that was found at Herodium near Bethlehem. Herod’s tomb  was discovered by Ehud Netzer in 2007, next to a large stairway that gave access to the Upper Palace.
 On the other side, the remains of a theater was found. They argued that the tomb was too small for the larger than life personality of Herod the Great and that the monument was not in keeping with the size of other Herodian constructions. They also found the sarcophagus, which was made of beautiful red limestone, to be of inferior quality for the king and had expected either a marble or golden one. They also said that the plaza near the tomb was too small to accommodate the many people that accompanied the sarcophagus of Herod the Great. Patrich emphasizes that he was a student of Ehud Netzer, but that he couldn’t agree with him on the identification of the tomb. The rebuttal delivered by Roi Porat, who succeeded Netzer as the head of the Herodium excavations, was more positive and convincing. Porat pointed out that there was a very large plaza at the foot of the artificial man-made hill that could easily accommodate the funeral procession. He also noted that the tomb stood on natural ground:

“This whole big mass has one place that was not covered in earth, and that is the site of the tomb,” Porat says. He claims that Herod conceived of the entire tel as an enormous and unique burial mound, symbolizing the idea that life at its top would go on even after the king was buried.”

Porat doesn’t rule out the possibility of finding other tombs, but this one appears from an architectural perspective more than qualify to be the tomb in which Herod the Great was buried. Porat rightly observed:

“We believe we have a decent picture of what is going on there and it is convincing. We have sufficient data. He [Patrich] deals with what is not, and we with what is”.

That would fit in with my personal experience. Patrich may be proud to have been one of Netzer’s students, but having worked with him on several projects in the past, I must say that I am not too impressed with Patrich’s knowledge of ancient architecture. Patrich may have expected Herod’s tomb to have been a much larger and more impressive monument, but this exquisitively designed tomb was built for Herod himself and a few close family members only. Patrich and Arubas must have forgotten that a very large funerary monument for Herod’s wider family had already been identified by Ehud Netzer north of Jerusalem: To the north of the Old City of Jerusalem, the remains of a circular building have been discovered and identified with the Monument of King Herod the Great, which served as his family tomb. Herod was buried in his private tomb in Herodium, both other members of his family were probably buried in this structure. This mausoleum is mentioned twice by Josephus, in War 5.108 and 5.507. Haaretz may have called the observations of Patrich and Arubas an “archaeological stunner”, but I am not convinced by them. See also Todd Bolen’s blog. HT: Joseph Lauer

The Long Sought after Tomb of Herod the Great May Have Been Uncovered




Herod the great

Herod the great




Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus. About 75 years later  the Jewish/Roman historian Josephus, based on his research, recorded the details concerning the impressive funeral procession that carried  the body of King Herod the Great from his tropical Jericho estate to the huge Herodium retreat he had constructed south of Jerusalem.

Feared but not loved by his unwilling subjects Herod,( the same one who shortly before had tried to kill the infant Jesus along with the other male kids in Bethlehem) feared that his death would be welcomed by celebration rather than mourning.

There was just cause for his apprehension as his rule had been marked by acts of severe cruelty. His own family felt that cruelty as a beloved wife and other close family members were murdered on his command.

The supreme sociopath that he was, Herod devised a scheme that was sure to result in the shedding of tears at the moment of his demise. He gave instructions to close allies to lock up members of all of the prominent Jerusalemite families with the order that, when he breathed his last, they were to be slain. This for sure would produce the tears he craved but those tears would not be for him.

The appearance of national grief meant more to him than the actuality of grief at his passing from the scene.

Herod was a complex sociopath and one of the greatest builders of the ancient world.


For over 100 years archaeologists have searched this vast archaeological dig called the Herodium, for the place of Herod’s entombment, only to be disappointed repeatedly.
The Herodium was built by Herod to be a vast country club like complex. Herod built it between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. When completed and due to the intentional  heaping up of stone and dirt against its sides it came to resembles a volcano. He created this look by having tons of sand carried by laborers and heaped against the side of the complex thus creating the curved sloping volcano shaped  sides we see today.
As we drive between Jerusalem and Bethlehem on our holy land tours we can see its distinctive shape on the horizon to the East.
The Smithsonian Magazine (8/09) reported the “Finding of King Herod’s Tomb” by archaeologist Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem after a 35 year long search.
As the Herodium has been systematically uncovered, hints of its opulence can be seen in the remains of a theater fit to seat 450, gardens, a bath house, and the palace.
From Josephus we know that the tomb site in which the body was placed was originally  about 80’ tall and 30’ by 30’. It was similar to the traditionally identified tomb of Absalom that is seen prominently in the Kidron Valley to the South East of Jerusalem.
Netzer suggests that the ornate sarcophagus of Herod was smashed probably about 100 years after his death during the 2nd Jewish revolt against Rome and Netzer claims to have  found fragments there of what he thought were from an ornate sarcophagus fit for a king. He has stated that these fragments have confirmed his conclusion that this was indeed the location of the missing tomb of Herod the Great.
Not to be outdone, a couple of his own students have disputed that claim because they feel that the site identified by their professor was not large enough for a royal tomb.
Such counterclaims are common in archaeology where reputations are made by staking out such claims and then working to prove them. So it appears that this long endured mystery of the missing tomb of Herod the Great remains unsolved.
Dr Robert Grant has been going to the Holy land for over 46 years and traveled there 125 + times conducting holy land tours for his friends. This has resulted, much to his amusement,  in him being called the holy land guru.