JERUSALEM Archeologists at Hebrew University of Jerusalem say they have found the tomb of Herod the Great, the ruthless ruler who is mentioned in the Gospel of Matthew as governing Judea during the time of Christ's birth and who also led a massive expansion of the Second Temple.
The tomb was found about 10 miles south of Jerusalem at an area called Mount Herodium where Herod built a palace, according to a May 8 university news release.Herod, who ruled Judea from 37 to 4 B.C, is mentioned only twice in the New Testament, in Matthew 2 and Luke 1, but he ruled Judea the first few years of Christ's earthly life. Herod's sons and grandsons are referenced elsewhere and sometimes confused with Herod himself. (For instance, Herod Antipas is called "Herod the tetrarch" in Matthew 14:1.) According to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod, unable to find the Christ child, had all male boys two years old and younger in and around Bethlehem slaughtered.
Ehud Netzer, a professor at Hebrew University who led the discovery, said he is certain the tomb was Herod's.
"The location and unique nature of the findings, as well as the historical record, leave no doubt that this was Herod's burial site," the news release quotes him as asserting.
Historical documents had placed Herod's tomb in the area, but it had eluded Netzer for decades, said Steven M. Ortiz, associate professor of archaeology and biblical backgrounds at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. The discovery would be a "major capstone" for Netzer, Ortiz said. Netzer first started working at Mount Herodium in 1972.
"While the find would not be revolutionary in terms of changing or impacting New Testament studies, it would be a major boost to the study of the early Roman period in the region," Ortiz told Baptist Press. "While New Testament scholarship focuses on the text of the New Testament, it is easy for scholars to have a myopic view and forget that the text has its birth within a historical and geographical context. Herod the Great is a major figure in the New Testament, especially in regards to the birth narratives and early activities of Jesus' family."
Herod's sarchophagusthat is, his stone coffinwas found broken into hundreds of pieces, presumably destroyed during the first Jewish revolt against the Romans in A.D. 66-72, when Jews took control of the site, the press release stated. It was during this time that the Romans destroyed the temple, which was built several centuries earlier and expanded under Herod.
The sarchophagus was made of reddish limestone, had a triangular cover, was around eight feet long and was decorated by rosettes, the news release said. Such sarchophagi are found only in "elaborate tombs," the release stated. Netzer and Hebrew University scholars have yet to find any inscriptions at the site, although they are still looking, the release said.
In his Gospel account, the Apostle Matthew portrays Herod as a cunning, power-hungry ruler. After he learns that Old Testament prophecy said the Christ child would be a "ruler" who would "shepherd" Israel, Herod summons the Magi and tells them that he, too, wants to travel to Bethlehem to worship the child. He asks the Magi to return and tell him the child's location, but after being warned in a dream by God, they refuse to do so and travel home a different way. Furious, Herod subsequently has all the male children in and around Bethlehem two years old and younger slaughtered in hopes that the Christ child would be among them. But Joseph and Mary and the young Jesus had fled to Egypt.
Compiled by Michael Foust, with reporting by Brent Thompson.