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Israel Museum Revives Memory of Herod the Great

One of the most controversial figures in Jewish history was also an influential leader

By Susan Hallett Created: February 26, 2013 Last Updated: February 26, 2013
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Assembling a stucco frieze from Herodium, a cone-shaped hill south of Jerusalem where Herod the Great was buried. Herod built a fortress, a palace, and a small town at Herodium. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

Assembling a stucco frieze from Herodium, a cone-shaped hill south of Jerusalem where Herod the Great was buried. Herod built a fortress, a palace, and a small town at Herodium. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

Herod the Great of Biblical fame and infamy is the subject of a unique exhibition currently on view at Israel’s national museum in Jerusalem.

An illustration by Professor Ehud Netzer, who discovered Herod's tomb at Herodium after a 40-year search. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

An illustration by Professor Ehud Netzer, who discovered Herod's tomb at Herodium after a 40-year search. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

The exhibition, which opened at the Israel Museum on Feb. 13, is called “Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.”

Large reconstructions and new finds from Herod’s palaces in Herodium, Jericho, and other sites are on display, as well as more than 250 archaeological finds from King Herod’s tomb, shown for the first time ever. It is the most ambitious exhibition of its kind ever mounted in Israel.

“We are thrilled about the opening of the new exhibition highlighting King Herod, one of the most significant builders in human history,” Ami Allon, consul for tourism, Israel Government Tourist Office–Canada said in a press release.

Professor Ehud Netzer and Roi Porat in the Royal Room at the theatre at Herodium at the end of the excavation. The exhibition is held in memory of Netzer, who fell to his death in 2010 on the site of his discovery of Herod's tomb at Herodium. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

Professor Ehud Netzer and Roi Porat in the Royal Room at the theatre at Herodium at the end of the excavation. The exhibition is held in memory of Netzer, who fell to his death in 2010 on the site of his discovery of Herod's tomb at Herodium. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

According to University of Toronto religious scholar Dr. Peter Richardson, Herod was not only fascinating because of his complexity, he was a savvy politician and highly influential in the Eastern Mediterranean.

“Even after his death, his influence continued to be felt for hundreds of years,” Richardson said in a Science Daily article.

Herod, who was born in Jericho in 73 B.C., died in 4 B.C. He was a friend of Marc Antony and through this friendship and the friendship of Augustus secured the title King of Judaea (37 B.C. to 4 B.C.).

Other Romans whom Herod counted on as allies if not friends included Pompey and Julius Caesar. Although Herod was 100 percent Arab by ethnicity, he was Jewish by religion. Many Jews disliked him as he was not Jewish by birth.

At the time of Christ, Judaea was a kingdom ruled by the various Herod kings and was part of the Roman province of Syria.

Herod the Great is the Herod king most remembered today. Not only did he publicly observe the law by rebuilding the temple, which had become dilapidated, and re-establishing the Sanhedrin, which exercised the functions of a court, Herod also beautified most of his cities, especially Jerusalem.

But perhaps what Herod is most known for is his attempt to kill the infant Jesus.

Herod the Great ruled at the time of Jesus’ birth but it was one of his sons who ruled at the time of Christ’s death. It is speculated that when Herod ordered the Slaughter of the Innocents and killed one of his ten wives as well as two of his own scheming sons, he was suffering from some sort of mental sickness or a type of gangrene that made him bloodthirsty.

Apart from this, Herod built theatres, amphitheatres, and hippodromes for games as well as the ports of Caesarea and Masada, two of the most visited sites in Israel today.

A marble portrait of Emperor Augustus, 1st century B.C. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

A marble portrait of Emperor Augustus, 1st century B.C. (Courtesy Israel Museum)

Highlights of the exhibition, which runs until Oct. 5, include three sarcophagi, restored frescoes, and King Herod’s private bath from his palace at Cyprus, as well as never-before-seen carved stone elements from Temple Mount and an imperial marble basin believed to have been a gift from Augustus.

“The exhibition will be sure to provide some additional excitement for travellers arriving in Jerusalem this year,” Allon said in the release.

For more information visit www.english.imjnet.org.il

Susan Hallett is an award-winning writer and editor who has written for The Beaver, The Globe & Mail, Wine Tidings and Doctor’s Review among many others. Email: hallett_susan@hotmail.com

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