We moved on from Jerusalem briefly to Bethlehem, starting at the back side of Bethlehem at the Herodium, one of Herod’s many get away places, in case someone was after him. This excavation has really seen some development over the last ten years, including the likely discover of Herod’s own tomb. But it has also been an ill-fated excavation, as Ehud Netzer, the famous archaeologist who dug the site, and publicized in 2007 that he had found Herod’s tomb, died at the site in 2010 at age 76, from a tragic fall. The site is definitely well worth the visit for a variety of reasons, and its new signs help show why.
The Herodium is an artificial hill, made higher by shaving off the top of two nearby one’s to make the one hill the tallest in all of Judea (from which you can see both Jerusalem and the Dead Sea). There was in fact a whole village below, with an agora, a theater, and a processional street (where Herod’s funeral march likely happened).
Here’s what it would have looked like and a description as well.
There are other things to see at the top, like ballistas– the ancient catapult balls. Herod had enemies…. lots of enemies, most of them Jews.
He was of course only part Jewish, and part Idumean.
if one of those things hits you, you are done.
The new things to see are: 1) the tunnel and underground water cistern; and 2) the tomb of Herod.
What one really wants to see is the tomb complex, but it is still being reconstructed and restored. So you settle for the model, the description, and the new discovery of a room for a royal to dwell in, if needed.
The archaeologists are thinking that Herod’s tomb looked much like the monumental tomb in Kidron valley popularly called Absalom’s tomb. The net effect of visiting places like Masada and the Herodium, is that you realize just how very paranoid Herod was, and so it is ever so believable that he might slaughter some innocents in the backyard of the Herodian, in order to make sure no one interfered in the present of future with his reign. Mt. 1-2 presents us with a very believable scared monarch who did not even scruple against killing his own wives and offspring when needed to stay on the throne.