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Israel museum to host spectacular King Herod exhibit

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 18th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The world's first exhibition devoted to the architectural legacy of biblical King Herod has been announced by Israel's national museum. The display includes the reconstructed tomb and sarcophagus of one of antiquities most notable and despised figures, curators say.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - King Herod was the Jewish proxy monarch who ruled Jerusalem and the Holy Land under Roman occupation two millennia ago. About 30 tons of artifacts, including hundreds of tiny shattered shards pieced back together are going on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in a nine-month exhibition opening February 12.

"Herod the Great," is the museum's largest and most expensive archaeological project to date, According to Museum Director James Snyder. "It's a name that's always on everyone's lips," Snyder said, "And yet there has never been an exhibit devoted to his material."

Herod is seen as one of history's greatest villains. Vilified in the New Testament, Herod massacred Bethlehem's male children to try to prevent the prophesied birth of Jesus. Herod is also said to have murdered his own wife and sons.

However, Herod was also revered for his building projects, including his lavish desert palaces and an expansion of the Second Jewish Temple complex in Jerusalem.

The Western Wall today is the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray. The wall was originally a retaining wall for the compound.

Herod's lavish preparation for death is the testament of his extravagant, 80-foot-high tomb. Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer spent 35 years of his career searching for it.

Netzer drew international attention in 2007 when he announced he had found what he believed was the tomb at the Herodion, located on a cone-like hill that remains prominent in the barren landscape of the Judean Desert, near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

The archaeologist approached the Israel Museum about creating an exhibit in 2008 that would display artifacts from one of the greatest finds of his career. While surveying the Herodion site with museum staff, Netzer fell to his death.

Undeterred, museum staff pushed forward with planning the exhibit.

The museum used a crane in 2011 to remove dozens of half-ton columns and the roof of what Netzer identified as the top floor of Herod's tomb. Each stone was affixed with an electronic chip so it could be more easily pieced together at the Israel Museum.

Curators believe that of the three sarcophagi found at the site, one was Herod's. Though it bears no inscription, it is made of a special reddish stone, found smashed into hundreds of pieces.

Jewish zealots who took over the Herodion after Herod's death likely smashed the sarcophagus to pieces, destroying the symbol of a man who worked with the empire they were rebelling against, curators said.

"It's not 100 percent. But archaeology is never about 100 percent," co-curator Dudi Mevorah says. "The circumstantial evidence points to one man." The sarcophagus will also be on display.

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