Herodium – Israel

In 40 BC, after the Parthian conquest of Syria, Herod fled to Masada. On the way, Herod clashed with his rival Antigonus and emerged victorious. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, he “built a town on that spot in commemoration of his victory, and enhanced it with wonderful palaces… and he called it Herodion after himself” (The Wars of the Jews I, Chapter 13).

Herodium (also known as Herodion) is the only site named for Herod the Great. Located 3 miles southeast of Bethlehem and 8 miles south of Jerusalem, its summit is 2,460 feet above sea level – making it the highest peak in the Judean Desert.

Central to Herodium is the palace built on the edge of the desert atop an artificial hill.  Consisting of four towers, the largest was built on a stone base some 60 feet in diameter. The other towers are 50 or so feet in diameter and were used for living spaces and storage. Mosaic floors and elaborate frescoes have been found decorating the complex throughout. Several cisterns were also built to collect rainwater and channel it into the palace.

Historical Significance

The Herodium was a fortress for Herod to quickly flee to from Jerusalem and a luxurious palace for his enjoyment.  He chose to be buried here, after his death in 5 or 4 BC. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer discovered the tomb in 2007. 

Scriptural Significance

Herod is considered one of the great builders of all time – hence the title “Herod the Great.” But God does not see as does man. 1 Samuel 16:7 says “For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Instead the Bible looks at Herod the Great as Herod the murderer of innocents. It was Herod who ordered the killing of babies in Bethlehem when the magi did return to him with an account of where the Messiah was to be found – see Matthew 2.

1 Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem,
2 saying, “Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
7 Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
9 When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star, which they had seen in the East, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy.
11 And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
13 Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
14 When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt,
15 and was there until the death of Herod that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
16 Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying: 18 “A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more”.