Researchers: Herod's tomb found

Published May 9, 2007

HERODIUM, West Bank - Under a baking sun, pieces of limestone carved with borders of rosettes and geometrical designs lay in three excavated pits Tuesday - a desert site Israeli archaeologists say is the tomb of King Herod, who ruled the Holy Land when Christ was born.

The find, which could provide insights into one of the Bible's most reviled yet influential figures, includes hundreds of pieces of an ornate sarcophagus, but no bones and no inscription that would seal the identification.

Although the tomb was shattered and empty, leaders of the Israeli team that unearthed it said Tuesday they will dig on in hope of finding jewelry, other artifacts or even the biblical monarch's remains.

Hebrew University archaeologist Ehud Netzer said he has been leading the search for Herod's tomb at the king's winter palace in Herodium in the Judean desert, in an Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank south of Jerusalem, for 35 years.

Last month, his team started unearthing limestone fragments, from which emerged the picture of an ornately carved sarcophagus. "It's a sarcophagus we don't just see anywhere, " Netzer said. "It is something very special."

Herod was the Jewish proxy ruler of the Holy Land under imperial Roman occupation from 37 B.C. His most famous construction project was expanding the Jewish Second Temple in Jerusalem.

The Herod of the Bible and of Christian tradition was a bloodthirsty megalomaniac, who flew into a paranoid frenzy when he encountered the three wise men on their way to Bethlehem with gifts for the baby Jesus, and telling of the birth of a new king of Israel. The Gospel Matthew says he afterward ordered the slaughter of children under the age of 2.

Netzer's assistant, Yaakov Kalmar, said that an account of Herod's funeral by the first century historian Josephus Flavius left little doubt that it took place at Herodium.

Stephen Pfann, an American expert in the Second Temple period at the University of the Holy Land who did not participate in the dig, called the find a "major discovery by all means, " but said the lack of an inscription hindered full verification.