Secret location of King Herod's tomb remains buried in history

Herod the Great, the king of Judea who
ruled not long before the time of Jesus,
seems to have eluded historians once
again.
In 2007 archaeologists announced they
had found the great king's tomb , a
surprisingly modest mausoleum that was
part of the Herodium, a massive complex
built by Herod on a cone-shaped hill in
the desert outside Jerusalem.
But what everyone thought was his final
resting place may not be. The modest
structure is too small and modest for the
ostentatious king; its mediocre
construction and design are at odds with
Herod's reputation as a master planner
and builder, archaeologists now say. [ The
Holy Land: 7 Archaeological Finds ]
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Lost to history
King Herod, who lived from 74 B.C. to 4
B.C., was a vassal king for the Romans.
Known as both a genius and a madman,
he executed many of his family members
but doted on his mother and father. He
built lavish building complexes, including
the famous fortress of Masada , though he
funded such huge projects by burdening
the people with backbreaking taxes. In the
New Testament, Herod is said to have
ordered the slaughter of thousands of
innocent babies after prophets predicted
one would grow to be a rival.
Documents from the Jewish historian
Flavius Josephus suggest Herod was buried
at the Herodium, laid out on a gold bed
draped with opulent fabrics, and
thronged by the entire army and a
massive funerary procession, said Joseph
Patrich, an archaeologist at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem.
But Herod's exact burial place remained a
mystery for thousands of years.
Then, in 2007, archaeologist Ehud Netzer
announced he had discovered the king's
final resting place . The tomb was a 32-
by-32-foot (10 by 10 meters) building
with a pointy roof and three coffins. One
of these coffins, an intricately carved red
stone, was alleged to be the tomb of the
great king. A large exhibit about the tomb
is currently on display this month at the
Israel Museum. (Netzer died in 2010 in a
fall not far from the excavation site.)
Unfit for a king
Now, Patrich and his colleague Benjamin
Arubas, also of the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem, are claiming the tomb isn't
Herod's at all.
The rather modest structure is too small
for the master builder to have envisioned
for himself, and the poor planning and
design are also uncharacteristic, Patrich
and Arubas say. [ See Images of the
Mysterious Tomb]
For instance, the building is small
compared with other royal tombs of the
day."These are quite moderate dimensions if
you are thinking about a king of the
stature of Herod the Great," Patrich said.
Moreover, the tomb has only one
pyramid, whereas the tombs of the
Hasmoneans — the royal dynasty that
preceded Herod — have seven pyramids,
Patrich said.
In addition, the complex has no gate or
courtyard for visitors to come and pay
their respects to the departed. Royal
tombs at that time had much more
elaborate courtyards.
"There is hardly place for 20 people to
stand conveniently, and there is no
respectable gateway to lead in," Patrich
told LiveScience.
Furthermore, the building has an
awkward layout, with two staircases
above the mausoleum barring entrance to
the tomb below on one side, and two
shabbily constructed walls on the other
side. The complex isn't aligned
symmetrically with the axis of the rest of
the Herodium complex, Patrich added, a
design faux-pas that would have been out
of character for Herod.
Finally, the coffins in the tomb were made
of local limestone and red stone, not the
elaborate marble, or even gold, that
would have suited Herod's grand tastes.
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Mystery remains
If the tomb isn't Herod's, then whose is
it?
To build the Herodium, Herod covered
other buildings in the area but left this
one intact, suggesting that the person
buried there was "very dear to Herod,"
Patrich said. So it's possible that Herod's
close family members — such as his
mother, father or brother — may occupy
the building.
The great king's exact whereabouts
remains a mystery, but there are many
parts of the complex that have yet to be
excavated, Patrich said.
The findings, which have not been
published yet in a peer-reviewed journal,
were presented Thursday at the
"Innovations in Archaeology in Jerusalem
and the Surrounding Area" conference in
Jerusalem.