Top Archaeologists Condemn Israeli Plan to Rebuild Ancient Tomb

The plan, promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, includes rebuilding the tomb of Herod the Great in West Bank.

An unusual plan to rebuild the tomb of Herod the Great at the Herodium site, southeast of Jerusalem, has spurred opposition on the part of top archaeologists.

The plan, which is being promoted by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, includes building a lavish mausoleum in its original size out of light plastic material, and turning it into a visitor’s center. The plan is the first of its kind in the realm of Israeli archaeological digs, as most sites consist of either miniaturized or renovated historical sites that use the original materials found at the site.

Herod - Parks Authority - Jan 2012
Israel Nature and Parks Authority

Herod’s grave was discovered approximately five years ago by the archaeologist Ehud Netzer, who died two years ago as a result of a fall at the site. Before his death, Netzer was able to recreate the tomb, which reached a height of 25 meters and prided itself on having a cone-shaped roof. A model of the structure, which reached a height of 4 meters, was built at a cost of NIS 50,000 and was placed at the site last week, “It’s crazy - Archaeology is not Disneyland,” said one top archaeologist who asked to remain anonymous, “you don’t take an archaeological site and make a joke out of it.” Professor Haim Goldfus, the head of the archaeology department at Ben Gurion University, added that “the Herodium is impressive on its own, and the new structure will only distract from the real thing. A public committee should be established to decide on such a move.”

Professor Gideon Foerster, who managed the Herodium digs alongside Netzer, stated that the sketch of the plan based on the findings has yet to be completed. Archaeologists doubt the certainty of the tomb’s location and of the sketch of the structure that was built atop it. Shaul Goldstein, head of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, is trying to convince the archaeologists that erecting the structure in its original size will not harm the original findings.

Herodium AP Sept. 21, 2010.

Goldstein, who was recently appointed to the position, began promoting the project when he still served as the head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council as the head of the Herodium project’s steering committee. He was able to receive funding for the project from the Ministry of Tourism and from the country’s National Heritage Sites organization. Goldstein rejected the archaeologists’ criticism out of hand, saying “Disneyland attracts 50,000 people every day” and that he was opposed to the distortion of history but supports “the approach to renovate the place and leave space for imagination.” Goldstein also suggested filling the pool under the Herodium with water, so that people will be able to fully understand “Herod’s wealth and the power of the period.”

Herod the Great ruled over the Judean Kingdom in the first century BC, and died in 4 AD. He was responsible for rebuilding the Second Temple, as well as building Caesarea and Masada.

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