Israel's Largest-ever Archaeological Exhibit Shines Light on King Herod

Israel Museum reconstructs first floor of Herod's tomb in an exhibit about the life and architectural legacy of the controversial king.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

The Israel Museum is putting the finishing touches on a huge exhibit about the life and architectural legacy of the controversial King Herod the Great, while the Prime Minister's Office and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority are planning to build a gigantic recreation of his tomb.

The exhibit, which will open in a month, is touted as the largest archaeological exhibit in Israel's history, with tons of finds brought from Jerusalem, Herodium and Jericho. Statues have also been brought from abroad to show Herod in the context of the Roman Empire, under whose aegis he ruled.

The masterpiece of the exhibit will be the reconstruction of the first floor of his tomb - the stones for the reconstruction alone weigh 15 tons - and the reconstruction of the sarcophagus (stone coffin ) in which he is presumed to have been buried. The sarcophagus was found at Herodium, southeast of Jerusalem, in 2007.

The museum has also rebuilt part of the royal theater found at Herodium for the exhibit and reconstructed the throne room of his palace in Jericho. The museum laboratories have been reconstructing thousands of pieces of frescoes and mosaics.

The exhibit, curated by David Mevorach and Sylvia Rosenberg, and which has been in preparation for three years, will cover one dunam (a quarter of an acre ) of the museum.

Meanwhile, as announced last week by cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser, Herod's tomb is to be reconstructed at Herodium, near its original location, as part of the government-sponsored heritage program. Unlike the reconstruction at the museum, the tomb at Herodium will be rebuilt using new materials and will be more of a tourist attraction than a scientific model.

Such a reconstruction is very unusual in Israel - or anywhere else in the world - as models are usually reproductions made to scale of an element of an archaeological site, or reconstructions using original materials. In fact, there seems to be no other place in the world where a historical monument has been rebuilt from new materials for tourists.

The plan for the model at Herodium calls for a structure 25 meters high - almost eight stories - which will easily be seen from Jerusalem.

Archaeologists and conservation experts are said to be uncomfortable about the project, and in two months a public meeting is to be held to discuss its implications.

Reuven Pinsky, head of the government heritage program in the Prime Minister's Office, says the project "balances conservation ethics and the desire not to harm the antiquities, while attaining maximum touristic value."

Pinsky says he finds it ironic that Herod's tomb, which was destroyed by Jewish rebels in the Great Revolt against the Romans "is being rebuilt by Jews 2,000 years later."

Herod, who ruled Judea from 37 BCE until 4 BCE, is considered the greatest builder this country has ever seen, as well as a mass murderer who wiped out the Hasmonean dynasty.

The museum exhibit and the Herodium model are both based on the research of the late Prof. Ehud Netzer, who devoted his life to the subject and discovered the tomb in 2007. Netzer was killed in a 2010 fall at Herodium not far from the tomb he had unearthed after decades of searching.

An Israel Museum worker putting the final touches on the Herod exhibition.Credit: Emil Salman

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