Thursday, February 25, 2010

Central Benjamin Plateau with a Special Birthday Edition for Mom

Posted by Eric and Colleen 

Wadi Qilt

The other day, I went with Eric on his Field Study for his Physical Settings of the Bible class. We made stops at the Wadi Qilt, Jericho of OT and NT, Nebi Samwil, and ended at Gezer (each discussed in brief below). To visit these places on our own would be amazing, but with his professor, we are able to see them in their Biblical context. Before arriving in Jerusalem, Eric had over 20 large maps that he had to mark up for class. The markings were very extensive and time consuming. It is clear as to why this was a prerequisite because he has had very little time outside of class to work on them and they are used on these field studies. Today, I was able to look on with Eric and actually see the land these maps refer to.  With maps in hand, we looked out and were able to see it in 3-D. The professor would read stories from the Bible as we were able to envision the people who once were there.



In 30 years of studying the Bible, learning the events, names and -- more germane to this discussion, the places -- nothing could have adequately prepared me for the incredible views I saw firsthand in the deep canyons on the descent to Jericho from Jerusalem.  I have seen pictures, video clips, and interacted with 3D maps galore, I have probably traced over every square mile of the land of Israel in some virtual / digital form or another, but until I stood on the ridge over the Wadi Qilt, I could not possible understand this land and what it was like for the characters of the Bible to live in and on it.  The Bible in true 3D on a 1:1 scale cannot be simulated. I had the entirely wrong picture of the terrain of the Bible.                                        Eric


Our first stop was at Wadi Qilt.  A Wadi is a system of gullies that remain dry except for the rainy season (which is Oct to March) in which they can quickly fill up with water – flash floods kill several people, usually unsuspecting hikers, every year here as a result.  The Wadis are like the fingers of a hand that eventually come together to form a single  stream, the tips of the fingers forming at the peaks of the mountains and moving down. Most of the Wadi’s on the eastern side of the main North-South ridge through Israel run down and to the East where they eventually dump into the Rift Valley and ultimately the Jordan river below.  Over the ages, they have created exceptionally deep, rugged valleys that are nearly impassible except on the tops of the precious few continuous ridge routes.  We’re including quite a few pictures in a feeble attempt to help you grasp the vastness of this wilderness.  Following will be some significance of this stop.


Standing on the ridge above the Wadi Qilt.


Notice the main leg of the Wadi cut below us on the bottom right corner.


If you make one wrong turn here you’re toast.  The ridges are often  narrow with steep drops below.  The steep banks make traversing the hills nearly impossible.  Thus, the path we took is the same one Jesus and the disciples would have taken from Jericho to Jerusalem, the same path spoken of in the parable of the Good Samaritan, etc…  Note, if you click the picture you can see the flat broad plains in the background which is the Rift Valley and Jericho in particular.

Wadi Qilt 1

There’s Eric about to fall off the end of the world.

Wadi Qilt 2

A little more zoomed in, Eric’s standing at the same spot. Can you hear him yelling, “Colleen, the life insurance policy is in the top right drawer!”?


Same again.  Can you read his shirt?  It’s all true.

The Rolling Hills of the Wadi Qilt

Colleen loves the views, hates the edges. I keep telling her its not falling that’s the problem, its the landing.


We call that fellow behind Eric “Jesus”.  Speaking of the real Jesus, you can imagine the 40 days of fasting were made a little bit “easier” by his surroundings.  Kind of like when you go on a diet its easier to avoid Ice-Cream if you don’t have it in the house.  This is not to infer that Jesus had it easy mind you.


Dr. Wright, Eric’s Prof for this class standing.  He had us all sit still and silent for a minute to notice what we could hear.  It was dead silent wilderness.  If we had been there earlier we could have possibly heard the eagles and other large birds-of-prey rising from their homes near the bottom of the ridges, “Flying away on the wings of the dawn” (Ps 139).  Or at night – a very dangerous place to be – you could hear the jackals. In the time of David bears and lions roamed throughout.  Perhaps the most dangerous thing though – the white scorpions – get bitten by one of these guys and you’ve got 7 seconds. 

Look carefully, you can see the Bedouin boys coming on the donkey in the left-hand picture.  Zoomed in on the right.
Donkey on the Wadi Qilt

The Donkey was very popular as you can see by the shadows.

Bedouin boys showing off their riding skills.  One of the boys took off running down after this  on the very narrow ledge next to the cliff.


Alibaba and Collebaba.


Wadi Qelt, So What?

When we read of Jesus going into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days – this is where he was – not necessarily on this spot, but somewhere in the pictures above.  One of the 3 temptations afterwards was in Jericho, in view from here. As we stood here, I wanted so badly to run home (well, figuratively) and get the girls because we had just read this event in our daily readings. As stated above, you can see that the options are limited for travel through this area.  When people spoke about the “path Jesus took” I never understood how these paths could be known because the land is so vast but being here, you can see there’s really no alternative route.  I also assumed these were sand dunes that would shift with time, but these are actually limestone (Senomanian limestone, to be exact). Thus, this is the passageway since well before Jesus and continues to this day.


Psalm 139

O Lord, you examine me and know.
You know when I sit down and when I get up;even from far away you understand my motives.You carefully observe me when I travel or when I lie down to rest, you are aware of everything I do.Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O Lord, being thoroughly aware of it.You squeeze me in from behind and in front;you place your hand on me.Your knowledge is beyond my comprehension; it is so far beyond me, I am unable to fathom it. Where can I go to escape your spirit? Where can I flee to escape your presence? If I were to ascend to heaven, you would be there.If I were to sprawl out in Sheol, there you would be.If I were to fly away on the wings of the dawn, and settle down on the other side of the sea,even there your hand would guide me,your right hand would grab hold of me…

We were also amused by the Bedouin children on their donkeys carrying their wares to sell. Interesting about the Bedouins—they are a nomadic people but because of the growing cities and roadways in Israel, they are beginning to build semi-permanent homes. While tents have been there dwelling for a long time, they are now setting up what looks like shanty towns. This is a common trend among nomads. Anthropologists liken this transition -- from true nomad to semi-nomad to permanent settler – to the transition the Israelites took from the age of the Patriarchs. Just as Abraham first dwelt in a tent and the later families had houses, so these Bedouins homes will one day be constructed with the white limestone of the area.


From the Wadi Qilt, we drove down (about 4000‘ in elevation) to the two Jericho settlements of the NT and then the OT. The NT Jericho was another of Herod’s palaces located about 2 miles from OT Jericho (more on the location change below). It was built from a previous Hasmonian structure, he just made it bigger and better as was his nature. Jericho was an important and popular frontier location for a couple of reasons. 

First, because Jericho (and the region near it) only receives a maximum of 4” of rain per year, and only 6 months of the year at that, it is not by rain alone able to sustain an agrarian life. However, Jericho is the site of a huge spring that to this day produces over 1,000 gallons of water per minute. Currently all that water is siphoned, processed and piped throughout the “modern” city of Jericho, while in Herod’s (and Jesus’) day, it would have spread out and created a beautiful green oasis on the edge of the desert.  Thus it was an important agricultural center and vacation spot for the rich and famous.

Secondly, Jericho is the gateway to the hill country of Israel to the West.  Major trade routes converge here, including the King’s Highway which ultimately connects Damascus, Egypt, Persia, Babylon through Israel at this spot.

Third, gateways need gates.  And Jericho was an important defensive point to the west. It was also the very South Eastern edge of the Roman empire, of which Herod was in charge of safekeeping. 

Now, wherever you have palaces and the rich you have the poor and destitute who hope to live off the scraps of those more fortunate.  Jesus spoke often of the poor.  While sitting at the palace we read the passage about the blind beggar in Jericho that Jesus healed. The palace lay right on the route Jesus would have taken to Jerusalem – you can clearly see the path that carries into the Wadi Qilt from here.  As we sat in the ruins of the once splendid palace in the once fabulous oasis we reflected on Jesus in his triumphal entry which took him from Jericho to Jerusalem.  What was Jesus thinking as He left the green oasis and walked past the palace into the very wilderness from which he had three years prior been tempted—all while knowing what lie ahead? 

DSC_0029 At NT Jericho. Behind Dr Wright is the remains of the worlds oldest bridge that spanned the Wadi Qilt to our right here.  At this point the land has flattened out considerably, and we easily walked down into the Wadi.
DSC_0030 This is one trick Eric uses to keep track of what various pictures relate to – otherwise rocks begin to look alike after a while. We’ve already taken over 2,200 pictures, most of them fairly well catalogued. And you thought we were showing you all our pictures!
IMG_0013 This is the bottom of the Wadi Qilt in Jericho near Herod’s palace.  Remember most Wadis are only wet when it rains or shortly thereafter. The hill behind is much more shallow and shorter than we saw in the high ridges earlier.  It all gets very flat here in Jericho and further East.

The son in the field was dutifully helping his father lay tubing for irrigation in one of their fields as the mom watched the other kids.
DSC_0039 Standing in Jericho looking back at the hills you see in the Wadi Qilt section above. Herod named this one Marisa after his mommy whom he loved.
DSC_0043 Herod’s palace.  It was quite, well, palatial. Again you can see the mountains that separate Jericho and Jerusalem in the background.  The Wadi Qilt runs along the left side, below where the guy is standing on the far left, about half way up the picture.
DSC_0042 Queen Colleen in the palace.
DSC_0040 Colleen pointing at a very important find at the palace. 
DSC_0041 Here you can see it better… what is it? Its the remains of a Fresco painting.  Wow. Amazing!  Actually, it is significant, as it tells us how beautiful it must have been.
IMG_0012 Notice the slanted bricks in Herod’s palace.  This was a new invention – slanting that is, bricks are much older. It made the structure much more sound.


At the palace we again were met by a sweet Bedouin family.  They were as curious about what we were doing as we were about what it would be like to have a Herodian palace literally in your front yard. I imagined how the kids must climb the ruins and play make believe in the different rooms not knowing a real king actually lived there.

OT Jericho

It was then off to OT Jericho where we climbed and studied the Tell of Joshua’s Jericho. This Tell is the most excavated sight in all of Israel. This Jericho is also the oldest known city of the world.  Some of which dates to the Neolithic Era, ca 8500-4500BC.  That’s before Moses, before Isaac, before Abraham, and by Young Earth folks, even before Noah.

The story of Joshua has a very important sequence of events that can be seen in the excavations here.  First, the falling of the city walls and the conquest (Joshua 6:1-23). Second, all but the gold was to remain – whereas normally you would take with you whatever you find (6:24).  Third, the city was burned (6:24).  Fourth, it was cursed and prohibited from inhabitation – thus creating a long span of non-habitation (6:26).   And finally, fifth, it was re-built by Hiel during the reign of Ahab, Heil’s sons die as a result of the curse (1 King 16:34). 

Well, the remains of Jericho match this sequence perfectly.  The pictures below partly “tell” the story (pun intended).

DSC_0046 I forgot to get a picture of the actual fallen walls, but at the bottom of this picture is the outer, brick wall that they found fallen when they excavated.
The picture also doesn’t show very well, but you could clearly see the burn line showing the total destruction of the city by fire.
DSC_0049 After the burn, there’s a large gap in the habitation of Jericho which matches the timing.

This picture is very important, detailed in the next one…
DSC_0050 This shows pottery as the archeologists find it when digging.  The pottery was filled with burnt rice.  Very, very unusual find.  You just don’t normally capture a city and burn it with everything inside without first taking the contents. This matches perfectly the story.
IMG_0019 Jericho was also once the home of a Neolithic age tower – at 6,000 plus years old, the oldest known existing building in the world. Eric climbed down and got a closer look and some of the students actually climbed in.
DSC_0060 Students in the 6,000 year old tower.


Why Two Jerichos?

Actually there are three. Old Testament Jericho, from the time of … well, forever ago, through Joshua existed in the same spot for, well, a really, really long time.  Then, for some strange reason, it moved south and was rebuilt by other people and fortified by the Hasmoneans and then Herod.  Why would a place that had been a perfectly good location for several thousand years no longer remain there?  I can’t think of any good reason except the fulfillment of Joshua’s curse. 

So, Herod’s Jerusalem, or New Testament Jerusalem too was eventually abandoned.  Why?  Not sure actually.  It could be that the location so close to the Wadi proved dangerous. People who build houses at precarious locations (I’m thinking of a “small” town in Louisiana built below sea level for example…) tend to lose them to nature eventually.  The Wadi Qilt could possibly be a 300 year flood plane or something, and it all washed away? That’s conjecture, and worth what I charged you for it. 

The third Jericho is “modern”, Byzantine era (300-400 AD) Jericho, basically between OT and NT Jericho’s.  It’s a very Arab town, in occupied West Bank today. It’s not a very pretty place, though for thousands of Arabs who have access to nothing better, the little bit of green here is like paradise.  Many flock to “modern” Jericho to this day because compared to the wilderness it neighbors, it truly is an oasis.  (There’s even a water park there, named Banana Land!)

Moving Westward

We moved from Jericho west, back through the plains above the Wadi’s but this time taking a leg further north, following the route Joshua took toward Ai, his second conquest. Unfortunately I have no pictures to show you but they wouldn’t do any justice to the roads and the incredible deep, steep valleys and cliffs, very narrow twisting, turning roads, which the bus driver had to honk before making the curve to alert possible oncoming traffic to beware.  It was some of the most intense landscape I have ever seen.  Again, reiterating the dire need for the people of all ages prior to automobiles to be certain of their route before they started – lest they make any fatal turns that could waste considerable time backtracking to the pass or worse yet, falling to their demise.  

imageFollow the Maroon markers and lines for this trip on the map (click it).

Nebi Samwil

The next leg of the trip, was onto west of Jerusalem to  Nebi Samwil. Surprisingly, the building we stopped at was both a mosque and synagogue. Now, tell me in a country that seems to be always at war, how can this happen. Well, Eric and I have seen that there are far more Arabs and Israelis trying to live together than the media would like us to think. Even the YMCA, which was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize is an establishment with unity as its main goal between these 2 peoples. A good lesson is that it only takes a few bad eggs on either side to ruin it for everybody else. The media doesn’t help with its addictive need for drama.

Anyway, on the roof of the Nebi Samwil synogogue/mosque, we could see Jerusalem, City of David, City of Saul along with many other cities. We read about and imagined Joshua and the Israelites coming over the ridge with the sun rising behind them as the Canaanites ran for their lives by the surprise attack (story of Gideon). Then later in the Bible, when Saul is falling in power and David is rising in power, it doesn’t take on the same meaning until you see that their capitols were in view of each other—and both visible from the top of this place in which we stood. Again, it was all in 3-D.

DSC_0068 A view from the top of the Nebi Samwil.

This is the supposed, though unlikely location for the prophet Samuel’s tomb.

Short 360 Panoramic Video from the top looking around.


After leaving that site, Eric looked at me in the bus and said, “I might as well throw my camera away because I just can’t capture what I’m looking at.” It’s true, to be here, see it while reading it beats all! What a blessing we are living. As Tina rightfully said, it is like we have won the lottery. A gift we don’t deserve. The icing on the cake is we get to share it with you!

Last Stop, Gezer

Our last stop was at Gezer. This is the gateway to Jerusalem. However, arriving in Gezer was like driving from west Texas and arriving in East Texas in 1 hour and not the 13 hours it should take. Take a look at the plush green landscape.


Plush green of Gezer. Compare to the pictures of Jericho above. Israel has the variations of California (mountains and desert, beaches and plains) in the space of New Jersey.  Its truly amazing what contrast you see in 30 minutes of driving.

The reason the lay of the land changes so much is because of 2 things: rain and great soil from the type of limestone. Gezer was grassy, lined with tall trees and the part we saw, newer. We were at the ruins of one of Solomon’s fortifications after marrying the Egyptian princess.

DSC_0091 Colleen is standing in the sewer drain that went out of the city gates of Solomon’s fortified city of Gezer.
Colleen, they’re not going to let you back on the bus with those stinky shoes!

From Gezer, you can see Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean coast. Gezer’s location gives you access to the international highway on the West and Jerusalem and the Hill Country of Benjamin to the East, which is what makes it so  important. If you control this gateway you control so much of the land and the commerce that travels through it, including Egypt, Syria, Philistia, Persia and other international powers. Again, the Bible became 3-D as the prof. read from the OT.

Return Home

We returned home about 7pm. The girls had a great day with their babysitter, going to church, baking cookies and playing UNO. There is a family at their church that has 12 kids. Can you imagine if we moved here with 12 kids? I was impressed that we moved here with 3—to each his own. : )

Well, I sure love coming home and sharing these things with you, my family and friends. Thank you for your prayers and interest in our journey.

Special Happy Birthday
to Colleen’s Mom

We wanted to include a couple of special images for Colleen’s mom, it’s her birthday today.  Everyone say, “Happy Birthday, Mrs. Kelley.”


As requested, Israeli Music

We shot this on the popular Ben Yehuda street where (mostly young) people gather in droves at the end of Shabbat to celebrate. For those in Austin it reminds us of 6th street, though without alcohol.
Some local “musicians” jamming it up, looking for a few Shekels (Shekalim, plural in Hebrew)


Israeli Flaminco Dancing

DSC_0136 DSC_0133 DSC_0137
IMG_0022 And finally, yes, the soldiers do have faces.

Shalom. The world’s longest blog post.

Happy Birthday Mom!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dung Gate Plus a Few Extra Photos

Posted by Colleen specifically for her sister, Kathleen

See, you can special order blogs. Cool, uh? The Dung Gate is so named because this is the gate through which the refuse would be thrown. It would then flow down into the Kidron Valley and meet up with the Hinnom Valley, yes the very valley we climb down into then up again every time we go to JUC. You might remember from an earlier post that Jesus would use this valley as a reference to Hell mainly because of the bad association it came to have.

The Dung Gate is one of the gates that cars travel through but another gate just a few feet away has been reopened to allow pedestrians through.

So here you go Kathleen, I hope it is all you imagined it being! By the way, this is the gate that most will enter and exit on their way to the Western Wall or the non-Moslem tourists to the Dome of the Rock —life has a way of arranging things in a way that was never intended.

Dung Gate or Bathroom or Both? Here is a sign pointing you to the Dung Gate and the restrooms. Hopefully, people understand that (for the last few hundred years at least) they are 2 different places.
Dung Gate The Dung Gate from inside Old City. You can see a Jewish couple leaving after praying at the Western Wall. If you click on it and see it larger, you can see the large round hat on the young Jewish man. Eric’s favorite hat … he keeps threatening to buy one for himself.
IMG_0140 Another view of the Dung Gate as Jewish families enter to go to the Western Wall.
IMG_0026 The Dome of the Rock with the Western Wall in the foreground. If I were to pan to the right you would see the Dung Gate.
IMG_0077 This is bread that we buy at the Dung Gate (they sell it all over Arab parts of Jerusalem). They also give you a bag with “spice” in it to dip the bread in. Lillian LOVES this bread. She often asks, “Can we get bread with spice?”
The bread is covered in sesame seeds. Why she picks them off of hamburger buns but not this bread is beyond me.
IMG_0012 Eric and the girls playing on the columns that were part of the main road (“Cardo”, i.e. “heart”)  through Old City built by the Romans in the Byzantine period (300s).
IMG_0013 A Roman period map, discussed in an earlier blog. This shows the road that Eric and the girls are playing on in the above picture.
IMG_0073 At the entrance of restaurants, shops and homes these Mezuzas (boxes containing scripture) are hung. This one is iron and located on the Zion Gate. What I have observed is a Jewish person will touch the Mezuza then kiss that hand.
Both apartments we have lived in have them at every door with the exception of the bathroom door. They range from very basic to very ornate. They aren’t all as big as the one shown here.
IMG_0007 This is specifically for the Dean boys. They were kind enough to blow their shofars for us as we skyped. While we enjoyed it very much and appreciated their effort, we thought they might want to see the shofars here in Israel. Sorry guys, don’t want  you to have shofar envy.
DSC_0008 This is just a cool picture. The Israeli soldiers are given a tour of Jerusalem as part of their training. It is important they know what and why they are defending this land rich with history.
IMG_0075 Don’t miss the ladies with their firearms. I always wonder if they are loaded.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Herod the Great

Posted by Eric and Colleen

For the 4 weeks that we have been here in Jerusalem, we have learned the lay of the land by walking it. I have discovered that its not only great getting to see these wonderful ruins and places of the Holy Land but getting to them is definitely 1/2 the enjoyment. On our walks tour busses, taxis and sharuts (shared taxies) all race past us to their next destination. By walking the city, we have begun to appreciate what it meant for all those who came before us so many years ago. Getting somewhere was no easy task for them but we have the advantage of nicely paved streets (usually) and even staircases (usually).

The Herodian

Herod The Great was anything but good. He was a man plagued with paranoia and greed. However, a book, titled Herod the Great Builder accurately reflects his astonishing, unparalleled greatness in architectural achievements.  One such achievement was the Herodian (aka Herodyom, aka Herodium), which we visited the other day.

How to Get There?

(click for a live map)


About 10 miles away, the Herodian is not exactly in walking distance, and it requires crossing into Palestinian territory, so our journey began with a walk to the Damascus Gate on the north side of Old City. This Gate is predominantly an Arab passageway so you get a little different cultural experience than the Zion and Jaffa gates—gates we typically enter through. It is also the gate where you can catch a sharut, taxi or bus for an out-of-town excursion. Because there are five of us, a taxi would be a pretty crowded ride so we moved on to  the sharuts. However a gentleman approached us and offered to drive us there himself in his SUV. In our negotiations with him, he reminded us that the sharuts would not be able to take us through Bethlehem to the Herodian because the Israelis are not allowed in Bethlehem. Since he was Arab, he would be able to take us without any trouble. So for 400NIS, we got a ride to the  Herodian and a ride back. He waited 1.5 hours for us as Eric showed and taught us what he had learned from his field study here a few days before.

As we left Jerusalem, it wasn’t long before we could see the Herodian in the distance. It is the largest peak around—considering the number of peaks, that’s saying a lot. It looks like a volcano as you approach because the top is flat.  There would have originally been 4 towers peaking another 60 feet above. On our previous trip east toward Jericho we saw the Bedouin tent cities and an occasional camel. Driving south out of Jerusalem, we saw sheep, goats, olive groves and a few men riding donkeys which appeared weighted down with all his goods. The olive groves were planted among the naturally terraced hillsides in this part of Israel. Just before arriving at the base of the Herodian, there was a red sign forbidding Israeli entry, though we turned left avoiding that road, it highlighted the tensions of the area, the reason for an Arab driver. 

Click on the picture below to see the naturally terraced landscape of the hills.




Herod the Horrible
74BC – 4BC

164BC Hasmonean Dynasty Starts

The Hasmoneans (aka Maccabean) dynasty begins 99 years of autonomy of the Jewish people. One of the hallmarks of Hasmonean rule was their forced conversion of the inhabitants of the land to Judaism (requiring the male participants to be circumcised, ouch).


140-130BC Capture of Idumea

Hasmonean ruler John Hyrcanus captured the Idumean region of Palestine (South-West). The Idumeans were descendants of the Edomites who had been pushed out of Edom (East of the Jordan, south of Dead Sea) early by previous Roman conquest. The Edomites were descendants of Esau. Thus the Idumeans were distant cousins of the Israelites.


The grandfather of Herod was one of the converts to Judaism. The father of Herod (Antipater the Idumean) was then a second generation convert.


63BC – Roman Capture

In 63BC, when Herod was 11, Rome’s Pompeii captured Palestine, thus ending the 99 years of autonomy the Jewish people had enjoyed under the Hasmonean dynasty.


 49BC – Herod as Governor of Galilee

At the age of 25, Herod was appointed as Governor of the region of Galilee, his older brother Phasael as governor of Jerusalem.

40BC – Recapture of Jerusalem

Antigonus II Mattathias (son of Aristobulus II, the king of the Macabees when Pompeii came), recaptured Jerusalem with the help of the Parthians.


Herod fled to Rome. Convinced Rome to name him King of Judea.


Herod marries the teenage niece of Antigonus, Mariamne, as an attempt to secure in the Jewish mind a rightful place on the throne. Herod was already married to Doris, so he had her and their 3 year old Antipater banished. Nice guy.

37BC – Herod Takes back Jerusalem

After capturing Jerusalem, Herod turned Antigonus over to Mark Anthony who had him beheaded, thus ending forever the Hasmonean dynasty, and starting the Herodian dynasty.


29BC – Mariamne Executed

Herod accuses his wife of adultery, likely trumped up charges. Her own mother, Alexandra witnesses against her. When Mariamne was executed, Alexandra names herself as queen declaring Herod as mentally unfit to rule. Herod had her executed without a trial.


28BC –Brother-in-law Executed


23BC-9BC Building Projects

·      27 Samaria rebuilt, named Sebaste

·      23 Palaces in Jerusalem & the Herodian

·      22 Starts Caesarea Maritima

·      20 Begins expansion of the Temple Mount and Second Temple

·      10 Temple Inaugurated (not completed)

·      9 Caesarea Maritima Inaugurated


7-4BC Survival

·      7 Had his sons by Mariamne executed fearing their uprising.

·      4 Had his son Antipater executed

·      Infanticide of all 2 year-olds in Bethlehem


4BC Herod Dies

Given how well hated he was, Herod’s greatest accomplishment was dying of old age.


Approaching the Herodian (click)



The Herodian was a double palace.  The lower palace (the columns in the picture left) was at the base of the hill.


Aerial view of the Herodian.

(Photo courtesy


The higher palace/fort was built into the top of the hill.

(Illustration courtesy


A Brief History of the Herodian

Built in 23 BC by Herod as a Palace / Fort controlling an important northward route into Jerusalem.  During the first Jewish revolt the Jews captured it in 70AD and held it until 73 when it was retaken by the Romans and largely destroyed. During this occupation a synagogue and Jewish ritual baths were built. Around 132 during the Jewish Bar Kokhba revolt the Jews once more captured the mound.  During this time they dug numerous escape routes and hide-out tunnels within.


Today, none of the remains protrude above the hill line.  Here you can get a small sense of the magnitude, by the size of the people half way up the hill. Where the people are walking is approximately where the natural hill stops and the artificial hill begins.

The Herodian was quite impressive. This was not just a hill that Herod fortified, he actually built most of the hill, raising an existing small hill using the rocks and dirt from an adjacent hill that was previously considerably higher than the Herodian.

Within in the walls, there was a synagogue, Raman baths (cold, warm and hot), cisterns, living quarters, courtyard, etc.


I was most impressed as we descended many floors below the surface through tunnels and cisterns used first by the Romans, then the Jews during the occupation of the Maccabean revolt, again by the Romans, and finally extended by the Jews during the Bar Kokhba revolt.

The cisterns were unbelievable and the tunnels extensive.


The Historian Josephus recorded that Herod was buried here, but since the 1940’s numerous excavations have not found any signs of a tomb.  Then, in 2007 it was finally located.

As you can see by the man lowering himself by a rope, the tomb is still being excavated but we got to see some of the progress.


The precision of the tomb’s cut stones was impressive.

DSC_0024 Celine, Colleen and Eric all took pictures of the excavation. We certainly will not return home short of pictures.  The challenge is to remember what they are. We have little time to label all of them.
Plastered Faux Stone over the original softer semi-chalky limestone

The soft chalky stones of the palace were originally plastered over with a faux impression of larger solid stones imprinted on the plaster. And you thought faux was a 1990’s thing.

IMG_0167 A view from the top behind the girls, looking down at the lower palace.  You can see the pool just left of Celine’s (middle) head.
HPIM2802 Another view of the lower palace with an idea of the climbs we are taking routinely.
IMG_0176 The original entrance to the palace now mostly covered by debris.
IMG_0191  Ancient toilet.
IMG_0192 Tally evidently couldn’t wait.
HPIM2857 …neither could Lillian. Celine used the facilities at the bottom of the hill. : )
IMG_0166 How would you like to look up to see one of these coming at you down the hill? These round “stones” were used by the Hasmoneans to fend off the Romans who were charging the hill. Simple, yet effective—and just cool to see.


Herod the Not So Great

There is no doubt that the architectural accomplishments of Herod are astounding, likely the greatest achievements of any one person in the history of mankind. The Herodian itself is a fine example of the magnitude of these achievements, having essentially moved a mountain to create another, more grandiose mountain.

“Regular” people are not able to accomplish so much in a lifetime. Herod was not, however a regular person – history bears this out. His maniacal, or worse yet, megalomaniacal nature can be seen in the brutal acts he did in the name of maintaining his throne – murdering his own wife and children, and all the babies of the entire village of Bethlehem are stark reminders of his character. It is as if Herod thought he could live forever, for why else would he murder his own progeny in order to prevent them from dethroning him?

Yet, all his measures to protect himself proved quite empty. Today nothing remains of Herod himself – even his tomb appears to have been destroyed. The poor guy couldn’t even preserve his dead body, let alone remain alive. But even more telling is the subtle irony seen in the picture above. The photo is an enlargement of the old, lower palace as seen from the top of the very impressive remains of the Herodian. These grounds themselves appear to portray a quite impressive establishment. But look closely at what is now being dumped onto what was once a part of Herod’s amazing palace – yes, that’s right, garbage from a local “modern” house. Someone who now lives in what appears to be near squalor over top of what used to be undoubtedly a quite impressive royal palace is throwing their trash into Herod’s former back yard. The King of the Jews couldn’t manage to stay alive any better than he could keep a quite poor person (at-least in comparison to Herod’s fortunes) from throwing their trash onto his old house.

Down the street a “nobody” was born in a very simple place – a birth place not really well suited for any person, certainly not that of a king. This “nobody” grew up the son of poor parents, not in a palace, or a fortress. He had nothing fanciful to hold over people as an adult. But this humble one who actually could have preserved his life chose not to, instead he died for the sins of the world, and as a result of this great sacrifice the world can benefit. Believers in Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, have a room with a view waiting for them in heaven, a place so wonderful that even the “trash” is better than the best riches of earth. Herod was a king determined to be known, and to preserve his life. Jesus was a man determined to give his life for all who know Him as their savior.

Which is greater? The way of the cross is crazy in how it reverses things…