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King Herod's Hilltop Palace (Herodium)

Archaeologists unearth huge entryway with frescoes and rebel tunnels in Herod's palace

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Archaeologists have uncovered a monumental entryway and corridor with arches and frescoes that led into the courtyard of King Herod’s hilltop palace complex, known as Herodium, in the Palestinian West Bank.

King Herod ruled Judea under the auspices of Rome when Jesus was born and attempted to have the baby Jesus killed when the Magi came to worship him. The Magi had told Herod the expected savior’s coming was announced by the rising of a bright star, the New Testament says. Jesus’ family fled to Egypt to escape Herod.

Archaeologists from Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Archaeology, who have been excavating Herod’s palace for years, found exits to tunnels that were used by Jewish rebels in the second century.

Herodian Palace entry complex

Palace entry complex discovered at Herodian Hilltop Palace by Hebrew University archaeologists (Credit: Hebrew University of Jerusalem).

This is the King Herod about whom his master, Roman Emperor Augustus, said, “I would rather be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son.”  Herod had his own sons and some of his wives and a brother-in-law killed and also ordered boys in Bethlehem under age 2 slain in retaliation for the Magi’s role in Jesus’ escape.

“Herod's slaughter of the infant boys as accounted in the New Testament vividly reflects the pathological character of the king. He murdered members of his own family yet scrupulously observed Mosaic dietary laws and would eat no pork,” says.

Herod's slaughter of infant boys

Herod's slaughter of infant boys. 'Massacre of the Innocents' by Fra Angelico, c 1450 AD.  (Wikimedia Commons)

However, there is a discrepancy between scriptures and recorded history. King Herod died in 4 B.C., four years before Jesus is believed to have been born.

King Herod built great cities and fortresses, was a patron of Greek culture in Judea and was a formidable warrior in battle, but he was a hated tyrant.

Hebrew University’s news website describes what the archaeologists found: 'The main feature of the entryway is an impressive corridor with a complex system of arches spanning its width on three separate levels These arches buttressed the corridor’s massive side-walls, allowing the king and his entourage direct passage into the Palace Courtyard. Thanks to the supporting arches, the 20-meter (65 feet) long and 6-meter (20 feet) wide corridor has been preserved to a height of 20 meters.'

Herodium excavations

Herodium excavations (Wikimedia Commons)

Archaeologists speculate the entryway was part of Herod's plan to transform Herodium into a volcano-shaped hill. They concluded the entrance was never used because it became redundant. Herod determined to convert the palace into a burial mound when he became sick and knew he would die. The corridor and most other structures on the hill were filled in, including a theater discovered in 2008. One edifice was left: Herod’s tomb.

The team found evidence of the Bar Kokhba Revolt period of 132-136 A.D. They found tunnels on the site dug by rebels to wage guerrilla war against the Roman occupiers. Wooden beams support the tunnels, which exited the hilltop palace through the corridor’s walls. Openings were hidden in the corridor just recently unearthed.

After excavations are complete, visitors to the Herodium hilltop fortress will be able to enter it the same way Herod did 2,000 years ago: through the arched corridor, into the courtyard. Officials also plan to allow direct access to the palace on the top of the hill from structures on the slope, such as the royal theater and the mausoleum via a monumental stairway previously unearthed.’s article about King Herod, called 'the Great,' says though he was Jewish he was disliked by Jews of the time. Later he was considered a great enemy of Christians and Jews for his attempt to assassinate the newborn Jesus and for killing the young boys.

'Although Herod had exceptional leadership skills, he was extremely disliked by the Jews. His attitude toward the Maccabean dynasty, to which he was related by marriage, along with his insolence and cruelty, angered them all the more. He even had his brother-in-law and several of his wives and sons executed,' Bible History says.

Herod Antipas was King Herod’s son. Herod Antipas ruled Galilee during Jesus' life and at the time of his crucifixion and death. He has been accused of conspiring to kill Jesus, but there is little or no historical or biblical support for this.

Featured image: Herodium hilltop palace. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Mark Miller



Peter Harrap's picture

So, King Herod did not massacre all male children, at Christ’s birth, as he died in 4B.C.?

Are our assumed dates for Christmas wrong?

In the last book of the Christian Bible, the Apocalypse, Jesus refers to Herod Antipas (claimed here to be King Herod’s son): Revelation 2:13 has Christ name Antipas as His “faithful witness” or “faithful servant” ( “who was put to death in Satan’s Kingdom, even as I received from my Father” etcetera, depending on which of the many available translations you like best.

This isn’t physical death or martyrdom then, but initiatic “death” leading to rebirth and a new life.

It would appear to be fact that the Apocalypse is Christ’s record , given to St John The Divine in visions, of those who became saints due to their own efforts on earth at that time- just as now the same tradition continues in India, by exactly the same methods for everybody who geniunely demands it.

Biblical history is called into question by these scriptural truths, as the number of teaching stories and parables in the Bible are colossal relative to the number of actual physical facts, from Page 1 onward!!



The opening chapters of Matthew are quite heavily layered with imagery that was specifically tailored to legitimise Jesus to a mainly Jewish-Christian readership. Like lots of events described in ancient texts, let alone a sacred text, the lack of corroboration doesn't mean it didn't happen. Herod, for all his extravagant apparant psychopathic profligacies was a capable operator and it's not unreasonable to hypothesise a cover up. Just as a skeptic might point out that the massacre and flight to Egypt and importance of dreams in the narrative might suggest parallel with the first Joseph and Exodus. There is liberal quoting from this and the prophets as well so it could just be midrash in a Christian context.

This just means the events in Matthew can't be added (and shouldn't be added) to secular history as anything but a maybe. And c'mon! It's Christmas!

Ah yes posting a link to the oh so trust worthy and reliable Wikipedia. Doesn't help your argument much. If any at all.

The reports of Herod's Massacre of the Innocents have been greatly exaggerated. (...) It probably never happened.

"... Robert Eisenman argues that the story may have its origins in Herod's murder of his sons, an act which made a deep impression at the time. ..."

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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