Today we resumed the field study which was cut short last week due to rocks and broken windows. We visited Herodion and Ramat Rahel, which may be ancient Beth Hakkerem.
The Herodion is a fortress built by Herod the Great. It was one of many massive building projects that he carried out. Unfortunately for him, Herod lived during the Roman occupation of Judea. Thus, he was king of only the tiny province of Judea and as part of the Roman Empire, he could not expand his territory. Dr. Wright often compares Herod to the genie in Disney’s Aladdin.
“Infinite power, itty-bitty living space.”
Exterior of Herodion
Of course Herod did not have infinite power, but he did have enormous potential and drive to create an empire of his own. Since he was unable to expand his kingdom horizontally, he expanded it vertically, literally. The Herodion is a mountain where, prior to Herod, there was only a hill. He found two hills side by side, and forced the Jews to scrape the top off of one hill to pile it on top of the other. So, today there is the massive Herodion, and a very tiny hill next to it.
Parts of the outer surface of the Herodion have been exposed by archaeologists. This surface is made of large blocks of smoothed and slanted limestone. They are very reminiscent of the pyramids at Giza. From what we know of Herod’s ego it’s quite believable that he might have been trying to top the grand architecture of the long-dead pharaohs when he built Herodion.
Wilderness East of Herodion
Herod had an ego that matched and probably overshot his potential. The Herodion was built facing Jerusalem, and can be seen from the city. Herod’s grave has probably been found and it appears to have been a gigantic monument on the Jerusalem side of the Herodion. It’s reminiscent of Absalom and Zedekiah’s monuments in the Kidron Valley
. Those two structures would have already been built at the time of Herod. He probably saw them and built his tomb monument even bigger to overshadow the other two.
Me Inside Herodion
Herod, the Half-Jew
Many translations of the biblical text call Herod the King of the Jews. This is an inaccurate translation. Caesar would never allowed Herod to possess that title. There were Jews throughout the Roman Empire at this time, and for Herod to be called the King of the Jews, would set him up to rival Caesar.
Herod was not even a true Jew. His mother was a Nabatean and his grandfather was an Edomite/Idumean. He was often called a “half-Jew” in jest, but even that was not true. Herod’s “Jewishness” came about only because John Hyrcanus had forced the Edomites to be circumcised during Maccabean rule. Herod had no Jewish blood in him, and because of that, and his wickedness, he was despised by those whom he ruled.
The Magi’s Escape From Bethlehem, Around Herodion
From the top of Herodion you can see all the way to the Dead Sea on the East, and up past Jerusalem to the Northwest. Bethlehem is on the hill across the valley from the Herodion, and Jesus was born here, within eyesight of Herodion.
Have you ever wondered what route the Magi took when the fled from Herod. I had never thought about it, but now that I am here this escape is a bit more interesting. Logic says that the Magi would have taken a road known as the Tekoah Ridge Route right past the Herodion. The other routes would have either taken them back past Jerusalem or made their journey miles and miles longer. That must have really peeved Herod to know that the Magi sneaked out of his land, right under the nose of his great fortress. Apparently, he was peeved. He could not punish the Magi, but he could rest a little easier by killing this future king. So he gave orders for all boys under two years old in Bethlehem to be killed! What a monster!
The Region of Herodion
All around the Herodion, to the East and South is the Hill Country. These were the hills where David shepherded. It was a dangerous place. Three thousand years ago, lions from the jungle of the Jordan would roam here and bears from the Galilee would come down looking for easy prey. The only food out there for David to eat would have been salt bushes and lizards. From this height you can also see Tekoa, where the prophet Amos was from.
Dr. Paul Wright teaching about ashlar masonry at Ramat Rahel
Ramat Rahel = Beth Hakkerem?
Our day ended at an excavation that is still going on next to the Ramat Rahel kibbutz. This is on a hill just south of Jerusalem. At this site, remains have been found of an iron age Judean palace. Its walls are made with large stones that were quarried from the nari crust of eocene limestone
. The best excavated example of iron age stonework in the world is here. Also found here are some proto-ionic pillar capitals. It is thought that the Greek version of the Ionian capital might have originated here. It was interesting to discover that the design on these capitals also appears in the palace of the king of Israel, in Samaria. In fact, the palace in Samaria was almost identical to the one in Judah. The palaces of the nations surrounding the Jews look like mirror images of the palaces of Judah and Samaria.
Why do the palaces of all of these nations that are so often at war with one another look so much the same? It is because despite their ideological differences, there is a cultural continuity linking all of these nations and peoples.
The identity of this palace at Ramat Rahel is not known for sure. The best guess at its identity is that it is Beth Hakkerem which appears in Jeremiah 6:1.
“Flee for safety, people of Benjamin! Flee from Jerusalem! Sound the trumpet in Tekoah! Raise the signal over Beth Hakkerem! For disaster looms out of the north, even terrible destruction.”
This is a possible identity of the site, because of its location between Tekoa and Jerusalem. The dating of this site makes it possible that the beginnings of a palace may already have been here at the time of Hezekiah, and that it was he who strengthened it as he went about building defenses for Jerusalem.