JERUSALEM — It would be an understatement to say that King Herod’s place in Jewish history is ambiguous.
Reviled for his cruel, harsh domestic policies, distrusted for his close affiliation with the Romans and seen as inauthentic because of his Idumean background, the Judeans did not much like him despite the relative economic prosperity he helped bring about at the time. Herod was feared and hated by the people of Judea, and respected and admired by his Roman overlords, and even by others who marvelled at the acuity of his esthetic, architectural vision.
He was a ruler on a grand scale and was responsible for vast building programs and majestic architectural structures in Judea, which at the time was but a tiny province in Rome’s quite large and expansive empire.
A sense of who the Idumean King of Judea was is now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in a newly installed exhibition called Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey.
The exhibit opened on Feb. 12 and is attracting wide international interest and attention. The scale, pageantry and pomp of Herodium, the king’s palace just south of Jerusalem, have been recreated in part for the world to see. So, too, is his final resting place, the massive mausoleum there.
Herodium is located some 12 kilometres south of Jerusalem on the edge of the Judean Desert. It was built by Herod to commemorate his decisive victory over the Parthians and their alliance with Antigonus, Herod’s Hasmonean opponent, in 40 BCE. It housed a massive administrative centre, palace, fortress, theatre, sport complex and his final resting place.
Hebrew University of Jerusalem archeologist, Prof. Ehud Netzer, spent some 40 years exploring the site and eventually, in 2007, made a breakthrough discovery of Herod’s tomb, an 80-foot tower-shaped mausoleum.
More than 250 artifacts, weighing some 30 tons, were collected by Netzer’s team and are now on display at the Israel Museum, curated by David Mevorah, Silvia Rozenberg and Rodney Soher.
The doors of the exhibition open onto a replica setting of the calm Judean desert and from there into a series of chambers highlighting the world in which Herod lived and many of his accomplishments during his 33-year reign.
According to the museum, Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey seeks to provide a better understanding of this ancient figure through the monumental architecture he created and the art and objects with which he surrounded himself. The exhibition examines Herod’s remarkable building projects, complex diplomatic relations with the Roman emperors and nobility, and dramatic funeral procession from Jericho to the mausoleum he constructed for himself in Herodium. A striking reconstruction of the burial chamber of the mausoleum is a centrepiece of the exhibition.”
Herod had a penchant for the lavish and the opulent. A sampling of his tastes is on display in the exhibit: mosaic floors, painted frescoes, heated rooms, running water, sumptuous baths, statues, busts of Roman emperors and paintings. There is even a royal room – a VIP box – to the theatre on the premises.
He emulated the Roman Emperor Augustus Caesar and ensured that all of his palaces enjoyed the same level of luxury as those of Caesar. Mosaic floors carpeted many of his rooms.
The gathering and display of Netzer’s findings is a breathtaking view of a person who was at the centre of events in Judea at one of the most critical periods of the development of western civilization.
Tragically, Netzer did not live to see the public presentation of his life’s work. He died after a fall while working at the site in October 2010. The exhibition is dedicated to his memory.
The exhibit runs until Oct. 5, 2013.