Israeli archaeologists unearth Herod family tombs

BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank Wed Nov 19, 2008 3:54pm EST

1 of 5. A sarcophagus, one of three found where Herod's fortress palace once stood, is seen at Hebrew University in Jerusalem November 19, 2008. An Israeli archaeologist said on Wednesday he had unearthed the 2,000-year-old remains of two sacrophagi in which a wife and daughter-in-law of the biblical King Herod had been interred. The findings announced by Ehud Netzer of Jerusalem's Hebrew University could cast new light on the lavish lifestyle of the Roman-era monarch also known as the 'King of the Jews.'

Credit: Reuters/Baz Ratner

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BEIT SAHOUR, West Bank (Reuters) - An Israeli archaeologist said on Wednesday he had unearthed what he believed were the 2,000-year-old remains of two tombs which had held a wife and daughter-in-law of the biblical King Herod.

Other findings announced by Ehud Netzer of Jerusalem's Hebrew University provided new evidence of the lavish lifestyle of the Roman-era monarch also known as the "King of the Jews."

Herod, a Roman-anointed king who ruled Judea from 37 BC until his death in 4 BC, has a special place in biblical history. Herod rebuilt the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, making him a focus of study in the Jewish state.

The Gospel of Matthew says Herod ordered the "Massacre of the Innocents," the killing of male infants in Jesus' birthplace of Bethlehem, out of fear of losing his throne.

Netzer, an authority on Herodian excavations, showed reporters portions of two limestone sarcophagi he says had contained remains of one of Herod's wives, Malthace, and a daughter-in-law.

He said these findings supported his claims that another sarcophagus he found at the site in 2007 had been Herod's tomb. Some experts had said then the evidence seemed inconclusive.

Based on the additional sacrophagi he has found, and despite the absence of any inscriptions or documentation by the ancient Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, Netzer said:

"I would eat my hat if it were someone else's tomb."

At a visit to the dig site in Herodium, outside Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, where one of Herod's palaces once stood, Netzer showed reporters evidence of what he said was a mausoleum at the site, where the remains of the sacrophagi had been found.

Some bones were also found nearby but Netzer could not verify they belonged to any of the Herod dynasty.

Netzer said the remains of the monarch and his relatives likely disappeared when their tombs were smashed, possibly by Jewish rebels against the Romans from 66 to 72 AD.

He said his team was surprised when they came across further evidence of Herod's cushy lifestyle, a well-preserved mural of gazelles decorating walls of what Netzer believes was luxury seating for a theater.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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