Sing: A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, UMH 110
In 40 BC Herod (the Great – I don’t like calling him that because there was nothing truly great about him except his ego) had to flee from Jerusalem and his enemy Antigonus who caught up with Herod southeast of Bethlehem. A desperate battle followed and Herod escaped and made his way to Rome where the Roman Senate crowned him the King of the Jews and sent him back to rule Judea. Three years later his kingdom was secure under the Romans. To commemorate the battle that changed his life Herod built a governmental and administrative center that was also a palace and a fortress on this site at the edge of the desert and named it after himself.
The first feature that catches your eye is the double-walled circular tower palace-fortress surrounded by a man-made mountain. But this is only one of the three main parts of this unique ancient wonder. There is also a ground-level entertainment and administrative center north of the tower/mountain. And on the northeast slope of his artificial mountain Herod built his funeral complex which included his tomb and a royal theater.
During our visit to Herodium we found the down-side to seeing Israel in the snow – snow melts and makes mud! Jerusalem is approximately the same latitude as Palestine, Texas – so snow and ice don’t last very long around here. We could still see some snow in places on the north-facing ruins of Herodium but it was a muddy slog up the hill to the top. From the top we had a good 360-degree view. We could see Bethlehem and hear the afternoon call to prayer from the surrounding villages. If it had been clearer we might have been able to see the Dead Sea.
The story of Herodium did not end with Herod’s death in 4 BC. His son Archelaus, mentioned in Matthew 2:22, used it for about a decade before the Romans sent him into exile. The Romans then used Herodium until Jewish rebels captured it in 66 AD. The rebels at Herodium were expelled in 71 AD by the Romans. In 132 AD, the Jews leading the Bar Kokhba Revolt took Herodium as their secondary headquarters. The Romans retook Herodium in early 135 AD. Upper and lower Herodium were occupied and used until the 7th and 9th century, respectively, and then abandoned. Archeological excavations began on Herodium in 1962 and today it is part of Israel’s National Parks Authority.
It was amazing to see to what extremes Herod would go in order to feel safe and comfortable in his own kingdom. It seems that every palace that Herod built was also a fortress. Herod also had fortress/palaces at Masada, Machaerus, and Hyrcania. But I guess it is not necessarily paranoia if lots of people really do want to kill you.
Thank God that we have a fortress which will never fall into ruin.