Though anyone interested in the potential relationship of Herod the Great to our dig site should first read the blog page dedicated to Omrit’s historical background, I thought I might append a few words on this king of New Testament notoriety. Whatever the evidence for the Massacre of the Innocents, it’s beyond doubt that Herod oversaw an unparalleled building program in his kingdom. This program likely included the putative Augusteum at Omrit and certainly included several of the locations the team visited on day trips this season. While I made mention in my last post of three Herodian building spots we toured, I neglected an exhibit we saw that has much to do with another of the king’s haunts, Herodium.
Entitled Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, the impressive show is on view at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem until January 4, 2014. The exhibit’s organizational principle is the funeral procession that would have taken the ruler from his deathbed in Jericho to his monumental tomb in 4 BCE. Just as this procession would have been an opportunity to commemorate Herod’s life and deeds, the show features mixed-media reconstructions of the architectural achievements through which the king made his mark on the Levantine landscape. And like the processional route itself, these reconstructions begin from a chamber of Herod’s palace at Jericho and end at his mausoleum, a tomb the late Prof. Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University seems to have discovered at Herodium in 2007. Each display includes architectural fragments and other finds from the corresponding archaeological site, and this is especially true of the mausoleum, reconstructed from pieces of the original and complete with what are thought to be the sarcophagi of the king and his family.
The show has given new vigor to my continuing reflection on the motivation for Herod’s construction projects, first among them the Augusteum that may lie in ruins at Omrit. In underscoring the variety and scale of these projects, the displays make apparent that the ruler used architecture in a delicate, sophisticated process of statecraft. It’s therefore plausible that he erected an Augusteum at our site, where Temple I seems to have encased the structure and absorbed the cult activity of an earlier, locally important pagan shrine. The Augusteum at Omrit would not only have helped declare Herod’s loyalty to Rome and his embodiment of imperial authority in his kingdom, but would also have helped define this kingdom in more pluralistic terms, terms favorable to the region’s internal stability.
For more information on Herod the Great: The King’s Final Journey, check out the Israel Museum’s website at http://www.english.imjnet.org.il.