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Citation for Archaeology and the Herodian Period

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Bartlett, John R. . " Archaeology." In The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies. Oxford Biblical Studies Online. Oct 23, 2014. <http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780199254255/obso-9780199254255-div1-18>.


Bartlett, John R. . " Archaeology." In The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies. Oxford Biblical Studies Online, http://www.oxfordbiblicalcstudies.com/article/book/obso-9780199254255/obso-9780199254255-div1-18 (accessed Oct 23, 2014).

Archaeology and the Herodian Period

When linking archaeology and ‘the Bible’, most writers have concentrated on the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures. Early discoveries impacted more upon the ancient Near East and the history of Israel than upon the life of Jesus and his early followers. The archaeology of Roman Palestine and the early church concerned classical rather than biblical scholars. This situation changed with the advent of the State of Israel, whose archaeologists had little interest in the early development of Christianity, but much interest in Hellenistic, Herodian, and Roman Palestine, and in the archaeology of early Judaism, especially that of early synagogues. First-century CE synagogues were excavated at Gamala (cf. Josephus, BJ 4. 1), at Masada, and perhaps at Magdala. Knowledge of first-century Jerusalem has been enhanced by Kenyon's work in the 1960s, B. Mazar's excavations on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) (Mazar and Mazar 1989), and Avigad's work in the Jewish Quarter (Avigad 1984). Excavations at Jericho by the American School of Oriental Research in the 1950s and 1960s, followed by the Hebrew University expedition under E. Netzer, revealed surprisingly sophisticated and luxurious Hasmonaean and Herodian palaces on the banks of the Wadi Qelt; other Herodian palaces were excavated at Masada and Herodium. Yadin's dramatic excavations at Masada (1963–5) demonstrated the development of the Herodian palaces, the Zealot occupation, and the Roman siege and destruction of the site. Excavation of Caesarea has been nearly continuous from the 1950s to the present, covering all periods of its history, but revealing especially the Herodian harbour and city, including a theatre, a temple platform, horrea vaults, and a grid system of streets (Levine and Netzer 1986; Holum et al. 1988; Holum 1997). In Galilee Sepphoris was excavated jointly by Duke University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1985–94) under E. Meyers, E. Netzer, and C. Meyers; some evidence of the Hellenistic and Herodian periods was found. Josephus says that Herod Antipas ‘fortified Sepphoris to be the ornament [perhaps militarily] of all Galilee, and called it Autocratoris [suggesting both its autonomy and its loyalty to Augustus]’ (Ant. 18. 27), but apart from the remains of a villa and several ritual baths (mikvaot) not much has survived to reveal the city's importance apart from the theatre, whose precise date is uncertain (Strange 1992; Meyers and Meyers 1997). Sepphoris is near Nazareth, and its influence on Jesus and his upbringing has been much discussed. Also important is the Late Hellenistic and Roman country villa of Tel Anafa (excavated 1968–73, 1978–86, under the direction of S. Weinberg and S. Herbert); in its Hellenistic phase it seems to have been associated with Tyre, but in its first-century CE Roman phase more closely with Galilee and Caesarea Philippi (in the territory of Herod Philip) (Weinberg 1971; Herbert 1991, 1997). South of Palestine, the kingdom and especially the architecture of Nabataea have been investigated (Wenning 1987; McKenzie 1990); McKenzie has recently reinvestigated the first-century temple at et-Tannur first excavated by Glueck (Glueck 1966; Roche 1997; McKenzie et al. 2002).

What has emerged from this work is the enormous extent of Herod's building programme in Palestine (not to mention his contribution abroad) (for full details see Roller 1998; Chancey and Porter 2001). Famously, Herod rebuilt the Jerusalem Temple, extending the older precinct (the join is visible in the east wall 32m north of the south-east corner) by huge in-fills and supporting walls, spanning the Tyropoeon valley on the west with a new staircase, and building broad stairways and two new entrances on the south side. (The size of the stones, some up to 10m long, is noted in Mark 13: 1 and parallels.) Herod built a huge palace for himself at Jerusalem on a podium 330 × 130m, the western and northern palaces on Masada, three palaces or large residential villas with audience halls, peristyle courts, gardens, and baths with hypocausts and hollow walls (tubulation) in the Wadi Qelt near Jericho, a palace fortress at Machaerus, east of the Dead Sea, a palace mausoleum at Herodium, west of it, a prison fortress Hyrkania, south of Jerusalem, the palace-fortress of Antonia in Jerusalem, three towers (Hippikos, Phasael, and Mariamme) in Jerusalem, border fortresses in Judaea (Arad, Aroer, Beersheba, Tel Ira), above Jericho (Doq and Kypros), in the Jordan valley (Alexandreion), in Peraia (Herodeion, later replaced by Livias), and in Galilee (Gaba). He built or rebuilt cities at Anthedon (renaming it Agrippias) near Gaza, Phasaelis, Esebonitis (biblical Heshbon), Sebaste (Samaria), Antipatris, possibly Sepphoris, and Caesarea with its port. He built temples to Augustus at Sebaste, Caesarea, and Paneion, and an enclosure round the patriarchal tombs at Hebron (perhaps hinted at by Jesus in Luke 11: 48), and a similar enclosure at Mamre nearby. He built amphitheatres at Caesarea, Jericho, and Jerusalem, theatres at Caesarea, Jerusalem, and perhaps at Sebaste and Jericho also, hippodromes at Jericho and Jerusalem, stadia probably at Jericho and Sebaste, and gymnasia in Syria but not within his own kingdom. Throughout Herod used Roman rather than Greek architectural technology and building techniques, including opus reticulatum, marble decoration, mosaics, and mural painting on plaster. He was particularly interested in hydraulic engineering, creating a sewage system at Caesarea, and various aqueducts and pools for his palaces. Apart from the reference in Mark 13: 1, and the hint in Luke 11: 48, the New Testament is regrettably silent on Herod's works. St Paul might have been aware of Herod's overseas contribution at Antioch, Damascus, and Athens.

Herod's sons continued the work. The ethnarch Archelaos built a new city, Archelais, near Jericho; Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, founded Tiberias (John 6: 23) in honour of the emperor Tiberius, with a magnificent palace (did Jesus have this in mind in Matt. 11: 8?), a synagogue, and a stadium (not excavated), and refounded Sepphoris as Autocratoris, perhaps building its theatre. Philip, tetrarch of Peraia, founded Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8: 27 and par.), honouring both Caesar and himself, near Paneion. He refounded Bethsaida as Julias, naming it after the emperor's wife, whose image he put on his coins. Bethsaida was the city of the disciples Peter, Andrew, and Philip (John 1: 44; see also Mark 8: 22, Luke 9: 10, 10: 13). Peter and Andrew were fishermen, and one house excavated from the Hellenistic/Early Roman levels at Bethsaida contained a fishing hook, lead weights, and a curved needle for net mending (Arav 1991). From the Sea of Galilee itself was excavated (1985) a first-century carvel-built boat 8.2m long (Wachsmann 1986–7).

Excavation has revealed many details of first-century life. The ‘Burnt House’ in Jerusalem vividly illustrates the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE; in the debris were found stone jars, cups, and bowls meeting the demands of Jewish purification law (cf. John 2: 6; cf. also Mark 7: 3–4). Ritual baths (miqvaot) at Sepphoris, Masada, and elsewhere illustrate the contemporary Jewish concern for ritual cleanliness. Hundreds of stone ossuaries witness to funerary practice; some bear the names and occupations of the person whose bones they preserved. The names, in Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek, include many names well known from the Bible. One such ossuary bore the name of ‘Alexander son of Simon’ in Greek, with ‘Alexander of Cyrene’ in Aramaic (cf. Mark 15: 21, Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander); another, with ‘Yehosep son of qyp'’ brings to mind the high priest Caiaphas (McKane 1997). Coins (in the gospels the silver denarius of Mark 13: 15; the copper as, or assarion, one-sixteenth of a denarius, of Matt. 10: 29; the quadrans, one-quarter of an as, cf. Matt. 5: 26; and the lepton, half of a quadrans, the widow's mite, Mark 12: 42, Luke 12: 59) give useful information about the Hasmonaean and the Herodian rulers, and of Roman administration (see Betlyon 1992). One form of the denarius minted by Mark Antony c.31 CE shows the eagle (a symbol of Roman power) between two military standards. Herod's erection of an eagle over the temple entrance caused a riot, as did Pontius Pilate's introduction in 26 CE of Roman military standards, with their images of the emperor, into Jerusalem (Jos. BJ 2. 169–74; Ant. 18. 55–9). Such coins may explain Jesus' saying in Matt. 24: 28/Luke 17: 37 (Kreitzer 1996: 58–68). Well-known inscriptions illustrating Hellenistic and Roman Palestine include the fragment at Caesarea recording the building by Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judaea, of a shrine for the emperor Tiberius, and two Greek copies of the inscription written warning Gentiles not to proceed beyond the barrier into the inner temple on pain of death. Outside Palestine, a broken inscription excavated in Delphi in Greece in 1905 which mentioned the proconsul L. Iunius Gallio (cf. Acts 18: 12), who was in office either summer 50–1 or 51–2, has become the fixed point from which the chronology of Paul's life is calculated. J. Murphy-O'Connor (1983) has imaginatively used the plan of a first-century Roman villa at Corinth to illustrate the church community, and the church in Aquila and Prisca's house (1 Cor. 16: 19) in Corinth. Rom. 16: 4 suggests a similar ‘house-church’ in Rome, but there is no archaeological evidence for it. The identification of Hellenistic houses beneath the fourth-century domus ecclesiae and the fifth-century octagonal church in Capernaum with the original home of Peter is based largely on the tradition preserved by Egeria (381–4) and the indication of graffiti and pottery that from the mid-first century the room was put to public rather than private use.

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