Prof. Ehud Netzer, one of the most important archaeologists in Israel and the man who discovered Herod's luxurious gravesite in the Herodion, died this evening at the age of 76 from injuries he suffered while working at the site.
Prof. Netzer slipped and fell on Tuesday, sustaining severe injuries. He was hospitalized in Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, where he died Thursday evening.
The dig at the Herodion began in 1972. For three decades, Netzer pursued his dream of finding Herod's grave, relying on a statement by the famous Roman-Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote that the king was buried at the site. For years he dug and searched the obvious places, such as the top of the flat-top mountain and its foot, and though he made various fascinating finds there, the famous gravesite eluded him. Finally, he decided to try the mountainsides – and in 2007, his efforts were crowned with success.
An easily readable overview of the Herodion site can be read here.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu phoned the Netzer family on Thursday evening to express his condolences. He related that he met the deceased at the Herodion, in eastern Gush Etzion, when his son Avner Netanyahu – a Bible Quiz champion who is interested in Land of Israel archaeology - persuaded him to tour the Herodian grave that Netzer uncovered.
"Netzer's sudden death is not only a loss to his family," the Prime Minister said, "but also to scholars of Jewish culture and archaeology."
Who was King Herod?
Herod was the Roman-appointed king of Judea from 37 to 4 BCE. He was renowned for his many monumental building projects, including the expansion of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the palace at Masada, and the Herodium complex, 15 kilometers south of Jerusalem. The Herodium, Herod's final resting place, is among the most outstanding of his building projects.
Herod's coffin was found broken into pieces, and Prof. Netzer explained that it was likely broken some 70 years after the unpopular king's death, during the Jewish rebellion. Herod was widely known for his cruelty, killing his wife and children, among other perceived opponents.
Prof. Netzer told Arutz-7 in 2008 that along with Herod's cruelty and his questionable Jewishness, "we should remember two things: First of all - except for one [here he smiled bashfully – ed.] that we found just today - there are no idols or wall pictures throughout this whole complex; he kept the Jewish customs. Secondly – he built the Holy Temple! He didn't have to, yet he expanded the existing Temple and made it into the glorious structure that it became. It was not easy for him, neither monetarily, nor in terms of getting along with the Priests - but he did."
The Talmud (Bava Batra 4a) gives another explanation for Herod's construction of the Temple. After ruthlessly killing many of the Jewish Sages, he felt remorse, and asked one of the surviving rabbis how he could atone for his sins. Rabbi Bava ben Buta told him, "You extinguished the lights of the world, now go build the Light of the World," namely, the Holy Temple – and he did.
Prof. Netzer conducted the expedition on behalf of the Institute of Archaeology of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, together with Yaakov Kalman and Ro'i Porat.