Atop the HerodionThe study tour from Campbell University Divinity School didn’t intend for our last day in Israel to revolve around the king popularly known as Herod the Great, but several of our stops reminded us of his legacy. Herod was Idumean by ethnic heritage, but his family had converted to Judaism under the Hasmonean dynasty that emerged during a century of independence following the Jewish rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus around 165 B.C. Our did experience the previous day had been outside the Idumean town of Maresha, where some believe Herod’s grandparents lived.

Though not of noble birth, Herod impressed the Romans with his administrative skill and worked his way up to being appointed king over Judea. He was a prolific builder who oversaw the construction of entire cities, innovative harbors, and temples, including a magnificent reconstruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Many of these were named for the Roman emperors he served, but he also built monuments to himself.  

We had already been introduced to Herodian architecture and the trademark bossed frame on the large stones used in places like the Western Wall and the Herodian building at the Cave of Macpelah. And, we’d seen the palace and defensive complex Herod had built for himself at Masada, though he never used it.

The triangle of trees marks the wadi Tekoa.On May 25, our last day in Israel, we began the morning with a climb up the “Herodion” (or “Herodium”) a man-made, flat-topped mountain retreat that Herod constructed as both a getaway home and a tomb for himself. The mountain — intentionally built high enough to afford views of Jerusalem, offers a panoramic 360 view of the Judean highlands, from Jerusalem and Bethlehem to the north, to the wadi Tekoa and its accompanying village, home of the prophet Amos.

A model of first century Jerusalem at the Israel Museum.A trip to the amazing Israel Museum was next, where we viewed a 1:50 scale model of the city of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, and saw a special exhibit about — you guessed it — Herod the Great, one that included finds from excavations at the Herodian, including the broken remains of the tomb structure and a sarcophagus thought to have been Herod’s. The king was so unpopular with the Jews that his tomb was later completely destroyed.

 For many, a highlight of the tour is a visit to Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb, which may or may not be the place Jesus was crucified and buried, but has far more of the feel of it than the sites within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

There a volunteer oriented us to the site as we sat near the tomb and later had a chance to step inside. A time of devotion and communion in a nearby  Jesus would have walked and taught, loved and healed, died and rose again.

Speaking of resurrection, we had enough time for a bonus trip to Bethany, where we saw a church dedicated to Jesus’ friends Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, and had a chance to climb down into the traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus before walking back to the bus where we had the additional opportunity for photo ops with a camel.

Time also allowed a side trip to he old port city of Joppa (now the southern end of the major coastal city of Tel Aviv-Yafo before a delicious farewell dinner at Maganda’s a popular Tel Aviv restaurant operated by a white-bearded man who looked like a Hindu yogi but was famous for his exploits in the 1973 war.

Sunset over Joppa, and the end of our trip …The trip drew to a close with as smooth an airport departure as one can manage through Israeli security, and a 1:20 a.m. flight to Philadelphia, another flight home, and then weeks — or years — of processing the experiences of the past 12 days.

Blogs from other participants may be found at:


David Stratton:

Josh Owens:

Susan Sevier:

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