Salcah, Aram ish-tob, Southern Syria, SYRIA


Aerial view to the north from the area of Salcah  (image courtesy google earth) [Biblical geographic photographs to follow]

Salcah or mdoern Salkhad, is a pimple on a pumpkin. The ascent up the slopes of Salcah is a dramatic one, until once perched on its summit the wide expanses of southern Syria, the wild expanses of the desert to the east, and the rolling plains which saw the action affecting Ahaz and Jehoshaphat in their tenuous alliance against the forces of Syria in the distance at Ramoth Gilead. I can still vividly remember the crisp breeze in our faces as we saw this view. Likewise Salcah can be clearly observed for around 30 km before arriving at its base, a clear marker for the eastern margin of the inland route of the caravansari and the final boundaries of the faith of Jair. The importance of this route past the mount was later reflected in the presence of a Nabatean stronghold in 2cBC and the adjacent city of Beth-gemul Jer 48:23, a reference to the house of camels now near the modern border of Jordan.

It is mentioned as the land of Bashan “as far as Salcah” Josh 13:11  or “unto Salchah” Deut 3:10; 1Chron 5:11 and represents the final extents of the campaign of faithful men and women to preserve the interests of deity in a world that cries look after yourself! This was the land of the king of Og, and the remnant of the giants Josh 12:5 and as such was remembered centuries later as the battle with “famous kings” Ps 136:18. This battle then represented the challenges that all men face when the conscience is exercised in allegiance with God. This is the “principalities and powers” or the “cosmos” which is represented in national, personal or constitutional terms.

Salcah has the idea of wandering, but more properly means migration as a journey with purpose. The area now most famous for the Haj route that passes some 20 km to the west from its base. But the migration  that Jair was interested in was the journey of faith, Num 32:41f  and grasping a confidence in God’s ability to work with men against enormous challenges, took the land. Jair contains the idea of being enlightened, and clearly points to the source from which the confidence and victory would come, Heb 11:8.

Salcah was the eastern boundaries of Bashan and the area of Arm-Ish-tob, the high place of the man of goodness, 2Sam 10:6,8, and the most southern of the administrative districts of Syria, now reflected in the modern es-Sewayda governate.,138.701955&sspn=1.665178,3.386536&hnear=Salkhad,+As-Suwayda+Governorate,+Syria&t=m&z=14


Aram Rehob, Central Beqa’a, LEBANON


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Aram Rehob, in southern Beqa’a: Note the wide expanses before the constriction below the Litani Reservoir.

Aram Rehob, 2Sam 10:8 like Aram Maachah has geography that reflects its name. The governate of Aram Rehob covers the remainder of the Beqa’a north of the Litani reservoir to the Nahr Kabir, or the great river that marks the northern terminus of the Lebanese range, Num 13:21. Its name means broad, and reflects the wide expanse of the valley. The rich agricultural fields of the Beqa’a were controlled from Berothai its central town, a location on the central crossroads somewhere near Baalbek.

Known also as the “plain of Aven” Amos 1:5, its other name reflects the emptiness or worthlessness of worship of Hadad or Baal, so reflected in Baal-bek. It was here that the campaigns of Alexander the Great were reflected on the floors in mosaic. Having conquered the areas of Turkey and northern Syria, the now self-proclaimed “king of Asia” swept south to control the area of Phoenicia, the coastal plain of Israel and the entrance of Egypt before turning back to Jerusalem. This campaign is reflected in the actions of the latter-day Gog, who follows the same route Dan 11:41f.  But what is significant is that the burden of Yahweh concerning Alexander would rest on Damascus and on Hadrack, or the lands of Syria styled “the bowing to Hadad” Zech 9:1f. Alexander would control the resources of the fleeing Persians, which he captured and gathered at Damascus. But it would be here at Baalbek that the depiction of the birth of Alexander was found. Here is a definitive illustration of the newly born king of Asia, the king of kings, and son of god! This mosaic defines a religious birth of the champion to the lands of Syria. This religious influence seen in the name “beth-rehob” the house of the broad place Judges 18:28; 2Sam 10:6.

“Alexander Nymph” The birth of Alexander depicted in mosaic at Baalbeck, Beqa’a Lebanon.  preserved at the National Museum, Beirut, Lebanon.

The Betah and Berothai were the cities central to this governate. Their names meaning the security of the Cyprus grove, 2Sam 8:8. Groves were used as areas where worship of gods could be conducted without scrutiny, and in particular the expression of worship in sexual profanity, 2Chron 33:3; Jer 17:2, so described as being “under” green trees 1Kings 14:23. This was the strength of the king of Damascus. In the time of David the king’s name was Hadad-ezer, or the help or support of Hadad (Baal) 2Sam 8:8.  After conquering the area, David renamed the cities Tibhath and Chun, The slaughter of flesh has established,  1Chron 18:8. It was from here that David would take “exceeding much brass” so reflecting the overcoming of flesh as reflected in the colour and hard nature of the metal so commonly used for construction of weapons and utensils, see Job 6:12. This connection between brass and flesh is confirmed in the parable of the brazen serpent which reflected the bitten flesh of the nation of Israel at Punon, Num 21. David however takes the brass to construct in particular the large basins of the temple in which the water would clean the worshippers, and so highlighted that the word of God seen as water Eph 5:26, could so influence a man to bring him to worship God acceptably. David in contrast to Hadadezer was helped by the God of heaven, 2 Sam 8:6,14.

The location of Berothai and Betan are hard to fix within the valley. Numerous suggestions have been made between Baalbek  to Zahle further south. We spent a day examining these sites and the site of Beritan or Brital just to the SW of Baalbek on a strategic hill seems likely for four reasons: 1) Its control of the central crossroads of the Beqa’a 2) Its strategic position and defensible geography and 3) from the testimony of Josh 19:30 this town was on a line from Aphek or modern Afqa in wadi Ibrahim into the Beqa’a  4) Its inclusion in Ezek 47:16 precludes a coastal location such as Beirut, and suggests a location between Hamath and Damascus, most likely on the anti-Lebanese range. (For further information read E Lapinski: The Arameans their ancient History, Culture, Religion pg 333f),36.152894&spn=0.009151,0.015879&hnear=Baalbek,+Baalbeck,+Bekaa,+Lebanon&t=m&z=16

The broad place so reflected in the name, conveys the idea of easy passage, and so it is. Travel is not easy in Lebanon with the relentless surging of independent traffic, but in the Beqa’a long straight roads provide easy access along the length of the valley. The word Rehob is reflected in the idea of street, or particular plaza or piazza the wide common area where social interaction was common, Neh 8:1. The term is translated as “broad places” Jer 5:1 and “broad ways” Nahum 2:4. It was in the street or broad places of Gibeah that the national identity of Israel was to be demonstrated in its failure to commit to covenants, Judges 19:15,17,20f. At the request of worthless men, the concubine, reflecting the nation’s religious commitment, was thrown out onto the street to be abused and finally die.  So the religion of Israel would through its history become defiled and taken into the streets or broad places of the religious world, so described as the “streets” Rev 11:8. This is reflected in the carrying of the Ephah or measure of Judaism into the land of Shinar, to set it on its own base Zech 5:5-11 from which its “resemblance” would influence the whole earth Zech 5:6.

Broad is the way to destruction, and many that go in it Matt 7:13, but straight (constrained, greek stenos from which we get stenosis or narrowed arteries) is the path that leads to life. Few will find this path, sadly because of the broad and common call of self-centered religion in the broad places of the world. It will be the place were God helps, a religion where self-interest and ability is condemned, and where the water or cleaning influence of God is paramount. To the scriptures we must turn as it is only through this way that God will save men. It is the word of God that is able to make wise to salvation 2Tim 3:15.  Every feature of religion must be proved by this revealed method of saving, not the word of priests, monks, religious elders and other ordained prophets. If it be not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them, Isa 8:20.

Aram Maachah, Southern Beqa’a, LEBANON


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Looking south across the Litani Reservoir to the confines of Aram Maachah

Of all the places mentioned in the bible, the geography of Aram Rehob and Aram Maachah reflect their names. Maachah means to oppress by pressing in. The wide open expanses of the Beqa’a (arabic: valley) narrow below the Litani reservoir, from which the Nahr Litani bends to its terminus in the Mediterranean at Misrephoth-maim (the place of burning water or the fired glass for which the Phoenicians became famous) Josh 11:8; 13:6. The narrows of this area provided the conduit through which famous invasions of the land of Israel would occur, such as in the time of Ahaz with Tiglath Pileser III.  The northern approaches marked by the place of Ijon, 2 Kings 15:29.

This area of Aram-Maachah mentioned in 1 Chron 19:6 was the administrative district controlled from Abel-beth-Maachah, north of the sea of Galilee approaching the modern border with Lebanon, also the name of  the mother of Absalom whose father was king of (aram)-Geshur, the south-eastern extension of the district, 1 Chron 3:2.

Maachah was the name of the mother of Asa, who was removed from influence in his kingdom. The manner of her oppression was the introduction of idols and groves, 1 Kings 15:13. Being removed as queen demonstrates the apostacy of the mother of the nation, and hence its religion, see Gal 4:26.

Ben- Hadad (the son of god Hadad or Baal) also marched into northern Israel through this valley in the time of Asa, and his name represents the nature of the campaign, the source of worship of another beside the God of Israel, 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Chron 16:4. Asa unwisely made a league to introduce these early influences of Baal into Israel, even after his early good start.

Maachah then represents the oppressing influences of apostacy in particular, and the very geography demonstrates the pressing in and dangers involved of external influences and challenges to those who would seek to obey God and accept His truths.  The Lord explained these challenges to those hearing the gospel. In the parable of the sower this is reflected by the seed choked by thorns Matt 13:7, later described as cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches, which grow with the good seed for a while, but eventually chokes the implanted word, Matt 13:22.

The challenge of Maachah exists in many forms today, but all remove the word of God as the influence of choice in a man or woman’s mind.

The gospel of God is the good news of God’s involvement in a believer’s life. This gospel comes from hearing the word of God Rom 10:15-17. Faith, the realisation that God can be involved in our own personal existence is the motivating force that drives a higher goal in life, that of pleasing deity Heb 11:1,6.  A believer must then accept both that God exists and will reward his approach of trust. This faith then demonstrates a complete reliance on the ability of God to provide everything that is needed for complete spiritual development and will provide not only the forgiveness of sin, but the giving of a life that reflects all the positive features of the God who invited the relationship. These features are the moral, mental and physical powers of God now perfectly reflected in others. Maachah then represents all the challenges to this development when the pressure distracts from faith.,35.658531&spn=0.105912,0.211658&t=m&z=13

wadi Moseriah, Moserah, Sinai EGYPT

Moserah Deut 10:6 or Moseroth Num 33:30 is identified with wadi Moseriah by toponym (1) The name meaning bonds may also be reflected in the geography of a steep walled gorge or valley in which the encampment was. The name however reflected the intention of deity with the nation of rescuing from bonds, an event that was heralded each seven years, and for inheritance every 50. The victory of Christ was however over not only captivity, but the very force that would lead men into captivity. and so “leading captivity captive”

  1. John Kitto, Henry Burgess, Benjamin Harris Cowper: The journal of sacred literature and Biblical record, Volume 11 pg 46

Ebronah, Abronah, Sinai EGYPT

Ebronah or Abronah means passage, and is associated with the Arabic word Nukb meaning the pass of a mountain (1) and points to a mountain pass leading to Eilat from the west of the head of the gulf of Eilat. Some suggest that a shallow section of the gulf was the meaning of this word, and hence a suggestion the exodus followed the shoreline. The Targum translates as “ford(s)”.

Mentioned twice in Num 33:34,35 it is omitted in the record of the exodus in the Deuteronomy record.

  1. John Kitto, Henry Burgess, Benjamin Harris Cowper: The journal of sacred literature and Biblical record, Volume 11 pg 474,8
  2. B. Mazar, “Ezion-geber and Ebronah”, Eretz Israel 12 (1975), p. 48

Cedars of Lebanon

(2000+ year old cedar Beirut Museum)

Cedar wood was used in the construction of  David’s palace 2 Sam 7:2; Solomon’s Temple ca 966 BC  2 Chron 2:16 with the temple described as a cedar house 2 Sam 7:7 the house of Lebanon supported with rows of cedar pillars 1 Kings 7:2 and again during the rebuilding of the temple after the exile in 520-516 BC  Ezra 3:7. The wood travelled by sea and came into Israel for the construction work at Joppa.  But these temples were by no means the only public buildings that had cedar used within them. The wood appears to have been used primarily for ceilings, with beams 1 Kings 7:12 used for supporting the roof structures 1 Kings 6:9 including (alternates being pine or fir) rafters Song 1:17; 1 Kings 6:16; 7:7  and internal paneling 1 Kings 6:15,18. The cedar was then probably coloured or lacquered cf Jer 22:14.

Cedar was used in the temples in throughout the ancient world. Nebuchadnezzar, Hadrian, several Assyrian kings and Pharaohs from Egypt all left their mark in Wadi Khalib a few miles to the north of Beirut, and wadi Barissa to the north of the Beqa to let others know both of their occupation and their ownership of Lebanese cedars.

Solomon made cedar trees as common as the sycamore in the Shephelah, indicating the scarceness and the value of the commodity.

Used in panelling in the time of Haggai

Other timber used within the temple is referred to as almug trees in 1 Kings 10:11,12. The word almug containing the idea of incorruption, and hence a symbol of immortality.

Picture of the grandest tree, and the establishment of a secure domain. Used of the Assyrian and the Babylonian empires.

The Sanctuary of Tophet, Carthage, TUNISIA



Often sitting at the lights in capital cities around the world the only noise that emerges from the vehicle parked next to you is the deep thumping rhythm of drums and bass guitar. These low-frequency pulses penetrate walls and resonate bodies. Similarly the beating of drums was used to drown the noise of screaming children passed through fire in what is considered a bizarre and ugly practice of idolatry. The word Tophet is considered either an expansion on the Hebrew word Toph (singular) drum or Tophim (plural) drums  from the root word taphaph meaning timbrel or alternately the place of fire.

The sanctuary to Tophet, or the Tophet of Salammb0 in Carthage, was discovered in 1921 and is located on Rue de Hannibal, or the street of Hannibal, that astonishing figure who almost toppled the Roman empire! The enclosure of the sanctuary is marked with what must be almost a thousand small memorial headstones to children that were pasted through the fire to Molech. An assemblage of these are located within the subterranean chambers on the northern margin of the sunken sanctuary site.  Archeologists estimate the death in excess of 20,000 at this site. While we were there a bus load of Koreans were busily snapping photos of the little rocks, and gleefully calling to each other across the park. The significance in all its historical ugliness was lost of them, sanitised by the neatness of the garden and orderliness of the presentation.  But this site is a horrific reminder of the brutal cost of idolatry. The practice of child sacrifice is noted by Plutarch as active at this site, and considered as a Phoenician practice (2). This involved placing a live child on the outstretched arms of the image, and with the movement of limbs, the infant would fall into a blazing brazier to its death. The sacrifice was considered the result of a vow on receipt of the kindness of the god, who had delivered goods into a foreign port or such like action or the entreaty for kindness during famine or sickness. The practice was long-lived with nine distinct levels of deposits extending from ca4cBC through 4cAD. It should be remembered that this practice was not one of a primitive society, but by the Phoenicians whose sophistication is well evident in the intricate works as seen in the Beirut museum, the stone work in their temples in Lebanon and the degree of commercial success as evident in the wide-spread and lasting maritime enterprise.

The Phoenician or Punic practice has been identified at numerous sites, including  Tyre (4), Lebanon, el-Hofra at Constantine, Algeria, to the east of the of the acropolis at Amathus in Cyprus and of some interest Motiya in Sicily where the absence of disease in infant bones that survived the cremation practice, confirming the sacrificial nature of the practice. Both Greek and Latin texts highlight the strength of this religious connection between Phoenicia and her “daughters” (3b). Unique features are seen in the Tophet that distinguish it from non-ceremonial grave sites: The presence of pit graves, the presence of animal bones, the range of grave-goods, the marking by funerary stelae, and distinctive burial urns. There is only ever one Tophet even where numerous cemeteries exist.  The practice was dedicated to Baal Hammon with inscriptions found in Algeria remarking Baal Hammon as “the lord of the temple” (3).  Baal is found with or without the goddess Tinnit. Three distinct offerings were made at Phoenician sites  being (mulk immor or sheep substitute) mlk.adm (mulk adam, or common child) and mlk.b’l (mulk ba’al or distinguished or honoured citizen’s child) (1)   But at Carthage not a single reference to mlk.adm has been discovered. The term mlk, is similar to the word used in Lev 18:21 where the law prohibited the passage of children through the fire to Molech, a hebrew term for an idol meaning king. This passing to Molech is connected to Tophet in 2 Kings 23:10 Molech and Ba’al are mentioned together in Jer 32:25.

Molech or Milcolm was the abomination of the children of Ammon 1 Kings 11:5,7 and was attached to immoral sexual practices Lev 20:5 and was so abhorrent that the practice was considered outside the mind of deity Jer 32:25. To engage in the practice was to defile the sanctuary of deity and profane His name Lev 20:3.


(1) N Spencer: Time, tradition and society in greek archeology: bridging the great divide pg 21

(2) Curtius Rufus; Histories of Alexander the great 4.3.23

(3) E  Gruen; Cultural identity in the ancient monuments pg 374 (3b) pg 376

(4) Berytus: The American university of Beirut, Museum of archeology; vol 39; 1992 pg 39-82; Description of finds from Tyre 1991, including Iron age IIcineary Phonecian urns from Tophet at Tyre found by Seeden and Simmonetti

(5) E Mazar; Archeology in Israel; AJA98 (1994) pg 495

(6) Philip King: Jeremiah an archeological companion pg 136

ain-Musa, Sinai, Egypt


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Ain-musa is the traditional tourist site for Marah in northern Sinai.  The location appears to be too far north to match the crossing point from the basin south of Suez, the Piharaoth (the mouth of the gorges) that entrapped the children of Israel with no apparent escape.  Marah is more likely to be found in wadi Gharandal further to the southeast from ain Musa. This would correspond with the three days journey of around 15-20km further south, Num 33:8,9.

Marah was a dramatic demonstration of the value of sweet waters through the bearing of a tree on the shoulders of Moses. This pictorial demonstration of the crucifixion should have demonstrated the presence of the deity within the nation to supply the method of salvation.  Marah, the place of bitterness Ex 15:23, has the same name as the Lord’s mother Mary and spoke of all the results coming from human nature and the conscious decision to sin. The answer to the dilemma is to obey the voice of Deity and have faith in His operation Ex 15:26.

Today ain-Musa is visited less due to the turmoil in Egypt, and is a dingy tourist stop on the tarmac heading south deeper in Sinai. The roaring of trucks and occasional car was all that interrupted the quietness of the location.

Pi Besheth, Tel Basta, Bubastis, Delta, EGYPT


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For more photos see: Bubastis, EGYPT

Cats don’t really get much of a mention in the bible. My son and I had the opportunity recently in Africa to hold a lion cub, but that’s not the cats we’re talking about here.

The tel of Bubastis lies 60 km to the north-nor-west of Cairo, but took us about 3 hours to get there. The exhaust fumes were frankly astonishing. Darting through ranks of traffic and on-coming tractors, donkeys, camels, small children, tuk-tuks, motorcycles and every other convenience of transport, our driver seemed to will his ornate taxi like an oversized magic carpet. But arrive we did. After a desperate gasp of fresh air we gratefully approached the open and wide expenses of Tel Basta.

This tel is another example of Ramesses the second, the great architectural Pharaoh of Egypt. The enormous statues of Ramesses and his family are again clearly demonstrated at this site. But the pharaoh is not only known for his building works. He is also known for his numerous campaigns into Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Transjordan, Nubia, Ethiopian and Libya. The most famous of all of these as celebrated by historians must be the battle at Kadesh. Monuments celebrating his great victory, and possibly the largest chariot battle in history, are found at Kadesh and also at Abu Simbel.

Tel Basta is referred to only once in the Bible as Pi Beseth, Ezekiel 30:17. The name in Hebrew carries a play on the sound of the Egyptian word. The sounds in Hebrew carry the meaning of the mouth of loathing, whereas the Egyptian word carries the meaning of the house of Bastis; the honoured Egyptian cat god Bastis. Another name given in the same verse is again an affront to the most sacred of Egypt as translated in the derogatory word Aven or emptiness. This again is a play on words in the Hebrew scriptures, indicating the worthlessness of the Egyptians deities held sacred in Heliopolis.  A further third location, Tehaphnehes is bundled with Heliopolis the religious capital and Bubastis, the lower Egyptian capital as it was the capital of upper Egypt at Luxor. Again a derogatory expression is used by the hebrew scripture: hands filled with pity! All the illustrious control of Egypt was to end!

This is to be one of the great lessons of scripture. For the comment of God on these two cities is a great parable. Once the great edifices of trust, certainty and support for commercial and political endeavour, these two cities were to be destroyed under the hand of Nebuchadnezzar in his swift punishment as the servant of Deity. This will be the lot of any men who places trust in uncertain riches. The servant of God should not be rich in this world or be high-minded but trust in the living God 1Tim 6:17, thus building treasure within himself and in heaven, Hebrews 10:34.

The degree of the destruction under the hand of Nebuchadnezzar is demonstrated by the inclusion within Ezekiel chapter 30 verses 12 to 16 of ten expressions of divine action; “I will” as I Yahweh, have spoken it. The number 10 is used in scripture of an aggregate or the complete number. So ten men from all languages of all nations shall take hold of the skirt of a Jew, Zech 8:23. Similarly when a tithe was given being a tenth, the tenth represented the whole amount, or the ten parts. So by offering a tithe, the spiritually minded Israelite would acknowledge that all should be given to Yahweh in service; all the heart, soul and mind Matt 22:37.

Bastis was originally was a cat with a lion’s head. It was not until the new kingdom that the form was a domesticated cat. She was considered the daughter of Ra, and as such was important to Ramesses as his name means the son of Ra. She was ferocious in protecting the Kingdom of Egypt, killing many, only in myth to be stopped by the drinking of beer! She held the rattle of Hathor the god depicted in the golden calf and memorialised in feasting, music and enjoyment.

The city built here named Bubastis was the capital for a period in the late history of Egypt, and so corresponding with the time leading to the prophecy of Ezekiel.

A wide necropolis, wells, numerous statutes, and a very modern but yet unopened museum can be seen at the site. A large seated statue of Ramesses II is displayed in the open museum field.

Herodium, ISRAEL


For more photos see: Herod the Great – The Great Builder

Rising commandingly above the surrounding hills 12 km south of Jerusalem, is the mountain palace-fortress called Herodium. This impressive structure was built by Herod the Great, a pro-Roman Idumean who converted to Judaism and reigned as King of Judaea from around 37BC until he died in 4BC.

The year of Herod’s death in 4BC is a vital chronological link to identifying the year of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, who was born before Herod died (Matt 2). The Bible tells us (Luke 3:1,23) that Jesus was 30 years of age in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, which historians identify as AD26. This date then forms part of the solution to the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9:24-27.

We read of Herod in Matt 2:1-18 where the wise men from the east ask him, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. Herod was extremely upset at this news and enquiring amongst the chief priests and scribes learnt that the King of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem as the prophet Micah had prophesied (Micah 5:2). Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wrath, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men, v16. Herod died soon after, being unsuccessful in the murder of the Christ but being the means of fulfilling the prophecy that Christ would be called out of Egypt (where his parents fled with him) Hosea 11:1; Matt 2:15, just as the people of Israel were under Moses.

We can summarise the story of the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ and its order ­as follows:

  • He was born in Bethlehem Matt 2:1, in a manger Luke 2:7.
  • That very night the shepherds came to visit him, Luke 2:11-16.
  • The wise men came to Herod the following morning or afternoon, Matt 2:1 KJB having been or after he was born in Bethlehem the wise men came….
  • That night God appeared in a dream to the wise men to warn them and they departed from Bethlehem to their own country, by-passing Jerusalem.
  • The next day he probably moved into a house Matt 2:11, where the wise men presented him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
  • Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt before word of his birth could reach Jerusalem.
  • Jesus was circumcised the eighth day Luke 2:21, maybe en-route to Egypt.
  • Herod dies within 40 days of his edict to kill all the male children under two.
  • Joseph and Mary return to Jerusalem by the 40th day to dedicate Jesus at the Temple Luke 2:22.
  • God warns them in a dream not to tarry in Jerusalem for fear of Archelaus, Herod’s son, and so they return to Nazareth, Luke 2:39; Matt 2:22.

So returning to Herod, what else do we know about him?

Herod was born in Idumea around 74BC, his father was Antipater an Idumean and high-ranking official under Hyrcanus II and his mother Cypros was a Nabatean. Herod was a converted Jew, who was elected as the King of the Jews in 40BC (Josephus), he captured Jerusalem with the Romans in 37BC and became sole ruler of Judaea. He married Mariamne a Hasmonian princess, the granddaughter of the High Priest from the ruling dynasty of the time that the Maccabees established. This dynasty was a religious and political union, the head of which was the High Priest. This marriage was to help secure Herod claim to the throne and gain favour with the Jews.

Though he had nominally converted to Judaism, Herod was a heathen in practise, notorious in character, crafty, cruel and jealous, revengeful, having a fury for power, and therefore suspicious of everyone around him.

To secure the throne he even murdered members of his own family. He falsely accused and executed Mariamne his wife and three of his sons, He drowned his wife’s brother in a bath, murdered his wife’s 80 year old grand-father and his father’s murderer. He killed many rabbis, 45 members of a rival faction, and lastly all the males under 2yrs of the Bethlehem region when he heard of Jesus’ birth.

His sons include Herod Archelaus ethnarch of Judaea, Samaria and Idumea and Herod Antipas tetrarch of Galilee.

Herod the Great is well-known for his amazing building projects that are still evidenced in Israel today, such as the expansion of the Temple in Jerusalem (also called Herod’s Temple), the city and harbour of Caesarea Maritima, the development of water supplies for Jerusalem, the fortresses of Masada and of Herodium, the rebuilt fortress of Macherus and the enclosure of the Cave of the Patriarchs.

Along with Cleopatra he owned the enterprise of extracting asphalt from the Dead Sea and he leased copper mines on the island of Cyprus.

From all this we can appreciate he was a notable character in the history of the Jews.

What of Herodium itself?

Herodium is a man-made fortress/hill, built by Herod the Great between 30-20 BC. It was one of his palaces, but also it was his summer villa. There were a line of fortresses that spread right across the country: Herodium, Masada, Macherus, as we have mentioned, all built by Herod the Great. Herodium was important in the second temple period, whereas Tekoa which it looks down upon, was important in the first temple period.

Josephus writes, Herod built a fortress upon a mountain towards Arabia, and named it from himself Herodium; and he called that hill that was of the shape of a women’s breast, and was sixty furlongs distant from Jerusalem, by the same name. He also bestowed much curious art upon it with great ambition, and built round towers all about the top of it, and filled up the main space with the most costly palaces round about, insomuch that not only the sight of the inner apartments was splendid, but great wealth was laid out on the outward walls, and partitions and roofs also. Beside this, he bought a mighty quantity of water from a great distance, and at vast charges, and raised an ascent to it of two hundred steps of the whitest marble, for the hill was itself moderately high, and entirely factitious. He also built other palaces about the roots of the hill, sufficient to receive the furniture that was put into them, with his friends also, insomuch that on account of its containing all necessaries, the fortress might seem to be a city, but, by the bounds it had, a palace only Josephus p 453.

Josephus also records that Herod was buried at Herodium. The remains of his grave, sarcophagus and mausoleum on Mt Herodium’s north-eastern slope were only discovered in 2007. The body was carried upon a golden bier, embroidered with very precious stones of great variety, and it was covered over with purple, as well as the body itself; he had a diadem upon his head, and above it a crown of gold; he also had a sceptre in his right hand… so they went eight furlongs to Herodium; for there by his own command he was to be buried; – and thus did Herod end his life Josephus pp 367, 470.