Saturday, June 09, 2007

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site III~ Machaerus

Biblical Archaeology in a Day, Site I~ Tell Al'Umeiri
Bibilical Archaeology in a Day, Site II~ Ataroth

Leaving Ataroth and heading south on the eastern ridge of the Dead Sea, we rounded a bend revealing this view of the ruins of the palace of Machaerus, Herod the Great's palace/fortress overlooking the Dead Sea.

(map photo courtesy of

First fortified by the Jewish Hasmoneon leader in the first centrury B.C. the hilltop fortress was later fortified by Herod the Great (37-4 B.C.) and, upon his death, passed to his son, Herod Antipas. According to the gospel writers (Matt 14:1–12; Mark 6:21-29; Luke 9:7–9) it was Herod Antipas was who was rebuked by the prophet John the Baptist for marrying Herodias, his brother Philip's wife:

"... and though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. But when Herod's birthday came, the daughter (Salome) of Herodias danced before the company and pleased Herod, so that he promised with an oath to give her whatever she might ask. Prompted by her mother she said, 'Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.' And the king was sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he commanded it to be given. He sent and had John beheaded in the prison, and his head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, and she brought it to her mother. And his disciples came and took the body and buried it and they went and told Jesus." Mark 14: 5-12, ESV Bible

Although the gospels do not mention the palace of Machearus by name, the historian Josepheus (who our guide reminded us got many things right but a few things wrong) names Machearus as the location of John the Baptist's imprisonment and execution.

Some of us ascended the fortress by the "gentle" slope...

while others took the more direct route, straight up the side.

A view of the top (the columns have be reconstructed but the capital is original)...

...and from the top.

Tradition holds that John's body is buried in a cave near the foot of the fortress.

Echinops polyceras

Zygophyllum(I think)

This picture is a little blurry but I'm including it as it was truly a highlight of our morning to see this desert owl perched on a rock overlooking the valley (overheard from the backseat of the car: "I've never seen a real live owl before!") As I hurriedly shot some pictures with the telephoto lens, through the windshield of the car, the owl turned and looked at us before flying off over the valley.

At Machaerus we were surrounded by stillness and the desolation of the desert, yet at the same time I sensed the presence of life quietly moving all around as birds sailed and swooped, large butterflies flitted and silent lizards darted. I am developing a new appreciation and awe of the desert.

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