Planet Earth

To Caesar. Love, Herod.

By Shanti MenonJan 1, 1996 6:00 AM


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Directly opposite the harbor entrance, wrote the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, upon a high platform, rose the temple of Caesar, remarkable both for its beauty and for its great size. King Herod the Great, infamous in the New Testament for ordering the slaughter of infants, built the monumental temple and other grandiosities in the city of Caesarea, Israel, as a sign of his fidelity to Rome--but the temple had been lost until now. While excavating the foundations of a large sixth- century church in Caesarea, Kenneth Holum of the University of Maryland and his team turned up large stones that seemed to belong to another building. (After the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, churches were often built on the sites of temples.) This past year, Holum followed up on a hunch that the stones were part of the southern foundations of Herod’s temple. Guessing that the church was built with the same orientation as the temple it replaced, he measured the distance between the center line of the church and the stones to the south. Then he started digging at the same distance north of the center line. Usually when you do things like that it turns out to be wrong, Holum says. I’ve done that lots of times. But this time he guessed right--as the summer progressed, his team systematically located most of the foundations of the temple, which they figure was about 100 feet high, 100 feet wide, and 180 feet long. Holum has found enough fragments of the temple’s superstructure, including bases and capitals for six-foot-wide columns, to make this reconstruction possible. Pottery uncovered with the foundations dates the structure firmly to the end of the first century B.C., and the temple’s positioning above the harbor corresponds exactly to Josephus’s account. This is about the most fun we’ve ever had excavating, says Holum.

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