Behind the Life of Jesus: Do the Gospels get King Herod right?

John Dickson and Greg Clarke compare the King Herod of the Gospels with other ancient writings and archaeological discoveries.



John Dickson and Greg Clarke compare the King Herod of the Gospels with other ancient writings and archaeological discoveries.

On the set of the Life of Jesus documentary, in at The Herodium, John Dickson and Greg Clarke discuss Herod the Great, and how modern archaeological discoveries often back up what we know from ancient sources.


GREG CLARKE: John, we’re here at the Herodium, the mountain fortress and palace of King Herod the Great. What kind of person was Herod?

JOHN DICKSON: A man of great contrasts, you know, he becomes the king of Judea – the Rome-appointed king of Judea – in 37BC, right up to his death in 4BC, and during that time he was on the one hand an incredible benefactor to the Jewish people – he built stuff, I mean, the Herodium is just one great example, but he refurbished the temple and built streets, he loved building stuff, so at that level he was appreciated. But he was also quite despotic, and we have very clear evidence that he treated people very badly when he thought that they were against him in some way. And so, in a sense, the picture we have of him in the New Testament of him killing the innocents, although we don’t have any verification of that outside the New Testament, it does fit the picture of a man who was a little bit nuts.

GREG CLARKE: It’s the sort of thing you can imagine Herod doing. But there’s been another significant discovery here in recent times, tell us about that.

JOHN DICKSON: Yeah, well we’ve known about the Herodium since the late 1700s, I mean, that’s when it was found and identified as the Herodium that Josephus, the first-century writer spoke of. But Josephus also said that Herod had been buried here. But we’ve been digging throughout here for so long and intensely since the 60s – 1960s – so for the last 30 years they’ve been looking for the mausoleum of Herod, the actual place he was buried. And then just in 2007 – May, 2007 – they finally found it. That’s it there. They finally found where he was. It had been desecrated and all the goodies had been taken, but it confirmed what Josephus had told us. And it’s just one of those examples, isn’t it, where you’ve got one literary text that says something, but you can’t find any archaeological evidence for a good 30 years of solid digging.

GREG CLARKE: We found this pool of Siloam as well, where after a bit more of a dig, more of the story is uncovered.

JOHN DICKSON: Yeah, and there’s an example earlier in John’s gospel, the Pool of Bethesda, where there’s a five-colonnade pool. We thought that didn’t exist – or some people thought it didn’t exist – and then we found that as well, just like the Siloam pool.

GREG CLARKE: I wonder what’s going to be found next.

JOHN DICKSON: It’s exciting, that’s the beauty of history.