Daily Archives: June 15, 2017

New discovery at Machaerus where John was imprisoned

All four of the Gospels make some reference to the imprisonment of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3,10; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:20; John 3:24). This must have been a significant and traumatic event for both the disciples of John and the disciples of Jesus.

Mark, the shortest gospel,  gives the most complete account of why Herod Antipas arrested and executed John. See Mark 6:17-32.

Josephus, the late first century Jewish historian, includes a long section about John in Antiquities 18:116-119. Perhaps another time we will take a closer look at all of it. For now, I am concerned with the place of execution.

Accordingly he was sent as prisoner, out of Herod’s [Antipas] suspicious temper, to Machaerus [or spell it Macherus], the citadel I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him. (Antiquities 18:119)

Josephus also records that Herod’s wife, the daughter of Aretas IV, king of Petra (the Nabateans), learned of his plan to divorce her and marry Herodias. Without telling Antipas that she knew, she asked for permission to be sent to Machaerus.I suspect that Herod was glad to get her out-of-town. She was no dummy. She had made arrangements for her father’s army to bring her safely [from Machaerus] to Arabia [perhaps Petra]. This event led to a war between the armies of Aretas and Herod Antipas. Herod’s army was destroyed. See Antiquities 18:109-115 for the full story.

After several years of archaeological work at Machaerus, the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus announces discovery of a large mikveh (ritual bath and immersion pool). The best report that I have seen is by Philippe Bohstrom in Haaretz here. He says,

The bath is the biggest of its kind ever found in Jordan. It boasts 12 steps and a reserve pool containing water to fill the pool when its water ran low.

Beyond its sheer dimensions, the architecture closely resembles mikvehs discovered in Qumran, on the other side of the Dead Sea, in Israel,  that had previously been considered to be unique.

The king-size mikveh was found three meters below the royal courtyard, where it had been hidden under 2,000 years of sand and dust. It had originally been equipped with a vaulted stone ceiling.

Large mikveh in Herod's palace at Machaerus, Jordan. Photo courtesy of Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

Large mikveh in Herod’s palace at Machaerus, Jordan. Photo courtesy of Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

The director of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus is Dr. Győző Vörös.

The location of the fortress is stunning. Herod the Great built it overlooking the Dead Sea from the east, as he had built a palace and fortress at Masada on the west side of the sea.

This photo gives some idea of the terrain. The citadel is located about 2300 feet above sea level. This would make it about 3600 feet above the Dead Sea.

Two columns stand on the top of Machaerus, where once the great palace of Herod the Great was located. Photo courtesty of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

A few columns stand on the top of Machaerus, where once the great palace of Herod the Great was located. Photo courtesy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

According to an article in The Jordan Times here,

The excavation team is employing theoretical architectural reconstruction as its first step towards the restoration and presentation of the monument. Through this process, archaeologists were able to reach new findings. 

Simulation of Herod's palace-fortress at Machaerus. Photo courtestsy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

Simulation of Herod’s palace-fortress at Machaerus. Photo courtesy of the Hungarian Archaeological Mission to Machaerus.

Here is a brief summary about Machaerus.

  • Built by Alexander Jannaeus (102-75 B.C.).
  • Rebuilt by Herod the Great. This fortress is the eastern parallel to Masada.
  • Assigned to Herod Antipas at the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.).
  • Destroyed by the Romans (A.D. 57).
  • Occupied by Jewish rebels (A.D. 66).
  • Captured by the Romans (A.D. 71).

The photos I have used here have been sized suitable for presentations. These, and others, are found in a higher resolution in the Haaretz article.

If you could use some nice photos of Machaerus to illustrate Bible lessons, I suggest you check out those by David Padfield here. Todd Bolen, at Bible Places Blog, had already posted a photo of the newly excavated Machaerus mikveh last November.

HT: Joseph I. Lauer