Herod the Great was known as a ruthless king who eliminated any threat to his power. The Bible records his slaughter of all male children under the age of two after the three Magi visited the Christ child and returned to their country by another route. In my post of May 27th, I wrote how he executed members of his family, even his beloved wife Mariamne.
But Herod was also known for magnificent building projects such as the Greco-Roman city of Sebastos, several fortified palaces (including Masada), and the sea-side city, palace, and artificial harbor at Caesarea Maritima. His most famous project was his rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, a project which faced serious opposition from the Jews.
|Reconstruction of the Temple of Herod - Painting in Brooklyn Museum by James Tissot|
Building a Legacy
Because of his many atrocities during his reign, Jews feared Herod would defile the temple by entering the holy places. They also worried he would raze the old temple and never rebuild it, leaving them without a temple at all. At this point wanting to both appease the Jews and improve his legacy, he took measures to reassure them on both counts. He trained over a thousand priests in building techniques so they could work in the holy places. And he assembled all necessary building materials and workers before starting the project.
A potentially confusing fact is that both Herod's temple and the temple it replaced, which was built after the Jews returned from exile, are known as the second temple. This is because the old temple was still standing when Herod began renovations, as opposed to Solomon's temple, which was merely rubble. But more than replacing the temple itself, Herod massively expanded the platform on which the temple stood.
|Temple at center, Royal Stoa and Hulda Gates at left via WikimediaCommons|
Because the larger facility would not fit atop Mount Moriah's existing platform, Herod needed to adapt to the north-south slope of the bedrock. To accommodate a much larger, level platform, Herod did two things. At the top end where the bedrock was higher, he leveled it off. At the south end, he built a series of underground arches, or vaults, and enclosed the entire support structure within a wall.