Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2008.09.40

Nikos Kokkinos (ed.), The World of the Herods. Volume 1 of the International Conference The World of the Herods and the Nabataeans held at the British Museum, 17-19 April 2001. Oriens et Occidens, 14.   Stuttgart:  Franz Steiner Verlag, 2007.  Pp. 327.  ISBN 978-3-515-08817-6.  €62.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Allen Kerkeslager, Saint Joseph's University (
Word count: 1532 words

As the full title indicates, the first volume of The World of the Herods is a collection of papers presented at an international conference held in 2001 that was built around the perceptive decision to bring together some of the foremost specialists on the closely related kingdoms of the Herods and the Nabateans. The editor, Nikos Kokkinos, is already well known for his groundbreaking work on the Herods and related historical issues.1 The publication of a similar collection that he jointly edited is imminent.2 The present book is both highly focused and representative of the cutting-edge of research. Many of the papers it collects even have been updated to as late as 2007. Yet in contrast to most such collections, this book accomplishes the rare feat of being comprehensive and readable enough that it could serve as an undergraduate textbook or introduction for the advanced general reader.

Since it would be impossible to do justice to such a collection, what follows must be treated merely as representative highlights of each chapter.

The "Preface" by Kokkinos reports the history of the conference and publication of its papers (pp. 9-15). This includes explanations of the disappointing omission of some of the conference presentations, such as a paper by Rudolph Haensch on Herodian epigraphy. Fergus Millar then offers his "Introduction: An Overview of the Herodian World--Problems and Prospects" (pp. 17-21). Millar summarizes the sources available for studying the Herods. His article epitomizes the trend in current scholarship toward emphasizing the close relationship between the Herods and the imperial program of the Augustan household. This theme reappears often in the other essays in this volume.

The problem of sources is the focus of the first major section of the book. In "The Herodian Narratives of Josephus," Tessa Rajak explores the sources and agendas that conditioned Josephus' portraits of Herod (pp. 23-34). Rajak points out that the window into the historical Herod provided by Josephus is tinted by a tension between the competing interests of Judaea and Rome partly because Josephus himself was caught in the very same tension. The next chapter is "Greek and Roman Authors on the Herods" by David Braund (pp. 35-44). Braund's survey shows that while Greek and Roman authors did identify the Herods as a Jews, they rarely singled them out for any noteworthy distinction from other client kings who were equally well integrated into the Roman administration. Next is a study of selected rabbinic texts about the Herods by Daniel R. Schwartz, "Herod in Ancient Jewish Literature" (pp. 45-53). Few other scholars are so eminently qualified to trace source relationships between Josephus and rabbinic texts, but Schwartz resists the likely conclusion that most of the similarities between the rabbis and Josephus provide evidence that some of the rabbis were reading Josephus. He does admit that the rabbis' tendency to blur distinctions between the Hasmoneans and the Herods indicates that they did not have the same concern for history that Josephus did. In "Coins of the Herodian Dynasty: The State of Research," Alla Kushnir-Stein summarizes some of the problems in current work on Herodian numismatics (pp. 55-60). On at least one point this survey is already outdated.3 One of her suggestions that deserves further exploration is that the popularity of attributing Herod's earliest coins to a mint in Samaria or some other site outside of Jerusalem does not eliminate the possibility that they could have been minted in the capital city. Tal Ilan's chapter on "Ossuaries of the Herodian Period" emphasizes the need to more carefully analyze the connections between anthropological evidence from ossuaries and the ossuaries themselves (pp. 61-69). In contrast to efforts to connect ossuaries to any given sect, she follows the more defensible practice of identifying them as evidence of economic affluence.

The next section of the book presents some of the most illuminating new research because it is devoted to archaeology, art, and architecture. Ehud Netzer's article, "The Ideal City in the Eyes of Herod the Great," surveys urban planning in Sebaste (Samaria), Jerusalem, Caesarea Maritima, Antipatris, and Herodium (pp. 71-91). Netzer points out that Herod's urban planning tended to use temples with large precincts as focal points. This might reveal influence from the Capitoline Temple and Forum Iulium in Rome. In "Herodian Caesarea: The Urban Space," Joseph Patrich demonstrates that closer analysis of details in Caesarea Maritima reveals other features of Roman urban planning, such as the ratio of length to width in the size of the insulae (pp. 93-129). Patrich emphasizes that other cultural affinities, especially with Alexandria, are expressed in the construction of a projecting harbor, temple overlooking the sea, promontory palace, and other features. Next is a summary of recent work in Caesarea Philippi by John Francis Wilson and Vassilios Tszaferis, "An Herodian Capital in the North: Caesarea Philippi (Panias)" (pp. 131-43). Among the points made in this brief survey is that this city had rich palaces and temples in the first century but surprisingly few inhabitants until the second century.4 David Jacobson's article, "The Jerusalem Temple of Herod the Great," shows that the temple not only included indigenous Jewish features, but also revealed Roman influence and elements typical of other public monumental structures in the Hellenistic east (pp. 145-76). Parallels discussed by Jacobson include temples with artificial platforms and terraces at Praeneste and Tibur near Rome. The excavation of a temple founded ca. 20 BCE in the region of Caesarea Philippi is the topic of "A Newly Discovered Herodian Temple at Khirbet Omrit in Northern Israel," by Andrew Overman, Jack Olive, and Michael Nelson (pp. 177-95). The authors identify the Omrit temple with the Augusteum known to be in the Paneas region from numismatic evidence and other sources.

Archaeological studies continue with Yizhar Hirschfeld, "Fortified Manor Houses of the Ruling Class in the Herodian Kingdom of Judaea" (pp. 197-226). This chapter surveys the typological features of sixteen sites that Hirschfeld identifies as manor estates, including Qumran (as he has argued at length elsewhere).5 The fortifications and distinctive towers of these manors indicate that a situation of domestic insecurity accompanied their emergence in the Hellenistic period and their flourishing in the Roman period. In "Public and Private Decorative Art in the Time of Herod the Great," Sarah Japp analyzes the cultural affinities of selected artistic and architectural features of Herod's construction projects (pp. 227-46). Japp concludes that floor decoration, wall paintings, and other decorative elements reveal a mixed influence and show clear evidence of Herod's efforts to incorporate Roman features, often enhanced by artisans who must have been trained in Roman workshops. Rachel Hachlili presents another fine example of her outstanding publications on the excavations at Jericho in "Funerary Practices in Judaea During the Times of the Herods: The Goliath Family Tomb at Jericho" (247-78). Although not all priests rejected the Pharisaic belief in a future resurrection of the dead, her arguments that the Goliath family was of priestly origin rest uneasily with her references to the popular view that ossuary practices should be identified with this belief.6 Her summary of the evidence from this tomb offers a rare case in which epigraphic evidence is so admirably complemented by abundant anthropological evidence, which includes the skeletal remains of four males of large stature.

The next major section of the book includes articles emphasizing sociological and economic questions. In "The Royal Court of the Herods," Nikos Kokkinos presents an illuminating summary of the nature and operation of the Herodian royal court (pp. 279-303). This includes a detailed typology of royal functionaries and a catalogue of their names, which are the kind of features now well known in Kokkinos's scholarship that make it so useful. Next is Shimon Dar, "The Agrarian Economy in The Herodian Period" (pp. 305-311). This offers comments on balsam production and other agriculture as well as useful numerical figures such as estimates of the percentage of land under cultivation. The final paper by Duane Roller, "New Insights into the Building Program of Herod the Great," emphasizes methodological questions related to the study of Herod (pp. 313-20). One example especially pertinent to a weakness in the present volume is Roller's urging that scholars grapple more with Herodian building projects outside of the Herodian kingdom.

A brief appendix includes mere abstracts of the following papers: William Horbury, "Christian Sources on the Herods"; Jerry Vardaman, "Research on Herodian Inscriptions Since the 17th Century"; Israel Schatzman, "The Formation of the Herodian Army: Hasmonean Tradition and Roman Influence"; and Yoram Tsafrir, "Herodian Building Projects and the Romanisation of Judaea" (pp. 321-24).

The articles on archaeological topics are richly illustrated with drawings and black-and-white photographs. In a couple places in the book a more coherent narrative could have been achieved by a slightly different arrangement of the chapters. But the contributions fit together far better than one finds in other collections of conference papers that do not have such a clearly defined focus.

This is an important book that belongs in every academic library with a collection dealing with Classics, ancient history, the archaeology of Syria-Palestine, or biblical studies. In addition to sustaining an admirable clarity that commends it to the widest possible audience, some of its articles will become standard resources for future discussions of their respective topics.


1.   E.g., Nikos Kokkinos, The Herodian Dynasty: Origins, Role in Society and Eclipse (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1998).
2.   David M. Jacobson and Nikos Kokkinos, eds., Herod and Augustus: Papers Held at the IJS Conference, 21st-23rd June 2005 (Leiden: Brill, 2008).
3.   See Nikos Kokkinos, "Justus, Josephus, Agrippa II and his Coins," SCI 22 (2003), 163-80.
4.   For more on this material, see John F. Wilson, Caesarea Philippi: Banias (London: I. B. Taurus, 2004).
5.   Yizhar Hirschfeld, Qumran in Context (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004).
6.   Although ossilegium was sometimes legitimated post facto to accommodate belief in resurrection of the dead, it can accommodate such a wide variety of views of the afterlife that this belief can hardly be the explanation for its origins or popularity. More persuasive is the view that making ossuaries was a profitable strategy developed by contractors and artisans in Jerusalem to exploit by-products of the city's monumental stone industry so that they could keep themselves employed between larger projects associated with royal palaces and the Jerusalem temple.

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