Mustard Seeds, Mountain Moving, and Israel’s Builder-King

Jesus was a master storyteller who never passed up the chance to use a readily available illustration to drive home his point.  Once, when the disciples were dismayed over their inability to heal a demon-possessed boy he told them that if they had faith as small as a tiny mustard seed they could move mountains.

But not just any mountain…

Interior of the Herodium
Interior of the Herodium

On the horizon before Jesus and his disciples was a perfect illustration of mountain moving, one that very purposefully could not be missed.  This moved-mountain’s presence represented the overwhelming might of an oppressive regime.  It instilled awe and fear as it dominated the horizon, yet with a sweep of his hand Jesus was saying…”It is nothing, if you just believe.”

Herod the Great is best known for his attempt to assassinate the newborn Messiah, and while it was true he was brutal and paranoid, he was also a genius builder.  He was responsible for an astounding man-made harbor at Caesarea Maritima, the mind-boggling desert fortress of Masada, and the magnificent Temple mount.  Around 37 BC, his sights turned to the desert for a building site once again.  He wanted to build a fortress palace there that could be seen from Jerusalem and the surrounding areas so that the Jews never forgot he was always watching.  He also wanted to be sure it was the absolutely tallest thing in the surrounding landscape.  So, he narrowed his building site down to two hills (small mountains) which were near each other.

Then, he simply used forced labor to pare the top off one to add to the top of the other to make it bigger.  One pail full of dirt and rocks at a time.  He literally moved a mountain.

Then, he built a luxurious conical fortress on top of his new lofty perch.  There was a swimming pool at the foot of his desert palace which was large enough to sail small boats.  If you go to the ruins today, you can gaze in wonder at the domed ceiling of his bath house.  Herod loved this home so much he left orders to be buried there.

He named the palace after himself, of course.  He called it Herodium.

Domed ceiling in the bathhouse
Domed ceiling in the bathhouse

Can I even begin to tell you how much fun I had running through the cisterns? It is one of my favorite sites in Israel.

The Israel Museum is hosting an exhibition of the finds from Herodium through the end of the year.  Promise me that if you make it to Israel in that time, you will go.  Check out their Pinterest page for a sneak peek.

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