Jodi Magness in The Archeology of the Holy Land has a good deal of material about the Herodian period.
The New Testament refers to several Herods. This family of Idumean (Edomite) converts to Judaism ruled as clients of the Roman Empire. Herod the Great was the only one who was technically a king, having been ordained king by the Roman senate. He was a great builder, but a cruel and paranoid man. When he died, three of sons got positions over parts of his kingdom. Herod Antipas, the Herod of the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist, was one of them. He had semi-autonomous rule of Galilee and some of the Transjordan. Although he was not a king and was a Roman subject, he still had his own foreign policy and went to war with the Nabateans on his own.
Because Herod the Great was a great builder, his works show up most in excavations. The Jerusalem temple of the Gospels is Herod’s temple, the second temple as rebuilt and added on to by Herod. As I also noted in the previous post, Herod provided an aqueduct and reservoir system to expand Jerusalem’s water supply. Thus Herod contributed to making Jerusalem the vibrant center of world Judaism at the time of the New Testament.
During the Hasmonean period the Idumeans had converted to Judaism (probably under duress). So Herod was a Jew. After Herod had several of his sons killed, Augustus Caesar is supposed to have said that it was better to be Herod’s pig than Herod’s son. This implies that Herod kept a kosher diet. The joke is that since he ate no pork, his pig would live to a ripe old age, unlike his sons.
Magness thinks that Herod rebuilt the temple partly out of real devotion to Judaism. However, he also thought like a Roman. Romans believed all gods should get respect. Archeology has uncovered at least two pagan temples that Herod built. Josephus says there were others.
Magness spends some time talking about what we have found at Caesarea on the coast of Judea. Herod built a harbor there and what he did is awesome. Underwater explorers have found that he put in huge breakwaters using the latest Roman technology.
“Herod imported hydraulic concrete from Italy, which contained a special type of volcanic ash that allowed the concrete mixture to harden underwater. To make the breakwaters, Herod’s engineers constructed enormous wooden boxes or formworks, causing them to sink to the sea floor, where the concrete hardened (p. 172).”
On top of the breakwaters they built warehouses. At the ends of the breakwaters they built towers to mark the entrance to the harbor. One of them was a lighthouse after the pattern of the Pharos in Alexandria, one of the seven wonders.
To express his loyalty to Rome, he built in Caesarea at temple to Roma and Augustus. It differed from Greek temples. Its architecture has several Italic features.
There were apparently other temples in Ceasarea from the early Roman period as well. In 1961 a stone turned up in a building from a later period. But the stone was a reused stone from earlier construction. It had an inscription dedicating a temple to Tiberius Caesar authorized by the prefect, Pontius Pilate! Although we have some coins minted during Pilate’s term, this is our only artifact bearing his name.
At Sabaste in Samaria, Herod also built an Italian style temple. Like the one in Caesarea, it was dedicated to Roma and Augustus. Both Caesarea and Sebaste had large non-Jewish populations at the time.