“Something shiny caught my eye,” Dan Rodriguez recalls, reliving his moment of discovery. In June 1989, the 34-year-old Rodriguez—a pastor from Santurce, Puerto Rico—was walking down the steep path from the top of Herodium. He had just accompanied a group of Spanish-speaking students on an archaeological study-tour to this palace-fortress of Herod the Great, who ruled Judea from 37 to 4 B.C.a
Herodium, still dramatically intact today, was built by Herod in the Judean desert, nine miles south of Jerusalem, as a refuge from his political enemies and as the place where he wished to be buried. From a distance it appears to be a truncated, cone-shaped mountain. Recessed within the mountain’s flat top is Herod’s palace, with its Roman baths, elegant courtyard, synagogue and traces of painted frescoes on the walls. Earth piled up by Herod against the outer walls and towers of the palace-fortress created the distinctive smooth slopes of the mountain, so easily recognized on the southern horizon when viewed from Jerusalem.