Archaeologist and expert on life of King Herod
Ehud Netzer:EHUD NETZER, emeritus professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, who has died aged 76, was one of the world’s foremost authorities on the life and times of King Herod, who ruled Judea under the Romans in the 1st century BC.
Ehud died of head injuries sustained in a fall at Herodium, the site of a fortified palace complex near Bethlehem, which he had first begun excavating in 1972 and where, in 2007, he discovered Herod’s tomb. In 2008, he also found a small but almost complete theatre not far from the mausoleum, with a royal box decorated with frescoes.
Ehud made a vast contribution to the knowledge of building styles and architecture in the era of the Second Temple, which was built on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in 516 BC, and restored and expanded by Herod from around 19 BC.
By his study of Herodian architecture, he highlighted the king’s great abilities to use money, power, ideas and his relationship with his Roman rulers to build massive complexes all over the Holy Land. He brought to light a more positive and artistic side of Herod the Great.
Ehud considered the discovery of a Hasmonean palace at Jericho to be the highlight of his career, as it was the first and only proven remains of the Hasmonean dynasty to which Herod was successor.
Excavations at the palace were carried out over 15 years from 1972. From the mid-1970s onwards, Ehud excavated the promontory palace of Herod at Caesarea Maritima; a temple from Herod’s time at Banias; a Herodian family burial monument and a building with distinctive brickwork in Jerusalem and the remains of a royal dwelling in Kypros, above the Jericho Valley.
Each of these discoveries added to our knowledge of Herodian building skills and architectural ideas.
Ehud was born in Jerusalem, son of Joseph and Puah Menczel, well-known Israeli educators. The name Menczel in Hebrew is spelled in a way that generated a great many errors.
In 1972, Ehud changed his surname to Netzer, close to a Hebrew derivative of Menczel.
He received his BSc degree in architecture from Technion (the Israel institute of technology), Haifa, in 1958 and his PhD in archaeology from the Hebrew University in 1977.
While still an undergraduate, Ehud served as surveyor during summer vacations at the archaeological excavations led by Prof Yigael Yadin at Hazor in Galilee.
He became interested in ancient building methods and for many years pursued a double career as both architect and archaeologist. Ehud then worked as surveyor at the excavations of Masada, fortifications dating to Herod’s era, headed by Yadin. For three years (1963-66) he was the architect responsible for the restoration of the site for the Israel National Parks Authority in preparation for its opening to the public, and continued his involvement until the late 1990s.
In 1964, Ehud married Dvorah Dove, whom he had met at the Masada excavations, where she was a pottery restorer. She later became a clinical social worker, at Hadassah hospital, Jerusalem. As their careers grew in parallel, Ehud devoted himself to the restoration of buildings in Jerusalem, from 1967 until 1970 heading a team of architects preparing the masterplan for the Yemin-Moshe and Mishkenot quarters, and the Jewish quarter in the Old City. He also designed public buildings in Dahab and Saint Catherine in Sinai, Egypt. Ehud’s guidelines were to build functional buildings, using original concepts, and the same materials if possible, taking tradition into account, but with an eye to modern comfort and needs. From this, he learned the beliefs, ways of life and history of the areas and their people.
In 1981, Ehud became a senior lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology, Hebrew University, and in 1990 professor of archaeology. He was insatiably curious about life in all periods and places, and travelled widely, finding interest in the ways of life of ordinary people, their dwellings and dreams.
This trait gave him an insight into why buildings might be built in certain places and styles. His ability to understand the building – and deteriorating – process in depth enabled him to identify the locations of ancient buildings from aerial photos before he began excavation.
Among his hundreds of articles and many books, particularly notable were three which won Irene Sala Levi awards from Ben Gurion University: Masada III: The Yigael Yadin Excavations, 1963-1965(1991); and volumes one (2001) and two (2004) of Hasmonean and Herodian Palaces at Jericho.
Ehud became professor emeritus in 2002, but never stopped excavating, researching and writing. In Jericho, he discovered the oldest known synagogue and later co-directed the excavation of a synagogue at Saranda in Albania. In 2003, he published a well-received book in German, Nabataische Architektur, about his study of Nabatean architecture in Petra, Jordan. At the time of his death, he was in the middle of a large study of the Second Temple and the Temple Mount.
Dvorah, their four children, Chana, Ruti, Yael and Yosef, and 10 grandchildren survive him.
Ehud Netzer (Menczel): born May 13th, 1934; died October 28th, 2010