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Comments on E.J. Vardaman's "The Other Herodium"(1)

Re-installed as a web page on 03 May 2015.

J.J. Raymond, in a most intriguing article, Paul, Descendant of Herod(2), offers what might be a clue regarding the machinery by which information about The Other Herodium got lost. The following quotation is from paragraph 4 in the article's section "Evidence of Paul as Herodian." I think that, here, Raymond is suggesting that Paul's friend Epaphroditas was either a Herodian or that the man had close ties to the Herodian faction in Rome.

"Paul's acquaintance and friend Epaphroditas, might well be the person of the same name who was a secretary to Nero (and who helped Nero commit suicide). He's greeted in one of Paul's letters (Phil. 2:25-30; 4:10-18) along with "Caesar's household". Epaphroditus served the next two Caesars but was put to death by the second one (Domitian) around AD 95 for his role in Nero's "suicide" (there was some suspicion that he may not merely have "helped" Nero fall on his sword, but may have actually killed him) and perhaps for being a secret Christian as well. He was, by the way, the reputed publisher of Josephus' works, and Josephus disappears from history about the same time." [Emphasis added.]

I speculate that Josephus's description of the Herodium facing Arabia disappeared at that time too. Rationale: Obscuration the location of Herod's actual burial site.

* * *
Here is a copy of a footnote in a 2003 article about Herod the Great which suggests a possible location of the Other Herodium. The site is in the vicinity of er Raya. (I don't know yet just how close the two sites are to one another, or whether they are one and the same.)

"In BJ I, 419 Josephus mentions another fortress (φρουριον) called Herodium, located in the mountains of Arabia east of the Dead Sea, at a site identified as present day Qasr Riyashi; for details see Lichtenberger 1999, pp 113-115, for other possiblities, see Sagiv 2003, pp.49-50, 143."

Source: Aryeh Kasher and Eliezer Witztum, "King Herod: A Persecuted Persecutor: A Case Study in Psychohistory and Psychobiography," Studio Judaica 36, 2006

Qasr Riyashi is described as being located six kilometers east from the Mujib Nature Preserve in Jordan. That preserve is associated with Wadi Mujib just east of where it flows into the Dead Sea. (See the second map near top of this webpage.) Er Raya is 11.5 kilometers ENE from the coastal highway bridge that passes over Wadi Mujib. (A six kilometer radius arc centered on er Raya passes through the nature preserve.

Mujib Nature Reserve showing 
location of Ayn er Raya
Mujib Nature Reserve showing the location of Ain er Raya
Source: The (Jordanian) Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature

This map shows two of the four sites known as Qasr Riyashi. [Updated 17 Sep 2010.]


A Communicator's Speculation

Jabal Al Jarwan (denoted by (C) in the drawing below) is more or less flat-topped and is the highest real-estate in the area. I speculate that it may have have been used as a relay site for intermediate-distance optical communications.

The Connected Earth Line of Sight Communications webpage says, "Most primitive distance communications used visual devices that on a clear day could be seen up to 25 miles away."

The following drawing shows a speculative visual signalling relay path connecting Herodium near Bethlehem ("Herodion West" in the drawing) and the hypothetical Herodium in the er Raya region. The line of sight is oriented 112 degrees from north, starting at Herodion West. The mountain ridge at (B) prevents direct signalling over the 27 mile path between (A) and (C). Vertical scale is expanded by a factor of 6.6. GoogleEarth was used in preparation of the elevation profiles. [Added 30 Sep 2010.]

Herodium to Herodium relay
Hypothetical beacon relay system spanning the Dead Sea

On reflection, I consider it to be more likely that the visual relay system, in this case, consisted of a 25 mile leg between "Herodion West" and the fortress at Masada; a 24 mile leg (across the Dead Sea) between Masada and the Mountain peak relay site (C); and a one mile leg between the mountain peak and the fortress at er Raya. An assumption here is that each of Herod's fortresses was in direct visual signalling contact with at least one other fortress or well defended relay site. Remote mountain ridge relay sites, as shown as (B) in the drawing above, would probably be rarely used. [Added 04 Oct 2010.]

For more information on ancient long-distance rapid communications methods, see: Ancient Greek Communications Methods (Αρχαια Ελληνικη επικοινωνια).

Bald Face Speculation

Above, I considered the top of Jabal Al Jarwan to have been a communications relay point between Masada and er Raya. It might turn out that rather than it having been a relay point it was the end point, i.e. the Herodium site, itself. The following Google Earth image shows elevation contours around the mountain top and a black circle which represents the footprint size of the cylindrical part of the Herodian fortress south of Bethlehem ...   . If there had been a fortress there, then it must have been disassembled and its building stones transported to other locations. There is a fairly level highlands road system to the Northwest of Al Jarwān which could have facilitated the transportation of the stones. [Added 15 October 2010.]

Top of Al Jarwān in Jordan
Top of Jabal Al Jarwān showing the speculative footprint of a Herodian fortress

Jabal Al Jarwān is not an uplift mountain. An examination of the topology of the region shows that the flat topped "peak" is actually a small mesa-like structure surrounded by erosion canyons.

If Herod's observers had the use of telescopes (See: Ancient Technology in Telescopes) the top of Jabal Al Jarwan would have been a much better location for observing Nabataean activity than er Raya. (The er Raya mound is some 1600 feet lower in elevation.) From a hundred foot tall tower, Herodian observers would have had a 430 foot height advantage with respect to the Nabataean population center of Dibon located on the up-sloping, southwest tip of the Plateau of Medeba, some 6.3 miles ESE from Jabal Al Jarwan. [Added 15 Oct 2010. Modified 19 Oct 2010.]


(1) E. Jerry Vardaman, "The Lost Fortress of Herodium Beyond Jordan Rediscovered", July 30, 1981. [Best I can tell, this manuscript has not been formally published.] Dr. Vardaman died in 2000.

(2) J.J. Raymond, "Paul, Descendant of Herod," http://www.jjraymond.com/religion/pauldescendantofherod.html

Contact: R.S. Fritzius at: fritzius@bellsouth.net