Advent Art, Day 17: Herod the Great, King of the Jews


About the Art: Trompe l’oeil painting of a window with open shutters, discovered in The Herodium, The Herodium Expedition, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

This Trompe l’oeil painting of a window with open shutters looking out over a lush landscape of fruit trees and goats was discovered in the Herodium in the Jezreel Valley in Israel. Herod the Great was buried in the Herodium, one of several palaces he had built, and this wall painting is believed to have been in his sarcophagus room.

Trompe l’oeil is technique whereby an artist uses realistic imagery and geometric lines to create the appearance of a three dimensional object or scene. This scene was drawn onto the tomb wall to give Herod a nice view from the afterlife, should his spirit inhabit the dark stone room for the rest of eternity. (See below for a couple more examples of Trompe l’oeil art.)

Early Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman tombs were often outfitted with precious metals, jewels, food, wine, and clay figurines representing wives, children, servants, and concubines to supply the deceased as they passed from this life into the next.

This idea that we need to equip ourselves for the next life with the things of this world is the opposite of the Scripture teaches. We cannot take our wealth with us. But as Herod the Great moved his way up in the world of Roman politics, driven by power, legacy, and wealth, the things of this world were all he had. The very thought of another King of the Jews was utterly unacceptable because it threatened Herod’s ability to hold on to the wealth he was in the process of accumulating.

(The excerpt under the heading “Consider” is from my book, The Advent of the Lamb of God.)


“Herod did not have enough power to empty a people of their faith, and the people he ruled were a people of faith. Herod knew their memories ran deep too. They were a people rich in heritage and identity. They were a proud, strong nation. They were survivors—survivors of Egyptian slavery, of wilderness wanderings, of wicked kings, and now of exile. They held certain days and certain places as holy. They professed faith in one God because they only believed in One God.

“And they also believed in a Messiah—a coming king. As broken and emptied out as they had become since the golden years of King David, they still held to the idea that they would once again become a mighty nation.

“When the Hebrew people returned from exile, they began to sift through the ruins of their once great nation, slowly stacking the stones that remained, one on top of another. They weren’t just rebuilding a war-ravaged landscape, they were trying to rebuild their broken theology as well.

“God had promised to take the Hebrew people as his own and to keep them forever. So what was the exile? Had God abandoned them? Had he forsaken his promise? Was there any life left in the roots of Judah? They could rebuild the buildings, but everyone knew they couldn’t reconstruct the past.

“Still, there remained deep roots of faith—hope in a not-quite-forgotten promise. Yes, Rome held the power for now, but as far as the children of Abraham were concerned, this too would pass. A remnant of faith remained in them, and Herod knew it. For as long as he ruled over them, he would never forget it.”[1]


Are you like Herod? When you are troubled, is everyone around you troubled too? If so, why?

What all do you think the people of Israel would have had to address in their own hearts in order to return to a healthy place, both spiritually and as a nation?

What are some “anchors” in your story that hold you close to the Lord—experiences, events, seasons of transition or struggle, or seasons of joy?


[1] Ramsey, Russ. The Advent of the Lamb of God. IVP, 2018. pgs. 116-117.

herod-the-great-2 Grave Window Full

Escaping Criticism by Pere Borrell del Caso, 1874


Street art in Peru:

Russ Ramsey
Russ is a pastor and author living in Nashville, Tennessee. His books include Struck: One Christian's Reflections on Encountering Death (IVP, 2017), and the Retelling the Story Series, featuring The Advent of the Lamb of God (IVP, 2018). His personal mission is to communicate the truths of Scripture in accessible ways to people in process. Follow Russ on Facebook / Twitter / Instagram.

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