Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

One of the least visited places in Jerusalem is the portion of the village of Silwan that is located on the lower western slope of the Mount of Olives—opposite the “City of David.”

The village itself is built over 50 tombs from the 8th and 7th centuries B.C. This necropolis – “city of the dead”  – was investigated by David Ussishkin and Gabriel Barkay between 1968 and 1971. Travel to this area is very difficult (= impossible) for the inhabitants of Silwan are normally very hostile to outsiders.

The two most famous tombs from this necropolis are “the Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter” and the “Tomb of the Royal Steward.”

IJOTIT05

Tomb of the “Royal Steward” located in the Village of Silwan
The two inscriptions have been carved out and taken to the British Museum
Note the door on the left — this important tomb was used as a storage room at the time that this picture was taken

Unfortunately the second most important tomb from the First Temple Period is located in this village.  This tomb was discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1870. It had two Hebrew inscriptions – one above the door and the other to the right of it. Both were carved out and sent to the British Museum where they are still housed.  The largest inscription was over the door (note the large “gash” there).

IJOTIT07 Nahman Avigad translated the larger inscription as “This is [the sepulcher of . . . ] yahu who is over the house. There is no silver and no gold here but [his bones] and the bones of his amah with him. Cursed be the man who will open this!”

In the text the phrase “who is over the house” refers to a very important personage in the Judean government (about second to the king). His name, according to the inscription, was “. . . yahu.” Unfortunately the first part of his name is missing but many believe that the person who was buried here was none other than Shebna [yahu], the Royal Steward, whom Isaiah condemned for ‘hewing a tomb for himself on high’ – SEE Isaiah 22:15-17!

The amah (a female) mentioned in the inscription may also have been a very high functionary in the Judean government.

For a popular description of this necropolis see: Shanks, Hershel. “The Tombs of Silwan.” Biblical Archaeology Review, vol. 20, no. 3 (May/June, 1994):38-51

You also may be interested in viewing the First Temple Tombs found on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem – Click Here.

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5 responses to “Jerusalem — The Neighborhood of Silwan — The Royal Steward’s Tomb

  1. Fabulous post, Carl. Thanks for taking us where so few get to go! Grateful.

  2. If I’m not mistaken there is an ossuary with the inscription, woe to he who would open my ossuary,

  3. could the “amah” be his wife? I doubt high ranking government officials were female then

  4. You may be correct but see “Albright” in the material to follow. Here is a commentary on “amah” by Hershel Shanks in BAR 1994 May/June:

    The word amah in the inscription is somewhat of a puzzle. It is obviously a woman with some relation to the royal steward who was close enough to him to be buried with him. Avigad suggested that she was a slave-wife. Although she was inferior to the legally married wife, the amah’s rights were nevertheless safeguarded by law. Avigad hypothesized that an amah who bore children to her master could achieve a higher status than a legal wife who did not. In this situation a man might arrange to be buried with his beloved amah.

    Yigael Yadin made what might be a more likely suggestion. The name amah also appears on seals of the period where it parallels ‘ebed, which literally means servant (and often appears as ‘ebed hamelekh, servant of the king), but is in reality a high royal official. Presumably, the royal steward (Shebnayahu) was an ‘ebed of the king. An amah, suggested Yadin, was the wife of an ‘ebed, much as the title “Lady” is given to the wife of a “Lord” in England.

    William F. Albright proposed that an amah was a female royal functionary in her own right; this, however, does not seem as likely as Yadin’s suggestion.

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