Category Archives: Places in Israel

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.”


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.

The Tomb of the High Priest Annas? Part 1 of 2 — The Exterior

One of the most richly decorated tombs from the Second Temple Period is located on the southern slope of the junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys.

Junction of the Kidron and Hinnom Valleys with the Tomb of Annas

This is the area that some have called “Akeldama” or the “field of blood” that is associated with events surrounding the death of Judas.  In 1994 Leen and Kathleen Ritmeyer published an article suggesting that this special tomb may have been that of one of the High Priests mentioned in the New Testament and elsewhere.

Exterior of the “Tomb of Annas”
Badly defaced by later quarrying

Entrance to the “Tomb of Annas”

The above images show a view looking south at the exterior of the tomb.  On the right (west) side of the image notice the two semi-circular niches (for mourners/visitors?).  The entrance to the tomb has been heavily quarried/destroyed.  Notice the decorative partial shell conch over the now-almost-destroyed entrance to the tomb.

Detail of west side of tomb with an engaged column (pilaster) and the mourner niches.
When this photo was taken the tomb and forecourt were being used as a cattle pen!

West side of the tomb

In the image above, remnants of an engaged column (pilaster) are visible as are two apses—possibly used by mourners and/or visitors.

Annas was a very influential High Priest (AD 6–15) whose sons, and later son-in-law, Caiaphas, succeeded him in that office.  Annas is mentioned in the New Testament in Luke 3:2; John 18:13, 24;  and Acts 4:6.

Standing in front of this tomb, looking north, one has a clear view of the Temple Mount—were Annas and his descendents had served.

For a detailed description of this, and other tombs in the area, as well as the logic that this is the tomb of Annas please seen the article by Leen and Kathleen  Ritmeyer, “Akeldama: Potter’s Field or High Priest’s Tomb?” Biblical Archaeology Review 20 (1994): 23-35, 76, 78.

In the next post — images of the magnificent interior of this tomb!

Herod the Great and The Stadium and Theater at Jericho

About half way between Old Testament Jericho and the Second Temple Palaces of Jericho there is a site called Tell es–Samarat.  This tell was partially excavated and the area surveyed by Ehud Netzer.


View looking south from the top of Tell es–Samarat at the “stadium” of Second Temple Jericho. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In the foreground is the top of the cavea of the small (3,000 seat) theater that faces south.  The flat area beyond it from the house in the lower right to beyond the hot houses is were the “stadium” of Herodian Jericho was located.  The stadium was bounded on the right (west) by the asphalt road and on the left by a line of green trees.

The first–century Jewish historian Josephus mentions several  important events that happened here.

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Murder of a Jewish High Priest at NT Jericho

For the few tour/academic groups that visit New Testament Jericho usually, because of time constraints, the main (northern) site is viewed from the south of the Wadi Qilt, but an exploratory walk on the north side of the wadi does pay dividends.

One of the distinctive structures north of the wadi is a double pool that was built in conjunction with the Hasmonean Palace during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103–76 BCE).  It was refurbished by Herod the Great.


View of the double swimming pool where the handsome, eighteen year old, Hasmonean High Priest, Aristobulus III was murdered by Herod’s colleagues. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Each pool measures 42 x 60 ft. and each is 10 ft. deep.  Note the staircases that lead down into the north (near) and south (far) basins.  A wide wall separates the two basins.

It was probably here, in 35 BC, that the brother-in-law of Herod, the young High Priest Aristobulus III, “accidently” drowned while “playing” with some of Herod’s youth.  His death marked the end of potential Hasmonean take over of Herod’s throne.

(53) Upon all this Herod resolved to complete what he had intended against the young man [Aristobulus III]. When therefore the festival was over, and he was feasting at Jericho with Alexandra, who entertained him there, he was then very pleasant with the young man, and drew him into a lonely place, and at the same time played with him in a juvenile and ludicrous manner.

(54) Now the nature of that place was hotter than ordinary; so they went out in a body, and of a sudden, and in a vein of madness; and as they stood by the fish ponds, of which there were large ones about the house, they went to cool themselves [by bathing], because it was in the midst of a hot day.

(55) At first they were only spectators of Herod’s servants and acquaintances as they were swimming; but after a while, the young man, at the instigation of Herod, went into the water among them, while such of Herod’s acquaintances as he had appointed to do it, dipped him as he was swimming, and plunged him under water, in the dark of the evening, as if it had been done in sport only; nor did they desist till he was entirely suffocated.

(56) And thus was Aristobulus murdered, having lived no more in all than eighteen years, and kept the high priesthood one year only; which high priesthood Ananelus now recovered again. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15:53–56).

This is the same Herod (r. 37–4 B.C.) who murdered his beloved wife Mariamne, a mother-in-law, an uncle, and three of his sons.  The Herod who was alive when Jesus was born (ca. 5 B.C.) and before whom the “Magi” asked “where is he who is born king of the Jews?” and who subsequently slaughtered the infants of Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1–3, 16–18).

To view 18 high–resolution images of New Testament Jericho Click Here.

New Testament/Herodian Jericho

Most tour groups to Israel will visit the site of Old Testament Jericho.  However, there is a site about 2 miles south of there where first the Hasmoneans and then King Herod built a series of palaces along the Wadi Qelt.


View looking north at Herod the Great’s Third Palace at Jericho—on the north side of the Wadi Qelt.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

From left to right is a large reception room, a large courtyard, a Roman bath (including cool, dressing, warm, and hot rooms), another courtyard and service area (sloping down and to the right).

HerodThirdPalaceDuring the winter, when there is rain, sleet, and snow in Jerusalem, generally the climate in Jericho is warm and pleasant!

Jericho was famous for the agricultural products that were grown here—especially Balsam shrubs/trees.


This is a view of a pool that, according to the excavator, was used for the soaking of Balsam branches. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The balsam plantations at Jericho were world famous and this precious commodity was shipped all over the Roman World.  To harvest it I believe that usually not-too-deep slits were cut into the branches of the bush with either a sharp bone or piece of glass—never with a metal knife.  The sap that came out was processed for its scent.

Evidently, another method included the cutting and soaking of crushed branches, in a pool such as this, but I am not certain how that process actually worked.  I am guessing that the finished product, although valuable, was not as good quality as that produced by the method described above.

For 18 high resolution images of Herodian/New Testament Jericho Click Here.

The road leading to and from Jerusalem passed by theses palaces.

  1. Jewish Pilgrims going up to and returning from Jerusalem.
  2. Jesus’s family visiting Jerusalem? (Luke 2:41–52)
  3. The setting for the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25–37)
  4. Healing blind Bartimaeus (and friend). (Matt 20:29–34; Mark 10:46–52; Luke 18:35–43)
  5. Visiting Zacchaeus the [balsam?] tax collector. (Luke 19:1–10)

The following 11 minute video traces the route of this road from Jericho to Jerusalem.

See Netzer, Ehud, and Rachel Laureys–Chachy. The Architecture of Herod, the Great Builder. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, pp. 42–80.

Mysterious Bridge

Many of you have traveled across the Aijalon Valley (where the moon stood still; Joshua 10:12) and have seen the massive bridge that crosses the valley.


High Speed Railroad Bridge across the Aijalon Valley.

The folk over at Ynetnews have posted an informative article, “Travelling the tracks to connect Israel’s largest two cities,” that describes the bridges and tunnels for the high speed railroad from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.  It will only take 28 minutes for the journey at speeds up to 100 miles per hour!


Aijalon Bridge Detail — Photo: Sasson Tiram

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One of the Best Preserved Ancient Synagogues in Israel

In the most recent issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review the process of the reconstruction of the synagogue at Umm el–Kanatir is described.  The following are some images of the site.  Additional images of this interesting synagogue can be viewed on my web site.

Entrance to synagogue at Umm el–Qanatir

Umm el–Q/Kanatir (The Mother of the Arch) is a site located on the upper reaches of the Wadi Samekh, 5 mi. [8.5 km.] east of the Sea of Galilee on the Continue reading