Category Archives: Tombs

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.”

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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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The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

As Easter approaches I thought I would share a few related blog posts that contain some images that some of you might find useful for Easter presentations.

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View Looking East at the Entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional image of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.

King Herod’s Tomb at the Israel Museum

Besides the naval and nature paintings (secco—on dry plaster) at the Israel Museum that I mentioned in my previous post, fragments from the roof of Herod’s Tomb at the Herodium are also on display in the Israel Museum.

HerodiumTombFragmentsOn the left notice the concave roof and on the right one of the acroteria (urn).  For both of these, compare the style of “Absalom’s Tomb” in the Kidron Valley that is slightly earlier in date than Herod’s Tomb.

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“Absalom’s Pillar” (2 Samuel 18:18) in the Kidron Valley. Note especially the “hat” that is similar to the fragments found at the Herodium.  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Note, this tomb is NOT from the days of David’s son Absalom (2 Sam 18:18), but was probably constructed in the first century B.C.  It is of mixed styles. The conical-shaped roof is Syrian style, while the columns on the lower portion are of the Greek Ionic style.  Behind, and to the left of, the “Pillar of Absalom,” is the so-called “Tomb of Jehoshaphat.” The grave markers scattered in the green grass are from the “modern” Jewish cemetery on the lower slope of the Mount of Olives.

model-of-herod-s-tombThis is the model of the reconstructed Tomb of Herod that is on location at the Herodium.  Note the “pilasters” (rectangular column–like protrusions) on the base portion and the five “acroteria” (urns) on the roof of it—see one of the originals above.  It is evident that those who made this reconstruction based it not only on the archaeological finds, but also on parallels like “Absalom’s Pillar” above and tombs found at Petra.

For permission to use any images please Check Here.

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The Treasury (Khasneh) at Petra. Note on the center top the “urn” (like that found at the Herodium) on the top of the tholos (circular structure at the top of the “temple/tomb”).  Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The “Treasury” was probably constructed during the reign of the Nabatean ruler Aretas III Philhellene (82-62 B.C.).  Since Herod married a Nabatean woman it is probable that he was familiar with this structure—probably a temple and not actually a tomb.

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The “Monastery” (Deir; Arabic) at Petra—from slightly after the time of Herod the Great. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The Deir, or monastery, was probably built by the Nabatean ruler Malichus (40–70 A.D.)—thus slightly after the time of Herod.  In the upper center of the monument note the rounded tholos and the “urn” (like the one found at the Herodium) on the top of it.

It is also suggested that it dates to the time of King Rebal II in the early 2nd century A.D.  And because of its two side benches in the interior (and altar), that it was used for the meetings of religious associations.

In summary, the near parallel to the “tomb of Herod at the Herodium” is the “Pillar of Absalom” in the Kidron Valley, but its probable predecessor—known to Herod—was the “Treasury” at Petra, and its successor was the “Deir” at Petra.

Did Ehud Netzer discover the “real tomb” of King Herod?  There are significant researchers who think not.  Although Netzer found a significant mausoleum and fragments of sarcophagi, neither the size of the mausoleum and nor the sarcophagi are overwhelmingly impressive—that is fitting for a king of Herod’s ego/stature (see conveniently the summary of Shanks below—and more on the sarcophagus in the next post).

Shanks, Hershel. “Was Herod’s Tomb Really Found?” Biblical Archaeology Review 40 (2014): 40–48.

Jewish Presence at Hierapolis (Menorahs)

The important city of Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament.

Epaphras, who is one of you . . . is working had for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.
(Colossians 4:12-13; NIV)

Epaphras evidently founded the churches at Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis that are located in the Lycus Valley—possibly during the long stay of Paul at Ephesus.  For a variety of reasons we would expect some type of Jewish presence in these cities.

Although actual synagogues have not been found (Colossae had not been excavated) a variety of menoroth (menorahs; seven branch candlesticks) have been found engraved on tombs, a sarcophagus, and a column indicating a Jewish presence in the area.

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Tomb 163d Dating to the First Century A.D.
Note the menorah (seven branch candelabra) located
to the left and above the green plant
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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The family tomb on which the menorah is engraved
The remains of 31 individuals were found in the tomb
Click on the Image to Enlarge/Download

To view Tomb 148b with its very faint menorah and lulav Click Here.

Carl Rasmussen Copyright and Contact

Marble lid of a Jewish sarcophagus with a menorah
and a faint Greek inscription
Click on Image to Enlarge/Download

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The Martyrium (Memorial Chapel) of Philip at Hierapolis (Turkey)

Hierapolis is mentioned only once in the New Testament (Colossians 4:15) where Paul states that Epaphras was working there and in nearby Laodicea.

Memorial (Pilgrimage) Church Dedicated to Philip

Early Christian tradition states that Philip, along with his daughters, settled at Hierapolis.  It is probable that Philip the Apostle (= disciple of Jesus) is the actual person, although a confused tradition suggests that it was Philip the Evangelist (see his activities in the book of Acts).

Pilgrims’ Path Leading Up to the Martyrium of Philip

Tradition also states that Philip was martyred and buried here at Hierapolis.  On a hill northeast of the city a Martyrium—a memorial that was a focus of pilgrimage—was built in the fifth century AD.  In July 2011, the excavator, Francesco D’Andria announced that he had discovered the very Tomb of Philip in the vicinity.

Recently I have posted 18 high-resolution images of the Martyrium of Philip.  Click Here to view.

Tombs in the Kidron — The Arrival of the Greeks!

When Christian tour groups are in Jerusalem usually they will visit the Mount of Olives and some of the churches on it.  However, they often will not have an opportunity to visit or reflect upon the monumental tombs from the Second Temple Period that are located in the Kidron Valley—on the lower, eastern slope of the Mount of Olives.

The Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley with Monumental Second Temple Tombs

Often a guide will refer to these tombs from a moving bus as being in existence in Jesus’ day and some reference will be made to Matthew 23:27–32—Jesus’ condemnation of the hypocrisy (whitewashed tombs) of some of the leadership of his day.

However, it seems to me that these monuments deserve more than just a glance from a moving tour bus.  If one stops in the vicinity (see below) it is really a great place to share with your group how Greek influence in the land was introduced by Alexander the Great (332 B.C.) and increased during the days of the Seleucids

So-called “Pillar of Absalom” with Syrian Style “Hat”

Upper Portion of the “Pillar of Absalom”

(Seleucids: Greeks ruling from Syria; note the “Syrian style hat” on the “Pillar of Absalom”) and Ptolemies

Tomb of Zechariah” with Pyramid Shaped top and Ionic Capitals

(Ptolemies: Greeks ruling from Egypt; note the pyramid shaped top of the “Tomb of Zechariah”).  Greek culture in general had certainly affected the lifestyle of the Jewish Jerusalem elites that probably had built these tombs — note the Ionic columns on “Absalom’s Pillar” and the “Tomb of Zechariah” and the Doric columns on the “Tomb of the sons of Hezir“).

By the days of Jesus the arrival of Greco–Roman culture  had rewritten, and was continuing in the process of rewriting, the cultural landscape of the peoples of the land.  All of this may seem to be a bit “technical” for a typical tour group but what better place to visually introduce your group to the fact and importance of  the arrival of Greco–Roman culture than here?

This rewriting of the cultural/religious landscape certainly had a very significant impact on the outlook of the people living in the land—including the Maccabees/Hasmoneans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, Herodians, etc.  How did these various groups deal with these powerful external influences?  Adopt the new culture?  Reject it?  Fight against it?  I believe that these are powerful questions that should be taken into account not only when discussing Second Temple Judaism, but also when expounding upon the ministry and message of Jesus.

#2 = a wonderful seating area to view the tombs, Kidron Valley, and Mount of Olives
#1 = a view down on Eilat Mazar’s Excavations (Travel Tip #8)

One great place to view and discuss the monuments and their significance is from viewing point #2 above (as a bonus the southeastern corner of the Temple Mount towers over you, and the famous “seam” in the eastern wall is clearly visible).  Another way is to actually visit the monuments.  A walk from the Pool of Siloam north in the Kidron Valley will take you to these tombs.  This walk provides an interesting opportunity to get a good “feel” for the Kidron, the location of the Gihon Spring, the City of David, and the Arab neighborhood of Silwan (check to see if local conditions are “calm” before taking this walk, and I do not suggest walking alone).

Click Here to view 12 high resolution images of these monuments in the Kidron Valley.

The Tomb of the High Priest Annas? Part 2 of 2 — The Interior

In Part I of this post I presented images of the exterior of the tomb of Annas—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.  Today I present some images of the interior of this tomb that is actually much better preserved than its exterior.  Click on the images to view  high-resolution versions—and save if you wish.

The Western Wall of the Interior of the Tomb of Annas
Unfortunately the locals were not too interested in the preservation of this tomb
I’m sure you have noticed the collection of trash!#$@!

In the lower portion of the image there are three openings that lead into long chambers into which bodies of the deceased were placed (loculi; singular loculus).  The Ritmeyers have suggested that Annas the High Priest was actually buried in the central chamber!  Above the central chamber please notice the carvings in the rock representing doorposts, a lintel, a gabled (triangular shaped) roof.

At the very top of the image note the finely carved rosette pattern!!  There are 32 petals in this magnificently carved rosette.  This rosette is unique except for a smaller one in the back room of the so-called Tomb of Absalom AND a very large one in the Double Gate that leads into the Temple Mount Complex!!

View of the upper portion of the southern wall of the Tomb of Annas

Notice the fine details carved into the stone wall:  the gabled roof pediment, lintel, the door posts, the acroterion(!), and the molding.

At the very top of the image note a small portion of the finely carved rosette pattern!!  AND, in the upper left portion of the ceiling the outline of a large carved acanthus leaf (there was one in each of the corners of the ceiling within this tomb.  In the lower right quadrant, where the two walls meet, note the vertical carved pilasters and also the molding on the walls where they meet the ceiling.

Deeply carved, 32 petal rosette ceiling in the Tomb of Annas.

There are 32 deeply carved petals in this rosette.  This rosette is unique except for a smaller one in the back room of the so-called Tomb of Absalom AND the larger one in the Double Gate that leads into the Temple Mount Complex!!

Near the center of the image is a circle from which the 32 rosette petals emanate.  The circle is actually a whorl rosette with faint petals.

To view additional images of both the interior and exterior of this tomb Click Here.

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.