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