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.

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

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.

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.

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!

Place of Peter’s Denial of Jesus?

Many Christian tour groups to the Holy Land will visit the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. This church is located on the eastern slope of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem—south of the Old City wall, on present day Mount Zion.

View looking west southwest at the church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. Below and to the right of the church note the excavations and the staircase the leads up and down the hill that dates to the Second Temple Period.

According to a sixth or seventh century tradition this is the site of the Palace of Caiaphas before whom Jesus was questioned (mentioned 9 times in the New Testament; Matt 26:57–68; Mark 14:53–65; Luke 22:54).  According to the Gospel accounts, Peter, in the courtyard denied any association with Jesus after which the “rooster crowed” (= Latin: galli-–cantu; Matt 26:69–76; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–65; John 18:25–27).

The church was completed in 1931 and the Assumptionist Fathers serve there.  The church is built on three levels, the bottom of which contains a series of rock cut caverns that are said to date to the time of Jesus.

View looking west at the steps that ascend the western hill (Mount Zion) from the central Tyropoeon) Valley.possible that Jesus walked on these steps.

Excavations to the north of the church have revealed a variety of rock cut remains along with a flight of steps that leads up and down the hill—it is said to date to the time of Jesus (= Second Temple Period).

View of one of the underground rock cut chambers located on the lowest level of Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

Supposedly the church is build over/near the house of Caiaphas the High Priest (mentioned 9 times in the New Testament), before whom Jesus was questioned.  According to tradition, Jesus was imprisoned here during that time and later Peter and John were imprisoned here as well (Acts 5).

The caves/chambers evidently date to the Second Temple Period.

For 16 images of Saint Peter in Gallicantu Click Here.

Palm Sunday and “Holy Week”

On Sunday, 14 April, Christians will be remembering Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

For those of you who might be looking for High Resolution images related to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, the Last Supper in the “Upper Room,” and the events clustered around the final week in his earthly life I will be posting some useful links in the days ahead.

To view 10 images (with commentary) of a modern procession commemorating this event Click Here.

Use the following links to find High Resolution images related to Gethsemane, the Upper Room, a Rolling Stone Tomb, Gordon’s Calvary, the Garden Tomb, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Cave/Grotto of Paul and Thecla at Ephesus

One of the most interesting early extra–biblical stories is the one of Paul and Thecla (2nd century A.D.; Thecla is said to have been a female companion of Paul and eventually [for most of her life] a respected preacher of the Christian faith).

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From right to left: Theocleia (mother of Thecla), Paul, and Thecla
Fresco from the Grotto of Saint Paul at Ephesus
Click on Image to Enlarge

At Ephesus there is a not–too–frequently–visited cave sometimes called “The Grotto of Paul” (= Cave of Paul & Thecla).  It is located on the northern slope of Bülbül Dag, away from the normal visitors’ routes through Ephesus.  It overlooks the site of ancient Ephesus from the south.

On the western wall of the grotto a painting portrays an event from the apocryphal book called The Acts of Paul and Thecla (ca. early second century A.D.).  The painting (5th/6th century A.D.) depicts the initial event described in the book, in the city of Iconium, where Thecla is looking from a window at Paul preaching while Thecla’s mother (Theocleia) looks on.  Thecla, against the wishes of her mother and her finance Thamyris, gave up her betrothal (engagement) in order to remain a virgin and to follow Paul.

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Detail of Thecla looking down from a window at Paul preaching
Paul’s raised hand is visible on the right
Click on Image to Enlarge

Eventually Thecla was separated from Paul and became a significant preacher and witness to her faith.  Her life and impact has been much discussed during the past thirty years and this painting has figured large in the discussions.

In addition, The Acts of Paul and Thecla contains the earliest physical description of Paul:

“And he [Onesiphorus] saw Paul coming [towards Iconium], a man small in size, bald-headed, bandy-legged, well-built, with eyebrows meeting, rather long-nosed, full of grace.”

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Paul and Theocleia (mother of Thecla) — Note the names spelled out in Greek
Also compare the artistic representation of Paul with the literary
Click on Image to Enlarge

The facial image of Paul in the fresco seems to match this description as do iconographic representations of Paul.

The cave seems to have served as a chapel from the early Byzantine period through the early 19th century.

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Vestibule to “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla” at Ephesus

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Plan of “The Grotto of Paul and Thecla”

The grotto is 50 ft. long 6.5 ft. wide and 7.5 ft. high gallery that was expanded to the south in the form of a “presbytery.”  It was excavated by Dr. Renate Pillinger from the University of Vienna in 1995.

Not familiar with the fascinating story of Paul and Thecla?  You can get a Kindle version of the story for only $1.99 in the New Testament Apocrypha—along with 43 other stories!

To view additional images of this Grotto and Frescos Click Here.

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where did the Temple Treasure Go? Final Part

In my previous blog, I noted that both Brandfon and Billington trace the objects taken by the Roman’s from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70 to the Nea Church in Jerusalem.

At that point, the story becomes very complex because of the Persian invasion and capture of Jerusalem in A.D. 614.  It is complex partially because the Jews initially assisted the Persians, and may have gained possession of the objects then.  But soon, the Persians sided with the Christian.   And eventually the Byzantine ruler Heraclius captured Jerusalem in 630 and was harsh on the Jewish population.

Both Brandfon and Billington cite a number of Jewish sources from this period.  They concluded that when the Muslims took control of Jerusalem in 638 the trail goes cold!  Billington writes:

I have searched through every Byzantine, medieval Catholic, Crusader, and Arab historical source that I could find, and these sacred Jewish items disappear from historical sources at the time that Omar took Jerusalem in 638 AD. . . .

It appears that the Jews wisely hid their sacred items from Omar and the Muslim Arabs before they [?] surrendered Jerusalem to them. . . .

My best guess—and it is only a guess—is that the 7th Century Jews hid their Golden Temple Menorah and their other sacred Temple items somewhere inside of the Temple Mount . . . But this is only a guess.  (Billington pp. 21–22)

The end?  Well not quite, as my teachers and later colleague Anson Rainey used to tell his students—”let me enrich you with some new uncertainties!”

Steven Fine, who has been scanning the Arch of Titus in Rome, has an article that traces the echos of beliefs that the objects remained in Rome!  Among other sources, Fine draws our attention to a passage found in The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (12th century):

In the church of St. John in the Lateran there are two copper columns that were in the Temple, the handiwork of King Solomon, peace be upon him.  . . . There also is the cave where Titus the son of Vespasian hid away the Temple vessels which he brought from Jerusalem. (Fine p. 62)

Fine concludes:

 By the end of the 13th century, then, the Lateran [church!] was claiming to have the Temple booty of the Solomonic Temple, taken anachronistically by ‘Titus and Vespasian’ and on display (or in a reliquary).  Though neither Christians nor Jews could actually see the Menorah, its presence was intense” (p. 63).

The Church of Saint John in the Lateran in Rome.


Fine, Steven. “The Temple Menorah—Where is It?” Biblical Archaeology Review 31, no. 4 (July/August, 2005): 18–25, 62–63.

Brandfon, Fredric. “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 5 (September/October, 2017): 40–49, 70.

Billington, Clyde E. “What Happened to the Golden Temple Menorah?” Artifax 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2019): 18–21.

Fine, Steven. “True Colors: Digital Reconstruction Restores Original Brilliance to the Arch of Titus.” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 3 (May/June, 2005): 28–35, 60–61.

A.D. 70 The Destruction of the Temple — Where did the Temple Treasure Go? Part 3

As noted in a previous post, most of the articles from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem had been placed in the Temple of Peace in Rome—but in A.D. 192 the Temple of Peace was burned down.  There are two important discussions that trace the history of the articles after this event—one by Fredric Brandfon and the other by Clyde Billington (see below).

A.D. 192 — Billington (p. 18) argues that “. .. the Temple Menorah and the other ‘Treasures of the Jews’ were rescued and placed in the royal palace where, according to the Byzantine historian Procopius, they remained until the mid 5th Century AD.”   This would mean that they were kept in one of the Palaces on the Palatine Hill.

A Garden from the Palace of Domitian on the Palatine Hill in Rome—where the Royal Palaces were located. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Click Here to view images of and on the Palatine Hill.

In A.D. 445 Gaiseric and the Vandals conquered and looted the city of Rome and “carried off the Temple Menorah and the other Treasures of the Jews . . .” to their capital city of Carthage in North Africa (Billington, 18).   Procopius of Caesarea also describes how later, the Byzantine general Belisarius conquered Carthage in A.D. 534.   He then goes on to describe the victory parade of the booty in Constantinople in the presence of the Emperor, Justinian (r. 527–565).  Conveniently, Billington provides his translation of the relevant passage from Procopius of Caesarea’s, History of the Wars (p. 18).

. . . and then followed all of the royal treasure which was worth an exceedingly great amount, because Gizeric (The vandal king) had looted the (Imperial) Palace in Rome, as was stated in a preceding portion of this history.  among the items take from the Palace in Rome were the Treasures of the Jews, which Titus, the son of Vespasian, and others had brought to Rome after the capture of Jerusalem.”

The Hippodrome in Constantinople (modern Istanbul) where the victory Parade may have taken place.

Thus the Temple Treasure was brought to Constantinople in A.D. 534.  But Procopius also says that one of the Jews warned that a curse would fall on Justinian, the Emperor, if the treasure was not returned to Jerusalem!  Billington’s translation continues . . .

When the Emperor (Justinian) heard of the things that were said (by this Jewish man), he became frightened, and with all haste sent all of these (sacred Jewish) items to the Christian churches in Jerusalem.

At this point, Billington has a detailed discussion of exactly when the articles were sent to Jerusalem, but both he and Brandfon agree that they were placed, for a time, in the newly built Nea Church dedicated A.D. 543.

Sixth Century Map on the floor of a Church in Madaba (Jordan). The Nea Church is in the upper right corner. The map is east oriented (at the top).

Some of the remains of the Nea Church have been excavated (Nahum Avigad) and are located in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem—but much of it is covered by the Jewish Quarter Parking Lot!

View looking northeast at the Parking Lot of the Jewish Quarter. The Nea Church is buried under part of it!

View looking north at the southern wall of the Old City outside the Jewish Quarter. Two courses of the stone foundation of the Nea Church protrude from under the wall of the Old City.

On March 14, 2019, AL-MONITOR published an article entitled Decades after discovery, Jerusalem’s Byzantine masterpiece may open to the PublicThe article is worth a read as it describes the current state of the remains of the Nea Church.

I hope to publish the next (hopefully last) installment of this saga later this week.


Brandfon, Fredric. “Did the Temple Menorah Come Back to Jerusalem?” Biblical Archaeology Review 43, no. 5 (September/October, 2017): 40–49, 70.

Billington, Clyde E. “What Happened to the Golden Temple Menorah?” Artifax 34, no. 1 (Winter, 2019): 18–21.