Absalom’s Tomb


We are in Nahal Kidron which means Kidron brook, down the Mount of Olives. The valley here is also known by other names such as the King’s Valley, or the Valley of Jehoshaphat. This valley formed the natural eastern border of Jerusalem during the biblical period. The name Valley of Jehoshaphat is taken from the prophecy in the book of Joel in reference to the End of Days, as written in chapter 4, according to which, in this place, God will judge the nations in the End of Days.

This prophecy of Joel, combined with the proximity to the Temple Mount, turned the valley here into a sought-after burial site since the 1st Temple period, and I will only mention that Absalom’s Tomb is located 130meters from the southeast corner of the Temple Mount.

There are many traditions regarding Absalom’s tomb. In the book Samuel 2 chapter 18, it says as follows: Now Absalom in his life-time had taken and reared up for himself the pillar, which is in the king’s dale; for he said: ‘I have no son to keep my name in remembrance’; and he called the pillar after his own name; and it is called Absalom’s monument unto this day.

This sentence is the source of an ancient Jewish tradition linking the tomb with Absalom. The location of “King’s Valley” is not defined and so is the location of the tomb. Some identified the King’s valley with the Kidron brook and saw in this magnificent tombstone, the monument of the prince who rebelled against his father, King David.

At the end of the 2nd Temple period, there was already a tradition regarding a site in Jerusalem that was identified with the biblical Absalom’ tomb.

Also, Josephus Flavius, in his book Antiquities of the Jews, identified the tombstone 370meters away from a site in Jerusalem, but did not give an exact location. The Copper Scroll, which I expand on in the video “Ancient Mysterious Tunnel in the Judean Desert”, also list a treasure that was placed in Absalom’s tomb. In 333, the traveler from Bordeaux described the tombstone, and identified it as the tomb of King Hezekiah, of the Kingdom of Judah at the time when the Kingdom of Assyria destroyed the Kingdom of Israel. Later, Absalom’ tomb is mentioned many times by many travelers to Jerusalem in reference to different people.

An ancient custom of locals of all religions that I will mention in connection with Absalom’s tombstone – but…, let me start with a question – how is it that while many asked to be buried in front of Zechariah’s tomb located 100 meters south of here, no graves were found in front of Absalom’s tombstone.

So, the custom is the stoning of the tombstone by children who were required to do so by their father who did it to educate his not behaving son, by requiring the child to curse Absalom for being a rebellion son while throwing stones at the tombstone. Regarding the question I asked, I invite you to watch the video on Zechariah’s tombstone that will address the question, why people wanted to be buried close to it.

This structure dates to the middle of the first century. Four walls of the tombstone are decorated with half Ionic columns. The beam system consists of a smooth architrave, a Doric frieze and an Egyptian cornice. This combination of such a wide variety of styles from Greek, Roman and Egyptian architecture is unusual. The tombstone was carved out of the cliff, with its western side exposed to the outside, while its other three sides remained surrounded by the bedrock.

In the northeast corner of the carved passage that surrounds the tombstone, a magnificent facade was carved leading to a burial cave known as “Jehoshaphat’s Tomb”. The cave probably had nine rooms. It contains burial mounds and vaults where the burial was probably in stone coffins, meaning sarcophagi. Jehoshaphat’s tomb cave was designed and carved as a single unit together with Absalom’s tombstone.

The tombstone which its total height is close to 20meters consists of two main parts. The lower part is cube-shaped, carved in the rock and made of a monolith block that is separated from the rock and connects to it only at its base. It contains a small burial chamber that has vaults. The entrance to the tomb is located high above us on the south side and access to it was apparently over a wooden bridge that was placed from the cliff to the south.

According to the use of such a bridge, the burial chamber is intended for a one-time burial and not for a multi-generational family burial. As you can see in the photo – from the entrance to the tomb, steps descend to the burial space.

The second part of the tombstone is the upper part which consists of a rounded part built of hewn blocks of stone and topped by a conical roof. The upper part is used as a tombstone or “Nefesh” for the tomb below, and possibly also for Jehoshaphat’s cave.

“Nefesh” is a word in Hebrew meaning soul. This separation between the grave and the tombstone is an architectural expression of the idea that was common in the Hellenistic world that while the grave is intended for the body, a tombstone is required for the soul of the deceased.

During the Byzantine period, Christian monks invaded the tomb for the purpose of seclusion and for this they created another opening on the side of the tomb under the original opening. Antiquities robbers broke a large hole for entering the burial chamber. This hole which you can see in the front of the tomb was made in a late period and may have also served as a window for the Byzantine monks who lived there. Obviously, the hole damaged the decorations and the beauty of the tombstone facade.

The architectural style analysis leads to the conclusion that the tombstone is dated to the middle of the first century and therefore has no connection to Absalom.

If so, then who does the tomb belong to? I will summarize Professor Gabriel Barkay’s article on the subject: The special shape of the structure leads to identifying it as a burial place of a key figure from the first century. Also, the special location and the proximity to the Temple Mount makes it necessary to assume that those buried here had a noble and special status.

After the discovery of Herod’s tomb in Herodion, the closest equivalent to Herod’s mausoleum is Absalom’s tombstone in Jerusalem, suitable for a royal burial.

Marcus Julius Agrippa is Agrippa the 1st, king of Judah, born in 10/11 BCE. Agrippa was the son of Aristobulus, son of Miriam the Hasmonean & Herod, and his wife Berenice. He ascended to the throne in the year 34 and in 41 he overtook the rule over all of Israel. He died 2 or 3 years later, at the age of 54.

At the end of his days, Agrippa saw himself primarily as the king of Judah with Jerusalem as its capital. The priestly attribution of Agrippa as a grandson of the Hasmonean family on his grandmother’s side, gave him many advantages among the Jews. Jerusalem and the temple were important to him, and they occupied a central place in his being, so it can be assumed that Agrippa would want to be buried near the temple. Only a highly privileged could be buried in such a magnificent and unusual monument. The great similarity between Herod’s and Absalom’s tombs on the one hand, and the absence of other similar tombs on the other hand, leads to the conclusion that this place is also a royal burial structure, and if this conclusion is correct, Agrippa would be the only candidate. The location and general nature of Absalom tombstone, as well as the date, are well suited to its identification with the tomb of Agrippa. According to Barkay – Agrippa is the only king of Judah from that time, whose tomb location is unknown.

It should be noted that the burial in both monuments was in an inner chamber located high above the tombstone. Access to the burial chambers was hidden and was done using scaffolding that was dismantled after the burial.

In Absalom’s tomb there are two vaults where two coffins were placed, which were probably intended for the burial of Agrippa and his wife Kyprus. The other members of Agrippa’s family were most probably buried in the adjacent cave, the “Cave of Jehoshaphat”, which forms one burial unit with the royal tombstone.

That’s it for this time, and as usual I have a final question for you: Who killed Absalom? the answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Article: Yad Avshalom - Tomb of Agrippa I, King of Judah, author: Prof. Gabriel Barkay
  2. Book: Pathways in Jerusalem, Editors: Eyal Meiron, Publisher: Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi
  3. The new encyclopedia for archeological excavations in Israel

Mention in the Bible

  1. Joel chapter 4 verses:2-12
  2. 1Samuel chapter 18 verse 18

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