The Tombs of the Kings (Hebrew : קברי המלכיםKeveri HaMlakhim; Arabic : قبور السلاطين; French : Tombeau des Rois) are a rock-cut funerary complex in East Jerusalem believed to be the burial site of Queen Helene of Adiabene (died c. AD 50–56). The tombs are located 820 meters (half a mile) north of Jerusalem's Old City walls in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood (Hebrew: שכונת שייח ג'ראח; Arabic: حي الشيخ جرّاح)
The grandeur of the site led to the belief that the tombs had once been the burial place of the kings of Judah, hence the name Tombs of the Kings; but the tombs are now associated with Queen Helena of Adiabene.According to this theory, Queen Helena chose the site to bury her son Isates and others of her dynasty.
The site is located east of the intersection of Nablus Road and Saladin Street. The gate of the property is marked "Tombeau des Rois", French for "Tomb of the Kings."
On May 15, 2019, Hekdesh, a Jewish organisation (Association Hekdesh du Tombeau des rois), hired Gilles-William Goldnadel, a French lawyer, and took the French government to court. Goldnadel tried to prove that the site, after being purchased in 1878 by a French-Jewish woman, Berthe Amélie Bertrand, or by the brothers Péreire, French-Jewish bankers, was left to the French state on condition that the Jews would preserve the right to visit the site (see below at History).Goldnadel also hopes to reclaim the sarcophagus of queen Helena of Adiabene, presently housed at the Louvre.
On June 27, 2019, the French consulate in Jerusalem reopened the site to visitors purchasing tickets in advance.
The tomb is mentioned by the Roman-Jewish historian Josephus in the first century C.E. He writes about Helena, queen of Adiabene, a small kingdom from Mesopotamia (today part of Kurdistan, northern Iraq) who came to Jerusalem at the end of the Second Temple Period. Her family converted to Judaism and built a palace in the area today known as the City of David. Helena's son Monobaz II had her remains and those of his brother buried "three stadia from Jerusalem." Medieval Europeans mistakenly identified the tomb as belonging to the kings of Judah.
In 1847, the Turkish governor ordered a search for treasures in the tomb but none were found. In 1863, the French archaeologist Felicien de Saulcy was given permission to excavate the tomb. The German architect Conrad Schick drew up a map of the site. De Saulcy found sarcophagi, one of which was bearing the Hebrew inscription "Queen Tzaddah". He believed this was the sarcophagus of the wife of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah.
After human bones were found, the Jewish community appealed to Sir Moses Montefiore to persuade the Ottomans to halt the excavations. De Saulcy smuggled out some of his findings, which are now at the Louvre in Paris.
In 1864, the French-Jewish banker Isaac Péreire attempted to purchase the site but without success. In the 1870s, a French-Jewish woman, Amalya Bertrand, paid 30,000 francs for it. It was registered as French property under the trusteeship of the French consul. Bertrand declared: "I am of the firm opinion that this property, the field and the burial cave of the kings, will become the land in perpetuity of the Jewish community, to be preserved from desecration and abomination, and will never again be damaged by foreigners.She had a wall and guard post built around the site. In 1886, Bertrand's heirs donated it to the French government "to preserve it for science and the worship of the faithful children of Israel".
The Tomb of the Kings was a popular tourist site. It was described by the Greek geographer Pausanias as the second most beautiful tomb in the world (after the tomb of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World) who visited Eretz Israel. He declares that he "knows many wonderful tombs" and mentions two of them, one of which is in Helicarnsus and the other "in the Land of the Hebrews" and has a sophisticated opening mechanism aimed at a certain day of the year and for a certain time: "The Hebrews have a tomb, that of Hellenic , a local woman, in the city of Jerusalem, which the Roman emperor destroyed to the ground. There is a facility in the tomb, through which the door, which like the entire tomb is made of stone, does not open until the year returns the same day and the same time. Then the mechanism, without help, opens the door, which, after a short period of time, closes itself. It happens at the same time, but if you try at any other time to open the door, you will not be able to do so; Power will not open it, but will only break it."The mausoleum in Helicarnsus is consideredone of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The fact that Fausnias places the Tomb of Hellenia in Jerusalem at the same level indicates the tremendous impression he made of it.
The Jews of Jerusalem referred to it as the "tomb of Kalba Savua," Rabbi Akiva's father-in-law. Another burial was that of Sava friend Nicodemus Ben GurionAccording to another tradition it was the tomb of Caleb son of Jephunneh, one of the Twelve Spies in the Bible. The tomb has also been called the "tomb of the Sultans."
A small stone house was built on top of the tomb by Irhimeh (Arabic : ارحيمه), a Jerusalemite family.
From the house there is a 9 meter wide staircase (23 steps) that was originally paved and leads to a forecourt. The rain water is collected in baths, which are carved in the steps, and carried via a channel system to the water wells. At the bottom of the stairs there is a stone wall to the left with a gate. This gate leads to a courtyard that was cut from the rock at the same date. The dimensions of this courtyard are roughly 27 meters long from north to south and 25 meters wide from west to east.
The entrance to the tombs is via this courtyard. The tombs are entered via a rock-cut arch (facade) in the western side. The 28-meter facade was crowned with three pyramids, which no longer exist, and decorated with reliefs of grapes, plexus leaves, acorns and fruit, reflecting the Greek architectural style. The architrave was originally supported by two pillars, fragments of which were found in the excavations.
The tombs are arranged on two levels around a central chamber, with four rooms upstairs and three rooms downstairs. The central chamber itself is entered from the courtyard via an antechamber that goes down into a dimly lit maze of chambers. The access from the antechamber to the exterior courtyard could be sealed closed by rolling a round stone across it, and the stone still remains in-situ. In the first century C.E., a "secret mechanism" operated by water pressure moved the stone. Probably a small amount of water pressure activated a system of weights to open the tomb. Two of the eight burial chambers have arcosolia, resting places made of a bench with an arch over it. Some of the arcosolia have triangular niches where oil lamps were placed to give light during the burial process.
The two most common types of tombs in the first century CE are found in this tomb complex. Shaft tombs were long narrow shafts in which the deceased were placed and closed with a stone slab which probably had the name of the occupant inscribed on it. Channels in the center of the shafts were probably carved to drain the water that seeped through the rock.
The tombs are now empty, but previously housed a number of sarcophagi; they were excavated by a French archaeological mission headed by Louis Felicien de Saulcy, who took them back to France. They are exhibited at the Louvre.
Although no kings are known to have been buried here, one of the sarcophagi bears two Aramaic inscriptions and is thought to be that of Queen Helena of Adiabene ; the one inscription which reads, Ṣaddan Malkata (Palmyrene: צדן מלכתא), and the other, Ṣaddah Malkatah (Aramaic: צדה מלכתה), interpreted by scholars to mean: "Our mistress, the Queen."The sarcophagus is now at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The decorative architecture of the tomb complex is Seleucid, which would fit with this identification.
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Rock-cut tombs are a form of burial and interment chamber used in ancient Israel. Cut into the landscapes surrounding ancient Judean cities, their design ranges from single chambered, with simple square or rectangular layouts, to multi-chambered with more complex designs. Almost all burial chambers contain a platform for primary burial and an ossuary or other receptacle for secondary burial. There is debate on if these tombs were originally intended for secondary burials, or if that practice arose later. The use of rock-cut cave tombs in the region began in the early Canaanite period, from 3100–2900 BCE. The custom lapsed a millennium, however, before reemerging in the earliest Israelite tombs, dating to the 9th century BCE in Jerusalem. The use of rock-cut tombs reached its peak in the 7th and 8th centuries BCE, before rapidly declining and eventually falling out of use in the 6th century BCE in some regions. Use of the tombs has been recorded as recently as the Late Roman Period around the 3rd century CE. The use of such tombs was generally reserved for the middle- and upper-classes, and each typically belonged to a single nuclear or extended family.
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Porphyry is a textural term for an igneous rock consisting of large-grained crystals such as feldspar or quartz dispersed in a fine-grained silicate rich, generally aphanitic matrix or groundmass. The larger crystals are called phenocrysts. In its non-geologic, traditional use, the term porphyry refers to the purple-red form of this stone, valued for its appearance.
Adiabene was an ancient kingdom in northern Mesopotamia, corresponding to the northwestern part of ancient Assyria. The size of the kingdom varied over time; initially encompassing an area between the Zab Rivers, it eventually gained control of Nineveh, and starting at least with the rule of Monobazos I, Gordyene became an Adiabenian dependency. It reached its zenith under Izates II, who was granted the district of Nisibis by the Parthian king Artabanus II as a reward for helping the Parthian to regain his throne. Adiabene's eastern borders stopped at the Zagros Mountains, adjacent to the region of Media. Arbela served as the capital of Adiabene.
Mount Zion is a hill in Jerusalem, located just outside the walls of the Old City. The term Mount Zion has been used in the Hebrew Bible first for the City of David and later for the Temple Mount, but its meaning has shifted and it is now used as the name of ancient Jerusalem's Western Hill. In a wider sense, the term is also used for the entire Land of Israel.
The Eshmunazar II sarcophagus is a 6th-century B.C. sarcophagus unearthed in 1855 in the "Phoenician Necropolis", a hypogeum in the southern area of the city of Sidon in modern-day Lebanon. The sarcophagus was discovered by members of the French consulate in Sidon and was donated to the Louvre. The Eshmunazar II sarcophagus has two sets of Phoenician inscriptions, one on its lid and the other on its trough, under the sarcophagus head. The lid inscription was of great significance upon its discovery; it was the first Phoenician language inscription to be discovered in Phoenicia proper, the most detailed Phoenician inscription ever found anywhere up to that point, and is the second longest extant Phoenician inscription after the Karatepe bilingual inscription.
Helena of Adiabene was a queen of Adiabene and Edessa as the sister-wife of Monobaz I, and later the chief wife of Abgar V, King of Osrhoene. With her husband, Monobaz I, she was the mother of Izates II and Monobaz II. Helena became a convert to Judaism about the year 30 CE. According to Josephus, Helena was the daughter of King Izates, and according to both Josephus and Moses of Chorene, she was the chief wife of Abgar V king of Edessa.
Izates II was king of the Parthian client kingdom of Adiabene from approximately 30 to 54. He is notable for converting to Judaism. He was the son of Queen Helena of Adiabene and Monobaz I of Adiabene. Queen Helena was also said to be the wife of King Abgarus of Edessa and thus the queen of Edessa too.
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The Monolith of Silwan, also known as the Tomb of Pharaoh's Daughter, is a cuboid rock-cut tomb located in Silwan, Jerusalem dating from the period of the Kingdom of Judah; the latter name refers to a 19th-century hypothesis that the tomb was built by Solomon for his Egyptian wife. The structure, a typical Israelite rock-cut tomb, was previously capped by a pyramid structure like the Tomb of Zechariah. It is one of the more complete and distinctive First Temple-period structures. The pyramidal, rock cap was cut into pieces and removed for quarry, during the Roman era leaving a flat roof. The tomb contains a single stone bench, indicating that it was designed for only one burial. Recent research indicates that the bench was the base of a sarcophagus hewn into the original building.
Shimon HaTzadik is a Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem, established around the Tomb of Simeon the Just, after whom it was named. The tomb and surrounding lands was purchased in 1876 by the committee of the Sephardic community and the Ashkenazi Assembly of Israel. Starting shortly after the UN General Assembly recommended partition of the country into a Jewish state and an Arab state, the Shimon haTsadiq and Nahalat Shimon neighborhoods, close to the Tomb, on the way to Mount Scopus, were claimed by the Israelis though the UN General Assembly did not include it in the partitioning plan as a Jewish area.
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Tombs of the Sanhedrin, also Tombs of the Judges, is an underground complex of 63 rock-cut tombs located in a public park in the northern Jerusalem neighborhood of Sanhedria. Built in the 1st century CE, the tombs are noted for their elaborate design and symmetry. They have been a site for Jewish pilgrimage since the medieval period. The popular name of the complex, which has the most magnificently carved pediment of ancient Jerusalem, is due to the fact that the number of burial niches it contains is somewhat close to that of the members of the ancient Jewish supreme court, the Great Sanhedrin, namely 71.
The Tabnit sarcophagus is the sarcophagus of the Phoenician King of Sidon Tabnit I, the father of King Eshmunazar II. The sarcophagus is decorated with two separate and unrelated inscriptions – one in Egyptian hieroglyphics and one in Phoenician script. It was created in the early 5th century BC, and was unearthed in 1887 by Osman Hamdi Bey at the Ayaa Necropolis east of Sidon together with the Alexander Sarcophagus and other related sarcophagi. Tabnit's body was found floating perfectly preserved in the original embalming fluid. Both the sarcophagus and Tabnit's decomposed skeleton are now in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums.
The Cave of the Minor Sanhedrin is a burial cave located next to the Tomb of Simeon the Just in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. It contains 26 burial niches, in which the 26 members of the Minor Sanhedrin are said to be buried. There are also other burial caves in the complex.
בלובר שבפריס מוצגים ארונות קבורה, ממצאים ושרידים שנמצאו בקברי המלכים – מערת הקברים הידועה בירושלים המזרחית.
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