Herodian Family Tomb

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A two minute walk behind Jerusalem’s King David Hotel brings us back two thousand years of history, possibly to the era of a different king of Judea. The small, minimalistic sign informs us that we’re standing at the “Herodian Family Tomb”.

Where are we?

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the Greek Orthodox Church began acquiring thousands of acres of land outside Jerusalem’s Old City. Today this land includes some of the wealthiest parts of the city. In the summer of 1891, while preparing the land near the neighborhood of Mishkenot Shannanim for farming, the Greek monks discovered remains of ​​large ashlar stones. The educator and archaeologist, Conrad Schick (a fascinating figure in his own right) conducted intensive excavations on the site and concluded that the destroyed building was part of a burial complex.

At the entrance to the cave one finds a complete rolling stone. These stones would block the entrance to the cave and could be rolled back when needed. The use of rolling stones (called: golel) and family burial caves was very common among the Jews of Jerusalem, especially during the Second Temple Period. (Cf. Matthew, 28:2).  Picture Credit: Segula Magazine

At the entrance to the cave one finds a complete rolling stone. These stones would block the entrance to the cave and could be rolled back when needed. The use of rolling stones (called: golel) and family burial caves was very common among the Jews of Jerusalem, especially during the Second Temple Period. (Cf. Matthew, 28:2).
Picture Credit: Segula Magazine

Schick believed that he had found the Herodian family tomb. What did he base this identification on? In brief, he based it on two factors: 1) we’ve already mentioned the size and beauty of the structure which leave no doubt regarding the wealth and prestige of its owners. 2) Secondly, the great Jewish historian Josephus Flavius, in his seminal work, History of the Jewish War against the Romans (5: 108), writes regarding the Roman General Titus’s urban planning:

the whole space from Mount Scopus to Herod’s monuments, adjoining the spot called the Serpents’ pool, was smoothed out.

The cave was carved up into several small rooms. Each room had hewn burial niches, and was covered with white chalk. Inside, Schick found several sarcophagi and other remains. The size and expense of this complex seriously points in the direction of this cave belonging to one of the privileged and wealthy families of Jerusalem of old.

The cave was carved up into several small rooms. Each room had hewn burial niches, and was covered with white chalk. Inside, Schick found several sarcophagi and other remains. The size and expense of this complex seriously points in the direction of this cave belonging to one of the privileged and wealthy families of Jerusalem of old.

Unfortunately, however, Josephus does not describe this monument. However, based on his research into Jerusalem in the year 70, Schick thought he had identified this ‘pool’ as what is known today as “Sultan’s Pool” and adjacent to it is our burial cave complex.

However, not everyone accepted this identification, mainly because the caves failed to produce any remains or inscriptions indicating the owners of the cave.

Ok, enough with the archeology. Why should you schlep in the Jerusalem heat to see an old cave? You shouldn’t! And, luckily, you don’t have to. Today, this site remains prime real estate in the modern Jerusalem. This site is situated in the middle of a beautiful public park, a few minutes away from both the Old City and the quaint but chic German Colony. Within the park, if you are lucky and the weather is right, you may even spot a bride taking photos on her wedding day in this most picturesque of locations.

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