In the heart of one of Jerusalem’s most affluent neighborhoods we discover a fully reconstructed Maccabean-era tomb. The tomb even has its own address, 10 Alfasi Street. Who’s buried here and why would they be buried in the middle of a residential neighborhood?
Visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City quickly notice the graveyards that surround it, especially from the East. What most are not aware of is that during the Second Temple period the Old City was surrounded by graves from the west as well. Today, many of Jerusalem’s most upscale neighborhoods were part of an elaborate “City of the Dead” (Necropolis). Our tomb sits at the heart of this ancient city.
After the 1948 war, when Jerusalem was divided into two parts, Israeli Western Jerusalem was built up as a residential area. In 1956, construction was done on Alfassi Street in the Rehavia neighborhood to make way for new residential buildings. When the contractors exploded the bedrock adjacent to 12 Alfassi Street, they discovered the remains of an ancient tomb. Not surprisingly, The City of Jerusalem delayed further construction on this street while the tomb was reconstructed and conserved, eventually receiving its own address.
Inside this upscale tomb (it is in Rechavia after all!) archaeologists discovered several drawings of naval vessels and inscriptions in Aramaic and Greek including one for a man named “Jason” (Yason). Due to the drawings of boats inside the cave, many scholars believe that this “Jason” made his livelihood through the sea. Some have raised the improbable suggestion that he was a navy captain (possibly under Alexander Janeus) or maybe a pirate on the high seas.
Take note of the structure: the courtyard of the cave, where the deceased was placed during the ceremony, the single Doric column at the entrance to the burial chamber, above which a pyramid was built and the two openings to the two burial caves, one in front and one on the left.
Like most ancient grave sites, there is no entrance fee or opening hours for this site. It is recommended for groups of any size – especially Maccabee admirers.
Meditation: One of the inscriptions inside the cave reads “שמחו אתם בחיים”, which can be translated either as “you the living, rejoice” or “rejoice in your life” – an appropriate message for every season.
 Trivia: Which recent Academy Award Nominated Israeli film has a protagonist who lives on Jason’s street? (Hint: The answer lies before the question.)
For Further Reading:
עמוס קלונר ובועז זיסו, עיר הקברים של ירושלים בימי הבית השני, 2004
לוי יצחק רחמני, קבר יסון, עתיקות ד, 1964
נחמן אביגד, כתובות ארמיות בקבר יסון, עתיקות ד,1964
אוריאל רפפורט, בית חשמונאי: עם ישראל בארץ ישראל בימי החשמונאים, ירושלים, 2013