Tomb of Absalom

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Tomb of Absalom

Tomb of Absalom (Hebrew: יד אבשלום‎, Transl. Yad Avshalom; literally Absalom's Shrine), also called Absalom's Pillar, is an ancient monumental rock-cut tomb with a conical roof located in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. Although traditionally ascribed to Absalom, the rebellious son of King David of Israel (circa 1000 BCE), recent scholarship has attributed it to the 1st century CE.


Absalom's Pillar is approximately 47 feet in height.[1] The lower half of the monument is a solid, monolithic block, about twenty feet square by twenty-one feet high, surrounded on three sides by passageways which separate it from the walls of the cliff of the Mount of Olives. The upper half is built of ashlar stones and is hollow, with an access hole on the south side about halfway up. Inside this portion is a room eight feet square, with unoccupied arcosolia graves on two sides and a small burial niche.[2]

An analysis of the architectural styles used indicates that the monument's construction and its first stage of use happened during the 1st century CE.[3]

Traditional attribution[edit]

Absalom's shrine has traditionally been identified as the monument of Absalom, rebellious son of King David, based on a verse in the Book of Samuel:[4]

For centuries, it was the custom among passersby—Jews, Christians and Muslims—to throw stones at the monument. Residents of Jerusalem would bring their unruly children to the site to teach them what became of a rebellious son.[4] The Monument of Absalom existed in the days of Josephus, and was referred to in his Antiquities.[6]

Modern scholarship[edit]

The tomb's exterior design features a Doric frieze and Ionic columns, both being styles originating in ancient Greece and introduced into Judah during the Seleucid Empire, centuries after the death of Absalom. Additionally, the Book of Samuel reports that Absalom's body was covered over with stones in a pit in the Wood of Ephraim.[7] At the start of the 20th century, the monument was considered more likely to be that of Alexander Jannaeus, the king of Judea from 103 to 76 BCE.[8] However, archaeologists have now dated the tomb to the 1st century CE.[9]

Stairway inside Absalom's Pillar; another view inside the Tomb of Absalom

Archeologically, the so-called "Tomb Of Absalom" is a Nefesh or burial monument for the adjacent burial cave system known as the Cave of Yehoshafat. During the times of the Second Temple, many wealthy citizens of Jerusalem would have monuments built adjacent to their family burial caves. These monuments were built according to the architectural fashions of the time, many times with a pyramid on top, or in this case, a cone. Jewish sages of that era opposed the building of such monuments by saying: "You do not make Nefashot for the righteous; their words are their commiseration."[10]


In 2003, a 4th-century inscription on one of the walls of the monument was deciphered. It reads, This is the tomb of Zachariah, the martyr, the holy priest, the father of John. This suggests that it was the burial place of the Temple priest Zechariah, father of John the Baptist.[9] This inscription is part of a secondary usage of this monument during the Byzantine period, where Christian monks commemorated stories from the Christian Bible inside old Jewish tombs in the Kidron Valley. The Zechariah inscription has led to confusion with the nearby "Tomb of Zechariah", which commemorates a much earlier figure, the prophet Zechariah ben Jehoiada, according to local folklore; however, it is also a monument for the nearby burial cave of the Sons of Chazir.

Another inscription discovered in 2003 says the monument is the tomb of "Simeon who was a very just man and a very devoted old (person) and waiting for the consolation of the people". The passage is identical to Luke 2:25 as it appears in the Codex Sinaiticus, a 4th-century version of the Bible.[11]


According to a local legend, Napoleon fired a mortar at the tomb, and removed the shape of a hand that topped the conical roof.[12] However, Napoleon never reached Jerusalem during his campaign in the Holy Land. Actually, the top of the monument is not at all broken, but rather is carved to resemble a lotus flower.[3]

A Muslim tradition connects the tomb to the Pharaohs, hence the Arabic name "Pharaoh's Hat".[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historical Sites in the Holy Lands: Absalom's Pillar. Retrieved on 2009-11-17.
  2. ^ "Archaeological Supplement: Absalom's Pillar", in Thompson's Chain Reference Bible, 1964 edition, p. 311. Retrieved on 2009-11-17.
  3. ^ a b Kloner, Amos; Zissu, Boaz (2003). The Necropolis Of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. pp. 141–143. 
  4. ^ a b Zev Vilnay (1970). "Pillar of Absalom". The Guide to Israel. Jerusalem: Hamakor Press. pp. 157–158. 
  5. ^ 2 Samuel 18:18
  6. ^ Antiquities of the Jews, vii. 10, § 3. Cited in Jewish Encyclopedia 1906
  7. ^ 2 Samuel 18:17
  8. ^ Conder, in Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible, article "Jerusalem," p. 597). Cited in Jewish Encyclopedia 1906
  9. ^ a b Amiram Barkat (22 July 2003). "Jewish Yad Avshalom revealed as a Christian shrine from Byzantine era". Haaretz. Retrieved 10 August 2014. 
  10. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Shekalim, 47a
  11. ^ "Gospel verse found on an ancient shrine". NBC News. Associated Press. November 20, 2003. Retrieved August 10, 2014. 
  12. ^ Morgenstern, A (2006) Hastening Redemption: Messianism and the Resettlement of the Land of Israel p11, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-530578-7
  13. ^ Haaretz dot com, "he letters emerged". Retrieved on 2009-11-17.[dead link]

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 31°46′37.05″N 35°14′20.25″E / 31.7769583°N 35.2389583°E / 31.7769583; 35.2389583