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The Kidron Valley (classical transliteration, Cedron, from Hebrew: נחל קדרון, Naḥal Qidron; also Qidron Valley; Arabic: وادي الجوز, Wadi al-Joz for the upper segment near the Temple Mount, and Wadi an-Nar for the rest of it) is the valley on the eastern side of The Old City of Jerusalem, separating the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. It continues east through the Judean Desert in the West Bank, towards the Dead Sea, descending 4000 feet along its 20 mile course. The settlement Kedar, located on a ridge above the valley, is named after it. The neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz bears the valley's Arabic name. The Hebrew Bible calls it Emek Yehoshafat, the "Valley of Jehoshaphat". It appears in Jewish eschatologic prophecies, which include the return of Elijah, followed by the arrival of the Messiah, and the War of Gog and Magog and Judgment Day.
The central point of reference for the Kidron Valley is its confluence of Jerusalem’s richest concentration of rock-hewn tombs. This area, located on the periphery of the village Silwan, was one of the main burial grounds of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period. Several of these tombs were also used later in time, either as burial or as shelters for hermits and monks of the large monastic communities, which inhabited the Kidron Valley. The ancient tombs in this area attracted the attention of ancient travelers, most notably Benjamin of Tudela.
A constant source of confusion is the fact that the modern name "Kidron Valley" (Nahal Kidron in Hebrew) applies to the entire length of a long wadi, which starts north of the Old City of Jerusalem and ends at the Dead Sea, while the biblical names Nahal Kidron, Emek Yehoshafat, King’s Valley etc. might refer to certain parts of this valley located in the immediate vicinity of ancient Jerusalem, but not to the entire wadi, and certainly not to the long segment crossing the Judean desert. Similarly, in Arabic every more substantial wadi has many names, each applied to a certain distinct segment of its course.
Influence of the Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela
There is no general account of the Mediterranean world or of the Middle East in this period which approaches that of Benjamin of Tudela in importance, whether for Jewish or for general history. Most of his record written in the 12th century is concise and clear, presumably only a précis of the ampler material he brought back with him. He indicates the distances between the various towns he visited, tells who stood at the head of the Jewish synagogal communities, and who were the most notable scholars. He gives the number of Jews he found in each place, though it is not clear in many instances whether he is speaking of individuals or of householders, and in some cases such as Baghdad, the figures seem to be exaggerated. This may be due to the corrupt state of the text as we now have it. He notes economic conditions, describing the activity of merchants from various lands in Barcelona, Montpellier, and Alexandria, and speaking frequently of the occupations of the Jews – the dyers in Brindisi, the silkweavers in Thebes, the tanners in Constantinople, and the glassworkers in Aleppo and Tyre. He was deeply interested in Jewish scholarship, and his account of intellectual life in Provence and Baghdad is of singular importance, as is his characterization of the organization of synagogal life in Egypt. Sects, too, engage his attention, not only the Samaritans in Palestine, but also the Karaites in Constantinople and a heretical sect in Cyprus, which he relates, observed the Sabbath from dawn to dawn. His somewhat highly colored account of the Assassins of Lebanon and of the Ghuzz Turks are primary historical sources, and he is said to be the first European of modern times to mention China by the present name. The importance of the work can be gauged from the fact that it has been translated into almost every language of Europe, and is used as a primary source book by all medieval historians.
The Itinerary maintains a parallel track throughout with respect to Jewish sovereignty and the Kidron Valley area. It is the main historical document used by modern archeologists and historians to identify the Kidron Valley and its historical significance. Historians also glean information regarding cultural settlement patterns and Jewish societal norms from this text. When Benjamin narrates his travels among the Jews in Damascus, the lists of communal elders diminish. This fact would coincide with the traditions of the Middle Eastern communities that held a more hierarchic code of government. In several communities we meet individuals with the honorific title, Nasi, or “Prince.” This title seems to indicate that its bearer ascribed his family lineage to the house of King David. The function of these men was governance of the community.
Kidron Valley in Eschatology
The Hebrew Bible calls the Valley "Valley of Jehoshaphat - Emek Yehoshafat" (Hebrew: עמק יהושפט), meaning "The valley where Yahweh shall judge." In the times of the Old Testament kings, the Kidron Valley was identified with, at least in part, the King’s Garden; the kings owned land in the area. That the upper Kidron Valley was also known as the King’s Valley, in which Absalom set up his monument or "pillar" (see 2 Samuel 18:18; no connection to the much later "Absalom's Pillar"), is problematic. The Bible does not make this identification explicit, and the association can only be inferred as associated with En-rogel, which is farther down the Kidron Valley towards the desert.
It should be noted that not all scholars agree with the traditional view that the Kidron Valley is the location of the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Biblical commentator Adam Clarke maintains this view, claiming that the Valley of Judgment is a symbolic place. Kidron Valley was not associated with the Valley of Jehoshaphat until the 4th century AD.
A passage in the Bible mentions that God will assemble all nations in the “Valley of Jehoshaphat” (Joel 3:2, Joel 3:12). Some hold that the Valley of Jehoshaphat (“Yahweh shall judge” ) refers to the valley situated between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives to the east. It was in this valley where king Jehoshaphat is thought to have overthrown the enemies of Israel (2Chr. 20:26). Its identification with the Kidron Valley, which began in the fourth century, is somewhat uncertain since no actual valley of this name is known to pre-Christian antiquity.
The three monumental tombs on the eastern side of the Kidron Valley are among the most well-known landmarks of ancient Jerusalem. These are, from north to south, the so-called "Pillar (or Tomb) of Absalom", which rises in front of the "Cave of Jehoshaphat", the (correctly named) Tomb of Benei Hezir (Benei Hezir is the Hebrew for "sons of Hezir", meaning the Hezir priestly family ), and the so-called "Tomb of Zechariah", which could quite likely be the nefesh of the Tomb of Benei Hezir.
Absalom’s tomb consists of two parts. First, a lower cube hewn out of the bedrock, decorated with engaged Ionic columns bearing a Doric frieze and crowned by an Egyptian cornice. This part of the monument contains a small chamber with an entrance and two arcosolia (arched funeral niches) and constitutes the actual tomb. The second part, built of ashlars, is placed on top of the rock-hewn cube. It consists of a square pedestal carrying a round drum, itself topped by a conical roof. The cone is slightly concave and is crowned by an Egyptian-style lotus flower. The upper part has the general shape of a tholos and is interpreted as a nefesh or monument for the tomb below, and possibly also for the adjacent "Cave of Jehoshaphat". The "Pillar of Absalom" is dated to the 1st century CE.
Literally, the word nefesh means ‘soul’, but in a funerary context it is the term applied to a form of funerary monument. In descriptions of the tombs of the Jewish nobility, the pyramid shape is also emphasized as the mark of a tomb. This would imply that nefesh and pyramid were synonymous. The Jewish tombs in the Kidron Valley are the best examples of this form of nefesh. They appear as a rectangular, pyramid-capped monument. Similar forms of the nefesh decorate ossuaries, with the addition of a dome-capped column. In Jerusalem the nefesh as a tomb monument stood either above or beside the tomb; set on steps or on a base.
It might be argued that the name ‘King’s Valley’ derived from its proximity just east of the palace of David in the City of David on the western slopes of the Kidron Valley and south of where the platform was built. The biblical account about David comes from the Books of Samuel, Books of Kings, and the Books of Chronicles (each of which are divided into two books in Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox traditions, though in the Orthodox tradition 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings and 2 Kings are also referred to as 1 Kingdoms, 2 Kingdoms, 3 Kingdoms and 4 Kingdoms, respectively). While almost half of the Psalms are headed "A Psalm of David", the headings are later additions, and no psalm can be attributed to David with certainty.
Chapters 29, 30 and 31 of 2 Chronicles cover King Hezekiah's call for the sanctification of the ministers of The Lord, the cleaning of unclean things, an invitation to all Israel and Judah to The Passover in Jerusalem, a successful celebration of The Passover there, and liturgical reforms. The Wadi Kidron was utilized for the ritual cleaning of unclean things found in the temple of The Lord during the reforms of King Hezekiah (2 Chronicles Ch 29 v. 16) around 700 B. C. The priests removed the unclean things from the inner part of the temple of The Lord to the courts of The Lord, and the Levites carried the unclean things for ritual cleaning to the Wadi Kidron (2 Chronicles Ch. 29 v. 16).
According to the Tanakh, King David fled through the valley during the rebellion of Absalom. According to the New Testament Jesus crossed the valley many times traveling between Jerusalem and Bethany.
- Catholic Encyclopedia article. The valley contains the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was arrested.
In 1989, the Jerusalem Municipality conducted routine development work in the area. Upon widening a narrow street near one of the approached to the Silwan Village, bulldozers uncovered a number of square openings hewn into rock. The Israel Antiquities Authority immediately stopped the road construction. After uncovering the underground spaces, archeologists found themselves standing inside large burial complexes which appeared intact. Moving carefully from one chamber to another, flashlights revealed an abundance of artifacts scatters on the floors, pottery and glass vessels, oil lamps and many ornamental ossuaries. The three large caves proved to be part of an extensive Jewish burial ground in use at the end of the Second Temple Period, which terminated in the year 70 AD, when Jerusalem was conquered and the Temple destroyed by the Roman legions.
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