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Tomb of Absalom

The Tomb of Avshalom (Absalom) is a grand monument in the upper Kidron valley (Yehoshafat valley). The tomb is built on the lower western foothills of Mount of Olives, facing the old city of Jerusalem, on the eastern side of Kidron valley. This entire area is a large cemetery with thousands of tombs and this is one of the most famous and largest of all.

Absalom's Pillar is approximately 47 feet in height. 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. 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.

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. 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. However, archaeologists have now dated the tomb to the 1st century CE.

Below is pictured the stairway inside Absalom's Pillar:

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.".

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. 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. This 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.

According to a local legend, Napoleon fired a mortar at the tomb, and removed the shape of a hand that topped the conical roof. However, Napoleon never reached Jerusalem during his campaign in the Holy Land. Actually, the top of the monument is not at all broken, but is rather is carved to resemble a lotus flower. A Muslim tradition connects the tomb to the Pharaohs, hence the Arabic name "Pharaoh's Hat".

According to the bible, the tomb was built by Avshalom himself in his lifetime, since he had no sons who would build the tomb. This contradicts Chapter 14 where we were told he had 3 sons, but maybe they died earlier, or were not worthy of erecting this memorial. After he mutinied against his father and was killed, Avshalom was first buried near the battlefield, but then came to rest in this monument.

According to legend, on top of the top of the tomb was a hand, since in Hebrew the hand (Yad) means "memorial". Later it was removed, maybe blown away, as a protest of the son's acts against his father.

Used 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. For 3,000 years the site was covered by small rocks. In 1925 the area was cleaned and the stone piles were removed.

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