Sarcophagus of the Queen of Adiabene returns to Israel

Haaretz tells the interesting story of the discovery of the return of the sarcophagus of Helena of Adiabene to Jerusalem from Paris.

Nearly 2,000 years passed between the time the coffin of Queen Helena of Adiabene first came to Jerusalem and its recent return there. In an impressive ceremony on September 21, the coffin was put on display in the reopened archaeology wing of the Israel Museum, after having been flown in from France.

In keeping with the customs of the time, the body of the first-century C.E. queen, who was a convert to Judaism, was interred in a stone coffin, a sarcophagus, weighing around 1,200 kilograms. The coffin looks massive, says the French ambassador to Israel, Christophe Bigot, who attended the ceremony, but any careless movement could damage it.

Queen Helena’s sarcophagus wound up in France after it was discovered almost by accident in Jerusalem in 1863, when Louis Felicien de Saulcy was excavating the site called the Tombs of the Kings, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, not far from the U.S. consulate. On the third day of the dig – which was undertaken after the Ottoman authorities issued a firman, or formal permit, for it — one of the workers stepped on a tile in the floor of a structure. The tile moved, revealing an alcove beneath it that contained the sarcophagus.

De Saulcy, a French military man and the scion of a noble family, turned his attention to archaeological research in the Middle East in the mid-19th century. Hagit Maoz Lin, curator of the Israel Museum exhibition that features the sarcophagus, says that he traveled to Palestine after the death of his first wife, because he was searching for something of interest “in a place fraught with danger.” On de Saulcy’s first trip to Palestine, in 1850, he toured the Dead Sea area and, among other things, falsely identified Sodom and Gomorrah, and drew the first map of Masada and the Roman camps that surrounded it.

The sarcophagus is on loan to the Israel Museum for four months.

Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene came to Jerusalem with her son, King Izates, as a convert to Judaish in A.D. 46. Adiabene was located in northern Mesopotamia east of the Tigris River. During the famine in Judea, mentioned in Acts 11:28-30, the queen sent to Egypt for grain and to Cyprus for dried figs (Josephus, Ant. 20.51).

We have written about the Queen of Adiabene and her famous tomb, along with a photo of the rolling stone here. The tomb is no longer open to the public and is badly in need of repair.

The Tomb of the Kings. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Tomb of the Kings. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

You may read the entire article about the sarcophagus and the return of it to Israel here. There is a tiny, poor quality, image with the article.

HT: Joseph Lauer

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