A sarcophagus from the Tomb of the Kings

One of the things we must learn when studying antiquities is that names (designations) may not be correct. To illustrate:

  • The Tomb of the Kings is not the tomb of the kings David and Solomon or any other of the kings of Israel.
  • The pools of Solomon were built long after the time of Solomon.
  • The pool of Hezekiah was not built by Hezekiah. (Be sure to see Tom Powers comment below. I will not go against Tom’s reasoning on this).

The tomb of the kings in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the American Colony Hotel and other newer hotels such as the Grand Court and the Olive Tree, belonged to Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene.

Here is how the facade of the tomb looked in 2008. The tomb was not open to the public but I made arrangements for our tour operator for my group to make a visit.

Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem

The Tomb of the Kings at it appeared in 2008. The tomb has been closed most of the time since then. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A few photos have appeared in newspapers from various cities. Compare this one with the photo I made in 2008 and you will see some significant repairs. The indication is that this is now open to the public (when Covid-19 conditions permit).

Repaired Tomb of the Kings reopened in 2019.

Daily Hayom reports the reopening of the Tomb of the Kings. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The tomb belonged to Queen Mother Helena of Adiabene. She came to Jerusalem with her son, King Izates, as a convert to Judaism 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). For more from Josephus check this post.

A large burial complex was dug north of Jerusalem for the burial of the Queen and her family. This is the tomb referred to in modern times as the Tomb of the Kings. It is a good place to see a rolling stone and a tomb hewn from solid rock. The property is under French control and was closed for many years in need of repairs to the facade.

The tomb was reopened in 2019 but I have not been able to visit since that time. When the tomb was originally excavated by Louis Felicien de Saulcy various artifacts including sarcophagi were taken back to Paris and are now displayed in the Louvre.

The following sarcophagus was identified by Saulcey as a princess of the lineage of David, the Queen Helena of Adiabene.

Possible sarcophagus of Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This sarcophagus, now displayed in the Louvre, was thought by Saulcey to belong to Queen Helena of Adiabene. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

5 responses to “A sarcophagus from the Tomb of the Kings

  1. Thanks Shmuel. I will try to locate that photo as soon as possible.

  2. Check out “German Kaiser Wilhelm II visiting Tomb of Kings in 1898, American Colony Photograph”

  3. Nice to know! Thank you for the history lesson. That sarcophagus is interesting.

  4. About your opening list of place-name misnomers, I would like to (gently) challenge the last one: “The pool of Hezekiah was not built by Hezekiah”. The place has always fascinated me — perhaps because so many casual visitors to Jerusalem don’t even know it’s there! — as evidenced by the several posts I did on my web-log (q.v.) around the time of its clean-up several years ago.

    The pool is presumed to be the one called “Amygdalon” by Josephus in his description of the Roman siege of Jerusalem (War 5:468) and likely supplied water to Herod’s nearby palace complex. So, it existed in the Roman-Herodian period. Evidence of this lies in the channel supplying the pool from outside the city, which connects to the intricate, Roman-period “upper aqueduct” system coming all the way from “Solomon’s Pools”.

    BUT the pool’s supply channel also leads directly to the Mamilla Pool (at a slightly higher elevation, one not reached by the upper aqueduct), the reservoir for a system of rainwater catchment in the uppermost reaches of the Hinnom Valley. It is a decidedly low-tech — and, in my opinion, very early — solution to supplying water to the “upper city” of Jerusalem.

    So, my pet theory (which archaeologists will no doubt confirm one day): The whole Mamilla-Hezekiah’s Pool system likely dates to the First Temple period. In other words, the “Hezekiah” attribution could actually be correct, or not far off.

    My evidence derives mainly from the topography, common sense and human nature, and I advance it in the form of a question: Once Jerusalem’s western hill became populated, and especially after King Hezekiah enclosed it within a wall, all in the general time-frame of 700 BC — an understanding experts have had for only the past several decades or so! — where DID the people living “up there” get their water? They certainly wouldn’t have carried it up from the Siloam Pool or from a “Sultan’s Pool” catchment way down in the Hinnom Valley. How do I know? Because they were lazy, just like me! — and they would have found a clever way to bring the available water to where they lived!

    While I’m on a roll, I’ll go one step further: I think the Iron Age “Hezekiah’s Pool” probably started life as part of the large quarried area that has been confirmed archaeologically underlying much of the adjacent Muristan / Redeemer Church / Holy Sepulchre area.

    I know, you all probably wish I had something better to do — but I’m in lock-down mode like everyone else (*sigh*)…

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

  5. Thanks for the post — nice memories of a fascinating place!

    As I understand it, the site itself has been opened up to public visitation, but the actual interior tomb spaces are closed permanently due to concerns over visitor safety and/or the integrity of the structure. Visitors, I believe, will have some kind of “virtual” interpretive experience. Outside, the grand staircase, mikvehs, intricately carved façade, and the expansive courtyard (which certainly started life as a quarry) are all worth seeing. As you know, the place was basically not open at all for many years, except at the whim of the French Consulate (the property has long been owned by the French state).

    I remember that during my last couple of years at the Ecole Biblique (ca. 2011-12) an archaeological team from there were clearing, excavating and stabilizing the area above the façade, which your pictures show. Among other things, they wondered if there might be traces of the “pyramids” described by Josephus (Ant. 20:95), which many presumed to have surmounted the tomb’s grand entrance, but nothing like that was found.

    TOM POWERS / Waynesville, NC

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