From the Sanhedrin Tombs to Jason's Tomb
Whether prophets or kings, heads of the Sanhedrin or priests, the high and mighty or the common people, from the First and Second Temple periods - all are buried under the houses of modern Jerusalem outside the city walls. As the modern city expands, more tombs are being discovered, giving a new meaning to the terms "Upper City" and "Lower City." On this tour we will visit some Second Temple period tombs. As we have already seen in our visit to the Kidron Valley funerary monuments (Tour 5), here too we will observe how the Hellenistic culture that penetrated into Palestine in the late fourth century BCE influenced the fashioning of tombs in the city. Unlike the tour of the Kidron Valley, however, which focused mainly on the character- istic features of the monuments built next to the tombs, in this tour we will examine the tombs themselves, their structure, the burial practices observed, and the world view reflected by these customs. Our visit to the necropolis of the Second Temple period requires us to go beyond the city bounds of the time. This reflects what would nowadays be termed a "municipal bylaw" and was in effect at the time, as the Mishnah attests: "Carrion, tombs, and tanning yards must be kept fifty cubits from a town" (Bava Batra 2:9). The dead were not buried within the city walls in order to maintain the proper level of public sanitation. Along with this legislation, which applied to every Jewish town and city, an additional limitation was imposed in Jerusalem because of its status as a sacred city. The Temple called for the utmost observance of the purity laws. We may assume that tombs were kept away from the city for fear of corpse impurity, which is regarded as the gravest type of impurity. As Jerusalem expanded during the course of the Second Temple period, the city reached previously uninhabited areas that had been used for burial in earlier times. How could the necessities of the growing city be accommodated to the graveyards that stood in its way? The city's residents apparently adopted a very practical solution: the contents of the early tombs were removed and transferred to more distant areas. An echo of this procedure is to be found in early Jewish sources: All tombs may be removed, except for the tomb of the king and the tomb of the prophet (Tosefta, Bava Batra 1:9). Today, the burial caves of the Second Temple period are no more than archaeological sites that perpetuate a dead past that was and is no more. On the other hand, during the tour we will also visit a tomb that is exceptional in this respect, the cave of Simeon the Just. It is an example of the transformation of ancient burial caves into vibrant sites that are connected with ancient traditions associated with exemplary individuals in Jewish history. These sites attract large numbers of people who come there to pray and celebrate.
About four hours.
Buses nos. 9, 28, 35, 36 to the Shmuel Ha-navi-Bar Ilan intersection, and from there proceed about 200 meters northward to Sanhedrin Park.
Leave your car in the small parking lot next to Sanhedrin Park.
Tombs of the Kings: Mon-Sat: 8:00 a.m.-12:00 noon; 2:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. Entrance fee. Tomb of Simeon the Just: daylight hours.
Modest dress and a flashlight are required.