ABSALOM, MONUMENT OF


ABSALOM, MONUMENT OF
Situated in the Kidron Valley, close to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, are a number of monumental rock-hewn tombs of which one has been attributed by tradition to Absalom in reference to II Samuel 18:18, where it is stated that Absalom set up for himself a "pillar" in the King's Valley. In Arabic it is known as "Tantour Firaoun" (pharaoh's crown). This monument is a prominent feature in the topography of Jerusalem and was frequently commented upon by travelers and pilgrims since medieval times. The monument is freestanding and the lower part was rock-cut, whereas the upper part – hat-like in appearance – was built out of finely carved ashlars in a local architectural style utilizing Hellenistic features. The monument has been studied by many scholars since the 19th century: C. Clermont-Ganneau dug there, H. Vincent made a detailed study, and a substantial study of this and the other funerary monuments in the Kidron Valley was made by N. Avigad in the 1950s. Excavations around the foot of the monument were made by E. Oren in the 1970s, but the results remain unpublished. Probably the best short descriptions appear in guidebooks published by K. Prag and J. Murphy-O'Connor. Access to the entrance to the inner tomb chamber is from the south. The entrance led to a rock-hewn chamber which was originally square with a bench within an arcosolium on the west side, with a ceiling with a sunken panel decorated with a central wreath and four circles in relief, and with a fine carved cornice along the junction between ceiling and walls. The style of the monument suggests a date late in the Early Roman period, i.e., the first century C.E., contrary to some scholars who have suggested a date in the first century B.C.E. The internal chamber underwent major changes in the Byzantine period, 4th–6th centuries C.E., and it was probably converted into a reclusive cell for a Byzantine monk. Above the entrance to the tomb are faint Greek inscriptions which were first recorded by J. Zias in 2000. According to Emile Puech, one of these inscriptions is of Byzantine age and mentions Zacharias, father of John the Baptist: "This is the tomb of Zachariah, martyr, very pious priest, father of John." The adjacent complex of tomb chambers associated with the monument contained a chapel and was held to mark the graves of St. Zacharias, St. Simeon, and St. James (the first bishop of Jerusalem) in the 12th century. Traces of medieval wall paintings are visible on some of the chamber walls. Within the interior chamber of the monument itself is a late medieval three-line Hebrew inscription ("Shamsi ben … (unclear)" – incorrectly read by Dalman in 1914) which was probably incised by a Jewish traveler to Jerusalem. In the 19th century a bridge for a road crossing over the Kidron Valley existed in front of the funerary monument and is evident in old photographs (e.g., F. Bedford, 1862). -BIBLIOGRAPHY: N. Slousch, "The Excavations Around the Monument of Absalom," in: Proceedings of the Jewish Palestine Exploration Society, 1 (1925), 7–30; G. Dalman, "Inschriften aus Palästina," in: ZDPV, 37:6 (1914), 137–38; N. Avigad, Ancient Monuments in the Kidron Valley (1954); K. Prag, Jerusalem (Blue Guide) (1989); J.M. O'Connor, The Holy Land (1992). (Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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