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The Tombs of the House of David - Part II

The Garden of Uzza -

The Secondary Burial Site of the Davidic Dynasty

We have previously learned that by the time of King Hezekiah’s death in 698 BCE, the royal burial complex in the City of David had just about reached its full capacity, and therefore, Hezekiah was the last king of the Davidic Dynasty to have been buried in the original location. For this reason, beginning with Hezekiah’s son Manasseh, the kings of Judah who ruled for the better part of the seventh century BCE were laid to rest in a new location called “The Garden of Uzza:”

“And Manasseh lay down with his fathers and was buried in the garden of his own house, in the garden of Uzza” (II Kings 21:18)

It has been well-established that the City of David, the primary burial site of the Davidic Dynasty, is to be located on the South-Eastern Ridge –the ancient core of Jerusalem. However, locating the Garden of Uzza is not as clear-cut, and several theories have been suggested.[i] These include:

1). The northern part of the area known today as the City of David (what we have been calling the ancient core of Jerusalem or the South-Eastern Ridge).

2). A location adjacent to the original burial site in the City of David.

3). In Kfar ha-Shiloa - located on the western slopes of the Mount of Olives.

4). In the Kidron Valley, east of the city.

5). In the Old City – west of the Temple Mount.

6). In the area of Jaffa Gate.

7). In an elaborate burial complex discovered in the Saint-Étienne Basilica north of the Old City.

8). In the burial complex known as Ketef Hinnom located to the south-west of the Old City.

However, perhaps the most compelling theory regarding the location of the Garden of Uzza was presented by the renowned Biblical archeologist and scholar of Jerusalem, Prof. Gabriel Barkay who argued the following: [ii]

The name Uzza first appears as a place name associated with an event that occured while King David brought the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Abinadab in Kiryat Ye'arim to Jerusalem, as described by the Book of II Samuel:

“And David arose and went with all the people who were with him from Ba′ale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who sits enthroned on the cherubim” (2 Samuel 6:2)

As the convoy carrying the Ark was nearing Jerusalem, a misfortunate tragedy accorded:

“And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there because he put forth his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. And David was angry because the Lord had broken forth upon Uzzah; and that place is called Pe′rez-uz′zah, to this day” (II Samuel 6: 6-8)

Many scholars have called attention to the possible connection between Pe′rez-uz′zah and the Garden of Uzza, and it is indeed possible that a site associated with the bringing of the Ark to Jerusalem was chosen by the Judean kings for the location of a new royal estate.

But where did this event take place?

According to the verse, the tragic event took place when the convoy carrying the Ark arrived at a placed called “The Threshing Floor of Nacon.” Kiryat Ye'arim is located west of Jerusalem, and therefore the convoy would have likely been approaching the City of David from the west. Accordingly, the Threshing Floor of Nacon is to be located somewhere to the west of the City of David. It is also reasonable to assume that this threshing floor, like many others, was located on a hilltop, similar to the Threshing Floor of Ornan the Jebusite located atop Mount Moriah.

As the archaeological evidence reveals, beginning in the late eighth century BCE, and even more so during the seventh century BCE, Jerusalem underwent a tremendous expansion from its original core on the South-Eastern Ridge towards the Western Hill (the area that today encompasses the Jewish Quarter and Mount Zion). As Jerusalem expanded, new royal compounds were likely built as well, especially if we take into account that the South-Eastern Ridge must have been overcrowded and lacking in available infrastructure. It is therefore possible that one of these new royal estates consisted of a new palace and an accompanying garden known as “The Garden of Uzza.”

If these suppositions are correct, it follows that the Garden of Uzza is to be located on the Western Hill of Jerusalem. Interestingly, there is a site on the Western Hill that is indeed associated with the Davidic Dynasty, in fact, with the burial place of King David himself, namely the structure known as “David’s Tomb” on Mount Zion. One Jewish tradition from the Middle Ages even associates the site with the place where the Ark rested prior to its being brought to the Temple. [iii] Is it possible then that this site preserves a tradition of a royal Judahite burial complex? That instead of being the burial site of King David, who, as we know, was buried in the City of David, it is in fact the burial site of his seventh century BCE descendants including the righteous King Josiah?

Let us further examine Prof. Gabriel Barkay’s hypothesis.

“King David’s Tomb” on Mount Zion 1903

The structure known as “King David’s Tomb” on Mount Zion is located to the south-west of Zion Gate outside the Old City’s wall. The rectangular two-story edifice is an amalgam built of several different construction phases dating to various periods. The ground level consists of an entrance hall, a prayer room and a room with a large stone sarcophagus designating the supposed burial place of King David. This tradition, now held by many Jews as well as Christians and Muslims, was first recorded by Islamic sources during the 10th century CE, and was possibly based on earlier Christian traditions dating to the Byzantine Period.[iv] However, at first glance, identifying the site with the Garden of Uzza appears quite problematic. First, the structure known as “David’s Tomb” looks nothing like a First Temple Period burial complex. Furthermore, the very sarcophagus pinpointing the supposed tomb is Gothic in style and hence dates to the Crusader Period. How then could this structure be a royal Judean burial?

The Gothic Style Sarcophagus at “David’s Tomb” (Photo: Jacek555)

Although most of the building phases at “David’s Tomb” date to medieval times, there exists evidence that the original structure was built earlier. Israeli archaeologist Jacob Pinkerfeld, who, following Israel’s War of Independence, conducted a small excavation at the site in 1949, came to the conclusion that the structure was originally built as a synagogue during the Late Roman Period.[v] This dating was partly based on the structure’s oldest building phase, consisting of large, smoothed ashlar stones visible on the lower courses of its eastern, north-eastern and south-eastern walls.

Archaeologist Amit Re'em of the Israel Antiquities Authority entertained the idea that the date of the earliest building phase in “David’s Tomb” may be earlier still, and that it may even represent monumental Roman Era construction, that may in turn possibly be contributed to King Herod himself.[vi] As mentioned previously, the historian Josephus recounted an event in which, after Herod had witnessed two of his guards being burnt alive following his looting of the Tombs of the House of David: [vii]

“He was terribly affrighted, and went out, and built a propitiatory monument of that fright he had been in; and this of white stone, at the mouth of the sepulcher, and that at great expense also”

Could the original structure known today as “David’s Tomb” have been built by King Herod? Is it possible that some of the Second Temple Period traditions regarding the location of the Tombs of the House of David actually refer to the Western Hill, to Mount Zion?

Prof. Michael Avi-Yonah, who planned the well-known “Holyland” Model of Jerusalem, indeed seems to have believed so, since he placed the commemorative structure described by Josephus as being built by Herod, in the very same spot in which the structure known as “David’s Tomb” stands today.

The Reconstruction of Herod’s Monument built over the Tombs of the House of David on the Western Hill as seen in the “Holyland” Model of Jerusalem (Photo:Daniel Case)

If it was indeed Herod who utilized his renowned building skills to erect a monumental structure over a prominent tomb complex, it may not have been the only time. Many scholars believe that it was in fact King Herod who also built the monumental structure that still survives to this day over the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.[viii] Apparently, it was a well-known monument during the Second Temple Period, and is even mentioned by Josephus: [ix]

“They also relate that it had been the habitation of Abram, the progenitor of the Jews… whose monuments are to this very time showed in that small city; the fabric of which monuments are of the most excellent marble, and wrought after the most elegant manner”

The Tomb of the Patriarchs is known as Ma’arat HaMachpela in Hebrew, or literally: the Cave of Machpelah. The reason for this name comes from the fact that the monumental structure was built over a subterranean cave system composing the actual Bronze Age tomb complex of the Patriarchs. Although off limits today, this cave system has been documented as early as the third century CE, and was even entered several times by soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces.[x] This of course raises the question: does a cave exist under the structure of “David’s Tomb” on Mount Zion as well?

Sources dating as far back as the Middle Ages indicate that there may indeed be a cave under the structure of “David’s Tomb.”

One such source is the 12th century Jewish traveler Benjamin of Tudela. Incidentally, Tudela also recorded the existence of the cave underneath the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron.[xi]

A well–known story tells of a Pasha, a Turkish dignitary who visited David’s Tomb and accidentally dropped his prized sword into a cave opening at the site.[xii] The Pasha immediately ordered one of his men be secured to a rope and lowered into the cave to retrieve the sword. Moments later, when no movement was felt on the rope, the Pasha’s men pulled up the rope only to find a corpse. This chain of events was repeated when they lowered a second, third and fourth man into the cave. The Pasha, who grew angry and impatient, proclaimed that he will have his sword back even if it costs the lives of the entire population of Jerusalem. Finally, one of the Pasha’s advisers suggested that the only way have his sword returned to him would be to summon a Jew who would enter the cave and retrieve it. The Jewish community chose a righteous elderly man who was tied to the rope and lowered into the cave. A few nerve-wracking minutes later, the Jew called out from the cave and asked to be hauled up. The Pasha’s men pulled him out and in his hands was the sword. When asked what he had experienced in the cave, the man described meeting an old bearded man who had approached him and handed him the sword.

Another notable source is a map known as the “Uppsala Map of Crusader Jerusalem.”[xiii]This map, also known as the “Florence Map,” belongs to a group of medieval maps representing Jerusalem within a circle. Outside the circle, on the bottom right-hand corner, the map depicts the structure known today as “David’s Tomb” on Mount Zion, and directly below it is the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. It has been noted that both structures are portrayed as having a pillar-like shape beneath them. Since these two structures are the only ones depicted in this way, it is possible that the pillar-like shapes represent the entrances to subterranean caves that were known to the creator of the map.[xiv]

The Uppsala Map. Note the Pillar-like Structures under The Tomb of The Patriarchs and “David’s Tomb”

The best-known and most detailed description of the cave under “David’s Tomb” comes from the 19th century writings of Ermete Pierotti. Pierotti, an Italian architectural engineer, surveyor and amateur archeologist, was commissioned by the Ottoman Empire to provide engineering and consulting services. In 1854 Pierotti was appointed by Suraya Pasha, the governor of Jerusalem, as the city’s head engineer, a status he held until 1861. His position as Jerusalem’s head engineer and the many projects he was involved in, gained him accesses to locations that were often off-limits to foreigners, including the Temple Mount. Pierotti, being the curious, adventurous and rather audacious character that he seemingly was, more than took advantage of the opportunity to explore and record these sites. In 1864 he published an elaborate book entitled Jerusalem Explored in which he presented his research and findings.[xv] In this book, he provides a detailed description of his discovery and exploration of the cave on Mount Zion.

Ermete Pierotti

Pierotti had been intrigued by a 14th century account describing a massive subterranean cave on Mount Zion. According to the account, the cave was discovered after the ground gave way during the excavation of a new cemetery for pilgrims residing in a hospice near what is today the building of “David’s Tomb.” In February 1859, Pierotti visited “David’s Tomb” and the surrounding area and later reflected: [xvi]

“I did not, however, believe that I had visited the Tomb of David, but was convinced that there was below or on the north side of the chamber containing the sarcophagus, a communication with the true tomb, which must be excavated in the solid rock; and, like all the other very ancient sepulchers, consist of many chambers”

Determined to locate the true tomb, Pierotti approached the area west of “David’s Tomb” near what today encompasses the Greek Orthodox cemetery, in accordance with the 14th century account. While exploring the area, he noticed what appeared to be a staircase cut into the rock, most of which was covered with debris. After securing himself with a rope tied around his waist, he descended the stairs and found himself in a very large cave. Pierotti found maneuvering inside the cave nearly impossible as it was layered with a mixture of mud, ashes and bonesthat originated in the cemetery above. He decided to wait for a better opportunity to explore the cave, and instead turned his attention to investigate the cave’s entrance, after which he concluded that: [xvii]

“This must have been the entrance into the Tomb of the Jewish Kings, and that here Herod erected his monument in order to render the place secure”

Pierotti subsequently attempted to convince Suraya Pasha of the need for relocating the tombs in the cemetery above the cave for reasons of sanitation, however he was unsuccessful. In his writings he later revealed his true intentions: [xviii]

“I must confess that the public good was not my only motive on this occasion, as the opportunity it would have afforded me for making researches, and excavating inside the cavern, would probably have furnished me with most valuable information to aid in identifying this place with the Tombs of the Jewish Kings”

In May of the same year Pierotti retuned to the cave accompanied by single assistant, and with great difficulty was able to take measurements and produce a plan of the site. The cave, which encompasses most of the area of the cemetery above, was found to be approximately 213 feet long, 49 feet wide and 13 feet high. In several locations along the cave he noticed what may have been door headers, possibly leading to additional caves. In its eastern section, the cave narrowed toward a corridor that seemed to reach directly below the room containing the medieval sarcophagus designating David’s Tomb. Unfortunately, due to a massive accumulation of debris, Pierotti was unable to better investigate the corridor or the rest of the cave for that matter. In concluding his investigation of the cave Pierotti writes: [xix]

“I cannot conceive this great work undertaken for any other than an important purpose, I believe that it is the vestibule of the Tombs of the Jewish Kings ; but of course to establish this we must wait until the rubbish is cleared out of it… I hope to be able to renew my investigations here; but if unhappily I am prevented from carrying my intention into effect, I recommend archaeologists to devote themselves to the subject; trusting that in that case they will find that I have directed them to the real tombs of the Jewish Kings on Sion”

A Plan and Section of the Cave discovered by Pierotti from his Book Jerusalem Explored.

Pierotti’s appeal to archaeologists to follow in his footsteps and study the cave fell on deaf ears. Many of his contemporaries generally did not take his research seriously to say the least. He was attacked and ridiculed and his findings in many cases were dubbed as exaggerated at best, or even fabricated. He was also blamed by British scholars for committing copyright infringement upon publishing his book Jerusalem Explored. How then can Pierotti’s account of the cave be taken seriously? Although Pierotti indeed seems to have had a shadier side to him, and while much of the criticism directed at him may have been legitimate, we nevertheless mustn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. After all, Pierotti also documented the cave beneath the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron,[xx] a cave that has been documented by many others as well and shown to be factual.

A section of a Map of Jerusalem showing the Location of the Cave discovered by Pierotti from his book Jerusalem Explored.

Bearing this in mind, Israel Antiquities Authority archeologist, Amit Re'em decided to investigate Pierotti’s claims. Given that conducting a full blown excavation at “David’s Tomb” is not much of a possibility due to religious sensitivities, Re'em called upon a team of geophysicists to perform a ground-penetrating radar scan of the site.[xxi] The scan revealed a subterranean cave 4.9 feet below the room containing the medieval sarcophagus. Although the orientation of the cave differs somewhat from Pierotti’s plans, it proves that he was indeed truthful regarding his discovery and investigation of the cave under the structure of “David’s Tomb.”

Is this cave system one and the same as the burial site known as the Garden of Uzza, the burial place of the later Kings of the House of David? Possibly. But perhaps the search for a tomb was somewhat irrelevant in the first place.

Once a month, during the first phase of the lunar cycle, Jews recite a special prayer known as Kiddush Levanah or Sanctification of the Moon. One of the phrases in this prayer reads: “David, king of Israel, lives and endures.”

The source of this phrase is related in the Talmud: [xxii]

“Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi once said to Rabbi iyya: Go to a place called Ein Tav and sanctify the New Moon there, and send me a sign that you have sanctified it. The sign is: David, king of Israel, lives and endures”

The reason this particular phrase was chosen by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi is because of the similarities between the Kingdom of the House of David and the cycles of the moon. In other words, Just as the moon wanes, completely disappears and then begins to wax and become full again, so too will the Kingdom of the House of David be established once again.

“My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall dwell in the land where your fathers dwelt that I gave to my servant Jacob; they and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever; and David my servant shall be their prince forever” (Ezekiel 37:24-25)

[i] Ze'ev H. Erlich (Jabo), “the Garden of Uzza in Ketef Hinnom”, in Judea and Samaria Research Studies, Vol. 5, 1996 Ariel, pp. 61-79 (Hebrew). [ii] Gabriel Barkay, “The Problem of the Location of the Last Burial Place of the Kings of Judah”, in Between Hermon and Sinai Memorial to Amnon, Studies in the History, Archaeology and Geography of Eretz Israel, 1977, Jerusalem, pp. 75-92 (Hebrew). [iii] Elchanan Reiner, “The Place Where the Lord’s Ark of the Covenant Used to be Until the House was Built: A History and Local Tradition”, in New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region Vol. III, 2009 Jerusalem, p. 50 (Hebrew). [iv] Reiner 2009, p. 49. [v] Jacob Pinkerfeld, “David’s Tomb’ Notes on the History of the Building: Preliminary Report”, Bulletin of the Louis Rabinowitz Fund for the Exploration of Ancient Synagogues 3, Jerusalem, 1960, pp. 41-43. [vi] Amit Re’em, “Pierotti's Cave": The mystery of underground cavern underneath the Tomb of David on Mount Zion, in Studies of Ancient Jerusalem, the 14th Annual Conference, 2013, Jerusalem, pp. 102-129 (Hebrew). [vii] Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, William Whiston trans. XVI, 7, 1. [viii] Ze'ev Yeivin, “The Cave of Machpelah”, Qadmoniot Vol. ט, No. 4 (36), 1976, pp. 125-129 (Hebrew). [ix] Josephus, The Wars of The Jews, William Whiston trans. IV, 9, 7. [x] Noam Arnon, The Cave, Discoveries and Studies in The Cave of Machpelah, 2017, Midreshet Hebron, pp. 38-117 (Hebrew). [xi] The Itinerary of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, critical text, translation and commentary by Marcus Nathan Adler, 1907, New York, p. 38-40, 41. [xii] Zev Vilnay, Holy Monuments in the Land of Israel, 1986, Jerusalem, p. 321 (Hebrew). [xiii] Milka Levy-Rubin, “The Rediscovery of the Uppsala Map of Crusader Jerusalem”, Zeitschrift Des Deutschen Palästina-Vereins (1953-), vol. 111, no. 2, 1995, pp. 162–167. [xiv] Re’em, “Pierotti's Cave", p. 112. [xv] Ermete Pierotti, Jerusalem Explored, 1864, London. [xvi] Ibid, p. 214. [xvii] Ibid, p. 215. [xviii] Ibid. [xix] Ibid, p. 216. [xx] Ermete Pierotti, Macpéla ou Tombeau des Patriarches à Hébron, Lausanne, Howard et Delisle, 1869. [xxi] Re’em, Pierotti's Cave, pp. 119-121. [xxii] Talmud Bavli, Rosh Hashanah 25a.


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