Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.
The closest most
Jerusalem visitors get to the Kidron Valley comes by driving over its
bridge near the Garden of Gethsemane. A quick glance north and south—and
The valley is best seen, however, by foot. After
crossing the street in front of the Church of All Nations, one descends
below street level to the valley floor. Suddenly the eastern wall of the
Old City looms large and Jerusalem’s military advantage comes into
view. In antiquity, the Kidron Valley—referred to in the Scriptures as a
“brook”—would have been even deeper, channeling water most of the year
(2 Samuel 15:23; 2 Kings 23:6; John 18:1). Even today, the valley still
drains all of Jerusalem’s water to the Dead Sea.
south along the valley’s pathway lined with olive trees, strange stone
monuments and tombs come into view. The first is topped with what looks
like an upside-down funnel. Arabs refer to it as “Pharaoh’s Hat,” but
the more popular name is “Absalom’s Pillar,” or “Absalom’s Tomb.” We
have the tenth-century Benjamin of Tudela to thank for this misnomer,
based on 2 Samuel 18:18 where Absalom “set up for himself a pillar which
is in the King’s Valley.”
The edifice has nothing to do with
Absalom, but it represents a first-century funerary monument
contemporary with the Second Temple and the time of Jesus. It’s amazing
it survived the destruction of the city in AD 70.
Further south, near the southeast corner of the Temple Mount, the pathway winds
and another funerary monument comes into view. Older than Absalom’s
Pillar, this monument has a pyramid-shaped top and carries with it the
name, “Zachariah’s Tomb.” The tomb has also been attributed to Saint
James, but a Hebrew inscription links it to the priestly family of Hezir
(1 Chronicles 24:15).
No visitor to the Kidron Valley can miss the innumerable tombs that surround it.
Beside the valley, the Mount of Olives holds the largest Jewish graveyard in the world.
valley’s western slope has Muslim graves, purportedly to defile the
Jewish Messiah when he tries to enter the bricked-up eastern gate.
south alongside the valley, the village of Silwan has tombs with gabled
ceilings, as well as the alleged “Tomb of Pharaoh’s Daughter,” and the
Tomb of Shebnah, King Hezekiah’s scribe (2 Kings 18:18).
Hinnom Valley, which drains into the Kidron at the southern end of the
City of David, has its own myriad of tombs—not the least which may
include the monument of Annas, the high priest and father of Caiaphas
mentioned in association with the trial of Jesus (see Josephus, War
5:506 and John 18:13).
The question as to why so many graves line the slopes of the Kidron Valley points to a conviction as old as the Hebrew people.
place where someone chooses to get buried is always significant. Today
in many places around the world, a hometown family plot is common. For
those cremated, the place where one’s ashes are scattered or stored
often holds a special association. Even unknown soldiers who die in
battle occasionally receive a prominent interment.
But in Israel, a burial place often exposed one’s faith. These tombs beside the Kidron Valley bear witness to this truth.
the top of the hill that slopes into the valley, a sign points to a set
of tombs as belonging to Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi. Although
archaeology doesn’t connect the first-century kokhim (shaft) tombs with
the sixth- and fifth-century B.C. prophets, it is interesting that
Zechariah would allegedly rest on the top (and at the bottom) of the
Mount of Olives. For here he foresaw Israel’s Messiah coming to judge
the world (Zechariah 14:3-12). The New Testament gives further insight
into this event at the same location (Acts 1:11-12; Revelation
19:11-21). The Kidron Valley is likely the place the Prophet Joel
referred to as the “Valley of Jehoshaphat”—where “the Lord judges”—and
“the valley of decision” (Joel 3:2, 12, 14).
thousands of white Jewish tombs that slope into the Kidron Valley give
testimony to the hope that when the Messiah comes, “His feet will stand
on the Mount of Olives” (Zechariah 14:4), and those buried there presume
they’ll stand first in line for blessing (see Daniel 12:2; Revelation
Walking through the Kidron Valley is more than a
stroll beside the Old City walls and beautiful olive trees. It’s even
more than a lesson in archaeology. The tombs that dot the slopes give
each visitor a connection with the temporary lives and the eternal hopes
of the thousands of individuals whose remains await the future. Wayne Stiles has never recovered from his travels in the Holy Land. Follow him on Twitter (@WayneStiles) or on his blog at www.waynestiles.com.