Off the Beaten Track: The royal tombs of Jerusalem

I once overheard a rabbi explain that because Jews prayed on Mt. Zion for centuries, the bones of King David crawled on their own to rest there.

Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy/Joe Yudin)
(photo credit: Courtesy/Joe Yudin)
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
There is no other place in the world like Jerusalem. A tourist I was guiding once told me that while he was touring Israel, his brother was touring Italy. When they got together after their respective trips his brother was astounded by the two thousand years of history. “Two thousand years is that all?” questioned my tourist, “In Jerusalem that’s not even the halfway point!” I couldn’t have said it better myself. On this walk we are going to check out a few ancient royal tombs.
One of the most famous tombs is that of King David on Mt. Zion. Start just outside of Zion Gate of the Old City and make your way passed the lot to your left down the alley, keep left at the fork, and into the signed structure to your right. The Bible clearly states, “And David slept with his fathers, and was buried in the city of David” (I Kings 2:10) which is not here. The oldest ruins found here beneath the current floor only go back to the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd Century CE. The building is quite interesting as it has over the last 2,000 years gone through various periods of building and destruction.  It was at one time or another, a church, a mosque and a synagogue. I once overheard a Hassidic rabbi here,  after being told that the City of David was to the south, explain that because the Jewish people have been praying here for hundreds of years, the bones of King David crawled through the earth on their own to rest here. Go figure.
Go back to Zion gate and turn left and walk outside the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent, completed in 1542. Walk down the stairs and come out at the southwestern corner of the city walls. Across the valley to the west is the “New City”. From here you can see the very first Jewish neighborhood outside the Old City walls, Mishkanot HaShannim, meaning “Peaceful Habitation” built in 1860. In front of you is a path that winds down Mount Zion through a fragrant garden of rosemary and thyme. Take it all the way down the hill. Cross the main street and make your way past the Sultan’s Pool on a small bridge. This may have been the “Serpent’s Pool” mentioned in the first century by Josephus Flavius. Continue up the path by Mishkanot Hashannanim an over to the windmill on your right. Check out the breathtaking view to the east of the Old City, Mount Zion and the hills of the Judean Desert.
Explore the neighborhood to your north called Yemin Moshe, named after Moses Montefiore, friend to Queen Victoria and world renown Jewish philanthropist. On the other side of Yemin Moshe is a park with some fantastic views, restored 19th century houses with private gardens and a beautiful overlook of the Old City by a fountain. Stop by the fountain and then turn around 180 degrees and go up the steps, where you’ll see the King David Hotel ahead of you on the right, walk up, bearing left into a pit that doesn’t look like much at first, but is actually, one of King Herod’s family tombs.
Pheroras, King Herod’s youngest brother, had plotted to kill Herod’s sons with his Maccabean wife, Mariamme. For this Pheroras fell out of favor with Herod and left Judea. After Herod had these sons murdered himself, he reconciled with his brother and upon his death had Pheroras buried in Jerusalem, apparently here.  This is a perfect example of a first century B.C.E. Jewish tomb. Notice the rectangular base that probably once upheld a monumental pyramid shaped monument. Notice the giant stone rolled away from the entrance of the tomb. This of course reminds us of the description in the New Testament, Luke 24:2: “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb.”
Walk towards the King David Hotel but take the path to your left just before it to Elimelech Adomoni St. Take it to the end and turn right on King David St., passing the hotels. Just before the Mamilla Mall cross King David St. and go left on Gershon Agron St., and make a quick right on a path that will take you through a park. Continue straight about a 100 meters until you come to a domed structure.
You are now in the Mamilla Cemetery which was first used by Byzantine Christians, and then throughout the Ottoman period. The 15th century Jerusalem Arab historian, Mujir al-Din, once said that "Whoever invokes God's name while standing between the graves… [in Mamilla cemetery] God will grant all his wishes.” The inscription over the door declares this tomb as being of Emir Aidughdi Kubaki who died in 1289 C.E. As with most Mamlukes, Kubaki was taken away from the northern Middle East as a slave and rose up through the ranks of the army, becoming governor of Tzfat & Aleppo before falling out of favor with the Sultan who imprisoned him.
From here the Ben Yehudah & Yoel Marcus Solomon Streets Pedestrian Mall is not far away and a great place to stroll, shop and lunch. The next stop is about a kilometer away.  Go to the top of Ben Yehudah Street where it meets King George St. and turn left. Turn right on Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael St., left on Ibn Griverol St., right on Al Harizi and left through the park by the Ben Zvi Institute. Turn right on Rambam St. and a quick left onto Ibn Ezra St. which turns into Alfasi St. Opposite house number 15 Alfasi St. you will see a small pyramid in the middle of a small park between two houses. Enter the courtyard of this exquisite building called Jason’s Tomb.
Jason and his family take a prominent role in the story of the great Jewish revolt against the Syrian-Greeks. The tomb that you are standing in front of is the family tomb of this priestly, Sadducean family. As described in the Second Book of Maccabees, Jason became High Priest when Onias is forced to step down by Antiochus IV. Jason is later replaced by Antiochus but after the Hannukah wars, the Maccabees reinstate Jason’s family again to a prominent role, interning his grandson, also called Jason, here in the year 81 B.C.E. This tomb is open on Monday and Thursdays between 10:00 to 13:00.
Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.