Death and burial in Iron Age Jerusalem

A view from the Silwan necropolis

Authored by: Matthew J. Suriano

Routledge Handbook on Jerusalem

Print publication date:  October  2018
Online publication date:  October  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138936935
eBook ISBN: 9781315676517
Adobe ISBN:


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Jerusalem, during the first millennium bce, was a city surrounded by the dead. That is to say, the predominant burial practice in Jerusalem was to place the dead in cemeteries outside of the city’s walls. Aside from rabbinic literature suggesting that the prophetess Huldah was buried inside Jerusalem (Tractate Bava Batra 1, 11, quoted in Levine 2002: 230 n.51), the only exceptions to this rule were the Davidic kings. According to the Bible, and references in Josephus, the kings of Judah were buried either inside the City of David or in another location called the Garden of Uzza (Stavrakopoulou 2006: 1–21; Suriano 2010: 98–126). None of these tombs exist today, neither that of Huldah, nor those of the House of David. But along the eastern periphery of Jerusalem, situated in the Kidron Valley, are the prominent remains of monumental tombs that bear witness to mortuary practices of the city’s ancient inhabitants. Archaeologists refer to the area of these monumental tombs as the Silwan necropolis (Rahmani 1981: 233–234; Ussishkin 1993). An analysis of this place of burial, set against the general background of Iron Age cemeteries and in comparison to a particular biblical account of burial in the city, will shed light on the importance of the dead in ancient Jerusalem.

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