Absalom’s Pillar

[fusion_title size=”2″ content_align=”left” style_type=”default” sep_color=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” class=”” id=””]Absalom’s Pillar[/fusion_title]
[fusion_text]In the Kidron Valley, opposite the Temple Mount, stands one of the most grandiose burial monuments ever built in the Land of Israel. It is known as Absalom’s Pillar.
The monument is comprised of two main sections. The bottom section, which includes a square base, is completely carved out of the mountain and is decorated with Persian-style pilasters. Above the columns are Doric-style beams, and above them, an Egyptian cornice. A burial chamber is carved into the top third of the bottom section.
The upper section of the structure rises higher than the cliff and therefore was built with massive ashlar stones. The square begins with a cornice, with a circular drum with a rope-style cornice above it. A concave cone topped by a lotus flower adorns the very top of the monument.
An area was carved around the monument. An opening in the back leads to an extensive burial cave. The entrance is decorated with a pediment element with a vegetable motif.[/fusion_text]
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[fusion_title size=”3″ content_align=”left” style_type=”none” sep_color=”” margin_top=”” margin_bottom=”” class=”” id=””]Absalom’s Pillar Throughout History[/fusion_title]
King David conquered Jerusalem around the year 1000 BCE and built his capital in the City of David. David’s reign was not marked by peace and he was forced to deal with one challenge after another. David met these challenges with bravery and defeated his enemies from the outside. However, nothing could prepare him for an enemy on the inside- his son, his own flesh and blood, Absalom.

Absalom started a rebellion and David was unable to lead a fight against him. And so, David and his army fled Jerusalem, with Absalom and his men chasing him. The battle ended in the Forest of Ephraim on the other side of the Jordan River, where Absalom’s army was defeated. Absalom himself was killed in the battle and buried there. II Samuel 18:18 tells us “ Absalom has undertaken in his lifetime and erected for himself the pillar that is in the Valley of the King, for he said: ‘I have no son; [this is] in order that my name should be remembered’. He called the pillar by his name, and it is called ‘Absalom’s Monument’, until this day.” Absalom prepared a grandiose tombstone for himself, but never got to use it.

The Jews of Jerusalem were able to point to a tombstone, that according to their tradition, was the “Absalom’s Pillar” in question. The site is mentioned in two sources that were recorded close to the destruction- Antiquities of the Jews and the Copper Scroll, however it is unclear where this “Absalom’s Pillar” was located.

At the time, a wealthy Jew decided to build a burial vault for his family. Workers carved an impressive monument out of the cliff abutting the Kidron Valley, on the slope of the Mount of Olives, and exactly opposite the Temple Mount. However, his building plans called for such an enormous monument that the height of the cliff was insufficient and additional building material was needed to complete the top part of the tombstone. Inside the tombstone, two places were carved out for the head of the family and his wife and an extensive burial chamber, numbering eight rooms, was designated for family use for future generations.

In designing the rich style of the gravestone, the stonemason artist used all the techniques at his disposal- quarter pilasters, half and quarter columns, triglyphs and metopes, rope ornaments, plant replicas, Persian, Doric and Egyptian styles- all in line with the luxurious standards of the Roman-Oriental world. However, two things are missing.

The first should not really surprise us- an art history student touring Rome who would come across such a structure would immediately call out: Where are the statues and drawings of animals and man? But here in Jerusalem, the capital of the Kingdom of Judah, it is unthinkable to do such a thing.

The real drawback is the lack of the name of the important person buried within. It is possible that an inscription disappeared over the ages or that there was no need for an inscription in the first place, for every Jew living in Jerusalem at that time certainly knew who the tombstone belonged to, but we are left to wonder. Various signs indicate a possible surprising answer. Maybe King Agrippa was buried here? It seems we will never know for certain.

During the Byzantine period, monks settled in every cave, nook and shelter they could find on the Mount of Olives and in the Judean Desert, and not even Absalom’s Pillar was spared. Remnants of these monks are visible to this day. After all, if the original builders of the monument left only small openings for entry and exit for purposes of burial, the monk- tenants were interested in larger openings, and blasted holes in the four-sided tombstone. Those with sharp eyes will also notice the remains of the wall paintings that adorned the Cave of Jehoshaphat.
The Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages and a little beforehand, numerous pilgrims and travelers visited Jerusalem, and some documented their journeys. We learn from them that the residents of Jerusalem didn’t leave the tombstone in obscurity. Many names have been tied to the tombstone- Pharaoh, Hezekiah, and Jehoshaphat, but the identity that was accepted by everyone is that the tombstone is none other than the Absalom’s Pillar mentioned in the Bible.
The identification with Absalom became so deeply rooted that it is said that the residents of Jerusalem took out their anger at the rebellious son who dared to raise a hand against his father, and every Jew or Muslim who passed by the tomb would throw a rock, or at least spit in its direction.
Furthermore, “there is a custom that all children who pass by the tombstone, whether they are Jewish, Saracen or Christian, would pick up a rock and throw it at the tombstone… If someone in Jerusalem has a rebellious son, he would bring him there and force him with threats and flogging to throw stones at the tombstone and curse Absalom, and would tell him the story of Absalom’s wickedness and ultimate death…Large piles of stones accumulated by the tombstone as a result of the stone-throwing by so many children. Had they not been removed from time to time, the site would have long ago been completely covered by stones.” The monk, Felix Fabri, page 249 of the book by Michael Ish-Shalom, “The Journeys of Christians to the Land of Israel”, published by Am Oved and Dvir in Tel Aviv in 1965.
The place was indeed covered with stones. When the first researchers traveled around the Land of Israel, documenting its antiquities, they could not see distinguish the lower part of Absalom’s Pillar and the Cave of Jehoshaphat.  The base of the tombstone and the entrance to the Cave of Jehoshaphat was only exposed in 1924,  during the first Jewish excavation of Jerusalem.

The Excavations at the Site

The monuments in the Kidron Valley, the only grandiose structures left standing almost completely intact from the Second Temple period until today, quickly became a preferred tourist destination. Today, the roads around have been paved, seating has been set up, and one can even sit in the shade of the tombstone and enjoy the sounds of new-old music.

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