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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:3, Summer 2020

Strata: Site-Seeing: Tomb of Kings Now Open!

By Krystal V.L. Pierce

After more than a decade of renovations totaling almost one million euros ($1,100,000), the Tomb of the Kings in Jerusalem is now open to the public. Medieval Europeans believed the site contained the burials of King David and King Solomon, and although this theory has been disproved, the name is still attached to the site. The tombs were originally constructed in the first century C.E. but were reused for many years afterward.

The site was initially excavated in 1863 by the French archaeologist Louis Félicien de Saulcy, who sought to confirm that the tombs belonged to David and Solomon. During this excavation, considered by some to be the first ever modern archaeological dig in Jerusalem, several sarcophagi were discovered. One of these sarcophagi, now in the Louvre Museum in Paris, was inscribed with two lines of Aramaic that read “Tsadan the Queen” and “Tsadah the Queen.”

Although Saulcy thought the inscription referred to the wife of King Zedekiah, other scholars attributed ownership of the sarcophagus to Queen Helena of Adiabene (today Iraqi Kurdistan). Josephus, the first-century Roman-Jewish historian, wrote that Queen Helena converted to Judaism and moved to Jerusalem. In the fourth century, the Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea recorded that Queen Helena was buried in a tomb three stadia (about 555 m or 0.3 mi) north of Jerusalem. Although some still attribute the tomb complex to Helena and her dynasty, others assert that the tomb was built for Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great.

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