Israel’s Ancient Tombs
Israel is a small country with a massive amount of history packed into it. While visiting cemeteries and tombs is not normally something we’d look forward to, in Israel there are a number of historically important tombs that are certainly worth visiting.
If you head to the north of the country to the town of Beit She’arim you will find a number of tombs in the hillside. Many of the tombs are open for visitors to explore and you can visit the resting places of people such as Rabbi Judah Hanasi, perhaps one of the most beautiful tombs in the country, as well as The Cave of Coffins and the Lulavim Cave. You will see a number of elaborate carvings on the walls and the sarcophagi and there are some excellent explanations available.
Also in the north of the country, on the shores of the Kineret, are a number of other important tombs. The most important tomb in the area is that of Maimonides, also known as the Rambam. He was a codifier of Jewish law and thinking and his texts remain central to Judaism to this day. Tiberius is also home to the first-century tombs of Rabbi Akiva and his wife Rachel and the tomb of his student, Rabbi Meir.
The most famous tomb in Israel is probably the Cave of Machpelah. Located in Hebron, the Cave of Machpelah (or Patriarchs), is said to be where the three patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, are buried as well as three of the four matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah (Rachel was buried in Bet Lechem). As such, it is one of the holiest sites in Israel. The building surrounding the tomb is well known for its antiquity and complexity. It was originally built by Herod over 2000 years ago and is of itself worth visiting.
In Jerusalem there is a tomb known as King David’s Tomb. There is some debate over whether he was really buried there, but the site on is very much worth a visit. It is a thousand-year-old building and the second floor of the building houses a Christian holy site where some say the last supper took place. The top floor is a Muslim minaret. As a result, it is one of the few buildings in the world that is shared by the three monotheistic religions.
Unfortunately, it is quite difficult to visit some of the ancient tombs in Israel, such as Joseph’s tomb in Schem. However, it is possible to visit the resting place of a number of biblical figures. Samson’s tomb is in Tel Zora, the burial site is also known as his birth site, and this has given the area the name ‘Samson’s Country. There is a fantastic view of the Judean Mountains from the tomb and along the path to the tomb you can read signposts telling you about the life of Samson.
These are just a small selection of the many important tombs you can visit in Israel and hopefully during your time in the country you will be able to visit at least some of these and many more.