Four ancient rock-cut tombs stand in the Kidron Valley that separates the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem’s Old City. The oldest of these tombs belonged to Benei Hezir. The burial tomb dates back to the Hasmonean period (2nd-century BC) and bears a Hebrew inscription that tells us the burial site belonged to Benei Hezir (sons of Hezir) a Cohen family that served as priests in the Holy Jewish Temple on Temple Mount.
The tomb holds a series of burial caves dug into the mountainside where family members would have been laid to rest. Kidron Valley is identified as the Valley of Jehoshaphat (G-d Shall Judge) which is mentioned in the Book of Joel as the place where the final judgment will take place.
Features of the Tomb of Benei Hezir
The facade of the tomb features two pillars between two pilasters topped by an unadorned architrave bearing the Hebrew inscription. Above the architrave are a Doric frieze and a cornice. Originally the tomb and all the other tombs in the Kidron Valley would have been whitewashed. But today you can see the natural stone.
Who Was Hezir?
There are two people identified as Hezir in the Old Testament. In Chronicles 24:15 we read of a man named Hezir who was the founder of a priestly division. In Nehemiah 10:20 Hezir is named as one of the leaders who set their seal to the covenant. From the inscription, we ascertain that the descendants of Hezir used the tomb, and there were multiple burials here of members of the Hezir family. The family had to be wealthy to afford such a large tomb in the Kidron Valley.
The Tomb of St. James
For a period in the late-19th-century, this site was known as the tomb of Saint James the apostle. This mistaken tradition held that James the Just, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, hid from the Romans in the Tomb of Benei Hezir after Jesus was crucified and that later he was buried here.
You can look down on the tombs in Kidron Valley as you drive between the Mount of Olives and the Old City. Alternatively, take a tour of the site together with other top Jerusalem landmarks.