Tomb of Benei Hezir

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Tomb of Benei Hezir, is a rock-cut tomb in the historic Mount of Olives Jewish cemetery of Jerusalem. The tomb of Bnei Hezir dates to the Hasmonean period in Jewish history and is situated alongside the Zeharia and Yad Avshalom tombs, thought to have been erected several hundreds of years later. The tomb is effectively a burial cave dug into the cliff. It features a Hebrew inscription which makes it clear that this was the burial site of a Cohanim family by the name of Bnei Hazir.


The Tomb of Benei Hezir is the oldest of four monumental rock-cut tombs that stand in the Kidron Valley, Jerusalem and dates to the period of the Second Temple. It is a complex of burial caves. The facade (inspect) of the tomb is a classical distyle in antis with two pillars between two pilasters above which there is undecorated architrave containing an engraved a Hebrew inscription. Above the architrave is a Doric frieze and a cornice. In the 19th century Westerners still identified the monument with the tomb of St. James the Apostle.


circa 10 BCE

The tomb (peek outside) was originally accessed from a single rock-cut stairwell, seen here in the back ground with a grill doorway, which descends to the tomb from the north after ascending the Mount of Olives. In the Hebrew Bible there are two mentions of men with the name of Hezir. One was the founder of the 17th priestly division (1 Chron. 24:15); the other one was among the leaders who set their seal to the covenant with Nehemiah (Neh. 10:20). It is not known if there is a relation between the family buried here and the biblical Hezirs.

circa 10 BCE

The tomb is effectively a burial cave (peek inside) dug into the cliff. It contains a Hebrew inscription, which makes it clear that this was the burial site of a priestly family called Benei Hezir, lit. "sons [descendants] of Hezir". The tomb's inscription (inspect) reveals that the cave was used by several generations of the Benei Hezir family. As well, it indicates that this was a wealthy family, able to afford a burial cave in the Kidron Valley.

circa 10 BCE

At a later period an additional entrance (peek inside) was created by quarrying a tunnel from the courtyard of the monument known as "the Tomb of Zechariah". James was one of the apostles. He is believed to have hidden in the Bnei-Hezir tomb from the Romans, then Jesus appeared to him after resurrection, "After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles". Later, according to tradition, he was buried here, in 62 CE.

circa 10 BCE

Panoramic view of Benei Hazir tomb and tomb of Zachariah next to it. The tomb's architectural style is influenced by ancient Greek architecture (two pillars with Doric capitals) as well as Nabataean influence in architecture and decorative elements (Nabataeanising was fashionable among some Judaean families), without ancient Egyptian architectural influences. Architecturally the so-called Tomb of Zechariah postdates the complex, and the Tomb of Absalom at the foot of the Mount of Olives is considered to have been erected even later.

circa 10 BCE

The inscription mentions a nefesh (נפש : literally meaning soul), which is also a designation for a magnificent structure built on or alongside the tomb. It has been proposed that the Tomb of Zechariah, a solid rock-hewn object which stands by the entrance, and is thought to date from a similar period to the inscription, is actually this nefesh. Another option is that the additional facade to the north of the Doric dystilos-in-antis was the original nefesh. Although it did not survive it is possible to reconstruct the upper part of the above-mentioned facade as a Nabataean tower with a decorative door and window, similar monuments can be seen in Petra.

circa 10 BCE

An aerial view of the Mount with Jewish cemetery. The tombs of Absalom (lower left corner), Benei Hezir and Zechariah (bottom foreground) are also visible. The cemetery contains anywhere between 70,000 and 2 or 300,000 tombs from various periods, including the tombs of famous figures in Jewish history. Located on the western edge of Mount of Olives, it overlooks and provides an excellent view of the Kidron Valley below towards the south-west (inspect).

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