Tomb of the Prophets

By the Editors of the Madain Project

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The Tomb of the Prophets (قبر الانبياء), is a rockcut funerary-cave complex and an ancient burial site located on the upper western slope of the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem. According to a medieval Jewish tradition also adopted by Christians, the catacomb is believed to be the burial place of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, the last three Hebrew Bible prophets who are believed to have lived during the 6th-5th centuries BCE.


The site has been venerated by the Jews since the Middle Ages, and they often visited the site. In 1882 CE, Archimandrite Antonine (Kapustin) acquired the location for the Russian Orthodox Church. He planned to build a church at the site, which aroused strong protests by the Jews who visited and worshipped at the cave. The Ottoman courts ruled in 1890 CE that the transaction was binding but the Russians agreed not to display Christian symbols or icons at the site which was to remain accessible for people of all faiths.

The architectural style of the tomb indicates that it could have been created in the 1st century BCE, which would be contrary to tradition. Some archaeologists say that the Tomb of the Prophets is actually part of the catacombs that were part of the Jewish cemetery 135 years ago. The complex has an unusual plan, with a central chamber and corridors leading to the burial sites. A little higher, on the right there is a terrace, from which there is a great view of the Temple Mount and the Old City, up to the high blocks of western Jerusalem.

Burial-cave Complex


The chamber forms two concentric passages containing 38 burial niches. The entrance to the large rock-cut burial cave is on the western side, where a staircase descends, flanked on both sides by a stone balustrade. It leads into a large circular central vault measuring 24 feet (7.3 meters) in diameter. From it, two parallel tunnels, 5 feet (1.5 meters) wide and 10 feet (3.0 meters) high, stretch some 20 yards (18 meters) through the rock. A third tunnel runs in another direction. They are all connected by cross galleries, the outer one of which measures 40 yards (37 meters) in length.

Research shows that the complex actually dates from the 1st-century BCE, when this style of tombs came into use for Jewish burial. Some Greek inscriptions discovered at the site suggest the cave was re-used to bury foreign Christians during the 4th and 5th centuries CE. On one of the side walls of the vault, a Greek inscription translates: "Put thy faith in God, Dometila: No human creature is immortal!"


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