The grandiose site of the “Tomb of the Kings” is assumed to be the 2,000-year-old burial place of Queen Helena.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
For the first time since 2010, Jewish worshipers were permitted to gather and hold a formal prayer ceremony Thursday at the “Tomb of the Kings” in Jerusalem. The 2,000-year-old site is assumed to be the burial place of Queen Helena.
The tomb had been closed for nine years due to renovations that cost $1.1 million.
The site, located 820 meters north of the Old City walls, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, is owned by France. It is an elaborate Roman-era tomb with stone shelves that once held sarcophagi and is considered among the largest tombs in the region. Jews consider the tomb a holy burial site of ancient ancestors.
“It was interesting and nice to see another part of Jewish history opening up to the public,” Joshua Wander, International PR and security expert and one of the first at the opening,, told United With Israel. “Hopefully, it will bring lots of Jews to that area, which often lacks a Jewish presence.”
Only 15 people are permitted to enter the site in 45-minute stretches, and visitors must obtain a ticket. Proper dress is required.
“I was a bit disappointed that the actual tomb was not accessible as it was years ago,” Wander said. “I was told it was dangerous, but that they plan on installing a 3D model of the found sarcophagi that are now in the Louvre museum in Paris.”
History of the site
The site was first excavated by Felicien de Saulcy of France, who took on the project in 1863. The tomb was originally believed to be that of biblical King David and King Solomon, thus acquiring the name, “Tomb of the Kings.” However, that theory was ruled out.
Today, it is a widely accepted that the tomb is the burial place of Queen Helena of Adiabene, the capital of a rich country which extended over a part of the former Assyrian empire. She, along with her sons Izates and Monobaz, became righteous converts to Judaism during the time of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
Izates ruled peacefully for 24 years before his death. His brother Monobaz then took over the throne of Adiabene. Queen Helena and Monobaz developed a close relationship with the Jewish people and the Land of Israel, even influencing many of their own people to embrace Judaism.
Their royal house regularly sent large sums of money to Jerusalem to help the poor of the city as well as to provide gifts for the Holy Temple. These included a golden candelabra that was placed at the Temple’s entrance as well as a gold tablet on which, according to rabbinic literature, she had portions of the Torah of particular interest to women inscribed.
Roman-Jewish historian Josephus of the first century C.E. wrote that Queen Helena of Adiabene came to Jerusalem from Kurdistan, in northern Iraq, and built a palace in the City of David at the end of the Second Temple period. It is known that she also built a beautiful mausoleum where she and her sons were to be buried after their death.
That is assumed to be the “Tomb of the Kings.” Josephus wrote that Monobaz had Queen Helena’s remains and those of his brother Izates buried “three stadia from Jerusalem.”
‘Great Significance to the Jewish People’
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz welcomed the reopening of the holy site. “I invite the public to visit the site, which has great significance to the Jewish people, and is further testimony to the deep and multi-generational connection of the Jewish people to its eternal capital Jerusalem,” he said in a statement.