The landmark monument in the Kidron valley to the east of the city, known as Zechariah’s tomb, is clearly the mausoleum of an unknown but rich family living in the Hellenistic period some 2200 years ago. The pyramidical structure on its roof was very common for tombs of this period, and was meant to represent the soul of the departed. However no such individualistic conceptions existed at the time of the 9th century BCE Biblical prophet Zechariah, whose name became associated with the monument during the middle ages. Zechariah was the son of Jehoiada, the high priest in the time of King Jehoash (Joash) of Judah. After the death of Jehoiada, Zechariah boldly condemned both king Jehoash and the people for their rebellion against God. This so stirred up their resentment against him that, at the king’s commandment, they stoned him to death in the courtyard of the Temple. Once the association with Zechariah was established, traditions connected to the redemption of Israel and rebuilding of the Temple developed around the tomb; on the night of the 9th of Av – the traditional date of the destruction of the Temple – many Jews would gather around the tomb to mourn, and to ask forgiveness from Zechariah.
In the 19th century, a new Jewish cemetery grew up around the tomb of Zechariah. Among the notables buried there was a Rabbi Shlomo Zalman who, because of his efforts to obtain the return of a Jewish compound in the city – the site of the newly rebuilt “Churva” synagogue – was murdered by local Arabs. His grave and others’ were destroyed in the 1960’s with the excavations of John Allegro, an eccentric but brilliant English scholar whose work on one of the Dead Sea Scrolls had convinced him that he would find the Temple treasures buried there. He was but one of a long line of scholars and adventurers seeking these illusive artifacts.
Today, the area around Zechariah’s tomb is being cleared, and there are plans to provide a memorial to the 150 or so people whose graves were disturbed. One thing will not change, however: The name of the Biblical prophet Zechariah – together now with those of more modern Jewish heros like Rabbi Shlomo Zalman – will continue to be remembered in that place.