Holy Land Pilgrimage in the Footsteps of David

 

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"NOW ABSALOM IN HIS LIFETIME HAD TAKEN AND SET UP
FOR HIMSELF A PILLAR THAT IS IN THE kING'S valley
” 
                   SECOND SAMUEL 18:18                                 
                                                   

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's throw stones at Absalom's Tomb Monument

 
Absalom had a sense of entitlement. But not because he was the most alluring male in Israel or had the curliest hair.  Of all David’s sons, he was the only one who had “royal blood” on both sides.  His father ruled the united kingdom of Israel and Judah, whereas his mother was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur, north of the Sea of Galilee.

Absalom, the third eldest son, had a beautiful sister called Tamar. We can envision her tall, stately, curved and luscious like the date palm for which she was named.  She was obviously also very compassionate.  When her half-brother Amnon, David’s eldest, pretended to be desperately ill, she baked his favorite chocolate chip cookies and naively, upon his demand, delivered them personally to his bedroom where he seized her and raped her.  Ashamed, she put ashes on her head and tore her robe in mourning for her lost innocence.
 
For the next two years, her brother Absalom patiently plotted to avenge his sister’s dishonor.  At a sheep-shearing feast with all the king’s sons in attendance, Absalom commanded his servants to slay his half-brother Amnon.  Fleeing from the scene of the crime, Absalom went north to take refuge in his grandma and grandpa’s palace located in the city of Geshur.

After three years, knowing that the king’s heart pined for Absalom, Joab, David’s closest advisor, devised a scheme to convince David to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem.  He summoned a “wise woman” from Tekoa to plead Absalom’s case before David.  King David relented and sent Joab to Geshur to return Absalom to Jerusalem.  On strict orders from the king however, Absalom was barred from the presence of his dad.

But the fire of resentment churning in Absalom’s heart could not be squelched.  He lobbied, connived and conspired.  Eventually Absalom succeeded in raising a rebellion against his father.
 

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With Absalom on the outskirts of Jerusalem, David left his palace, crossed the Kidron Valley and as he ascended the Mount of Olives barefoot, he wept.  (Second Samuel 15:30)  Absalom triumphantly entered the City of David.  Then the chase began. David crossed over the River Jordan with Absalom and his army in hot pursuit.  Despite his precarious situation, David ordered his generals, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.”

Then Absalom’s thick hair got caught in the brambly branches of a terebinth tree.  (Unfortunately he was due for his annual haircut the following week!  See Second Samuel 14:26.)  The mule continued forward which left Absalom hanging between heaven and earth.  Joab plunged three darts into Absalom’s heart and killed him. Joab then blew the trumpet to signal David’s victory and the people returned. They took Absalom and threw him into a big pit in the forest and laid a very great heap of stones over him.

Scripture says next that Absalom, having no sons, had erected a monument (or pillar) in the king’s dale and the location was known to everyone.  For two millennia the king’s dale is believed to be the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem.
 

Absalom's Tomb Monument

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Absalom's Tomb Monument in the Kidron (King's) Valley

 
First century AD historian Josephus Flavius mentions Absalom’s Monument in Antiquities 7, 10, 3.  “Now Absalom had erected for himself a marble pillar in the king's dale, two furlongs distant from Jerusalem, which he named Absalom's Hand, saying, that if his children were killed, his name would remain by that pillar.”  So the whereabouts of Absalom’s pillar was well-known in Jesus’ day.
 

Absalom's Monument is located in the Kidron Valley east of the Temple Mount

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Absalom's Monument (center of photo) looking south

 

The tomb monument which today we call Absalom’s Monument is, however, dated to one thousand years after Absalom’s death.  It’s an example of Egyptian-Hellenistic architecture with the lower part built on a square base with vaults for burial chambers.  The roof is topped by a concave cone carved in the shape of a lotus flower with six leaves partially broken.  The monument must have looked stunning when it was first carved out of the natural rock in the first century BC or AD.
 
Over the centuries there developed a Jerusalem custom for fathers to bring their rebellious sons to Absalom’s Monument to throw stones at the tomb of the boy who lifted his hand against his father.  Apparently there were so many “naughty” boys in Jerusalem that by the beginning of the twentieth century, the base of the monument to the top of the Ionic pillars was nearly completely covered with stones!
 

Frontal view of Absalom's Tomb Monument

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Absalom's Tomb Monument is sixty feet tall

 
One of my most leisurely laid-back memorable tours of 2008 was with a group of team members from the Ramat Rahel Archeological Excavation.  It was a cool early August evening.  We strolled down the Mount of Olives, focusing upon David’s City and the Temple of Solomon.  Down in the Kidron Valley, I found an old set of steps that led us up to a point where we were eye-to-eye with the middle of the sixty-foot high monument.  I had never brought a group to that particular spot before.  It was the most enchanted place ever to talk about Absalom.
 
Absalom’s story has all the elements of a Hollywood blockbuster: lust, incest, grief, tragedy, rage, revenge, deceit, blind love, rebellion and betrayal.  But at its root, it’s a story about a complex relationship between a father and son.  Perhaps the story grabs our attention because the father is none other than our beloved David, whose offspring would produce the messiah.
 
As we sit beside Absalom’s Tomb, we try to imagine Jesus walking through the Kidron Valley after a last supper with his disciples.  He was on his way to the Garden of Gethsemane for a night of prayer and supplication.  Absalom’s Monument would have been glistening in the full moonlight.  It would have been quite new, perhaps only a few decades old when Jesus passed by.  The tomb monument may have given him an eerie inkling of what lay ahead.
 

Jesus would have passed by Absalom's Monument on his way to the Garden of Gethsemane

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Garden of Gethsemane, only a short distance from Absalom's Monument

 

WALK AROUND OLD CITY WALLS WITH GILA:

 
Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living now in King David's court, has been shepherding pilgrims in the Holy Land for over a quarter of a century.  She hasn’t yet lost one stray – at least not permanently!  If you are interested in off-the-beaten path experiences that provoke discussion and illuminate the biblical narrative, check Gila’s availability before booking your tour.  Your participants will be effusive in their thanks.
 

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If you are planning to come solo (or duo) to Jerusalem in 2014, then you may want to check out Gila’s unorthodox guide, “Explore Jerusalem’s Soul” for the top ten places to study biblical stories.
 
Geshur, the hometown of Absalom’s maternal grandparents, was apparently named Bethsaida in Jesus’ day.  Read about the archeological finds at Bethsaida.
 
If you know someone who’s looking to be inspired to slay giants as Absalom’s dad did, check out the “traditional slingshot that killed Goliath.”
 
"Let's throw stones at Absalom's Tomb Monument" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was: "Let's sit in the Seat of Moses at Chorazin."  This month's highlight is:  "Let's imagine hungry lions in Beth Shean's amphitheater."  The next highlight will be:  "Let's follow David to the threshing floor at Mount Moriah."
 

Copyright 2009, 2011 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin