Season 3, Episode 1
Unsolved Jewish Mysteries: King David’s Tomb
The tomb of King David.
Although there is a tomb associated with King David near the Old City in Jerusalem, it’s unlikely that he is actually buried there. That tomb was built around 800 years ago by the Crusaders — so more than 2,000 years after David had died. Historic geographic confusion and the fact that the site changed hands multiple times between Christians and Muslims, means that its original purpose has been lost to us.
WHY WE CARE
King David is considered the greatest of ancient Israel’s kings. The leader who defeated Goliath and went on to rule the United Monarchy, David established Jerusalem as the capital of ancient Israel. Anything associated with him and his era is pure gold in the context of modern Judaism’s connection with its ancient homeland.
THEORIES ABOUT WHERE IT IS
The Hebrew Bible records David as dying of natural causes at the age of 70 and being buried “with his fathers” in the City of David. We’ve found a tomb that matches that description — but no skeletons, and no inscription that records the tomb as being that of David. So his real resting place remains a mystery.
Since neither Muslims nor Jews have ever allowed any archaeological examination of the current tomb, it’s impossible to know who is buried there, or if anyone even is. Many historians think the tomb is a cenotaph — a monument to a Crusader-era VIP who is buried elsewhere — and is therefore empty.
The same building that houses King David’s tomb on the ground floor also contains, directly above it, the room associated with Jesus’ Last Supper.
Until 1993 there was no evidence outside the Hebrew Bible that David actually existed. But that year archaeologists uncovered the Tel Dan Stele that records a Syrian conquest of a king associated with “the house of David,” which demonstrates that the Davidic monarchy really existed.
After the Jordanians seized the Old City during the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, the closest Jews could get to the Western Wall was the rooftop of King David’s tomb — so that’s where they would go to pray.
© Jason Harris 2019
An Orthodox Jew prays at the current Tomb of King David near the Old City, Jerusalem. Photo credit: Jason Harris
Discovered in 1993, the Tel Dan Stele showing (in white, lower right) the reference to “the house of David.” Located in the Israel Museum, Jerusalem. Photo credit: Jason Harris