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The Pinkerfeld Report on Davidís Tomb

Below is the full text of Jacob Pinkerfeldís preliminary report regarding his investigation of "Davidís Tomb" (Pinkerfeld 1960:41-43). Page numbers show original page breaks and page numbers. The editor was Michael Avi-Yonah.

Page 41





I VISITED the buildings connected with 'David's Tomb' for the first time on the 20 February 1949, in connection with my duties as Conservator of Monuments and Chief Inspector of the Department of Antiquities. On this visit I found various signs of damage in the walls of the room containing the tomb and in the fayence tiles and the plaster covering the walls, as well as in the marble floor and the cenotaph itself. The damage was caused by the explosion of a shell which had entered the room through its eastern window during the War of Independence.

While studying the building, my interest was particularly aroused by the direction of the high apse behind the cenotaph. As could be seen from the compass, the niche pointed north with an eastern deviation of several degrees, i.e. exactly towards the Temple Mount. I also saw at once that the walls of the room had not all been built at the same time, but that they had undergone changes in the course of time.

A thorough examination of the burial hall and its various building periods, and in particular an examination of the high niche of the apse appeared to me a matter of great importance. I was enabled to undertake this examination when Dr. H. Z. Hirschberg, the then Director of the Moslem and Druse Department in the Ministry of Religious Affairs, entrusted me with the repair of the marble floor and the damaged walls.

These, therefore, are the results of the examinations which I carried out in the course of the year 1951. After removing the plaster from the whole surface of the apse (which is 2.48 m. wide, 1.20 m. deep, and 2.44 m. high) there appeared a well-built wall of the late Roman period, constructed of ashlar stones (PI. IX, 2). This is the first building period on the site and to it belong three of the outer walls of the hall on the north, south, and east (marked I on the plan, Fig. 1). It is interesting to note that the north wall, which contains the apse, is 2.80 m. thick, while the other walls are only 1.30 m. in thickness.1

The length of the hall from north to south was at that period about 10.50 m. Its width cannot now be ascertained, since its western wall no longer exists. Only the eastern parts of the north and south walls have been preserved, and only the east wall has been preserved in its entirety. In any case, the dimensions of this hall in its first period were much bigger than in the subsequent ones.

The present west wall and the vault between it and the east wall were built in the Arab period (II, on the plan), apparently in the times of the

1This and other details allow us to compare this building with the ancient synagogue of Eshtemoa, cf. L. A. Mayer and A. Reifenberg, JPOS, 19, 1941, PP. 314-326. The excavators invited me to make the plan of this synagogue, and I was therefore able to examine it in all its details.

Page 42

Mameluke rule, as can be observed from various details in the stone construction. The length of the hall at that period was 10.50 m., as in the former period, but its width was reduced to 5.80 m. by the construction of the western wall; the niche in the northern wall remained in situ, while opposite it a small mihrab (prayer niche pointing to Mecca) was made.

TombPlan1.jpg (198350 bytes)

Fig. 1

The dividing wall (III, on the plan), which separates rooms B and C, was built in the late Turkish period. The large hall of earlier times was thus bisected and divided into two rooms; the northern one is the actual burial room of today; it measures 4.20 m. from north to south and 5.80 m. from east to west. The large cenotaph that stands before the apse niche shows Gothic profiles, and the centre of its facade is adorned with a rosette of stylized acanthus leaves in the same style (PI. EK, 1); this cenotaph is obviously Crusader work.

The removal of the marble slabs of the pavement for repair enabled me to examine the various floor levels of the earlier buildings by digging two trial pits. About 12 cm. beneath the present floor, remains of plaster indicated the floor level corresponding to the base of the cenotaph, which is covered at present. This, therefore, is the floor level of the Crusader period. 60 cm. beneath the top of the present pavement were remains of a coloured mosaic decorated with geometric designs characteristic of the late Roman or early Byzantine period. 70 cm. below the present floor level another floor of plaster was found, quite possibly the remains

Page 43

of a stone pavement. Some small fragments of smooth stones, perhaps the remains of this pavement, were found slightly above this level. It is possible, however, that their presence in the debris was purely accidental and that this lower floor was also of mosaic. At all events it is certain that this floor belonged to the original building, i.e. to the period when the northern wall and its apse were built. This is evident from a section of the wall which shows at that level a foundation ledge projecting into the hall. The threshold of the apse is 1.22 m. above the present floor level, and 1.92 m. above the original floor of the building. This interesting archaeological detail has a parallel in the Eshtemoa synagogue, where the niche of the apse begins 2.08 m above the floor of the hall; in the synagogue at Naveh in the Hauran the niche of the Ark of the Law was 2.20 m. above the floor.

In this first period the hall was plastered. Among the plaster fragments, a few showed traces of Greek letters. The fragments were handed over to the late Prof. M. Schwabe for examination.


(1) The original building with the niche of the apse was built in the Roman period. The size of the hall at that period was larger than that of the two rooms B and C together.

(2) The niche of the apse had its floor 1.92 m. above the floor of the building. It follows that it was above the heads of the worshippers and could not, therefore, serve as a mihrab for the Moslems. The true mihrab (4 on plan) was built much later than the niche of the apse and was in its proper position in the south wall. The church of the Coenaculum, which is built in the upper floor of the same building, is orientated to the east, as is usual in churches.

(3) It follows that the 'Tomb of David' could not in its first building period have served as a place of worship for either Christians or Moslems.

(4) The fact that the niche of the heightened apse, points towards the Temple Mount and the resemblance of various architectural details with those of the ancient synagogues at Eshtemoa and Naveh allow us to conclude that we have here the remains of a synagogue from the first centuries after the destruction of the Temple. Further research is, of course, necessary.

Editor's Note: This report was published in Hebrew in J. Pinkerfeld: - Bishviley Omanut Yehudit. Merhavia, 1957, pp. 128-130. The author of this paper was unable to complete his researches, as he was among the victims of the Jordanian attack on the Archaeological Convention of 1956 at Ramat Rahel. In connection with his conclusions) we may mention the well-known passage from Epiphanius according to which the Jews had seven synagogues on Mount Zion, one of which was still standing in Epiphanius' time (fourth century A.D.). Historically the most likely time for the construction of this synagogue would be the reign of Julian (A.D. 361-363).

The Editor wishes to thank Mrs. Pinkerfeld for her permission to translate and publish this report here. M. A.-Y.

Page last edited: 04/06/06 09:18 PM

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