The site described in this article is for all practical purposes inaccessible. Very obviously, that shouldn’t be the case.

According to one of Israel’s leading archaeologists, Dr. Gabriel Barkay of Tel Aviv University, “This group of decorated tombs is the only one of its kind in Israel, and represents a peak of the Jewish art during the Second Temple period.”1

Whether it is the “Field of Blood” described in the New Testament, or the burial ground of the high priest Annas, or simply some of the most magnificent tombs to have survived from the Second Temple Period, this site should be cleaned, appropriately marked, fenced and a guard posted at the entrance.

Not long ago, as Bedouin worked their way up the valley in search of green pastures, they would pitch their tents in front of the entrances to these burial caves. This gave them well-protected extra rooms. Frequently they would build fires in the burial caves, especially when it rained. That is why the walls and ceilings are blackened with soot. For additional storage, they would simply carve out a ledge or a niche in the wall. When they left, they would sometimes leave garbage behind. If not the Bedouin, there would be squatters living in the tombs.

To make matters worse, building contractors working on the cliffs above the site and unwilling to haul their construction waste to official dumps would throw all kinds of debris onto the site. According to one account:

“Some [of the tombs], in fact, have totally disappeared from view under tons of rubble that are disfiguring this magnificent traditional landscape in one of the most sensitive scenic spots in Jerusalem. The olive trees growing in the valley bed are endangered by heaps of rubbish of all kinds. They are also ravaged by manufacturers of olive-wood souvenirs.”

This was written by Dr. Barkay in 1988. Nothing has changed since then. On the day our photographer, Garo Nalbandian, came to photograph the elaborate tomb of the high priest Annas on the terrace below the monastery, a horse was tethered inside, underneath the tomb’s magnificient domed ceiling.

During the intifada and even now, it is considered dangerous to venture into this area. Let us hope that with the new relationship between Israelis and Palestinians, it will again be possible to visit this splendid site. As Dr. Barkay courageously urged in 1988, Akeldama “should be high on the list of priorities for conservation and rehabilitation.”

We look forward to hearing from the Antiquities Authority as to when this work will begin.

It would also be nice if the monks from the Monastery of St. Onuphrius would allow regular visits to the burial caves located inside the monastery. They are indeed worth a visit.