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Prophet Jeremiah was born in a priestly family in the town of Anatoth belonging to the Tribe of Benjamin. He began his prophecies during the reign of   King Josiah's of Judah.   Jeremiah was one of the major prophets of the Bible whose life and sayings are collected in the Book of Jeremiah. His prophecies are among the most  pessimistic and sad in all of biblical literature. For that reason he's called the "weeping prophet".

"The word of the Lord came to me: Before I created you in the womb, I selected you; Before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet concerning the nations". (JEREMIAH 4-5)



Zedekiah's Cave

Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared. CHRONICALES (3:1)

Zedekiah’s Cave dates back 3000 years and is named after the Biblical King Zedekiah (597-87 BC), whose real name was Mattaniah before Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, had him change it. At the time, Nebuchadnezzar's power extended over the kingdom of Judah and its capital Jerusalem. He has deported the reigning king Jehoiachin with thousands of other Jews to Babylon and installed his uncle Zedekiah on the throne as a vassal king.

In the beginning Zedekiah was loyal to Nebuchadnezzar and even traveled to Babylon to pay homage to his overlord. He has found a powerful supporter in the Prophet Jeremiah, who promoted submission to Nebuchadnezzar as a will of God and the way for preserving the land and its people.

In the ninth year of his rule, under the influence of Egypt and neighboring kingdoms, Zedekiah took part in a general uprising against Babylonian rule. He was thoroughly convinced in the winning outcome, however no sooner did Nebuchadnezzar's army besieged Jerusalem many of his allies have abandoned him or gave in without a fight. Prophet Jeremiah called for repentance, but his message goes unheeded and he is beaten and thrown into prison.

The siege of Jerusalem lasted almost two years as the Babylonians were determined to starve the Jews into submission. It was said that those who were killed were luckier than those who starved. "Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine". (Lamentations 5:10).

In August 586 BCE the walls of the city were breached by the invaders who began to carry out mass executions and proceeded to systematically destroy the holy city house by house. They burned down the Solomon's Temple and the royal palace. All the Temple treasures were looted and along with Jewish survivors taken off to Babylon.


                        Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem, Rembrandt c. 1630

According to the legend attributed to Rashi, the renowned French 11th century commentator on the Bible and the Talmud, Zedekiah and his family tried to flee to Jericho through the underground channel of labyrinhs and tunnels. They never made it to Jericho as the Babylonian soldiers hunting for deer by chance spotted Zedekiah's entourage coming out of the of the cave and promptly apprehended them.

The fallen king and his family were brought to Nebuchadnezzar, who judged them with great cruelty. "And they slew the sons of Zedekiah's before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon." ( 2 Kings 25:7). The last king of Judea spent the rest of his life blind and imprisoned.

In the lower inner most of the cave tiny drops of water drain from the ceiling into a small pool. The area is known today as Zedekiah’s Tears, because of the tears the last King of Judah shed upon losing the Temple, his kingdom and seeing his children executed. Zedekiah's Cave is situated in Jerusalem's Old City right across the Golgota (Place of the Scull) and near the Damascus Gate.

It's entrance has natural geological origins and slopes into a 225 meter long (738 feet ) and 100 meters (330 feet) wide men made underground limestone quarry. It runs the length of several blocks under Jerusalem's Muslim Quarter.

Zedekiah's Cave

 Zedekiah's Cave, Jerusalem, Israel / By Deror Avi / This image is licensed under (CC BY-SA 3.0).

Within the cave there are numerous labyrinths and inner grottos that were carved out over the period of 3000 years. The cave is also known as Solomon's Quarries due to the traditional belief that building material for the First Temple and other building projects in the kingdom were taken from there. "The king ordered huge blocks of choice stone to be quarried, so the foundation of the house might be laid with hewn stones. Solomon's and Hiram's masons shaped them (Kings 31)".

The worldwide Order of Freemasons believes that their beginnings trace back to King Solomon, whom they consider to be the Masonic Grand Master. They also believe that their organisation's first project was completed by the workers who build the Solomon's (First) Temple in Jerusalem. Their tradition of doctrines, passwords and symbols also derives from the reverence of the Temple. 

In 1868 the first meeting of Freemasons in Palestine was held in the newly rediscovered Zedeciah's cave, an annual tradition that is kept to this day. In the absence of the physical Temple the Freemasons regard the cave as the best alternative location for their ceremonies. The central chamber where the meetings are held is called the Freemason's chamber.      

Very little or no physical evidence has been found so far that ties the quarry to the First Temple. The archeological remains found in the cave so far date back to the Second Temple period. You may still see the black marks on the walls where the ancient stone cutters placed their oil lamps. Over its long and tumultuous history, Jerusalem was destroyed and rebuild multiple times, requiring readily accessible building materials.

The local quarry, such as Zedekiah's cave, with an excellent quality and easy to work with limestone, was just such a resource. It was locally known as Melekeh, translated as Royal. Ancient Roman historian Josephus (37-100 CE) makes a note of the cave in his writings about the Herodian Third Wall in his book "Wars of the Jews" He refers to the quarry as Royal Caverns.

During the reign of King Herod the Great (37-4 BCE), quarry was used for numerous rebuilding projects, including the major renovation of the Second Temple. The ceiling of the cave chamber shows the extensive chisel marks that are attributed to the period when Herod's stone masons were working the quarry.

It is also very likely that the rectangular stones of the Western Wall, which were the trademark of Herodian building style, came from the Zedekiah's cave. The Herodian stones can be easily detectible from the stones of the earlier periods below and later ones on the top with its distinctive stone-dressing style.

An Ottoman sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent (1494-1566), extensivly mined the cave during his reign when he embarked on the major reconstruction of Jerusalem. He has rebuilt the city walls, including the seven gates and Tower of David. Ottoman rule spread the sense of security among the visitors that resulted in increased Christian and Jewish pilgrimage.

It was for the security reasons that around 1540 Suleiman's builders sealed off the cave for good. For the next 300 years, the location of the cave was all but forgotten, living only as a legend, one of many attributed to the holy city of Jerusalem. A purely accidental find has changed the status of this historic site.

Light Show at Zedekiah's Cave

     Light Show at Zedekiah's Cave / By Mior X / This image is licensed under (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The story goes that on one winter day in 1854, James Barclay, an American scholar who lived in Jerusalem, was walking his dog along the Ottoman wall in the Old City. As the dog picked the scent of the fox it disappeared into the small opening in the wall created by the rain from the previous night. When Mr. Barclay squeezed himself into the hole he found his dog and, to his astonishment, a huge tunnel.

Later that day under the cover of the night he and his sons came back with the torches to have a better look at the cave. When James Barclay realized the significance of the discovery, he reached out to his colleagues at the Palestine Exploration Fund, many of whom were Freemasons, who then began the thorough research of the cave.

In 1874, French archeologist Professor Charles Clermont-Ganneau discovered a carving in the small niche of the cave depicting an animal with a human head and a winged-lion's body. This type of cherub ornamentation was very popular in ancient Judea. The carving, measuring 14x10 inches, was removed and transferred to the Palestine Exploration Fund and resides in the London museum to this day. The replica is featured at Zedekia's Cave where it was found.

The last known use of the quarry in Jerusalem dates to 1908 when the Ottoman authorities reopened the cave in order to use the resource to build a clock tower over the Jaffa Gate. The cave was resealed in 1914 during the World War I period and the clock did not survive for long as it was removed in 1920s when Brittain had a mandate over Palestine.

Also, during the British Mandate the cave was reopened and the quarried stones were shipped to various countries to serve as the building material for Masonic Lodges. It was closed again during the Jordanian control of Jerusalem (1948-1967) and reopened when the Old City was liberated by Israel as a result of the Six-Day War. Under Israeli rule some renovations, such as walkways and lighting, were made with the hope that the cave can be more visitor friendly. Further improvements were made in 1985.

Today Zedekiah's Cave is a major tourist attraction. While the entrance into the site is relatively modest looking, when inside the cave experience one gets out of the visit more than makes up for it. The cave has excellent lighting design which enhances the view of the popular attractions. The archeological works are still taking place in some parts of the cavern. Those sites are usually sealed off.

Few years ago the cave has also become a home to live music performances by popular Israeli artists and cultural events. The occasional "concert hall" can sit more than 500 guests and besides a unique experience also offers the great natural acoustics. The performances are held on an average three times a month