This Hannukah, take a tour to the real graves of the Maccabees
The Hasmoneans, who ruled a Jewish dynasty in Israel, have been buried in the ground for more than 2,100 years. It’s hard to believe it when listening to Zohar Bar’am, who speaks with great excitement of the mystery of their burial and the search for the exact location of their graves. Bar’am has been managing the “Hasmoneans Village” open museum by Modiin for 34 years. The museum, which offers activities to children and their families, displays the lifestyles of the Hasmoneans, placing an emphasis on their heritage rather than their graves.
In the lead up to Hannukah, everyone listens to Bar’am with enthusiasm, while at other times of the year, when he is less popular, the park is used by numerous film crews – mainly American – as a location that depicts a biblical setting.
Kubur al-Yahud, Arabic for ‘the graves of the Jews.’
There is no argument today that the “official” location of the Maccabean graves, situated on the northern side of Road 443, is not the real site. While the site is still called “the graves of the Maccabees,” archaeologists have discovered these graves were put there a few hundred years after the Hasmonean times, during the Byzantine period. Amit Re’em, an archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority says all the evidence points to the fact that these graves are of Christians and pagans and that this burial site actually belongs to an ancient monastery.
Not far away, lies the Yohanan Hagardi Ruins, named after Yohanan Hagardi, son of Mattathias [Matisyahu], a site that Bar’am is passionate about. He believes that this is the true site of burial site of the Maccabees. A number of burial rooms were discovered during the initial diggings of the site in 1985, in which Bar’am took part. Today the site looks neglected and deserted, but – as absurd as it seems – the coming years it is likely that one of the most important sites in the history of Judaism will be discovered here.
Re’em, the region’s archeologist, who has lead cleaning and exposure activities that produced promising results, is cautious but almost willing to commit that here it is worthwhile excavating to find the true graves of the Maccabees. Re’em, who carefully chooses his words, and doesn’t let Bar’am’s excitement steer him away from scientific accuracy, explains that “from an archeological perspective, and while taking into account what has been discovered thus far, there is truly something extraordinary here… Everyone involved in this immediately senses great emotions, but only organized excavations will refute or reinforce those gut feelings. Money for excavation, even a small one, we do not yet have.”
How to get there
To “The graves of the Maccabees” (Kubur al-Yahud): On Road 443, near its northern side, about three kilometers from Modi’in.
To Hagardi Ruins: Walk one kilometer up the dirt track, north of the site signed as the grave of the Maccabees.
Hanukkah activities: The Modi’in region tourism board hosts numerous Hanukkah activities and tours in the region.