A Royal Reburial

Relevant Biblical Verse- King Uzziah was a leper until the day of his death. He lived in isolated quarters as a leper, for he was cut off from the House of the LORD—while Jotham his son was in charge of the king’s house and governed the people of the land…Uzziah slept with his fathers in the burial field of the kings, because, they said, he was a leper; his son Jotham succeeded him as king.
(2 Chronicles 26-21,23)

A formal inscription warns against removing the bones of King Uzziah.

Translation- “To this place were brought the bones of Uzziah, the king of Judah—do not open!”


Burial inscription of King Uzziah

Date- c. 50 CE

Current Location- Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

Language and Script- Aramaic; alphabetic

Biblical Verses- 2 Chronicles 26-21-23

General Information-

• The plaque claims to mark the burial place of King Uzziah. It is engraved with four elegant lines of formal Jewish script in a hand characteristic of the late Herodian period. This is the formal script found in numerous Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran, but here reproduced in stone. The inscription is written in a type of Aramaic almost identical to that of the biblical Books of Ezra and Daniel. The plaque was probably placed near the entrance to a loculus, or kuk, a cavity cut into the rock wall of a tomb to hold a cadaver or, in the case of a secondary burial like this one, to hold an ossuary.

• Since King Uzziah (also known as Azariah), reigned in the eighth century BCE, over 750 years before the carving of the inscription, it must refer to the reburial of his remains. The Bible says that Uzziah was a leper, and notice of his death in Chronicles (2 Chronicles 26-23) seems to indicate that he was buried in a special location due to the ritual impurity associated with his disease. The gravesite was “in the field of burial that belongs to the kings,” which seems to have been a burial ground on royal property isolated from other royal tombs. With this in mind, the claim of reburial of Uzziah’s bones is plausible, even though it cannot have been before the Herodian period. Of course, the large amount of time that had elapsed since his death makes the claim on the plaque highly unlikely. More probably, the bones that were moved were not Uzziah’s but came from a tomb that had come to be identified as his. This would be an early instance of the marking of a grave of an important figure from the past, even if the exact burial location was undetermined.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition- In 1931 E.L. Sukenik of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem noticed this inscribed marble plaque in the museum of the Russian Orthodox Convent on the Mount of Olives. It was probably obtained during the last part of the 19th century, but any documentation made of the circumstances of its discovery was lost when the museum catalogue disappeared during World War I.