The Hinnom Valley achieved notoriety in the 7th century BC during the long reign of the Israelite king Menasseh (697–640 BC). He was an idolater, the Bible relates, who supported a cult of child sacrifice by fire in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. Over time, the biblical Hebrew name of the valley—Gei Ben Hinnom, contracted to Gehennom or Gehenna—became a synonym for hell in both Hebrew and New Testament Greek.
In the late 1970s, Israeli
archaeologist Gabriel Barkai discovered a series of Old Testament-period rock tombs at the bend in the valley, below the fortress-like St. Andrew's Scots Church. A miraculously unplundered pit yielded "grave goods" like miniature clay vessels and jewelry. The most spectacular finds, however, were two tiny rolled strips of silver designed to be worn around the neck as amulets. When unrolled, the fragile pieces revealed a slightly condensed version of the biblical priestly benediction, inscribed in the ancient Hebrew script. (The original, in Numbers 6, begins: "The Lord bless you and keep you.") The 7th-century BC text is the oldest biblical passage ever found. The tombs are an open site, behind the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. Access is through the center, but only when it's open for business.
6 Nahon St., below St. Andrew's Scots Church, Jerusalem, 94110, Israel