The location of Modi’in where the Hasmoneans lived and where their sepulcher was located are puzzles that have not been satisfactorily resolved. In this hike we will examine some of the possibilities considered. The hike has two parts. Understandably, they are popular on the festival of Chanuka.
Firstly, though, in terms of the sepulcher, what are we looking for? The book of Maccabees describes Simon’s construction of the family’s sepulcher in the following words:
“Then sent Simon, and took the bones of Jonathan his brother and buried them in Modin, the city of his fathers. Simon also built a monument upon the sepulcher of his father and his brethren and raised it aloft to the sight, with hewn stone behind and before. Moreover, he set up seven pyramids, one against another, for his father, and his mother, and his four brethren. And in these he made cunning devices, about the which he set great pillars, and upon the pillars he made all their armor for a perpetual memory, and by the armor ships carved, that they might be seen of all that sail on the sea. This is the sepulcher which he made at Modin, and it stands yet to this day” (I Maccabees 18:25-30).
Clearly, the sepulcher was close to the ancient village of Modi'in and was in a prominent position such that it could be seen from the sea. These are the two major clues we have.
Time: About 1¼ hour total.
Distance: 2.9 Km.
Difficulty: This is an easy hike on gravel and dirt paths. There are no significant inclines.
Directions: Enter into Waze “קבורות המכבים” and click on “קבורות המכבים, Mevo Modi’Im.” This will take you to a parking lot and the start of the hike.
War memorial from Israel's War of Independence.
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From the parking lot go in the direction of the gravel path. You will soon notice on a rock on the right the sign קבורות המכבים. Turn to the right by this sign and you will notice a number of large holes in the ground leading to burial caves. Despite the sign, there is no evidence of these were the Maccabees burial sepulcher.
Continue on the main path and you will come to a memorial to fighters from this area who died in Israel’s War of Independence. The concrete pillars are shaped like pyramids, as in the tomb of the Hasmoneans.
Continue along the path at the far left of this plaza. It soon becomes paved. At its end it forks. Take the left fork and proceed to the path that runs parallel to Route 433. Turn to the left along this footpath. Soon, you will notice a gap in the fence which is on your right. Go through this gap and you will descend on wooden steps. At the bottom are tombs from mainly the Byzantine period. Again, reseachers do not consider these to be the Hasmonean burial caves.
Return to the parking lot the way you came.
For the second part of this tiyul exit the parking lot by the paved road on which you entered with your car. Turn right at the T-junction. Then take the first left along a gravel/dirt path.
Continue along this path until you come to a turning on the left. There is a pillar of small stones and the picture of a camera, reminding us that we are being photographed in this forest.
As you walk along this path, you will see a village on an elevation on your right within the territory of the Palestinian Authority area, which is called El-Midiah. The similarity in name could indicate that this is the location of the original Modi’in. The ruins of ancient El-Midiah are a bit distant from this village.
When the path comes to a T-junction, turn left and go up the hill. You will eventually come to another T-junction. Despite the fact that it is not paved in this section, the road ahead of you is Route 4466, which is the entrance road from which you turned into the parking lot. Turn right here and you will soon come to a domed building on your right. There may be quite a lot of cars parked outside it.
This is a tomb of a sheik, Sheikh Gharbawi (the sheik of the west), and this place is called Horbat Ha-Gardi. It was erected on the ruins of a large building from the Byzantine period, but coins from the Hasmonean period have also been found here. The building was adopted by the Breslov Hassidim and they are the ones who put the tombstone for Matityahu, son of Yochanan the High Priest here. Many people consider this to be no more than an Arab tomb. However, it was built on an impressive Byzantine building in this area, which is even shown on the Madaba map in Jordan as being Modi’in. It is not out of the question that this was built by early Christians on a Hasmonean structure, and this could have been the Hasmonean sepulcher. However, direct proof is still lacking,
Turn back along route 4466 until you come to the turning for the parking lot and your car.
Sheik's tomb adopted by the Breslov Hassidim as the tomb of the Maccabees. The sepulchre may well have been in this area though.
Byzantine tombs which have nothing to do with the Hasmoneans.