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The Tomb of Jesus
 
 
What follows are excerpts from scholars and other writers on the tomb of Jesus. All links and reference information is provided so you can read the full opinions of those writing on this topic
 
 

#1. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (2004). Archaeology Odyssey 03:05.

The holiest site of all Christianity, until the Crusaders arrived in Jerusalem, was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre—built by the emperor Constantine (306–337), supposedly over the tomb of Jesus. The Crusaders found the Byzantine church in sad disrepair, with very little of the original structure intact. So they erected a much larger cathedral, dedicated in 1149, on the earlier Byzantine foundations (the church’s Crusader-built main facade is shown here). In this and other churches, the Crusaders combined local materials and stone-cutting techniques with the Romanesque architecture they brought from Europe; the Romanesque elements are especially prominent in the church’s vaults, moderately pointed arches, cupolas and ornamented capitals (compare with photo of columns between the lower arches of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre’s main facade)
 
 

2. The Tomb of Jesus by Robert Houston Smith

This varied procession is understandable, for if you probe into the complex history of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre you will find that the ownership of the building is shared by six of the most important branches of Christianity—the Roman Catholic and five of the Eastern Othodox communities: Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian and Abyssinian. No other church in the world, save to a lesser extent the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, has such joint ownership. So ancient are the roots of this possession that the relatively young churches, such as the Russian Orthodox and Protestant communities, have no formal privileges in the church at all.

Although the first, and by far the most elaborate, Christian building over the tomb of Jesus was erected under the patronage of the emperor Constantine the Great in the early 4th century, the church has several times been damaged and rebuilt. The facade which you see from the courtyard is the work of Crusader masons around 1130–1140, and has changed little since that time. There are two portals, the eastern one of which has remained sealed since Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1187. Battered wooden doors eighteen feet tall stand open throughout the day, but by tradition are locked each night, enclosing the monks who tend the church. For the convenience of these custodians, the various religious communities long ago built small monasteries in odd corners of the rambling edifice. If stones could talk, these cramped quarters could tell a thousand tales of the grim and sometimes amusing living conditions of the monks of the Holy Sepulchre down through the centuries.

As you cross the threshold of the church you are greeted by the smell of incense from half a dozen services being conducted in the church this morning. The interior is dark, cavernous and damp. You stand in a kind of vestibule, which is actually the south transept of the church. The Constantinian church had an imposing eastern facade, but by the Middle Ages the building had been so reduced in size and so hemmed in by the buildings of Jerusalem that only the south transept was suitable as an entrance. Such architectural hodgepodge is characteristic of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (2001).Biblical Archaeologist 1-4, 30(electronic ed.).
 
 

3. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship

617 νακυλίω,ποκυλίω [apokulio /ap·ok·oo·lee·o/] Four occurrences; AV translates as “roll away” three times, and “roll back” once. 1 to roll off or away. Additional Information: This word is used in the Gospels to refer to the stone that was in front of the tomb of Jesus. In Palestine, graves were usually in a depression and the stone was rolled down an incline to cover the mouth of the tomb. For a small grave, about twenty men were required to roll a stone down hill to cover the door of the tomb. The Bible tells us that the stone covering the door of the tomb was a large stone. The women would have needed more men than even a full Roman guard of sixteen men to roll away the stone. This was a major task
 
 

4. The Location of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus

Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb are located a short distance north of the present Damascus Gate, just east of Nablus Road. In 1885 General Charles Gordon, following the proposal made by Otto Thenius of Dresden in 1842, argued that a rocky hill there, 250 yards northeast of the Damascus Gate, was Calvary. The identification was based on several arguments: It was presumed to be a Jewish place of stoning, it lay outside the city wall, and what looked like the face of a skull could be seen in the rocky hillside.

As to location, Gordon’s Calvary fits the biblical requirements of being outside the gate. Although the side of the hill looks like the face of a skull, this may be due to man-made cuttings in the hill. The biblical reference to Calvary as the place of a skull (Matthew 24:33, etc.), may mean that it was shaped like a skull, or simply that skulls of crucified criminals could be found there.

The nearby rock-hewn Garden Tomb, though aesthetically satisfying, is not of the first century A.D. It contains a Byzantine (fourth to sixth centuries A.D.) trough-type burial place, and two Byzantine crosses were found painted on one wall.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, besides being outside the walls of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time, has other supportive evidence. It marks the traditional site where Emperor Constantine built church structures about A.D. 335 over the sites believed to be those of Christ’s crucifixion and burial. A large hill of rock under the Church is the traditional mount of Calvary. The presence within the Church of ancient Jewish tombs known as the family tomb of Nicodemus agrees with the biblical statement of John 19:41, which indicates the close proximity of the tomb to Calvary. The tombs also argue for the area at that time being outside the city walls—certainly a cemetery would not be located within the city walls.

Early Christian tradition in the witness of Jerome, Eusebius and others also bears testimony to this Church being the site of the cross and tomb. It was evidently this strong tradition that persuaded Queen Helena, along with Constantine, to locate the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the early fourth century A.D. on this very site. In contrast to Hebrews 13:12, the site was then within the walls of the city—a fact they would not have known was not also true in the time of Christ (1974). (Bible and Spade (1974), 3(2), 37.)
 
 

5. The Testimony of Eusebius

In conclusion, Christians in Jerusalem as late as the early fourth century knew that Jesus was crucified and buried on the Mount of Olives. In fact, Eusebius (the first Christian historian) stated that the only area to which pre-Constantinian Christians paid any attention in the environs of Jerusalem was the Mount of Olives, and specifically to a cave near its summit (Proof of the Gospel, VI.18). The Acts of John also mentioned the importance of this cave 100 years before Eusebius (Charlesworth I.301). In another work (The Acts of Pilate), we find that it was described as both a cave and as a tomb in the same context (bk.XII,XIII). Even the tomb of Lazarus had been a cave before it was a tomb (Jn 11:38).

When one views the evidence carefully, it can be seen that pre-Constantinian

Christians reckoned this cave on Olivet to be the ruins of the tomb of Jesus. Prior to Constantine, there is no evidence (either orthodox or heretical) that the later site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the western part of Jerusalem was in any way significant to Christians nor was the southwest hill important that came to be called “Sion” after the time of Constantine. Indeed, when Eusebius first heard in AD 326 that Constantine and his mother were selecting a Venus Shrine as the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, he stated that such was “contrary to all expectation” (Life of Constantine III.28). At the dedication of the “Holy Sepulchre” in AD 335, Eusebius requested Constantine to inform the assembled bishops his reasons for building that church. The reasons were “SECRET to us [Eusebius and the bishops], but known TO YOU ALONE...which caused YOU to RAISE UP this sacred edifice (Oration of Eusebius, XVIII, emphasis mine). There were no historical documents or traditions which were retained by Christians at Jerusalem to support its legitimacy. It was selected because of the dreams, visions and supposed miraculous signs associated with Constantine and his advisors. The early church historian Sozomen felt that historical records were not necessary when visions and dreams presented the “real facts” to the Christian world (History II.1) (1992). Bible and Spade (1992), 5(4), 120–121.
 
 

6. The Site of the Burial

Up to this point, we have been considering the general region called “Golgotha” and the specific location of the crucifixion on the southern edge of that region. The site of the tomb of Jesus, however, might have been located anywhere in the area known as Golgotha, and need not have been close to a busy city gate and main road. Far from it, in fact, the mental image we gain from the Gospel accounts seems rather more peaceful and indicates a more isolated locality (Mk 15:46-16:8; Mt 27:60-28:8; Lk 23:53-24:10; Jn. 19:38-20:8). No one is looking on or passing by here. The fullest description, in the Gospel of John, indicates that in the area of the tomb there was a garden, and here there might even have been a “gardener” (Jn 20:15). The archaeological evidence uncovered in the excavations of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher indicates that topsoil was either thrown in or that it built up naturally in the pit of the quarry in various sections. “Gennath” (Gardens) Gate may have gained its name from the fact that this region was quite intensely fanned, despite the irregular features of the topography, with caves and rocky scarps and protrusions, interposed with areas of cultivation (Gibson and Taylor: 61). Tombs and cultivated areas could lie side by side, since the uncleanness of tombs need not affect cultivations (m.Ohol. 17.4, cf. m. Baba Bathra 2.9), and gardens and tombs were often located close by.

In other words, there is nothing to be said in any absolute or categorical way against the traditional site of the tomb of Jesus being genuine. I would still note that it remains a curious fact that no Christian source before Constantine noted the offensive conjunction of a Temple of Venus and the place of Jesus’ entombment (Taylor: 135). The convenience of the location for Constantine’s building program seems initially suspicious, for it would have been far better to build the new Christian basilica with its adjoining courtyards on the very site of the Temple of Venus, than further south on the forum itself, or in the midst of people’s private dwellings and shops; it is possible, one would suppose, that logistics might have played a part. Further excavations in this part of Jerusalem may yet bring to light other tombs from the Roman period; it was not as if the tomb identified as being that of Jesus was the only one in the entire vicinity. In the Church today there is another tomb which dates from the Roman period, known as the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. It is a typical kokhim type tomb, with a number of compartments for the decomposing of bodies.

That said, skepticism does not completely suffice. If we are to speculate on how the Jerusalem church sought to hold on to the memory of the locations of places, once they were covered over with buildings, we would probably have to imagine that witnesses of the mid-second century passed on the information that such and such a site was covered over by such and such a structure. The precise location could very well have been determined by people standing on the surviving walls and figuring this out by recourse to various landmarks still visible, like the rocky protrusion later known as the Rock of the Cross, which very likely did indeed have a statue of Venus at the top: a libation altar found in the excavations close to the Rock of Calvary indicates that some kind of shrine probably existed there (Gibson and Taylor: 67-9). Byzantine Christians would find the newly revealed conjunction a telling indication of Hadrian’s determination to wipe out the memory of sites important in the Christian story. Jerome wrote to his friend Paulinus of Nola that Hadrian had placed “an image of Jupiter on the place of the resurrection (the tomb) and a marble statue of Venus on the rock of the cross” in order to defile “our holy places (so that) they could deprive us of our faith in the Passion and the Resurrection” (Ep. 58.3). Polemic and a later consciousness of “holy places” aside, if Jerome is correct about the placement of the statues, as in the case of the statue of Venus, then a statue of Jupiter seems to have been located, very appropriately, just above where Constantine’s excavators found a tomb.  A large favissabelonging to the Temple of Venus, where sacrifices were deposited, has been found close by the site of the tomb ((2002). Bible and Spade (2002), 15(2), 45)
 
 

7. The Garden Tomb: Was Jesus Buried Here? by Gabriel Barkay

First-time visitors to Jerusalem are often surprised to learn that two very different sites vie for recognition as the burial place of Jesus. One is, as its name implies, the Holy Sepulchre Church; it is located in a crowded area of the Christian Quarter inside the walled Old City. The other, known as the Garden Tomb, is a burial cave located outside the Old City walls, in a peaceful garden just north of the Damascus Gate…

With the development of archaeological research in the Holy Land, it seems appropriate to look anew into this famous cave and the question of its authenticity, especially in light of the increasing accumulation of data on the architectural characteristics of burial caves in Jerusalem and in other areas of Judah during various ancient periods.

The burial cave known as the Garden Tomb was found in 1867 by a peasant who wanted to cultivate the land there. While trying to cut a cistern into the rock, he accidentally came upon the cave. Conrad Schick, the Jerusalem correspondent for several learned societies in Europe, visited the cave soon afterward, and it is from his reports that we first learn of the discovery. One of the few Europeans then living in Jerusalem, Schick assumed the task of keeping up-to-date scientific journals of news from the Holy City. His first report about the cave was published in 1874. It is an innocent enough description of yet another Jerusalem burial cave, similar in style to others about which he periodically reported to his learned societies. According to Schick’s account, the cave was filled to half its height with a mixture of earth and human bones. At the entrance to the cave, he saw an iron bar and hinge. He also observed a human skeleton in the balk, or wall, of a trench that had been dug to find the mouth of the cave. After Schick’s first visit, the owner of the cave cleared it of its contents in order to use it…

Even before Gordon identified this hill as Golgotha, other scholars had mentioned this possibility. In 1881, Conder suggested that another burial cave cut into a rocky outcrop just west of the Garden Tomb was the tomb of Jesus. Conder’s suggestion was based on the identification of the hill called El-Edhemiyeh as Golgotha (see map).

Although Gordon visited the cave of the Garden Tomb and, no doubt, regarded it as Jesus’ tomb, oddly enough, he doesn’t mention it in his writings; he concerns himself mainly with the identification of the hill as Golgotha…

This identification was based on some fantastic conclusions concerning the topography of Jerusalem. Gordon visualized the city in the shape of a human skeleton. In his imagination, the skull of the skeleton was in the north (Golgotha means “the skull” in Aramaic); the pelvis of the skeleton was at the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount; the legs extended southward on the ridge identified with the City of David; and the feet were at the Pool of Siloam (see drawing). Since, in Gordon’s imagination, the hill north of Damascus Gate formed the skull of the skeleton, Gordon identified the hill as Golgotha. Shanks, H. (Ed.). (1986). BAR 12:02 (March/April 1986).
 
 

8. http://www.jesusfamilytomb.com/

(Video)   An incredible archaeological discovery in Israel changes history and shocks the world. Tombs with the names Maria, Jesus son of Joseph, Mariamne e Mara, and Judah, their son, are found and an investigation begins
 
 
 

Jesus’ Tomb – The Purpose
While Romans often buried their dead in underground graves or catacombs, Jesus’ tomb conformed to Jewish religion and customs. Generally, Israelites wrapped their dead in linen cloths, with spices and oils. Nicodemus used a hundred pounds of spices to prepare Jesus’ body for burial (John 19:39). Sepulchers (tombs) were carved out of rock on a hillside or placed in caves (Genesis 23:19-20; Mark 5:5). Because dead bodies were considered unclean, Jewish burial plots and cemeteries were always outside the city walls. Jesus’ tomb was a short distance from the Garden of Gethsemane, just outside Jerusalem (John 19:14). How ironic that in death, the holy and pure Jesus -- God incarnate -- bore the filth of humanity’s sin (Romans 8:3).

Jesus’ death and resurrection marks the most significant event in all history -- literally dividing time in half. God’s plan is evident in the purpose of Jesus’ tomb.

  • Sealed and guarded tomb (Matthew 27:62-66) – Pilate, the priests, and Pharisees wanted to assure that Jesus would not come back to life.
  • Prophesy fulfilled, glorifying God (Luke 24:5-8) – Angels proclaimed Jesus’ birth, as well as His resurrection from the dead.
  • New, unused tomb (Matthew 27:59-60; John 19:41) – Joseph of Arimathea, an honored member of the high counsel (Sanhedrin), provided his personal burial place.
  • Confirmed innocence (Luke 23:4, 23, 41, 47) – The body of crucified criminals were discarded without ceremony. Romans usually left a dead body to the beasts of prey, the final humiliation in a crucifixion. Jesus’ tomb held special significance for His followers as well as His enemies.

Jesus’ Tomb – The Stone
The stone at Jesus’ tomb serves as a reminder of other elements of Christ’s life. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus is asked to turn a stoneinto bread (Matthew 4:3). Jesus is the bread of life (John 6:35) as well as the living Stone (1 Peter 2:4, NIV). In Mark 12:10, Jesus refers to Himself as the stone that the builders rejected, which becomes a capstone. If necessary, stones would cry out, proclaiming Jesus the King of Kings (Luke 19:40). Jesus appeared before Pilate, who sat upon the judgment seat, the Stone Pavement (John 19:13). It is not surprising, therefore, that a stone should serve as a phenomenal part of Jesus’ tomb. Upon Jesus’ death, the earth convulsed violently -- rocks split, tombs opened, and bodies were raised from the dead (Matthew 27:50-54). This was certainly a prelude of things to come.

To assure that Jesus’ tomb . . . and its contents . . . remained undisturbed, Pilate ordered a large stone positioned against the entrance. A sloped channel assisted the guards in rolling the boulder. A deep groove cut in bedrock at the tomb’s entrance firmly settled the stone. At the urging of the chief priests, Pilate further secured the Jesus’ tomb by placing a Roman seal on the stone, stationing four Roman soldiers at the entrance. To guarantee maximum security, every three hours fresh, alert (i.e. not sleeping as indicated in Matthew 28:13) guards would be exchanged.
 
 

10 http://gizmodo.com/5901551/is-this-jesus-christs-real-tomb

A team of archeologists claims that it has found the real tomb of Jesus Christ. They are convinced that several pieces of evidence point to the veracity of their claim. The latest one is this 2,000-year-old engraving on the side of an ancient burial site.

Simcha Jacobovici—a Canadian film director with three Emmys for Outstanding Investigative Journalism—and his archaeology team believes that this is a fish with a human figure inside, which according to them refers to the story of Jonah. According to the Old Testament, Jonah was a prophet, swallowed by a whale sent by God to rescue him after he was thrown out of a ship. Jonah then spent three days and three nights inside the whale's belly before being vomited out alive. Christians believe that this symbolizes the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The researchers also claim that the grave site has these other words engraved in the stone: "Jesus, son of Joseph." The archeologists believe that the tombs are located in a land that was owned by Joseph of Arimathea at the time. There is also another engraved inscription that can have multiple meanings: "O Divine Jehovah, raise up, raise up" or "The Divine Jehovah raises up to the Holy Place" or "The Divine Jehovah raises up from."

James Tabor—a Biblical historian and the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte—seems to believe them. Tabor says that these inscriptions are extremely rare. Only 2,000 ossuaries have been found in Israel so far. Of those, only 650 have inscriptions and only 12 have epitaphs. None of those are comparable to the ones found by Jacobovici, according to Tabor.
 
 

11 http://abcnews.go.com/International/jesus-tomb-controversy-rages-archeologists-explore-2000-year/story?id=16111993

Archaeologists working in Jerusalem claim that a discovery they made inside a burial tomb, dating back to the time of Jesus Christ, could shed new light on the origins of Christianity.

Biblical historian James Tabor, professor and chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, is working with the team, led by controversial filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici. Using a camera mounted on a robotic arm, the team found a 2,000-year-old engraving, which they claim depicts Jesus' resurrection, on an ossuary -- a limestone burial box that contains human bones -- in a first-century tomb.

Their exploration of ancient life in the holy land is told in a new documentary for the Discovery Channel called "The Resurrection Tomb Mystery," which premieres on April 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT.

"It's almost like a moonscape feeling of something eerie, something kind of silent- a reverent feeling really," Tabor said. "Because these people died 2,000 years ago and now we are investigating their last memories, how they bury their dead, what they left behind, so that was there and then the excitement of, 'Well will there be something we'll find or will we find just another Jewish tomb'?"

But the team thinks they found something much more than that. Tabor believes the engraving found on the ossuary depicts the Biblical story of Jonah, who was swallowed by a whale in the Book of Jonah.

For many Christians, the Old Testament story of Jonah and the whale has come to symbolize the resurrection of Jesus. If the engraving is of Jonah, as Tabor believes, he said it would be the earliest Christian symbol of resurrection ever found.

However, many biblical scholars don't see it that way at all.

Mark Goodacre, an associate professor of religious studies at Duke University, who specializes in the New Testament, says there are other, far more likely, explanations as to what the engraving could be, such as a vase with handles.

"When is a fish not a fish? When it has handles, matching handles," he said. "It's a vessel. It's a vase. It's a vase that looks like many of the ones that you'll find in the early Roman period."

Yet Jacobovici and his colleagues believe that ancient Greek letters found on another ossuary a few feet away from the engraving also refer to resurrection.

"Now whether they were saying he rose or we will rise, we can argue about it, but the finds themselves are hard archaeology that show, you know, new light, shed new light on the big bang of Christianity," Jacobovici said.

But again, religious scholars say it is more like a big bust.
 
 

12 http://www.israeljerusalem.com/tomb-of-jesus-jerusalem.htm

Stepping through the entrance of the tomb of Jesus at the Holy Sepulcher Church in Jerusalem, then ducking through a smaller, second entrance inside the tomb brought me to two almost identical and almost perfectly flat and square stone plates (above) where Jesus supposedly lay entombed for three days.

Upon exiting this tomb of Jesus, I circled around and found the tomb to be made entirely of wood. Finding a priest sitting at a shrine dedicated to Mary, the mother of Jesus, at the opposite end from the entrance of this tomb, I asked him if this was really the tomb of Jesus. He said yes. I asked him, "Wasn't the tomb of Jesus cut into a rock?" He frowned and said, "What?" When I repeated the question, he got visibly upset, muttered something in his language and turned away from me.

Later, I had a chance to repeat the question to a pleasant nun at the "Christian" Information Center, prominently situated facing the Jaffa Gate in Old Jerusalem and run by the Catholic church. She replied that the rock tomb of Jesus had been cut away to expose the two plates. "Why would they do that?" She didn't know. "When did they do that?" She didn't know that either. "And how come the tomb of Jesus is inside Jerusalem when the Bible says that it is outside Jerusalem?" She smiled and replied that since her tradition says it's the tomb of Jesus, that was good enough for her.

After the trip, I looked into the location of the Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem, and here's what I found.

Soon after the Roman general Titus sacked Jerusalem and scattered the Jews in 70 AD, they started to trickle back into Jerusalem. A few decades later, the Jews in Jerusalem were a force to be reckoned with once again, and in 132 AD rose up in what is known as the Second Jewish Revolt.

This time they were crushed by Hadrian, the Emperor himself, who decided after his victory in 135 AD that to prevent the Jews from rising up yet again he would have to do more than just re-destroy the Jewish capital, and promptly went to work to rebuild it as a pagan city. He re-laid the city except for Temple Mount like a Roman camp with two main streets intersecting in the center, where he erected a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the three Capitoline gods of Rome. Jerusalem was renamed "Aelia (the name of Hadrian’s imperial clan) Capitolina" and a large pagan population was brought it. All Jews were banished from the city under the threat of execution if they returned, and the Tenth Roman Legion took up residence to enforce the order. For the next two centuries, paganism was the dominant religion in Jerusalem.

In 325 AD, all Christian leaders in the Roman empire were summoned to the Council of Nicea by Constantine, the newly-minted “Christian” Emperor. Among them was Macarius, the leader of the small Christian community in Jerusalem. Macarius considered the pagan temple in Jerusalem an abomination and wanted it taken down, but tabling the matter before Constantine was a delicate matter. After all, it had been built by the great Emperor Hadrian, who had tied the prestige and the name of his (and Constantine's) clan to it.

During the Council proceedings, Macarius, supported by the others assembled, asked Constantine if he would commission the excavation of Christ's grave in Jerusalem. The answer was yes. Great, and by the way, since Christ's grave is somewhere beneath the temple that Hadrian had built, there would be no choice but to take it down... Would the Emperor mind?