Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Passion Week: Where was the Tomb of Christ?

            This paper will endeavor to prove or disprove by available evidence if the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the authentic site for the burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  I will compare the validity of this particular site against the other main suggested site in the land Gordons Calvary.  I will write with a view embracing the belief that the site of the traditional tomb is what Christendom should consider to be the authentic site.
            In research involving the identification of the sepulcher of Christ there are four main opinions that come forth.  The first is that we can have a measure of certainty that the Holy Sepulchre is the authentic site of the burial and resurrection of Christ.  The second opinion held is that an alternative site called Gordons Calvary, now known as the Garden Tomb, is the authentic place of the burial of Christ.  The third idea we come to find is the belief that there can be no real assurance at all where the sepulchre of Christ was.  The last idea embraces a plethora of ideal suggestion sites alternative to the above mentioned.  These have no real backing and scarcely produce the evidence that gives certainty, so these will not be regarded as viable from this point on in my paper. 
            The first conclusion we will address is the conclusion of uncertainty.  It is a tempting thing to be uncertain because there is the safety in that position.  If you are not dogmatic then you cannot later be proven wrong.  Perhaps I would agree that a dogmatic certainty cannot be reached on the exact location of the burial and resurrection of Christ.  However, I do believe a probable certainty can be reached.  The Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary clearly ends its thoughts on the subject by saying, “Demonstrable proof of the location of the actual tomb is lacking.”[1]  One of the main reasons this position of uncertainty is held is due to conflicting evidence among scholars who examine the walls of the city.  The Apostle John wrote, “This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin.[2]  Hebrews plainly states Jesus suffered outside the gate.[3]  Matthew 28:11 says, “Now when they were going, behold, some of the watch (guards) came into the city, and shewed unto the chief priests all the things that were done.”[4]  Putting these verses together the New Testament makes it very clear that Christ crucifixion happened outside of the city wall.  The reference in Matthew implies that the soldiers guarded a tomb outside of the city and after the resurrection came into the city to speak of the things that have happened.  What seemingly unnerves some archeologists and makes them unsure about the authenticity of the holy sepulchre is that a few see its location as being inside of the city.   This would therefore disqualify the location as authentic if true.[5]  Marking the boundaries of the city walls is a difficult thing.  It is hard to decipher due to the well-known destruction of the city in A.D. 70 and the following disaster stemming from the Simeon bar Kokhba rebellion of A.D. 135 which left the Jews expelled from their land.  Due to these events coming to fruition the structure and remains of much of the city in the days of Christ have been toppled and rebuilt over.  It should be noted that many of these archeologists who find difficulty tracing the city boundaries to exclude the traditional site of the tomb do not say it is impossible to exclude it in their boundaries.  They only say that they find it difficult to do so.[6]  Perhaps a good answer to this puzzle is given by Jerome Murphy-OConnor.  OConnor reports that the area was brought into the walls between A.D. 41-43.[7]  It seems to be known and said that Herod Antipas ordered this annex of the city during this time.[8]   He who finds it difficult to place the holy site outside the city boundaries were it should be must understand that the given opposition is not certain and there are solid answers that allow for the possibilities of the genuineness of the traditional location.  
            The next obstacle against the validity of the Holy Sepulchre is the protestant competitor of the Garden Tomb.  This is the site most often regarded as authentic by people I personally know.  I have colleagues who visit the Holy Land and forgo a visit to the Holy Sepulchre because they are convinced as to the authenticity of this location.  Some of the arguments for the Garden Tomb are the presence of a garden, the resemblance of a skull when viewed from the correct angles, and typology.  The Garden Tomb lacks any notable history and tradition to give it a serious lift into consideration.  In 1883 General Charles Gordon, hence the name Gordons Calvary, thought he saw the shape of a skull in the side of the hill.[9]  If it is ever thought that the traditional site has continuity gaps in history this site screams out all the more “late dating”.  One can see what Gordon had in mind by viewing a sketch he made of the location.[10]  It plays against him greatly that even the Crusaders gave no thought to this being the Holy Site of the burial and resurrection of Christ.[11]  This is evidenced by the fact that the Crusaders used the site as a stable and would not have done so if they considered this to be a holy place.  Early Christians also disfigured it for their own purposes by cutting down parts of the grave providing evidence they did not believe this was the tomb of Christ.[12]   
            In arguing against the Garden Tomb, I wish to address firstly the argument of the skull- like appearance from a distance.  What is curious about this is the amount of erosion that has taken place to disfigure the mountain in just one hundred years.[13]  If only one hundred years of erosion would cause the skulls appearance to fade so greatly then we might easily ascertain that the previous nineteen hundred years would have done enough damage that the shape of the skull has dramatically changed.  Perhaps it has changed so much that in the days of Christ you could not discern it to be in the shape a skull.  The appearance of the eyes seems to be where mining had taken place.  If so this would mean the “eye sockets” of the skull may not have been around in Christs day.  Perhaps many give the skull shape they see too much strength in their evaluation of the location of Calvary. 
            The next argument against the Garden Tomb is the evidence of the garden.  It is not that a garden being present disqualifies this location, for indeed the Scripture says it was in a garden.  Rather, the argument is that the discovery of a garden being present brings sufficient proof of authenticity because the traditional tomb does not have a discernable garden.  I do believe we can answer that easily with the explanation from Murphy-OConnor.  Wind-blown earth and winter rains on the various seeds would have created the green covering John described.[14]  The Passover and time of the crucifixion was in the spring making this idea logical and probable.  Let us also remember that since the crucifixion the destruction seen on the land has been so severe that it would be certainly possible to erase any evidence of mere vegetation.  With all of the building and rebuilding that has taken place on this site it is easy to imagine the impact that would have been made on the look of the terrain. The existence of a garden at the Garden Tomb certainly is within the boundaries required by the Biblical text.  The point, however, is that the traditional tomb is not outside those boundaries just because the Garden Tomb is located in a garden. 
            A final argument for the Garden Tomb often used is typology.  John R. Rice represents this view.  In his book detailing the Bible lands he says Calvary must be on Mt. Moriah.[15]  His argument was because Mt. Moriah was a place of sacrifice it therefore must be the location of Calvary.  He went on to explain that that is where Abraham attempted to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  It was where David bought the threshing floor which was a sacrifice.  Solomons temple, also a place of sacrifice, was here.  He argued that the typology is meaningless if Calvary is not on Mt. Moriah.  He traced the ridge of the mountain from the temple going north to Gordons Calvary being the highest point of that ridge.[16]  To begin, the Bible does not demand that Christ be crucified on Mt. Moriah.  The typology is not lost in seeing Isaac as the willing son and Abraham as the giving father.  Let us not demand typology go farther than it should.  Secondly it appears that perhaps Dr. Rice is mistaken in his geography.  Mt. Moriah ends about a quarter mile before reaching the hill of the Garden Tomb.  There a new hill begins which is where the Garden Tomb is located.  Due to the fact that this element of the topographical features can be observed today with ones own eyes (that Mt. Moriah and Gordons Calvary are two different and distinct hills) this automatically disqualifies an argument using typology.
            The arguments in favor of the traditional tomb are many and weighty.  Some of the top scholars of the day embrace the idea also.[17]  It is apparent that historical tradition is on the side of the Holy Sepulchre.  Until A.D. 66 liturgical celebrations were held on the site[18] putting possible and probable eyewitnesses on the scene marking the spot.  The spot was traditionally known to be on the west side of Jerusalem since early times further adding weight to the argument.[19]  Such an important event in spreading Christianity that began in Jerusalem, whether loved or hated by people, would not be so soon forgotten.  The Christians came because they loved Christ.  The unbelieving Hadrian would mark the spot by his hate.  Looking to erase the memory of the Christian event, around A.D. 135 he constructed a pagan temple here.  Inadvertently, he marked the spot for future Christians.[20]  Following this, the site has continued historical reliability that brings the reality of it to our day.  First, Constantine built a church to mark the spot in A.D. 326 that was finished on September 17, 335.  Constantine sent his mother to the holy land to find the specific location.[21]  It is doubtful that there was much difficulty in this seeing she would have had the word of the locals and that Hadrian had left his mark as well so many years ago.  The often-studied church historian Eusebius of Caesarea recorded what happened.  Dirt was removed layer after layer until the site came into view.  He writes,
This also was accomplished without delay. But as soon as the original surface of the ground, beneath the covering of earth, appeared, immediately, and contrary to all expectation, the venerable and hollowed monument of our Saviours resurrection was discovered. Then indeed did this most holy cave present a faithful similitude of his return to life, in that, after lying buried in darkness, it again emerged to light, and afforded to all who came to witness the sight, a clear and visible proof of the wonders of which that spot had once been the scene, a testimony to the resurrection of the Saviour clearer than any voice could give.”[22] 

Later, Egyptian Muslims would destroy most of the construction leaving only a marking for the tomb itself.  The Crusaders would conquer the land in 1099 and rebuild giving us basically what we see today.[23]
            The next evidence in favor of the traditional tomb is the tomb itself.  The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary states that other typical first century tombs have been discovered in this former rock quarry.[24]  The tombs found in the area match the Herodian style 1st century tombs being cut in the land in those days[25]  in which our Lord would have been placed in.[26]  This is significant because it is largely known that the Garden Tomb does not match the time period needed to be a never before used tomb that Christ was laid in.[27]  The Garden Tomb dates much latter putting a fatal blow to its claim as authentic.  The rock quarry itself fits the description well enough of the “skull” spoken of in the gospels.  Mentions of Golgotha deriving its name from skulls laying around the site appears to begin with Jerome.[28]  The idea of the place being the shape of a skull appears to begin with Gordon and the Garden tomb.  An often-quoted tradition that Adam was buried in this spot has been alive and well throughout history including during the time of Christ.[29]  This is thought by some to be the origin of the name Golgotha.  My thinking has been that the rock itself could be the reference to the skull.  It could have a similar appearance when protruding from the ground and possibly be smooth in parts like the top of a skull.  Murphy-OConnor supports this idea also.[30] 
            When the evidence is pieced together it paints a clear picture for us see.  The Garden Tomb has very little confirming evidence to suppose it to be authentic when it is studied with a little bit of depth.  The traditional site however has more supporting evidence from not only experts in the field of archeology but also from the witness of history.  The concluding thoughts tell us that one can view this site as the probable site of the burial and resurrection of the Lord.  No, one cannot be dogmatic in assertions, but it can be said with a great deal of probability based on the information available that the Holy Sepulchre is authentic.  Regardless of the physical site, however, it can and should be known that Jesus Christ was raised, and the tomb is empty.  This we can say as did the angel, “He is not here; the tomb is empty!”. 


Brake, Donald Sr. with Todd Bolen. Jesus A Visual History. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014.

Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, Trent C. Butler,
and Bill Latta. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003.

Carson, D.A. “Matthew.” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition, vol. 9, Edited
by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010.

Murphy O-Connor, Jerome. The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeolgical Guide. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2008.

Negev, Avraham, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land. New York: Prentice Hall
Press, 1990.

Orr, James, John L. Nuelsen, Edgar Y. Mullins, and Morris O. Evans, eds. The International
Standard Bible Encyclopaedia. Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915.

Rice, John R. Here We Are in Bible Lands with John R. Rice. Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the
Lord, 1977.

Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great,    and Oration in Praise of Constantine. Vol. 1. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post
Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. New York: Christian Literature
Company, 1890.

Tenney, Merrill C. Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967.

The Holy Bible, King James Version.

Appendix 1
There are two other things which need to be dealt with because of the great amount of information (often incorrect) that is to be found by those who simply “google” or “YouTube” the subject at hand.  Doing this often times simply exposes one to opinion pieces which are parroting information they have heard without fully checking the validity of it.  The two subjects we will address are a crack found on the Garden Tomb site (explanation to follow) and an alternative spot of the crucifixion suggested to be the Mt. of Olives. 
The first subject deals with what we have already disqualified the Garden Tomb.  Archaeologist Ron Wyatt is famous for this view claiming that the Ark of the Covenant is or was under the hill during the crucifixion of Christ.  When the Bible states that the rocks were rent during the crucifixion, Wyatt believed that the blood that flowed from the pieced side of Christ ran down the crack of the rock and onto the Ark of the Covenant.  Reading a detailed account of this can sound convincing until it is weighed against facts.  The tomb is much too old to be considered the tomb of Christ.  Since we know Christ lived in the first century no amount of creative imagining can change the fact that the date of the tomb does not match and is too old by hundreds of years dating back to the Old Testament temple period of tombs. 
The second issue is the suggestion of the Mt. of Olives as the authentic place of the crucifixion and burial.  The idea is based on a statement from Matthew 27:51-54. 
51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.[31]
In verse 54 it is said that the guard watching Jesus on the cross saw the miracles events that accompanied His death.  One of these miracles that took place was the tearing of the temple veil.  To see the temple veil tear several things would need to be in place.  First the doors to the holy of holies would need to be open, and they would have been due to Passover being a pilgrim feast demanding the Jews to travel back to Jerusalem for it.  Secondly, to see the veil you would need to be on the Mt. of Olives.  How do we reconcile this?  The text does not demand that the guard was an eyewitness to all of these things individually at the time of the events, only that he was aware of the miracles that were taking place around the land.  Perhaps the guard heard an report about the veil, or (though less likely) upon hearing he left his post to another to see the scene himself.  Perhaps the guard witnessed the earthquake, the tomb bursting open and the rocks tearing and these are the things he saw and bore witness to in the text.  A great grammatical mistake is made when we make seeing the veil tear a requirement.  This is a grammatical mistake because it is grouped together in the same list as those saints who were resurrected.  These who were raised did not appear until after the Lord was first raised making it impossible to witness these until after Sunday.  To make seeing the veil a requirement at that moment is to also make the saints who were raised a requirement and that is an impossibility since they did not show themselves immediately.  We also have to recognize that the Mt. of Olives is a key place in the life of Christ during this time.  Would it not be likely that the writers of gospel would mention that Golgotha is on the Mt. of Olives if it were?  Admittedly you can build a better case for the Mt. of Olives view than for Gordon’s alternative but the weight of evidence does not seem to be here. 

Appendix 2
            The Holy Sepulchre is not a holy place today if you visit.  There are various religious sects that govern the church causing chaos and fighting.  The most prominent ones who control the site are the Greek Orthodox, the Armenian Apostolic Church, and the Roman Catholic.  There are often disputes and sometimes violence among the monks because of financial considerations and property rights.  Yet despite this it remains a safe place for visitors who wish to tour the area.  There is an extremely important lesson to learn from this.  Rituals, regions nor religious rights can make one holy or change the heart.  This is evidenced here and also in Bethlehem where a different but similar effect is played out between factions.  Only faith in Jesus Christ producing a cleansed heart can bring one into harmony with God and others.  If one argues that terrible things happen there, I would agree.  Despite the debate of where Jesus died and rose again we cling to the fact that He did. 

[1] Tenney, Merrill C, Zondervan’s Pictorial Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1967), 772.
[2] John 19:20. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the King James Bible.
[3] Hebrews 13:12
[4] Matthew 28:11
[5] Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 772.
[6] Tenney, Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary, 772.
[7] Murphy O-Connor, Jerome, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (New York: Oxford University Press 2008), 50.
[8] Brake, Donald Sr. with Bolen, Todd, Jesus A Visual History (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2014), 234.
[9] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 161.
[10] Brake, Jesus A Visual History, 235.
[11] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 161.
[12] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 161
[13] Brake, Jesus A Visual History, 232.
[14] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 49.
[15] Rice, John R., Here We Are in Bible Lands with John R. Rice (Murfreesboro, TN: Sword of the Lord 1977), 213.
[16] Rice, Here We Are in Bible Lands with John R. Rice, 213-215.
[17] Carson, D.A. Matthew in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition, vol. 9, edited by Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 2010), 653.
[18] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 50.
[19] Negev, Avraham, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990) “G- Golgotha” accessed on logos.
[20] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 50.
[21] Brake, Jesus A Visual History, 236.
[22] Schaff, Philip, and Henry Wace, eds. Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine. Vol. 1. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series. (New York: Christian Literature Company 1890), 527-528.
[23] Brake, Jesus A Visual History, 236.
[24] Brand, Chad, Charles Draper, Archie England, Steve Bond, E. Ray Clendenen, Trent C. Butler, and Bill Latta, eds. Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers 2003),1604.
[25] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 49.
[26] Brand, Draper, England, Bond, Clendenen, Butler, and Latta, Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, 1603.
[27] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 161.
[28] Orr, James, John L. Nuelsen, Edgar Y. Mullins, and Morris O. Evans, eds. The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia.(Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company 1915), 1275.
[29] Orr, The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, 1275.
[30] Murphy O-Connor, The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide, 49.