Tomb of Jesus and Archaeology
by Rick Dack, Founder and Director of Defending the Bible Int’l.
(All images and text are owned/purchased by Defending the Bible Int'l. and cannot be used without permission)
   After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs. Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. And so, because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there. – John 19:38-42.
   On my arrival in Jerusalem in November of 1996 the one thing I desired to see above all else was the tomb of Jesus. As I crossed the street to visit the Garden tomb just outside of the present old city of Jerusalem I could feel the excitement of actually being in Jerusalem and literally walking where Jesus did but one thing I was fortunate enough to have in the back of mind was the knowledge that I was not going to see the tomb of Jesus when I reached that aesthetically pleasing Garden. A year previous to this I was lucky enough to have picked up a book by Allan Millard called "The Discoveries from the time of Jesus" the text chronicles archaeology from the recovery of coins to perfume flasks to the Pontius Pilate Inscription discovery in 1961, the Garden tomb article was indeed an eye opener. Unfortunately for the "keepers" of the pseudo-tomb location my questions and comments about the area not being the actual tomb where Jesus was laid wasn't met with enthusiasm. A word to the wise, don't ask these sorts of questions in the Garden Tomb gift shop.
   In doing research on the historical account of how the tomb of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher came to be from its earliest beginnings you have to start with the proposed owner of the tomb, a man from Arimathea named Joseph. The Bible states that this wealthy man was a follower of Jesus in secret (John 19:38) and that after Jesus' death he asked to have the body to bury it. Pilate agreed and Joseph as well as Nicodemus hurriedly took the body, wrapped it in spiced linens and put it into a Garden tomb - either a Kokim or Arcosolia tomb (Price, 1997). After the destruction of Jerusalem, some forty years later, the city lay in ruins and the people were scattered.
The History of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The probable location of Jesus' tomb
   About 135 A.D. Hadrian, according to Eusebius, plotted the burial of the tomb (the sacred cave) placing it over a Temple of Venus as some sort of pagan act (Blaiklock and Harrison, 1983) (possibly a 4th century assumption by pagans). At approximately 325 A.D. Eusebius makes the claim that this is indeed the tomb of Christ, but what his specific sources for making such a dogmatic statement is uncertain, approximately one year later the mother of Constantine arrives in Jerusalem and visits the area. Just under 300 years later, the Persians attack and destroy the Church and for the rest of its lengthy history it goes through many changes.
   The Edicule (the structure covering the area of the rock cave) which was constructed by Constantine prior to the Persian destruction was decimated by the Egyptian, Caliph al-Hakim in 1009 A.D. (Blaiklock and Harrison, 1983) to be rebuilt after the Church was fully reconstructed in 1144. After the 1555 A.D. final construction of the Edicule, it remained safe until the 1808 fire to only be rebuilt two years later. In 1927 a major earthquake hit the region destroying the Dome, some of the rock and the Edicule which had to be strapped together to prevent it from collapsing. The area was reconstructed by the British Architect William Harvey in 1935; it's believed that the Edicule may have to be taken apart brick by brick in the future to secure its stability (Biddle, 2000).
   In 1963 Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon while digging near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher proved that at the time of the Crucifixion, the Church location was outside the walls of the Old City, during a dig a 49 ft. trench revealed a quarry which was in used between the 7th century B.C.E. and the first century. Additional support comes from the middle 1960's where repairs were given to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (floor) as well as a nearby Lutheran Church where quarrying evidence and pottery was uncovered. In addition to these discoveries the 1976 excavation by Dr. Christos Katsambinis revealed a cone-shaped grey rock with an incline (35 ft. high) probably the famed Golgotha which had two small caves that from a distance looked like a large skull (Blaiklock and Harrison, 1983).
The History of the Edicule
   From the time of Constantine to the present day historians have been blessed with the archaeological evidence discovered showing the Edicule in its original form. The following list is only a fraction of what has been retrieved and the approximate dates of their origination.
Appearances of the Edicule (325-1009 C.E./A.D.)
1) 440 A.D: on ivory casket side carving.
2) a Narbonne marble model (5th century).
3) Casket lid (6-7th century).
4) Pewter flask (6-7th century).
5) Pewter Medallion.
6) Glass Flasks.
7) Pottery Pilgrim Flask (shows Edicule and Golgotha).
8) Gold ring with the 3D Edicule on top.
9) Mosiac in the Church of St. Stephen in Jordan.
10) Bronze Censer casts (1009 A.D.)
Appearances of the Edicule (11th Century -1555 C.E./A.D.)
 1) Paintings.
2) Drawings.
3) Crusader Coins/Seals.
4) Models.
Appearances of the Edicule (1555-1808 C.E./A.D.)
 1) Stone scale models.
2) Wooden models of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Edicule model inside.
3) Engravings.
4) Pottery.
Appearances of the Edicule (1808-present)
1) Photographs (1850, 1870) (History of the Edicule - (Biddle, 2000).
A History of Gordon's Calvary
The Garden Tomb was named after Charles Gordon, a British General from the Crimean War, who arrived in Jerusalem in 1883. Gordon went to a hill (Skull Hill/proposed Golgotha) and by his theorizing the hill was where the Jewish priests sacrificed the lambs (the Slaughtering Place of the Temple) and this was also the place where Jesus must've been killed (Millard, 1990). After Gordons death in 1884 two tombs were discovered, one was considered the tomb of Jesus (the opinion of another before Gordon) and the other was ignored. Inside the acknowledged tomb were crosses and painted letters on the walls in Greek which read "Jesus Christ, the first and the last" These Christian acknowledgments derived from the Byzantine era not from time of Jesus (Millard, 1990). Though the tomb location is aesthetically pleasing for the tourist it's not the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea purchased.
Why Gordon's Calvary is not the tomb of Jesus
   To benefit the tourist and the novice apologist this may be an important paper for them to read in order to get a full understanding of the history of the two locations before a Jerusalem visit. First of all the Garden tomb is too old for this to have been the tomb of Jesus. A more likely circa date would be from the time of Isaiah or Jeremiah (Millard, 1990). The typical tomb of the first century had corpse tunnels for body placement this tomb does not. Upon inspection of the Garden tomb walls there's a major problem in that this tomb has single long strokes where the ceiling and wall meet and these are not atypical first century but what should be seen are shorter tooth chisel marks (Millard, 1990). Finally, Jerusalem Archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Amos Kloner say that the Garden Tomb is a part of a system of tombs but Jesus according to the Bible was buried in a new tomb (John 19:41) (Price, 1997). All the tombs in this area originate from the 1st Temple period not the 2nd. Before we leave this subject and offer a conclusion to the issue it should be said that archaeological charlatans are not limited to the first century but are active in the church, a case in point is Ron Wyatt (with all due respect I acknowledge the zeal of this self-proclaimed archaeologist who passed on a few years ago and my purpose is not to destroy his name or attack him or his family personally but to simply put forth his claims and the events surrounding this papers subject).
   Ron Wyatt’s claims ranged from the discovery of the Pharaoh Chariot Wheels of the Exodus to the blood of Christ (on the Ark of the Covenant mercy seat) to the Ark of the Covenant, (blurry pictures of angels and the Ark, it's a wonder Kodak survived as long with these results) Sodom and Gomorrah to the discovery of Mt. Sinai and Macpelah. He also claimed to have solved the pyramid construction mystery, discovered a Solomon monument and the stone socket where Christ's cross was placed ( . Whew! Where did he get all the energy? Before Wyatts connection with this topic is put forth here is a portion of text from his web site concerning his beliefs about archaeology.
   "He believed in the sciences but he felt that often the scientist could not see past his own education and "think out of the box". He was concerned that today too many of us let the "people of letters" (Academics, my insertion) do too much of our thinking for us. For this reason Ron never relied on scientists or professionals to confirm his work. He employed scientific testing and then presented the results along with the biblical, historical, archaeological and scientific evidence in the belief that each person was capable of making their own decision." (
   In my discussion with Bill Fry, a Ron Wyatt supporter, and with others including Bill Crouse of Christian Information Ministries were any materials received from Wyatts organization (from Fry) so they could be independently tested and verified. Before Wyatts death, emails were circulating between Fry and an individual in which Fry was quite upset with Wyatts critics and used the "Don't Touch Gods Anointed" lingo in defense of Wyatt which I believe is an improper and immature use of scripture when an organization should not fear critiques.
   The relevant topic for this discussion centers around the stone socket and the Ark of the Covenant mercy seat claim. Wyatt believed that the Gordon's Calvary location was the true burial location of Jesus and that the socket was the means by which Jesus' blood during the Crucifixion dripped onto the mercy seat apparently directly under Golgotha (Gordon's Golgotha). Is it worth it to claim more than you can scientifically prove? I find it more compelling in telling the truth and having a good name rather than great acknowledgment or riches but some still like to dress up as bad "Indiana Jones" imitators or Old Testament prophets for Church groups and present themselves as adventurers, explorers and archaeologists contrary to their professions. How pathetic and deceptive for trusting church goers.
   In concluding this topic it's important that the reader is aware that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the more likely of the two locations to place the events depicted in the Bible but not necessarily a confirmed site. Gordon's Calvary for all of its beauty should be a place of prayer and contemplation about what Jesus did and truly the greatest testimony to both sites is the fact that the tomb is empty.
1. Biddle, Martin. The Tomb of Christ, (Sutton Publishing, 2000).
2. Blaiklock, E.M. and Harrison, R.K. The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology,
   (Zondervan, 1983).
3. Millard, Alan. Discoveries from the Time of Jesus, (Lion Publishing, 1990).
4. Price, Randall. The Stones Cry Out, (Harvest House, 1997).