The Garden Tomb

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Coordinates: 31°47′1.87″N 35°13′47.92″E / 31.7838528°N 35.2299778°E / 31.7838528; 35.2299778

The front of the Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb is a rock-cut tomb which was unearthed in 1867 and has subsequently been considered by some Christians to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The Garden Tomb is adjacent to a rocky escarpment which since the mid-nineteenth century has been proposed by some scholars to be Golgotha (it is also known as Skull Hill,[1] Gordon's Calvary,[2] and Conder's Calvary[3]). In contradistinction to this modern identification the traditional site where the death and resurrection of Christ are believed to have occurred has been the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at least since the fourth century. Since 1894 the Garden Tomb and its surrounding gardens have been maintained as a place of Christian worship and reflection by a Christian non-denominational charitable trust based in the United Kingdom named The Garden Tomb (Jerusalem) Association.[4][5]

Motivation and discovery[edit]

Motivation for proposing an alternate site[edit]

A map of Jerusalem in the late second temple period from 1911 illustrating the question of the Holy Sepulchre. The tomb just to the left of Jeremiah's Grotto is the Garden Tomb. Contemporary scholars would no longer accept this reconstruction of the city walls.

According to the Bible Jesus was crucified outside of the walled city of Jerusalem.[6] Therefore during the medieval era Christian apologists felt they had to address those who were uncomfortable with finding that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was located deep within the walled city of their time. For example, as early as 754 CE Saint Willibald made the following claim: “but Helena, when she found the Cross, arranged that place so as to be within the city.”[7] Later writers, such as Saewulf (ca. 1102 CE), more accurately maintained that it was Hadrian who enclosed the traditional Golgotha and Tomb of Christ within the city limits when he rebuilt the city during the second century CE, though they were previously outside the city limits.[7][8]

During the post-Reformation era there was an increase in doubts regarding the traditional "holy places". In 1639 Quaresmius explicitly addresses the existence of “western heretics” who argue that the traditional site could not possibly be the true tomb of Christ. The first extant publication which argues a case against the traditional location is the book “On Mount Calvary, which now lies in the middle of the town and cannot therefore be the true Calvary”, written by Jonas Korte in 1743, a few years after his pilgrimage to Jerusalem.[8] In 1812, also Edward D. Clarke rejected the traditional location as a "mere delusion, a monkish juggle"[9] and suggested instead that the crucifixion took place just outside Zion Gate.[8] During the 19th century travel from Europe to the Ottoman Empire became easier and therefore more common, especially in the late 1830s due to the reforms of the Egyptian pasha, Muhammad Ali.[10] The subsequent influx of Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem included more Protestants who doubted the authenticity of the traditional "holy sites" - doubts which were exacerbated by the fact that Protestants had no territorial claims at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and by the feeling of Protestant pilgrims that it was an unnatural setting for contemplation and prayer.[11]

In 1841 a more influential publication argued against the authenticity of the traditional location - Dr. Edward Robinson’s “Biblical Researches in Palestine”, which at the time was considered to be the standard work on the topography and archaeology of the Holy Land. After a careful consideration of the issue with the material available at the time Robinson concluded that: “Golgotha and the Tomb shown in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are not upon the real places of the Crucifixion and Resurrection” because he concluded that the traditional location would have been within the city walls also during the Herodian era, primarily due to topographical considerations. Robinson was careful not to propose an alternative site and had concluded that it would be impossible to locate the true location of the “holy places”. However, he did suggest that the crucifixion would have taken place somewhere on the road to Jaffa or the road to Damascus.[12] (Skull Hill is located about 200 m. from Damascus gate).

(It is important to note that contemporary scholars, such as Professor Dan Bahat, one of Israel's leading archaeologists, have concluded that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in an area which would have been outside the city walls in the days of Jesus and therefore can no longer be ruled out as a possible location for the crucifixion and burial of Jesus.[13])

The discovery of “Gordon’s Calvary” and “the Garden Tomb”[edit]

A sketch of Skull Hill created in 1889 by B. H. Harris. The caption below it reads: THE GREEN HILL, FROM THE CITY WALL; JEREMIAH'S GROTTO.

Motivated by these concerns, some Protestants in the nineteenth century looked elsewhere in the attempt to locate the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. In 1842, heavily relying on Robinson’s research, a German theologian from Dresden named Otto Thenius was the first to publish a proposal that the rocky knoll north of Damascus Gate, which Thenius believed resembled a skull, was the biblical Golgotha. The site he suggested, today known as Skull Hill or Gordon’s Calvary, was next to the site Christians called Jeremiah’s Grotto and Muslims called Al-Adhamiyah. Thenius went so far as to suggest that Jeremiah’s grotto was in fact the tomb of Christ.

Though his proposal for the tomb of Christ did not have a lasting influence, his proposal for Golgotha was endorsed by several other Protestant scholars and pilgrims. Since Golgotha is the Aramaic word for skull, and may perhaps refer to the shape of the place, Thenius concluded that the rocky escarpment was likely to have been Golgotha.[14] Others who had endorsed the same identification included Fisher Howe in 1853,[15] Ernest Renan, author of Vie de Jésus, in 1863, and Colonel Conder in 1870 (an associate of Lord Kitchener),[16] who expounded upon this view in his book Tentwork in Palestine. Conder especially noted that Sephardic Jews regarded that site as traditionally being a place of execution by stoning, which he saw as collaborative evidence that it was indeed Golgotha.[17] Perhaps the most famous proponent of this view, however, was Major-General Charles George Gordon, CB who visited Jerusalem in 1883.

A sketch of the Garden Tomb created by B. H. Harris in 1889

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has its tomb just a few yards away from its Golgotha, corresponding with the account of John the Evangelist: "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid." KJV (John 19:41). In the latter half of the 19th century a number of tombs had also been found near Gordon's Golgotha, and Gordon concluded that one of them must have been the tomb of Jesus. John also specifies that Jesus' tomb was located in a garden;[18] consequently, an ancient wine press and cistern have been cited as evidence that the area had once been a garden, and the somewhat isolated tomb adjacent to the cistern has become identified as the Garden Tomb of Jesus. This particular tomb also has a stone groove running along the ground outside it, which Gordon argued to be a slot that once housed a stone, corresponding to the biblical account of a stone being rolled over the tomb entrance to close it.

Archaeological investigations and critical analysis[edit]


During the twentieth century some doubts were raised concerning the authenticity of the traditional site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:

  • Prior to Constantine's time, the site was a temple to Aphrodite, built by Hadrian.[19]
    • Archaeology suggests that the exact location claimed for the tomb would have been within Hadrian's Temple, or likely to have been destroyed under the temple's heavy retaining wall.[20][21]
    • The temple's location complies with the typical layout of Roman cities (i.e. adjacent to the Forum, at the intersection of the main north-south road with the main east-west road), rather than necessarily being a deliberate act of contempt for Christianity.
  • A spur would be required for the rockface to have included both the alleged site of the tomb and the tombs beyond the western end of the church.
  • The site is currently within the Old City walls, and due to the heights of the terrain, it would be dangerous and unlikely, from a town-defense point of view, for the walls to have previously been east of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.[22]
  • The tombs west of the site are believed to date from the first century, indicating that the site was outside the city at that time, although they could date from centuries prior to that.[23]

Other archaeologists have criticised Corbo's reconstructions. Dan Bahat, the former city archaeologist of Jerusalem, regards them as unsatisfactory, as there is no known Temple of Aphrodite matching Corbo's design, and no archaeological evidence for Corbo's suggestion that the Temple Building was on a platform raised high enough to avoid including anything sited where the Aedicule is now;[21] indeed Bahat notes that many temples to Aphrodite have a rotunda-like design, and argues that there is no archaeological reason to assume that the present rotunda wasn't based on a rotunda in the temple previously on the site.[21]

Besides the skull-like appearance, there are a few other details put forward in favor of the identification of Skull Hill as Golgotha. The location of the site would have made executions carried out there a highly visible sight to people using the main road leading north from the city; the presence of the skull-feature in the background would have added to the deterrent effect. Additionally, Eusebius comments that Golgotha was in his day (the fourth century AD) pointed out "north of Mount Zion."[24] Although the Garden Tomb's Golgotha is, like the Holy Sepulchre Church, north of the hill currently referred to as Mount Zion, the hill has only had that name since the Middle Ages; previously Mount Zion referred to the Temple Mount itself, which is due East of the traditional site, but south south east of the Garden Tomb.

Another point of debate surrounds the name of the hill itself. Christian and pre-Christian Temple Judaism traditionally maintained the name of Golgotha (lit. "the skull")[25] as the final burial site of Adam's skull and bones.[26] The connection to Christ's crucifixion on Adam's grave held powerful resonance for first-century Jewish-Christians. Modern identification of the historic Golgotha as the Garden Tomb, seeks to derive the name of Golgotha with skull-like features in the rock ediface, which played no historic part in Jewish or Christian tradition regarding Golgotha's location.

The tomb[edit]

The earliest detailed investigation of the tomb itself was a brief report prepared in 1874 by Conrad Schick, a Swiss antiquarian, but the fullest archaeological study of the area has been the seminal investigation by Gabriel Barkay, professor of Biblical archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Bar-Ilan University, during the late twentieth century.

The tomb has two chambers, the second to the right of the first, with stone benches along the sides of each wall in the second chamber, except the wall joining it to the first, and along the back wall of the first chamber; the benches have been heavily damaged but are still discernible.[27] The edge of the groove outside the tomb has a diagonal edge, which would be unable to hold a stone slab in place (the slab would just fall out);[27] additionally, known tombs of the rolling-stone type use vertical walls on either side of the entrance to hold the stone, not a groove on the ground.[27]

Barkay concluded that:

  • The waterproofing on the cistern is of the type used by the Crusaders, and the cistern must date to that era[27]
  • The groove was a water trough, built by the 11th century Crusaders for donkeys/mules[27]
  • The cistern was built as part of the same stable complex as the groove[27]
  • The design of the interior of the tomb is typical of the 8th-7th centuries BC, and fell out of use later.


Due to the archaeological issues the Garden Tomb site raises, several scholars[who?] have rejected its claim to be Jesus' tomb.[28] However, despite the archaeological discoveries, the Garden Tomb has become a popular place of pilgrimage among Protestants.[citation needed] Mormon leaders have not formally committed to the identification, but the Garden Tomb has been the most favored candidate site among church leaders.[29][30] Though acceptance of the validity of the traditional site, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is not a tenet of faith for any major Christian denomination, many Catholic and Orthodox Christians ignore the potential of the Garden Tomb, and hold fast to the traditional location.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Garden Tomb
  2. ^ Losch, Richard (2005). The Uttermost Part of the Earth: A Guide to Places in the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans. p. 64. ISBN 978-0-8028-2805-7. 
  3. ^ Palestine Exploration Fund quarterly, April 1892
  4. ^ The Garden Tomb
  5. ^ Walker, Peter (1999). The Weekend that Changed the World: The Mystery of Jerusalem's Empty Tomb. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 128–130. ISBN 0-664-22230-7. 
  6. ^ Mark 15:20; Hebrew 13:12
  7. ^ a b Thomas Wright ed., Early Travels in Palestine
  8. ^ a b c C. W. Wilson, Golgotha and The Holy Sepulchre (1906, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund)
  9. ^ E. D. Clarke, Travels, Vol II
  10. ^ Sarah Kochav, "The Search for a Protestant Holy Sepulchre: The Garden Tomb in Nineteenth-Century Jerusalem" in Journal of Ecclesiastical history, Vol. 46, No. 2, Aprill 1995 (Cambridge University Press) p. 279
  11. ^ Sarah Kochav, "The Search for a Protestant Holy Sepulchre: The Garden Tomb in Nineteenth-Century Jerusalem" in Journal of Ecclesiastical history, Vol. 46, No. 2, Aprill 1995 (Cambridge University Press) pp. 278-280
  12. ^ Golgotha and The Holy Sepulchre (1906, The Committee of the Palestine Exploration Fund)
  13. ^ Dan Bahat: “Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?” (Biblical Archaeology Review, May–June 1986)
  14. ^ Bill White, A Special Place: The Story of the Garden Tomb (1989).
  15. ^ William Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Authentic Tomb of Jesus (1975).
  16. ^ Claude R. Conder, The City of Jerusalem (1909), (republished 2004).
  17. ^ Walker, Peter (1999). The Weekend that Changed the World: The Mystery of Jerusalem's Empty Tomb. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 113–114. ISBN 0-664-22230-7. 
  18. ^ John 19:41
  19. ^ Eusebius Pamphilius, Life of Constantine
  20. ^ Virgilio Corbo, The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1981)
  21. ^ a b c Dan Bahat, Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?, in Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 1986
  22. ^ Colonel Claude R. Conder, The City of Jerusalem (1909), (republished 2004); for details about Conder himself, see Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener#Survey of Western Palestine
  23. ^ Rachel Hachlili, (2005) Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period
  24. ^ Eusebius, Onomasticon, 365.
  25. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia (1906):
  26. ^ See: Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) "Adam in the Future World"
  27. ^ a b c d e f Gabriel Barkay, The Garden Tomb, published in Biblical Archaeology Review March/April 1986.
  28. ^ Bargil Pixner, Wege des Messias und Stätten der Urkirche, Giessen/Basel 1991, p. 275. English edition (2010): Paths of the Messaiah. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, p.
  29. ^ John A. Tvedtnes, "The Garden Tomb", Ensign, Apr. 1983.
  30. ^ "Bible Photos: Garden Tomb", The caption states, "This is a traditional site of the Savior’s burial. Several modern prophets have felt that the Savior’s body was laid in this garden tomb."

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