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] and Gordon's Calvary[2]). 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.[3][4]

Motivation and discovery[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.[5]
    • 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.[6][7]
    • 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.
  • First century Jewish leaders condemn the idea of burial to the west of the city,[8] a condemnation archaeologically corroborated by the locations of the known ancient Jewish graves.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • 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.[11]

Due to these issues, several nineteenth century scholars had rejected the traditional site's validity. 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;[12] 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.[12]

These concerns motivated some Protestants to look elsewhere for the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection. In 1842, near to the Damascus Gate and next to a site known as Jeremiah’s Grotto, a German scholar named Otto Thenius noticed a rocky escarpment (now situated just behind a bus station), which in his opinion resembled the face of a skull; 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.[13] Others who had endorsed the same identification included Fisher Howe in 1853,[14] Ernest Renan, author of Vie de Jésus, in 1863, and Colonel Conder in 1870 (an associate of Lord Kitchener),[15] 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.[16] Perhaps the most famous proponent of this view, however, was Major-General Charles George Gordon, CB who visited Jerusalem in 1883.

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;[17] 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]


Besides the skull-like appearance, there are a few other details put forward in favor of the identification 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."[18] 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")[19] as the final burial site of Adam's skull and bones.[20] 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.[21] 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);[21] 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.[21]

Barkay concluded that:

  • The waterproofing on the cistern is of the type used by the Crusaders, and the cistern must date to that era[21]
  • The groove was a water trough, built by the 11th century Crusaders for donkeys/mules[21]
  • The cistern was built as part of the same stable complex as the groove[21]
  • 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.[22] 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.[23][24] 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. ^ The Garden Tomb
  4. ^ Walker, Peter (1999). The Weekend that Changed the World: The Mystery of Jerusalem's Empty Tomb. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 128-130. ISBN 0-664-22230-7. 
  5. ^ Eusebius Pamphilius, Life of Constantine
  6. ^ Virgilio Corbo, The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1981)
  7. ^ Dan Bahat, Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?, in Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 1986
  8. ^ Baba Batra 25a
  9. ^ Ephraim Stern, (editor), New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1993
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ Rachel Hachlili, (2005) Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period
  12. ^ a b Dan Bahat, Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?, in Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 1986
  13. ^ Bill White, A Special Place: The Story of the Garden Tomb (1989).
  14. ^ William Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Authentic Tomb of Jesus (1975).
  15. ^ Claude R. Conder, The City of Jerusalem (1909), (republished 2004).
  16. ^ Walker, Peter (1999). The Weekend that Changed the World: The Mystery of Jerusalem's Empty Tomb. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. p. 113-114. ISBN 0-664-22230-7. 
  17. ^ John 19:41
  18. ^ Eusebius, Onomasticon, 365.
  19. ^ Jewish Encyclopedia (1906):
  20. ^ See: Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) "Adam in the Future World"
  21. ^ a b c d e f Gabriel Barkay, The Garden Tomb, published in Biblical Archaeology Review March/April 1986.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ John A. Tvedtnes, "The Garden Tomb", Ensign, Apr. 1983.
  24. ^ "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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