When St Helena uncovered the True Cross in Jerusalem, she also identified what she believed was to be the location of Calvary, and a tomb nearby was identified as being the one Joseph of Arimathea donated for Jesus’ burial.
But there is another spot that makes more sense. It is located close to the alternative spot for Golgotha. Today, it is visited by Christians who believe it is the tomb of Jesus, and who refer to it as “The Garden Tomb.” It was first discovered in 1867, and excavated in 1891. In 1970 Dame Kathleen Kenyon, the famous British archaeologist, said that “It is a typical tomb of about the first century AD.”
In identifying the tomb of Jesus, we will turn to the Gospels of John, Matthew and Luke:
- The tomb was near the place of crucifixion. (John 19:42)
- It was in a garden. (John 19: 41)
- It was carved out of the solid bedrock of a cliff. (Matthew 27:60)
- It was a rich man’s tomb. (v. 57)
- The disciples could look into the tomb from outside. (John 20:5).
- There was standing room for a number of persons. (Luke 24:1-4)
- It was a new tomb. (John 19:41)
- The tomb was closed by rolling a great stone over the entrance. (Matthew 27:60)
The Holy Sepulchre site is located west of where the city wall was situated in the time of Jesus. Because of the prevailing winds, no tombs were allowed within 25 metres of the city limits. Therefore Joseph of Arimathea would have not carved a tomb for himself there. Helena’s discovery has no evidence of a garden, nor having a stone rolled in front of it. The Garden Tomb has all this, and more:
- The tomb is the size that only a rich man could have afforded.
- It was located in a garden, as proven by the discovery of a water cistern.
- Upon entering the tomb there was a room large enough to hold several mourners.
- By stooping and looking in, it is possible to see the spot which has been cut out for its sole occupant.
- There was a spot for the owner of the tomb, and for another person. Only one section had been cut out, and it has been enlarged to fit a man taller than the man for whom the tomb had been measured.
- A trench in front of the tomb indicates a stone rolled in front of its entrance.
But there’s more! You remember that the stone was ordered sealed by Pilate to prevent Jesus’ body from being taken by the disciples. In the cliff face there are two holes that show that a very large seal-stone was once used to seal this tomb by two iron shafts being driven into the rock. To reopen the tomb, the shaft on the left would be removed and the stone rolled away for them entrance.
The shaft on the right has been removed, but the hole remains. The shaft on the right is still there, sheared off level with the wall. It would take a force of 60-80 tons to shear an iron shaft of this diameter. Matthew 8:2-4 tells us it was an angel who moved the stone. The metal was tested and found to be consistent with that used in Roman construction. Furthermore, it was shown to contain both iron and lead. It was common in ancient times to set metal pins in molten lead to make them easier to drive into solid objects.
The gap between these holes shows the stone was larger than the diameter of any other such seal-stone found in Israel.
There is a great stone at a monument to Moses at Mount Nebo that is believed to have been the one that sealed the tomb of Jesus.
- The stone is the perfect thickness to fit in the garden tomb’s frontal trough.
- The stone is the perfect diameter as shown by the location of the holes in the face of the cliff.
- The stone is the carved from the same rock as the garden tomb, and has the same surface texture.
- The stone has matching chiseling marks as found at the garden tomb.
- The stone is the same colour as the garden tomb rock.
The there is no way we will ever be able to prove or disprove, but consider this: the Garden Tomb originally had a Byzantine Church on its location – the location of the great stone is also at a Byzantine-era church. The Byzantines believed that any holy relic was invested with heavenly power. In John 3:14 Jesus makes a prophesy which connects Mount Nebo where the stone remains to the place were Jesus was resurrected from: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”