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Is the traditional, accepted view of the life of Jesus Christ true? Did Jesus die upon the Cross, was buried in a tomb and raised on the third day? This is the heart of Christian doctrine. Some writers these days question the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. They developing an alternate system of beliefs. These are not the usual liberal theological scholars who attack the Bible, but a group of novelists who have found a lucrative market in writing fantasy based upon fact.
A couple of centuries ago a group of people, known as the British Israelites claimed that the missing ten tribes of Israel travelled from the Middle East and settled in England and America. So they say the royal bloodline of King David continues to this day. They are the people who should sit upon the throne of England, not the Windsor's with their German background. Normally I would not waste time on such nonsense, but novelists have taken these points and added to them reams of names, places and mythical events to come up with some good yarns which have sold hundreds of thousands of books.
The best known suggests that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived the tomb, married Mary Magdalene, became a father, and that His bloodline still exists today. The book is Holy Blood, Holy Grail. Another, Bloodline of the Holy Grail was then published in 1997. Laurence Gardner claims there is a continuing royal heritage of the Messiah in the West which has been systematically suppressed by other royal families and regimes not wanting the truth to be revealed.
His books and a dozen like them are novels claiming to be historical research into sovereign and chivalric genealogy. Because they are based upon Jewish and Christian truth, many Christians are taken in by them. They intertwine legends of King Arthur and his knights of the Round Table with facts of the Crusades, truths about royal bloodlines and fancy from the imagination, with more than a dash of intrigue about those who have a vested interest in wiping out this ancient royal bloodline. Everything in these books is based upon the belief that Jesus survived the Cross, and was neither buried in a tomb or raised from the dead.
Christians have always had strong evidence for the death of Jesus. It is not my purpose here to go into all the proofs that Jesus did die. Rather I want to concentrate on what proof have we concerning the real tomb of Jesus. The concern arises because for the last hundred or so years there has been a contender to the traditional site of the burial of Jesus. Tourists today can be shown two tombs. That is confusing. What is the truth about the real tomb of Jesus? Can we find solid factual evidence for the real burial place of Jesus? Is either of the two - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb - the real tomb? Growing knowledge about the way tombs were made and recent archaeological discoveries shows us why one place is the real tomb of Jesus and the other is not. First let me consider the contender. The Garden Tomb is a lovely, serene site where millions of tourists come to meditate and pray about the resurrection of Jesus. But is it the real tomb of Jesus?
1. The Garden Tomb
In 1883 General Charles Gordon, the famous British army General in the Crimean War, in China and in Egypt, reached Jerusalem. Gordon knew his Bible well. He saw on a small hill north of the Turkish wall of Jerusalem, two caves in the sheer face opposite the city that look something like the eye sockets of a skull. It was called Skull Hill. Gordon reckoned the priests killed the animals for sacrifice in the Temple there, north of the altar as described in Leviticus 1:11. It would therefore have been the appropriate place for Jesus, the 'Lamb of God', to be killed. So he called it Golgotha and many today still call it 'Gordon's Calvary'.
Quite near the edge of the hill is a tomb in the rock. Forty years before Gordon's visit someone had suggested it might be the tomb of Jesus. With Gordon's idea about Calvary, the first tomb gained favour. A lot of rubbish was taken away to reveal a large flat space, cistern and vertical rock wall with a doorway which are visible today. Inside the doorway is a small room leading to another on the right. This has two troughs hollowed out of the rock on either side of the doorway, and a smaller one between them at the end. Slots in the rock show where stone slabs were slid as lids for these troughs. Painted on the walls are crosses and Greek letters standing for Jesus Christ, the First and the Last. The paintings belong to the fifth or sixth century AD. Why should this tomb be identified as the tomb of Jesus? The nearness of Gordon's Calvary is one reason. Another is its position - outside the city wall but quite close to it.
The main reason is because Protestants going into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can feel uncomfortable with all the lamps and candles, the gaudy colours, and the black-robed priests. It is the simplicity of the Garden Tomb, with its well-tended garden, which has immediate appeal. You can imagine the events of the first Easter Sunday morning without difficulty. But there is no real evidence in favour of the Garden Tomb. General Gordon's idea about the hill being the slaughtering-place for the Temple has no historical or geographical facts on its side. The Garden Tomb does lie outside the city wall, whereas The Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands inside it. But the present city wall was not the wall of the time of Jesus, which was destroyed by the Romans forty years after the crucifixion.
Today we know that tombs in the time of Jesus were cut in a different fashion, with rock benches not troughs, and short tunnels to receive the bodies. The marks left by the stone-cutters' tools are still visible on the walls of the tomb are not the same as those of the first century which were normally cut with a toothed chisel which left groups of small parallel lines in the stone. None of these are evident in the Garden Tomb. The Garden Tomb is not a first-century tomb. It is in fact much older, perhaps seventh centuries BC.. Other tombs from that age lie close by. The Garden Tomb was used by Christians after Christ's death and certainly by the time of the Byzantines, we a Christian tomb. They and possibly the Crusaders enlarged and revered it. But it is not the real tomb of Jesus. So why should the other contender be regarded as the real tomb?
2. The Holy Sepulchre
The traditional site of the tomb of Jesus is collection of buildings and columns, candlesticks and insence burners from 1600 years of Christian worship according to the traditions of the Orthodox and Romans Catholic churches. But does all of this mark the real tomb of Jesus? We are fortunate to have some good history as well as archaeology to help us.
The Bible record states: John 19:38-42 "Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate's permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus' body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there."
Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who had a tomb cut for himself, on private property, outside the city walls. In about 41AD, Herod Agrippa, seeking to defend the city, extended the city walls out further and in so doing enclosed Joseph's tomb within the walls. But because it was a burial site it was not built on. But Christians naturally revered the site.
Thirty years later, the Romans sacked the city under Titus. All Jewish buildings including the Temple were demolished. The Christian sites were buried. But Christians still came to the buried sites. In AD 135, there was another Jewish revolt, which Roman Hadrian put down. He destroyed the city and exiled Jews from it. Believing Christianity was a Jewish sect, he ordered the sites of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus to be covered by a terrace. To stop Christian veneration at the two sites, he ordered a statue of Jupiter be erected over Calvary and a temple to Venus be built over the tomb of Jesus. That, he thought, would stop any veneration for the sites! But what he was doing was marking them officially forever! For the next two hundred years, a statue and a Roman temple marked the spots!
In 326AD, the Emperor Constantine came to power, became a Christian, and ordered: "Make that blessed spot, the place of the Resurrection, visible to all and given over to veneration." His workmen pulled down the Temple to Venus, and dug away the soil. The actual tomb of Jesus lay in an unexpected place, underneath a temple in the middle of the city. The Bishop of Caesarea at that time, Eusebius, wrote: "The Emperor ordered that the stone and wood from the ruins (of the pagan temple) should be carried and dumped as far away as possible, and that a large amount of the foundation earth... should be dug away very deeply... The task was put in hand at once, and as the subsoil appeared layer by layer, so did the venerable and sacred evidence of the Saviour's resurrection, beyond all our hopes, brought back to life, like our Saviour."
Since then many have added to the site. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a conglomerate of designs and styles from the fourth century onwards, the greatest part being the Crusaders' work. Pilgrims have prayed at the same place ever since. But is it really His tomb?
Until recently we have never known where the walls of the city of the day of Jesus lay. But archaeological excavations in recent years have ended the debate. The ruins of the old walls have been found including a coin in them of King Herod Agrippa 1, made in AD 42. Then repairs to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre enabled investigation under its floors. Professor Vergilius Corbo, discovered a quarry under the floor, used as a garden in the first century BC. in which tombs were cut. Other evidence since has proved the veracity of the Bible account. The evidence available indicates the Church of the Holy Sepulchre within the old walls, and on the site of the tomb of Jesus.
There are plenty of novelists these days who want to write their mixture of fact and fancy. Christians can rely on the Bible as the true record. Every discovery of archaeologists have verified the Biblical account. Good Friday tells us Jesus died upon a Cross for our sins and was buried in tomb. Those facts we know for certain. Now we wait in faith for Sunday morning and the resurrection to eternal life and our incorporation into the benefits of His death, burial and resurrection. Easter gives us the opportunity to claim Him as the Risen Lord and as the Saviour from our sin.
Bloodline Of The Holy Grail: The Hidden Lineage Of Jesus Revealed. Laurence Gardner 1997
In Search Of The Holy Grail And The Precious Blood Ean Begg, 1995.
Discoveries From The Time Of Jesus. A Millard Lion 1990.
Jesus: The Evidence. I Wilson Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1996.
Discovering The Young Church. G K Moyes Albatross 1989.
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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