Tomb of the Christian Savior

| October 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
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Zvonimir Atletic  CC BY-SA 2.0 Jesus Tomb: Chapel of St. Helena

Zvonimir Atletic  CC BY-SA 2.0
The Chapel of St. Helena

Final Resting Place

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine in 330 CE, after his mother, Queen Helena, visited Jerusalem and designated this site as the location of the crucifixion and tomb of the Christian Savior. Thousands of pilgrims visit the site each day, hoping for a glimpse of the edicule, the shrine which is believed to hold the tomb. But what proof exists that this is the actual site of the Christian Savior’s tomb?

If one were to look only at tradition, the spot would definitely fit the bill. Up until the 19th century, when the Garden Tomb rose as contender for the burial site of the Christian Savior, tradition held that the spot identified by Queen Helena was indeed the correct location of the tomb. Unfortunately, the church was destroyed twice: once in 614 CE by the Persians, and once again in 1009 CE.

The second time around, not only was the church leveled to the ground, but Egyptian Caliph al-Hakim ordered that the tomb be hacked to bits so that no recognizable pieces would be left to bear testimony to history of the area. As such, there is no hard evidence at the site to lend the strength of fact to tradition. But while the caliph had the tomb utterly destroyed, remains of other first-century tombs were left behind.  

Israel Tourism  CC BY 2.0 Tomb of the Christian Savior

Israel Tourism  CC BY 2.0
Tomb of Christian Savior

Joseph of Arimathea

Known as the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, the remaining burial shafts, called in Hebrew “kokhim,” are clearly dated to the time of the Christian Savior’s death. The presence of these tombs is proof the spot was a local burial ground. Taken together with topographical elements fitting Gospel descriptions of the area, it may be deduced that the Savior was buried in this very location.

It is known that during the 1st century CE, this site, just outside the city walls, housed an abandoned quarry. Burial shafts were cut into the vertical western wall of the quarry. The remains found here date back to the 1st century and earlier.

Crucifixion

According to the Gospel (John), the crucifixion took place outside the city walls on a rocky promontory resembling a skull. This place is referred to variously as Golgotha (Aramaic for “skull”) and Calvary (defined as intense mental suffering). A nearby grave and garden are also mentioned. Some say the reference to a “garden” meant only that the spot had become green due to winter rains.

Tomb of the Christian Savior History

Two historians (Eusebius and Socrates Scholasticus), writing centuries later, stated that early Christians worshiped here until the year 66 CE. The walls of the city expanded to include this location during the years 41-43 CE. However, even then, the locals refrained from building on this spot, lending strength to the idea that the site held special significance.

It wasn’t until the year 135 that someone built a structure at the site, a temple to Venus built by the Roman emperor Hadrian. It is believed that Hadrian intended to erase the status of the location as a Christian site and claim it instead for the Romans.

Assayas  CC BY-SA 3.0 Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Assayas  CC BY-SA 3.0
Outside Church

In choosing this location for the basilica he would build, Constantine would need to rely on strong tradition that this was, indeed, Golgotha. The location was by now built over, notably by Hadrian’s temple. There would have been great inconvenience and expense involved in designating this spot for the construction of the basilica.

It was necessary to demolish several substantial buildings to make way for Constantine’s basilica. Meanwhile, Hadrian’s forum, a wide-open space just to the south, would have been a perfect spot for building. Clearly, Constantine held a firm belief that his chosen location (or rather, the spot his mother, Queen Helena, had chosen) was the actual burial site.

Eusebius, in his work, Life of Constantine, claimed that the original memorial to the tomb was discovered during the course of excavations he witnessed at the site. However, doubt is cast on his claims by dint of the fact the he also said all three crucifixes, those of the Christian Savior and the two thieves, were also found at the site – findings deemed highly unlikely.

Tomb of the Christian Savior: Did You Know?

Israeli Dan Bahat, the former city archaeologist of Jerusalem, believed that all the above evidence formed a weighty claim and said there was no reason not to accept the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the site of the Christian Savior’s tomb.

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Category: Christianity

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