Another Claimant To The Title “The Burial Site Of Jesus” Is The Garden Tomb
The burial cave that subsequently came to be known as “The Garden Tomb” was accidentally uncovered by a peasant who wanted to cultivate the area and was trying to cut a cistern into the rock. Soon after Conrad Schick, who was the Jerusalem correspondent for many erudite European societies visited the cave.
In 1874 Conrad Schick published his first report about the cave. This report was similar to his other reports that he made out for the learned societies that he represented. In 1892, he published another report hinting that this might be the tomb of Jesus. There were other reports by other correspondents who mentioned the presence of crusader remains in the vicinity. With the arrival of General Charles George in Jerusalem in 1883 the garden Tomb became decisively significant. (1)
General Charles George Gordon decided that the hill where this burial cave was located was Golgotha the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. However Gordon was not the first to think that this was the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Other scholars had a similar view even before that. (2)
The Garden Tomb Was A Typical First Century Jewish Tomb
Many archaeologists of renown who studied the Garden Tomb have declared that it is typically a first century Jewish tomb belonging to a rich person. Like other Jewish tombs of the period this too is oriented toward the Temple Mount. Like the tombs of that time which it resembled in form, it had an outer “weeping chamber” and an inner chamber with burial niches for the dead.
The type of chiseling both inside and outside was the same as the other Jerusalem tombs of the period between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D. Besides the tomb conforms to “a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid” (Luke 23:53.) as described in the Bible. It has a nephesh (“soul”) which is “a window-like cut in the upper right-hand face”. According to Jewish tradition, it is through this window that the spirit of the deceased departs after being in the tomb for three days. Of the three burial niches inside the tomb, only one was complete. This is an indication that the tomb was new as is stated in the Bible.
Is The Garden Tomb The Tomb Of Jesus?
Scholars have tried to show that the Garden Tomb is the tomb of Jesus by saying that “Gordon’s Calvary”, also referred to as Golgotha is the northernmost part of the mount Moriah mentioned in the Bible and that the Garden Tomb is in the vicinity of this site. Tradition has it that this place was formerly a place of execution, where Jeremiah and Stephen were stoned and probably where Jesus was crucified. The discovery in 1882 of the 5th century Church of St. Stephen is offered as proof of the saint’s martyrdom here. Besides this excavations have shown that the Garden Tomb was indeed located in an ancient fruit garden bearing out the claim that Jesus was buried in a tomb located in a garden.
The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem
However scholars not in agreement say that recent archaeological studies have shown that the Garden Tomb, together with two cave tombs at St. Étienne, was carved into the same rocky escarpment and that all the three tombs belonged to the First Temple period of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. We know now that the Garden Tomb was later reused. But this too was during the Byzantine period and in the Middle Ages and not during the time of Jesus. (3)
Probably more pertinent are the architectural and layout differences between Iron Age burial caves and burial caves of the Second Temple period. While Iron Age burial caves have two adjoining chambers one beside the other, Second Temple caves have the two rooms aligned one behind the other.
Another characteristic of Second Temple burial caves are distinct marks made by the use of comb chisels which had toothed edges. There is no evidence of the use of comb chisels in the Garden Tomb.
Moreover a comparison of the different traits of the Garden Tomb to typical First Temple tombs helps us to draw the conclusion the Garden Tomb is definitely an Iron Age tomb. A comparison to several Second Temple burial caves also brings out the significant differences. For instance burial niches called kokhim are absent in First Temple period tombs. They instead have burial benches that extend along the walls of the chamber. First Temple burial chambers also do not have arcosolia. (4)
Besides, not one single Second Temple period tomb has been found in the vicinity of the Garden Tomb. Enough study has been done relating to Iron Age and Second Temple period tombs that the differences are blaring. That said it can be stated with confidence that while Iron Age II tombs have been discovered in this locality, not one single Second Temple period tomb has been reported from here. (5)
A Misleading Inscription
However in 1889, the purported finding of an inscription at St. Stephen’s [St. Etienne’s monastery] (north of Damascus Gate) made news. The inscription is supposed to have read: “I, Eusebius, have desired to be buried in this spot, which I believe to be close to the place where the body of my Lord lay.” This was as per a note published in the Northern Christian Advocate (Syracuse, New York) by an anonymous correspondent from Jerusalem. However it was later found that this inscription actually read “The private tomb of the deacon Nonnus Onesimus of the Holy Resurrection of Christ and of this monastery.”
Deacon Nonnus Onesimus, a monk of the Church of St. Stephen, was also the deacon of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which during the Byzantine period was known as the Church of the Holy Resurrection held the second highest position in the hierarchy of the Jerusalem church. It was because of the high position that he held, he was given the distinction of a private tomb in the vicinity of the Church of St. Stephen.
In 1885 another inscription was found in a portion of the Garden Tomb complex. This inscription simply read “Private tomb of the deacon Euthymius Pindiris.” It is claimed that over-enthusiastic people who were determined to give the Garden Tomb a semblance of credibility corrupted the name Euthymius to read as Eusebius, then combined it with parts of the Nonnus inscription and came up with the inscription reported in the Northern Christian Advocate. The fact is that neither inscription was in any way related to what was part of the newspaper report. (6)
So now we have two serious contenders for the tomb of Jesus: the tomb within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. The third contender is the Talpiot tomb. Which of the three if any of them actually is – is the real tomb of Jesus?
(1) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy, Sara., Feldman, Steven & Laden, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington, DC.
(2) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus
(3) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus
(4) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus
(5) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus
(6) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus
The Garden Tomb