Garden Tomb

Garden Tomb

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The Garden Tomb located in Jerusalem, outside the city walls and close to the Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate
Damascus Gate is the main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. It is located in the wall on the city's northwest side where the highway leads out to Nablus, and from there, in times past, to the capital of Syria, Damascus; as such, its modern English name is Damascus Gate, and its modern Hebrew...

, is a rock-cut tomb considered by some to be the site of the burial
Tomb of Jesus
Several places have been proposed as the tomb of Jesus, the place where Jesus Christ was buried:*Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem, accepted by many Christians and scholars as built on ground on which Jesus was crucified and buried...

 and resurrection of Jesus
Resurrection of Jesus
The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus states that Jesus returned to bodily life on the third day following his death by crucifixion. It is a key element of Christian faith and theology and part of the Nicene Creed: "On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures"...

, and to be adjacent to Golgotha, in contradistinction to the traditional site for these—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

. There is no mention of the Garden Tomb as the place of Jesus' burial before the nineteenth century.

Motivation and discovery

During the nineteenth century some doubts were raised concerning the authenticity of the traditional site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

  • Prior to Constantine's time, the site was a temple to Aphrodite
    Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

    , built by Hadrian
    Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

    • 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.
    • The temple's location complies with the typical layout of Roman cities (i.e. adjacent to the Forum
      Roman Forum
      The Roman Forum is a rectangular forum surrounded by the ruins of several important ancient government buildings at the center of the city of Rome. Citizens of the ancient city referred to this space, originally a marketplace, as the Forum Magnum, or simply the Forum...

      , at the intersection of the main north-south road
      The cardo was a north-south oriented street in Roman cities, military camps, and coloniae. The cardo, an integral component of city planning, was lined with shops and vendors, and served as a hub of economic life. The main cardo was called cardo maximus.Most Roman cities also had a Decumanus...

       with the main east-west road
      Decumanus Maximus
      In Roman city planning, a decumanus was an east-west-oriented road in a Roman city, castra , or colonia. The main decumanus was the Decumanus Maximus, which normally connected the Porta Praetoria to the Porta Decumana .This name comes from the fact that the via decumana or decimana In Roman city...

      ), rather than necessarily being a deliberate act of contempt for Christianity.
  • A spur
    Spur (mountain)
    A spur is a subsidiary summit of a hill or mountain. By definition, spurs have low topographic prominence, as they are lower than their parent summit and are closely connected to them on the same ridgeline...

     would be required for the rockface to have included both the alleged site of the tomb and the tombs
    Kokh is a type of tomb complex characterized by a series of long narrow shafts, in which the deceased were placed for burial, radiating from a central chamber...

     beyond the western end of the church.
  • First century Jewish leaders condemn the idea of burial to the west of the city, a condemnation archaeologically corroborated by the locations of the known ancient Jewish graves.
  • 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.
    • The tombs at the west of the site, alleged to date from the first century, therefore indicating that the site was outside the city at that time, could just as easily date from centuries prior to that.

Due to these issues, several nineteenth century scholars had rejected the traditional site's validity. Additionally many Protestants have often opposed the traditional location simply because it has previously received support from Roman Catholic Church
Roman Catholic Church
The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, with over a billion members. Led by the Pope, it defines its mission as spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity...

, and is sited within an environment which is not low church
Low church
Low church is a term of distinction in the Church of England or other Anglican churches initially designed to be pejorative. During the series of doctrinal and ecclesiastic challenges to the established church in the 16th and 17th centuries, commentators and others began to refer to those groups...

. Many of these concerns were aired in the time of Major-General Charles George Gordon
Charles George Gordon
Major-General Charles George Gordon, CB , known as "Chinese" Gordon, Gordon Pasha, and Gordon of Khartoum, was a British army officer and administrator....

, CB
Order of the Bath
The Most Honourable Order of the Bath is a British order of chivalry founded by George I on 18 May 1725. The name derives from the elaborate mediæval ceremony for creating a knight, which involved bathing as one of its elements. The knights so created were known as Knights of the Bath...

, and it is surmised that he, a Protestant, was motivated by them to look elsewhere.

In 1883, near to the Damascus Gate, General Gordon found a rocky escarpment (now situated just behind a bus station), which from several angles resembled the face of a skull; since one of the possible etymologies for Golgotha is the Aramaic word for skull, and may refer to the shape of the place, Gordon concluded that the rocky escarpment was likely to have been Golgotha. Prior to Gordon, this possibility had also been suggested by Colonel Conder in 1870 (an associate of Lord Kitchener), by Fisher Howe in 1871, and by the German scholar Otto Thenius in 1842.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has its tomb just a few yards away from its Golgotha, corresponding with the account of John the Evangalist: "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a ... new tomb" . In 1869 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; consequently, an ancient wine press
Wine press
A wine press is a device used to extract juice from crushed grapes during wine making. There are a number of different styles of presses that are used by wine makers but their overall functionality is the same. Each style of press exerts controlled pressure in order to free the juice from the fruit...

 and cistern
A cistern is a waterproof receptacle for holding liquids, usually water. Cisterns are often built to catch and store rainwater. Cisterns are distinguished from wells by their waterproof linings...

 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.


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." Although the Garden Tomb's Golgotha is, like the Holy Sepulchre Church, north of the hill currently referred to as Mount Zion
Mount Zion
Mount Zion is a place name for a site in Jerusalem, the location of which has shifted several times in history. According to the Hebrew Bible's Book of Samuel, it was the site of the Jebusite fortress called the "stronghold of Zion" that was conquered by King David, becoming his palace in the City...

, the hill has only had that name since the Middle Ages; previously Mount Zion referred to the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

 itself, which is due East of the traditional site, but south south east of the Garden Tomb.

The tomb

The earliest detailed investigation of the tomb itself was a brief report prepared in 1874 by Conrad Schick
Conrad Schick
Conrad Schick was a German architect, archaeologist and Protestant missionary who settled in Jerusalem in the mid-nineteenth century.-Biography:...

, a Swiss antiquarian, but the fullest archaeological study of the area has been the seminal investigation by Gabriel Barkay
Gabriel Barkay
Gabriel Barkay is an Israeli archaeologist. Born in 1944 in Hungary, he immigrated to Israel in 1950. He received his PhD in Archaeology from Tel Aviv University in 1985. His dissertation was about LMLK seal impressions on jar handles. He participated in the Lachish excavations with David Ussishkin...

, professor of Biblical archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem ; ; abbreviated HUJI) is Israel's second-oldest university, after the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. The Hebrew University has three campuses in Jerusalem and one in Rehovot. The world's largest Jewish studies library is located on its Edmond J...

 and at Bar-Ilan University
Bar-Ilan University
Bar-Ilan University is a university in Ramat Gan of the Tel Aviv District, Israel.Established in 1955, Bar Ilan is now Israel's second-largest academic institution. It has nearly 26,800 students and 1,350 faculty members...

, 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. 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); 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.

Barkay concluded that:
  • The waterproofing on the cistern is of the type used by the Crusaders
    The Crusades were a series of religious wars, blessed by the Pope and the Catholic Church with the main goal of restoring Christian access to the holy places in and near Jerusalem...

    , and the cistern must date to that era
  • The groove was a water trough, built by the 11th century Crusaders for donkey
    The donkey or ass, Equus africanus asinus, is a domesticated member of the Equidae or horse family. The wild ancestor of the donkey is the African Wild Ass, E...

    A mule is the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse. Horses and donkeys are different species, with different numbers of chromosomes. Of the two F1 hybrids between these two species, a mule is easier to obtain than a hinny...

  • The cistern was built as part of the same stable complex as the groove
  • The design of the interior of the tomb is typical of the 8th-7th centuries BC, and fell out of use later.

It is unlikely that the Garden Tomb matched the characteristics that the gospels ascribe to Jesus' tomb: "a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid."


Due to the archaeological issues the Garden Tomb site raises, several scholars have rejected its claim to be Jesus' tomb. However, despite the archaeological discoveries, the Garden Tomb has become a popular place of pilgrimage among Protestants. Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

 leaders have not formally committed to the identification, but the Garden Tomb has been the most favored candidate site among church leaders. 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

  • Zedekiah's Cave
    Zedekiah's Cave
    Zedekiah's Cave – also known as Solomon's Quarries – is a underground meleke limestone quarry that runs the length of five city blocks under the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem...

  • Church of the Holy Sepulchre
    Church of the Holy Sepulchre
    The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also called the Church of the Resurrection by Eastern Christians, is a church within the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It is a few steps away from the Muristan....

  • Rock-cut tombs in ancient Israel

External links