The Empty Tomb of Jesus

On my recent trip to Israel, I was able to stop by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is the site that allegedly houses the empty tomb of Jesus. What makes this so exciting is that the marble barrier that has protected the original burial bed (for nearly 500 years) has recently been removed for scientific testing. What makes it even more exciting is that, “just hours before the tomb was to be resealed, the original limestone burial bed was revealed intact. [1]”

Laying bare the original limestone provides extremely good evidence (what some might call “historical proof”) the tomb hasn’t been moved. The earliest historical accounts we have of Jesus’ burial go back to the Canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). While this doesn’t prove Jesus was buried in a tomb, it shows us that the writers of the gospels were acquainted with Jewish burial customs. They didn’t have the internet back then, really the only way to have this kind of information would be to live in the area during the time it happened. For more on the authenticity of the burial and empty tomb accounts in the Gospels, see this.

Is it Really the Site?

As Christianity continually spread throughout the Roman empire, it eventually reached the emperor himself. Constantine, through the influence of his Christian mother Helena, converted to Christianity in 312AD. On a pilgrimage to collect and preserve artifacts from the Holy Land, Helena discovered that the previous emperor Hadrian had a “temple built over the tomb [of Jesus] to assert the dominance of Roman state religion at the site venerated by Christians.” Eusebius records that the Roman temple was removed and excavations revealed a rock-cut tomb. To preserve the tomb, Constantine built a new Christian church over the site that was later destroyed but then rebuilt.

Archeology in the 20th century has revealed remains of Hadrian’s temple as well as walls from the original church built by Constantine. The latest evidence collected in October shows us that the original limestone is still there! It wasn’t destroyed throughout the centuries, it is still right there in Jerusalem, in the same spot it’s been since before being unearthed in the 4th century. That’s a pretty serious historical claim to authenticity.

Here’s a clip I took of the inside of the empty tomb. Keep in mind, the slab you see in the video is not the original limestone slab. After the scientists and archeologists did their work, they resealed the tomb to protect it from the 5k plus visitors the church sees daily.

The Garden Tomb

Unfortunately, many Christians (including our guide!) believe that Jesus was actually buried in the “Garden tomb.” What’s interesting is that the British family that maintains the Garden tomb doesn’t make any claims of authenticity, even our guide at the tomb (pictured below) made it clear they don’t claim this. Instead they claim that there are good reasons to suppose Jesus was buried at the Garden tomb.

empty tomb of jesus

These reasons, however, have not commended themselves to archeologists. Gabriel Barkay, Israeli archeologist and professor of Biblical archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has concluded that the Garden tomb dates much, much earlier than the time of Jesus. “The tomb is far too early to be the tomb of Jesus, as it is typical of the 8th-7th centuries BC, showing a configuration which fell out of use after that period. [2]”

The weight of the evidence lies squarely on the side of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being the authentic burial place of Jesus. Protestants ought to recognize that while the Garden tomb is an important part of history, it has no serious claim to authenticity; the family that runs it doesn’t even claim as much!


[1] http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/jesus-christ-tomb-burial-church-holy-sepulchre/

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Garden_Tomb/

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