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Garden Tomb

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Coordinates: 31°47′1.87″N 35°13′47.92″E / 31.7838528°N 35.2299778°E / 31.7838528; 35.2299778


The front of the Garden Tomb

The Garden Tomb, located in Jerusalem, outside the city walls and close to the Damascus Gate, is considered by some to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus, and to be adjacent to Golgotha[1], in contradistinction to the traditional site for these - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There is no mention of the Garden Tomb as the exact place of Jesus' burial before the 19th century.

Motivation and discovery

During the 19th century some doubts were raised concerning the authenticity of the traditional site (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre):

  • prior to Constantine's time, the site was a temple to Aphrodite, built by Hadrian[2].
    • 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[3][4]
    • the temple's location complies with the typical layout of Roman cities (ie. adjacent to the Forum, at the intersection of the main north-south road with the main east-west road), rather than necessarily being a deliberate act of contempt for Christianity
  • a spur would be required for the rockface to have included both the alleged site of the tomb and the tombs beyond the western end of the church
  • first century Jewish leaders condemn the idea of burial to the west of the city[5], a condemnation archaeologically corroborated by the locations of the known ancient Jewish graves[6].
  • 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-defence point of view, for the walls to have previously been east of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre[7]
    • 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[8]

Close up image of the rocky escarpment, showing one possible view of a skull shape

Due to these issues, several 19th 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 Catholics, and is sited within an environment which isn't exactly low church[9]. Many of these concerns were aired in General Gordon's time, and it is surmised that he, a Protestant, was motivated by them to look elsewhere. (It is important to note that currently there is virtual unanimity among scholars that the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was actually outside the city walls during the lifetime of Jesus. This was concluded due to more recent archeological findings.)


Close up image of an adjacent part of the rocky escarpment, showing another possible skull shape. It is not possible to clearly see both of the skull interpretations from the same angle, for most angles of view


In 1883, near to the Damascus Gate, Major-General Charles George Gordon CB found a rocky escarpment (now situated just behind a Palestinian 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)[10], an associate of Lord Kitchener, by Fisher Howe (in 1871)[11], and by the German scholar Otto Thenius (in 1842)[12].


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" (John 19:41). 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[13]; consequently, an ancient wine press and cistern 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.

Archaeological investigations and critical analysis


Besides the skull-like appearance, there are a few other details put forward in favour 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 4th century) pointed out north of Mount Zion[14]. Although the Garden Tomb's Golgotha is, like the Holy Sepulchre Church, north of the hill currently referred to as Mount Zion, the hill has only had that name since the Middle Ages; previously Mount Zion referred to the Temple Mount itself, which is due East of the traditional site, but south south east of the Garden Tomb.

The tomb

Jerusalem Tomb of the Garden

The exterior of the Garden Tomb from ground level

The earliest detailed investigation of the tomb itself was a brief report prepared in 1874 by Conrad Schick, a Swiss antiquarian, but the fullest archaeological study of the area has been the seminal investigation by Gabriel Barkay, professor of Biblical archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at Bar-Ilan University, during the late 20th 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 discernable[15]. 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)[15]; 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[15].


Barkay concluded that:

  • the waterproofing on the cistern is of the type used by the Crusaders, and the cistern must date to that era[15]
  • the groove was a water trough, built by the 11th century Crusaders for donkeys/mules[15]
  • the cistern was built as part of the same stable complex as the groove[15]
  • the design of the interior of the tomb is typical of the 8th-7th centuries BCE, and fell out of use later.

As the Bible describes Jesus' tomb as a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid[16], it is unlikely to be the Garden Tomb[15].


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 leaders have been hesitant to formally commit to the identification, even though many Mormons believe the Garden Tomb is the correct location of Jesus' tomb. 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


  2. Eusebius Pamphilius, Life of Constantine
  3. Virgilio Corbo, The Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1981)
  4. Dan Bahat, Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus?, in Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 1986
  5. Baba Batra 25a
  6. Ephraim Stern, (editor), New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, 1993
  7. Colonel Claude R. Conder, The City of Jerusalem (1909), (republished 2004); for details about Conder himself, see Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener#Survey of Western Palestine
  8. Rachel Hachlili, (2005) Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period
  9. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, entry on Jerusalem
  10. Claude R. Conder, The City of Jerusalem (1909), (republished 2004)
  11. William Steuart McBirnie, The Search for the Authentic Tomb of Jesus (1975)
  12. Bill White, A Special Place: The Story of the Garden Tomb (1989)
  13. John 19:41
  14. Eusebius, Onomasticon, 365
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 Gabriel Barkay, The Garden Tomb, published in Biblical Archaeology Review March/April 1986
  16. John 19:41; cf. Luke 23:53

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