The Garden Tomb
The Inside Story: The Garden of the Tomb
Location – Jerusalem North
Map Coordinates - 31.783957, 35.230270
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 is adjacent to Golgotha, in contrast to the traditional site for these geographic features - the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
In 1883, near the Damascus Gate, Major-General Charles George Gordon found a rocky escarpment (now situated just behind an Arab bus station), which from several angles resembled the face of a skull; since one of the possible etymologies for Golgotha is that it means Place of the Skull, Gordon concluded that the rocky escarpment was likely to have been Golgotha.
In 1869 several tombs were found near Gordon's Golgotha, and Gordon concluded that one of them must have been the tomb of Jesus. The Bible specifies that Jesus' tomb was located in a garden. Consequently, a cistern has 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.
The notion that Golgotha, "The Place of the Skull", was so named because of the skull-like appearance of the hill is a modern idea dating only from the 19th century. From early Christian times, virtually all commentators held that Golgotha was so named simply because it was the site where Adam’s skull was buried.
Further, Gordon’s Calvary was probably part of a ridge - not a separate hill - in Jesus’ time. The features of the hill that make it look like a skull were not present in the first century. However, archaeologists believe the face of this limestone was so contoured as a result of quarrying operations that occurred on this site.
The fact that Gordon’s Calvary was first suggested only recently is, in itself, clear testimony that the hill did not resemble a skull until relatively recent times. Otherwise, it would certainly have been put forward as an alternative candidate for Golgotha in earlier centuries. Yet no ancient or medieval tradition connects the Lord’s crucifixion with the place.
Jesus’ tomb was a "new tomb" (Matthew 27:60). Any tomb not identifiable as a first-century tomb should not even be seriously considered. Archaeological work has shown conclusively that the ancient rock-cut tombs within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are indeed first-century tombs, as required by Scripture.
The Garden Tomb, by contrast, was originally hewn in the Iron Age, in the eighth or seventh century B.C., during the time of the later kings of Judah. This determination is based on the plan and characteristics of its rooms, the type of chisels used in cutting out the tomb, the artifacts excavated inside, and other factors. Thus, it does not qualify as a "new tomb" of the first century.
Some archeologists have also concluded that the stone groove outside the tomb is not the type that was used in other known rolling-stone types, which used vertical walls on either side of the entrance to hold the stone, not a groove on the ground.
In addition, the burial benches in the Garden Tomb were cut down in the Byzantine period (4th-6th century AD) to create rock sarcophagi, radically disfiguring the tomb. This strongly suggests that early Christians did not believe this was the burial place of Christ.
On the other hand, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher seems to have attracted Christian devotion since before Constantine. The Christian community of Jerusalem held worship services at the site until 66 AD (at least according to historians Eusebius and Socrates Scholasticus, who wrote several centuries later).
The verdict seems to be clear: Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb have little evidence in their favor. Much more information about the comparison between the Garden Tomb and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher can be found in the Addendum of this book.
To its credit, the Garden Tomb is a wonderful place to celebrate the burial and resurrection of Christ, to worship in one of its tasteful chapels, and to celebrate communion.