In my most recent blog entry, I commented on the location for the tomb of Christ. To summarize, two general locations have been identified for the tomb of Christ, the Holy Sepulcher Church (the traditional location since the 4th century AD), and the Garden Tomb (a relatively new location since the 1,880s). Archaeologically, the Holy Sepulcher location boasts of having in its vicinity nearly 2 dozen “2nd Temple tombs,” that is, tombs dating to the time of Christ. The Garden Tomb, while a wonderful and quieter place to reflect, certainly has a impressive tomb on display. However, it most likely dates to the time of the Old Testament. Its dimensions and size is classically Iron Age, and thus counters the newly-hewn tomb reference that the Gospel account demands.
While are are those who debate the location, there are others who suggest that the tomb of Christ may actually have been what is called an arcasolium tomb.
In comparison to a niche tomb (or in Hebrew, kohkim tomb), there seems to be evidence that affluent Jewish families owned more impressive and elaborate tombs such as this one. Rather than a roughly-cut niche tomb hewned just wide and long enough to hold a deceased body, an arcasolium tomb would have provided a larger bench structure upon which the body would have been placed.
As a student in Jerusalem, I was once taken into what is called today the Tomb of the Kings. Although the site was misnamed “Kings” because the original explorers mistook it for the burial place of David (Nehemiah indicates that David’s final resting place was actually within the City of David, see Nehemiah3:15-16, although there is debate on the the interpretation of the word “house” or “grave”). But this Tomb of the Kings is quite impressive. It included a larger room in which around the sides were a number of tombs. While most were kohkim or niche tombs, a specific tomb (among a chamber of other niche tombs) took the form of an shelf, with a noticeable archway (see photo). Historically, most agree that this was the burial place of Queen Helene of Adiabene, in the 1st century. So the question is this: Was this a similar type of tomb Christ was buried in? Perhaps the Gospel text reveals a possible and reasonable conjecture.
John 20 records the the presence of to angels inside the tomb. Mary is apparently just outside the tomb looking in when the text tells us the following: “And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb, and saw two angels in white sitting there, one of the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been.” (John 20:11-12). From the details of these verses, it seems to me that the angels we at opposite ends of an arcasolium tomb. Unless one of the angels was able to crawl to the back of a niche tomb and huddle there (I highly doubt this!), it is most likely that they were simply positioned at each end of stone bench structure of an arcasolium tomb. After all, for Joseph of Arimathea to own a more royal tomb like this should not surprise us.
Of course the body of Christ was no longer laying on the bench of this arcasolium tomb, but was rather behind Mary when He said to her, “Why are you weeping?” (John 20:15). The King of kings rose from this royal tomb, conquering the sting of death (I Cor. 15:56).