So where is the tomb of Christ? Does anyone know? Can anyone really know? And if these aren’t enough questions to consider, does archaeology shed any light on the issue? While unfortunately I think theological bias seems to have too much sway in the minds and hearts of people who prefer one site over the other, one final question just may trump all others, namely, does determining the most likely place really matter? The more I encounter each site on all of my tours, the more I am inclined to think that it really doesn’t matter. For me, the only thing that matters is the the tomb is empty!
In Jerusalem, there are two primary suggested locations for the tomb of Christ. One is the traditional site located within the Old City today. It’s called the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The original church was buit in 325 AD by Helena, the mother of the Christian Emperor Constantine. Because of the presence of numerous 2nd Temple or New Testament tombs, this suggested site for the actual crucifixion and burial site of Christ was certainly outside the city walls at the time of Christ. This is an important piece of information in determining Christ’s tomb. The church today is maintained and operated by a number of denominations, including Roman Catholics, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Coptic Christians.
Primarily in the 19th century when doubt arose about this Holy Sepulcher site, people began to look elsewhere. Specifically in 1883 while standing on the Turkish wall of the Old City near the Damascus Gate, A British officer named General Gordon suggested a site north of the city. It was a rocky scarp part of which resembled the appearance of a skull. Prior to Gordon, General Conder (in 1870) suggested the same location as the possible site for the crucifixion and burial site of Christ as well. Upon further investigation, tombs were also discovered here. Today this site is referred to as the Garden Tomb. The site is maintained and operated by Protestant British believers.
Archaeologically, the evidence tips the scales towards the Holy Sepulcher site given the number of New Testament tombs discovered in the lower reaches of the church itself. Two of these tombs, called kohkim or niche tombs, can be seen about 50 feet from the traditional tomb within the church. On the other hand, the Garden Tomb is a classic Iron Age tomb that dates to the period of the Old Testament. It is not a newly-hewned tomb as described in the Gospel account (Matthew 27:60). According to Gaby Barkay, my old Jewish professor who is deemed as the leading voice of authority in the area of Jerusalem archaeology and who has no theological bias whatsoever, argues that the archaeological evidence points clearly to the Holy Sepulcher, although one can not be definitive as to the identifying the exact tomb of Christ.
What site do I think it is? Perhaps a better question is to ask what site do I prefer? Clearly, I prefer the Garden Tomb because of it’s quiet and worshipful atmosphere. It’s here that we observe Communion. It’s here where we worship the Person of Christ, and not the place. On the other hand, the site of the Holy Sepulcher most likely preserves at least the area where Christ was placed in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
But does it matter which site it is? No, not really. To me, I really don’t care if who is right, our Catholic friends or Protestants. What matters is recorded in the words of the angel who said, “He is not here. He is risen!”
He is risen indeed!