Moriah, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Appendix 3: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The aim of this book is to set forth the positive case for Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb. But for many the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the genuine site for Christ’s Death and Resurrection, since its identification as such in the time of the Emperor Constantine (325 AD). The Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox Churches for the past 1680 years have this as the Crucifixion Site. Were it not for the centuries of tradition surrounding the Holy Sepulchre, I believe there would be much less difficulty for the Christian world to accept the Garden Tomb as authentic! The main thesis of this book is that according to Genesis 22, Christ had to be crucified on Mount Moriah and this automatically disqualifies the traditional Site, as it is clearly not on Mt.Moriah, but to its west. However, in this Appendix we look at the origin of this tradition and some of the problems with this Site. 

The 300 years between the Cross and Constantine were full of opportunities for the knowledge of the true location to be lost. The Christians all left Jerusalem in AD 66, then Jerusalem was levelled in AD 70, and there is no indication that these Christians returned. Then, all the Jews were expelled by Hadrian in AD135. There is no documentation of a continuous tradition for the Holy Sepulchre! Prior to Constantine, there is no evidence that this site in the western part of Jerusalem was in any way significant to Christians, nor was the southwest hill important that came to be called "Zion" after the time of Constantine. It seems much safer to determine the true location from Biblical data, rather than from a 4th Century tradition, albeit backed by all the powers of the Rome.

The site happened to coincide with the Temple of Venus erected by the Emperor Hadrian after AD 135. There were no historical documents or traditions retained by Christians at Jerusalem to support its legitimacy. It was selected because of the dreams, visions and supposed miraculous signs associated with Constantine and his advisors. Early church historian Sozomen felt historical records were unnecessary when visions and dreams presented the real facts to the Christian world (History 11.1). Based on the inspiration of Queen Helena’s dream, and Bishop Macarius’ revelation, Constantine ordered that the heathen Temple be torn down, and a basilica built there, that's been standing there, more or less ever since. 

ALEXANDER MONACHUS (6th-century): “He (Constantine) likewise regarded Macarius, Bishop of Aelia (the Roman name for Jerusalem after it had been rebuilt in and after AD 135), who was present at the Council of Nicaea, to use all diligence in searching for the life-giving Cross, the Lord's Sepulchre, and all the holy places...After this the Emperor sent his mother Helena, a woman in all respects most worthy of praise, with letters and a great sum of money, to Macarius, Bishop of Aelia, in order that she might, together with him, search for the Holy Cross, and adorn the Holy places with buildings. This he did at the express request of the Empress herself, who, it is said, had a divine vision, wherein she was ordered to go to Jerusalem and bring to light the Holy Places which had been buried by wicked men, and for so long a time removed from human sight. The Bishop, when he heard that the Empress was coming, went out to meet her, accompanied by his bishops. She straight away bade them all apply themselves entirely to the task of the discovery of the much-desired wood of the Cross. When all were at a loss what to do in the matter, and each suggested some different thing, acting on mere conjecture Macarius bade them all to be of a quiet mind and offer heart-felt prayers to God. When this was done, the place was miraculously revealed to the Bishop, being that wherein the figure of the most unclean goddess stood. Hereupon the Empress ordered the temple of this demon to be torn up from its very foundations by a great number of workmen. As soon as this was done, there appeared the Lord's Sepulchre and the Place of the Skull, and not far from thence the three crosses buried in the earth.” 

EUSEBIUS (AD 336): Life of the Empress Helena, chapter 3): 
“As one layer after another was laid bare, the place which was beneath the earth appeared, then forthwith, contrary to all expectations, did the venerable and hallowed monument of our Saviour's resurrection become visible, and the most holy cave received what was an exact emblem of His coming to life . So great is the grace of our Saviour, that no power of language seems worthy to describe the present wonder. For that the token of that most holy passion, long ago buried underground, should have remained unknown for so many years, until it should shine forth to His servants now set free through the removal of him who was the common enemy of all, truly transcends all marvel.... The nature of this wonder as far transcends all capacity of man's reason as divine things surpass in permanence those which are human.”

These two accounts imply there was no claim for a previous continuing tradition when Constantine selected his site. Rather the discovery of a tomb was 'contrary to all expectation'. Helena’s successful archaeology on the site stilled any criticism, and the great memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was built from 329-335 as a result. 

Eusebius that explained the reason why it was on the same site as the Venus Temple, as being due to Hadrian deliberately attacking and desecrating a Christian holy place. However, it is now accepted Hadrian built as he did simply because he wanted a building in a particular spot. The Temple's location complies with the typical layout of Roman cities. In any case, he had an issue with the Jews, not Christians. The coincidence is more naturally explained by the fact that Bishop Macarius wanted the vile Venus Temple demolished. By proposing it stood on Christ’s Tomb he guaranteed Constantine’s permission to destroy it and build a great church building in its place. One problem with this Site is that it was in the city centre, not outside the walls, as the Bible says. One pilgrim Willibald (AD 754) notes: “Calvary was outside the city, but the Empress(Helena) arranged so that it should be within the City of Jerusalem.”

Eusebius, the Church historian and Bishop of Ceasarea, recorded the great joy when to their surprise a tomb was discovered beneath the Venus Temple, which seemed to confirm that they had been led by God in all their plans.

Because of the authority of the Church, few questioned this Site until the 19th Century, when as a result of people studying the Scriptures for themselves, doubts were increasingly raised concerning the authenticity of the traditional Site. Colonel C. R. Conder said: “I think enough is now known to lead to the conclusion that the traditional site of the Holy Sepulchre must be abandoned and that we are free to accept the site without the walls of Jewish tradition has indicated as the site of Calvary” (Palestine Exploration Quarterly, Jan. 1887). Henry Gillman (1891): “I have seen, from time to time, lately, statements to the effect that all recent discoveries have tended to establish the accuracy of the traditional site of the Holy Sepulchre. Nothing can be more contrary to the truth. The recently discovered Roman pavements, in connection with those uncovered 2 years ago or more, establish the position of Damascus Gate as occupying an ancient site and the discoveries in general all point to outside the Gate as the Place of Crucifixion.”

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The claims of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are unsatisfactory for these reasons:
(1) The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is situated within the City Limits of Jerusalem and it seems likely this was also true in the time of Christ. It is against Jewish custom to bury the dead within City Walls, and the Bible says Christ was crucified and buried outside the Walls (Mark 15:20; Hebrews 13:12). The traditional site has always been vulnerable to the charge that it was inside the line of the Wall in the time of Christ. If proved, its claim would be dismissed immediately. This issue is usually the main debating point when its authenticity is discussed, and involves competing theories about the line of the ‘2nd Wall’ as Josephus calls it, since we do not know exactly where the portion of it to the west of the Damascus Gate ran. The Garden Tomb Site has the great advantage of being close to the City, not far from an important Gate, whilst at the
same time clearly outside the City Wall of Jesus' day. But the traditional Site has not been proven to be outside the Wall of the time of Jesus as required by the New Testament.

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Some would argue that the northern and western sections of the 2nd Wall would have followed the line of the present walls (E in the diagram above). This would put the Site well within the Walls. Others say the Wall would have zig-zagged (see K), so that the Site marked C was just outside the Walls. Another (better) version of this zig-zag theory is shown on the page opposite, seeing that it accepts the evidence that the Wall would have gone up as far north as the Damascus Gate, as there is evidence of Herodian stonework from the foundations of the Damascus Gate eastward along the present northern City Wall (a portion of the actual 2nd Wall is there). Moreover, the quarrying at that place created an escarpment and a moat that would be the obvious place to put a wall for defensive purposes. The wall here stands upon bedrock, the up-thrust of which is evident. For Herod to have erected a defence wall south of this high escarpment would have been unthinkable. The zig-zag theory is the more widely accepted on at the present time, but one can’t help thinking that that it not due to its own merits, but is driven by the need to have the Church of the Holy Sepulchre OUTSIDE the Walls.

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It makes little sense to turn the 2nd wall southward just to the west of the Damascus Gate. This portion of the wall no longer exists due to the Romans completely destroying it (they launched their attack at this section and so it felt the full weight of their determination to level Jerusalem so it could not easily again become a fortified City). Only portions of the Herodian Wall foundations east of the Damascus Gate were left.

Soon after Jesus' death a '3rd' wall was built by Herod Agrippa, extending the city to the north. Many advocate that some large ashlars to the north of the Garden Tomb mark the line of this 3rd Wall (the Meyer-Sukenik Wall). If so it is likely the 2nd Wall (of Herod) expanded the City up to the line of the present western and northern walls, built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538. Others say the 3rd Wall would have just been along the line of the present Walls, making the ‘zig-zag’ 2nd Wall more likely.

One major problem of the zig-zag theory is that it makes no sense from a defensive point of view. The very purpose of having Walls is defensive, and Jerusalem's weakest point (where it was always attacked from), where it needed the strongest defence, is the north and north-west, because it is protected by Valleys on the other sides.

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It is unlikely a major defence wall would have been built just inside where the Church of the Holy-Sepulchre is. From a military point of view, the 2nd wall to the west of the Tyropoeon Valley would have been indefensible, allowing the attackers outside the wall to be on higher ground than the defence wall - giving the advantage to the enemy. There is no reason for such a wall to be curved so close in, allowing the enemy to swiftly reach the heart of the city and the important civic buildings, even the western side of the Temple with its artillery (balistas). A defence wall running south along the western edge of the Tyropoeon valley, excluding the defensively advantageous western hill, would have been an invitation to quick military disaster. Such was obviously not the case, for Titus had great trouble taking Jerusalem in AD 70. Major Conder: “no military man could, for a moment, admit that the 2nd Wall ran down into this deep valley instead of occupying the saddle to the west.” Had the western Wall been built here, it was only a few hundred yards from the Temple (the extreme east of the City), making Jerusalem very narrow here and hard to defend. Moreover, excavations have not revealed a Herodian Defensive Wall adjacent to the Holy Sepulchre, but only a section of rebuilt wall belonging to a building.

 

Even if the Wall was here, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would be just a few feet outside it, which is unrealistic. A wall would have a defensive ditch outside it, you would not have a tomb adjacent to the wall. Moreover, such a corner would quickly become filled with all manner of rubbish, a most improbable site for the garden of a rich man. 

Even if the 2nd Wall was positioned so that the Site was outside it, there would still be major problems, since it was barely outside the 2nd Wall. The Garden Tomb is about as near the City as it is possible for a first century tomb to be. The Latin Calvary is just too far into the populated area to be a valid location in 33 A.D.

(2) It is not near a major historical Gate of Jerusalem, as required by Hebrews 13:12 which speaks of Christ’s Death:“outside THE GATE.” This implies a major Gate. There is no evidence of a major Gate or Highway in the vicinity of the Site, or any historical reference to such structures. Roman Crucifixion was done along a well travelled Highway, so the maximum number of people were shown the consequences of rebellion. 

(3) There was no discovery of a rolling stone, nor the track of one, nor the type of door which could be closed by one, by any discovery of Bishop Macarius in 330 A.D.

(4) There is no evidence of a continuous Jewish or Christian tradition of the location of Calvary or the Tomb of Jesus from AD 33 to 330. One cannot prove that the Site, considered authentic since 326, is the same as that known in apostolic times.

(5) The story of Queen Helena's discovery of the true Cross is without historical foundation or scientific possibility (the wood would have rotted by then).

(6) Archaeological soundings of the area reveal no chance for a cultivated Garden to be there in the first century. The surrounding ground indicates intensive quarrying before the time of Christ, at which time its topsoil was entirely removed. It was bald rock! The site then remained without vegetation, and the bare bedrock became the location of some tombs carved there during a later period (3rd/2nd century BC). Jerome Murphy-O’Connor who is enthusiastic for the Holy Sepulchre describes the location in these terms:“At the beginning of the C1 AD, the site was a disused quarry outside the city walls. Tombs similar to those found elsewhere and dated to the C1 BC. and the C1 AD. had been cut into the vertical west wall left by the quarrymen. Windblown earth and seeds watered by winter rains would have created the covering of green in the quarry that John dignifies by the term ‘garden.” His description of the ‘garden’ as a naturally occurring weed patch shows little regard for the reliability of John’s Gospel. Mary Magdalene thought she was talking to a “gardener” (John 20:15) The lack of arable soil, meant the Site could not have been a garden in the time of Jesus. It does not match the setting described in the New Testament (John 19:41). 

(7) Would the Romans establish a public execution ground for the crucifixion of Jews so near Herod’s Palace? The wind would have carried the screams of the victims, the shouts of the spectators, the stench of death, right into Herod's Palace.

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 (8) Demography. Regardless of where the 2nd Wall ran, it is unlikely the execution ground could be so close to the NW section of the City. From the time of Herod the Great (37 BC) onwards, Jerusalem grew considerably in numbers and size, partly because of the enormous need for labour and skilled artisan from all parts of Palestine. This growth meant: (1) an increased density within the Walled City, (2), there had to be a movement of people to areas outside the Walls. Jeremias estimated over 5,000 people lived outside the City Walls (primarily to the NW) in Jesus' time. Witness the Wall of Agrippa, built only 11 years after the crucifixion to enclose an already existing large population of homes and form a defensive perimeter to the north. This huge population movement had to be to the north and west beyond the 2nd Wall, making the location of a Roman execution ground near the Wall among houses an improbability.

Roman Crucifixion was a public spectacle, requiring a regular place of execution in a large space, near a major City Gate and a junction of roads, with a main highway nearby, so it could be seen, insuring an effective deterrent, but not within a few feet of an unbroken wall in an already built-up section of residences! To locate ‘Calvary’ deep within that built-up portion of the City (supposing Agrippa's Wall followed the present City Wall) does not make sense. It would have been too crowded for an execution ground. The Site would have been so close to the 2nd Wall that it would have been surrounded by houses. So whether the Site was within the Wall or among houses outside the Wall, the result is the same. It did not satisfy the requirements for Roman Crucifixion. Wherever the Wall was, the Site was still ‘inside the Camp’ contradicting Hebrews 13:12. 

The Romans required a public execution ground to be near enough to be seen from the City Wall for a deterrent. But it also had to be far enough from the Wall to have spared those whose houses were nearby (whether just inside, or outside), from being plagued by the cries of the victims, or the stench of rotting bodies. A public execution ground would thereforehave to be farther outside this built-up area, being a cleared area, large enough for crowds to witness executions. 

It was also unthinkable for a NEW Jewish Tomb, made to hold dead bodies, that were considered ceremonially unclean, to have been built so far into a populated area, since the Jews always buried their dead outside any built up area. The Site, so near the centre of the City, only 800 yards west of the Temple area simply does not fit the burial customs of the first century. 

(9) No First Century Tombs on the West. From the 10th century BC to the first century AD, tombs were not built west of the inhabited areas of Jerusalem, unless they were over 1000m west of the Walls. The west was simply avoided as a burial area. The reason is the prevailing winds. In Jerusalem, like most other areas of Israel, the wind blows almost exclusively from the west (from the sea). Jews did not embalm dead bodies prior to burial; and corpses were left exposed in the tomb to desiccate, which could take over a year. Tombs to the west presented 2 problems: (1) the scent of decomposing corpses carried over the city by breezes from the west, and (2) ritual impurity rising from interred corpses could be carried over the city by those breezes, causing the living to become “defiled.” The prohibition on burial to the west of Jewish Cities, including Jerusalem, is noted in both the Talmud and is confirmed by the archaeological record. The Mishnah which preserves Jewish traditions from the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD, describes how Jews dealt with dead bodies in regard to their city limits: “They distance the animal carcasses and the TOMBS and the tannery from the City 50 cubits. None place a tannery other than to the east of the City. Rabbi Akiva says: to every wind (direction) one places, except the west, and distances 50 cubits." Jews did not deposit dead bodies (human or animal), within 50 cubits of the town limits (tanneries processed dead animals for leather). Akiva grew up in the late first century AD and became the presiding rabbinic authority. Akiva’s statement was used to justify the current Jewish practice of corpse deposition, that it was permissible anywhere but to the west of the City: “to every wind” is an idiomatic expression of direction, as well as an indication that wind was the primary factor in determining permissible directions. The Mishnah is saying Jews did not place tombs on the west side of their cities in the first century AD!

That tombs only to the east, north, or south of the City is also evident from archaeology. Hundreds of tombs were located on the Mount of Olives, east of the city, as well as in large tracts on the north and south sides of the city. But no tombs of the first century AD in any area within a kilometre of ancient Jerusalem’s western limit. It seems the west side of Jerusalem was an area where burial was entirely out of bounds.

A related aspect of wind direction was the expansion of the Temple Mount platform under Herod from 20 BC. The Pharisee tradition would not have permitted tomb construction anywhere directly west of the expanded Temple Mount because wind passing over western tombs would also have passed over the sacred Temple enclosure, defiling it. Thus, tombs found in this area [west of the city] are either older than the first century AD or are located more than a distance of 2,000 cubits (3,000 feet) from the Temple Mount. Since burial customs in the first century AD preclude burials west (windward) of the Temple, the crucifixion and burial of Jesus could not have taken place at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is almost exactly due west of the Holy of Holies.

Moreover, even if we forget the western prohibition, the traditional Tomb was too close to the City. Akiva says Jewish Law insists that tombs should not be built within 50 cubits of a City. Thus the Holy Sepulchre, only 50m west of that wall, was in an area where new tombs would not have been permitted. Archaeological confirms that these instructions for burial locations, were rigidly adhered to by the Jews. 

Being immediately west of the city, the same ritual purity and wind-related factors would have put the location out of bounds for Crucifixion and other forms of execution. In keeping the peace, the Romans did given regard to Jewish concerns for ritual purity. They would have avoided capital punishment west of the City. 

What about the Tombs discovered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? Horizontal burial niches (kokhim) have been found carved into the quarry bedrock, and are often cited as proof that this Site must have been outside the Walls. Now they must have been outside at some time of history, but the key question is: ‘When?’ The dating of these tombs is based on the fact that they are in the kokh style, which was common in first century. However this style of tomb was also common in the 1st to 3rd centuries BC.

 

Thus, these tombs, alleged to be first century (indicating the site was outside the City then) could just as easily date from earlier centuries. From our previous considerations, none of these could have been a first century tomb, neither could the tomb discovered by Bishop Macarius be the tomb where Jesus was buried. No other first century tombs have 
been found in the vicinity. Those which are there are much older. By the time of the first century AD the tombs were located well out beyond the populated areas which spread mainly toward the northwest sector of the City. 

Murphy-O’Connor claims that the tomb remains at the Holy Sepulchre date to between: “100 BC to 100 AD.” Even if true, this means these tombs may well date from well before Herod, so they prove nothing about the position of the Wall in the time of Christ. Moreover, he is mistaken in claiming this. In fact, kokhim tombs were in use in Palestine from the 3rd century BC. These burial niches probably date to the 3rd or 2nd centuries BC, the period of Hellenistic control that culminated in Judea’s Hasmonean monarchy, but they cannot under any circumstances be dated to the first century AD.

When they were initially built, this area lay to the north (not the west) of the City (see diagram below). Until the first century BC, the northern limit of Jerusalem’s inhabited neighbourhoods was the east-west line of the ‘first wall’ (built by King Hezekiah in the 8 century BC, and rebuilt by the Hasmoneans in the 2nd century BC). No prohibition existed in those centuries, to graves being a reasonable distance north of this first wall. The Holy Sepulchre’s burial niches are located 100 m north of that line (200 cubits). These niches were most likely carved out during the 3rd or 2nd centuries BC. 

Jerusalem (164–63 BC). The dotted line represents the present Old City Wall line.

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Later, in the first century BC the growing population of Jerusalem expanded north of the first Wall, establishing residential areas along the upper Tyropoean Valley as far as today’s Damascus Gate. Then sometime between 63 - 1BC (when Herod the Great died), either in the reign of the last of the Hasmonean monarchs or of Herod himself, the 2nd Wall was built, surrounding the newer neighbourhoods and annexing them to Jerusalem. 

Thus these tombs were only outside the Walls during the earliest part of this period and they were then incorporated within the limits of the City when the 2nd Wall was built in the 1st century BC. Whatever the exact line of the 2nd Wall, they can’t be 1st century.

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