The Garden Tomb
Just north of the Damascus Gate, the main northern entrance to Jerusalem, is a beautiful garden located against the side of a rocky cliff. It has been a place of interest to many Christian visitors because it is remarkably similar to the Bible’s description of the place of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. The atmosphere of this quiet place, along with the features that can help us picture the location, make it worth a visit, whether it is the actual location of those great events or not. (Archaeological evidence seems to indicate that it is not the original site).
This photograph shows the cliff face in the garden, with a tomb cut into the rock. Entering the tomb through the doorway, enlarged during the Crusades, one must look to the right to see the burial places, which were never finished. (John 19:41-42 describes a new tomb hewn in the rock. John 20:3-9 says the disciples had to look in to see the clothes where the body had been laid, and the tomb was large enough for more than one person to enter.) The small window lets light into the burial chamber, but it may have been added later. At some point, the entrance to this tomb was enlarged and later blocked in, so the opening was originally much taller.
The channel for the stone is found in front of the entrance to the tomb. It is likely that a large tombstone, round like a disc and probably about five feet high and 12 inches thick, rolled in a channel to seal the tomb. Since families continued to use tombs over the several generations (storing the bones in ossuaries), they had to be able to open and close the burial site. Some of the wealthy, who could afford this luxury had tombs carved out of the rock. A disc-shaped stone was cut, which rolled in a trench in front of the entrance. A small depression made the stone stop exactly where it closed the tomb. A rolling stone would usually weigh more than two tons (Mark 16:1-3). There is no way to know if this was Jesus’ tomb, but it not really important. This stone can help us understand how Jesus’ tomb was sealed.
Excavations indicate that this tomb was originally located in a garden, a large cistern and a winepress were found nearby. The garden and the tomb are located outside the city walls of Jerusalem, near an old, abandoned quarry. It is not hard to imagine the sorrowful friends of Jesus coming to a place like this, seeing Jesus, body laid in the tomb, and a great stone rolled across the entrance. Returning on the morning of Firstfruits, they discovered the tomb, open and empty (like this one in the photograph). Hurrying back to Jerusalem, they encountered Jesus, who had become the firstfruits of those who be raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:23).
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