Tombs varied greatly in appearance. The poor probably had nothing more than small underground chambers. Wealthier people, however, created extensive tombs cut into solid rock near the ground.

Across the entrance, a large, flat, round tombstone (often weighing more than two tons) rolled in a trench and covered the opening but allowed entrance for later care of the bones. It was sealed so that it could be determined whether it had been opened.

After the tomb was sealed and the flesh was allowed to decay, the second inner chamber provided a place for the burial itself, where the bones would later be collected into a box, called an ossuary. Many tombs had a number of shelves, or niches, cut into the rock.

According to the Law, tombs had to be outside town; otherwise someone inside the town might touch the tomb and become ceremonially unclean.

What Was Jesus’ Tomb Really Like?
Jesus’ tomb belonged to a rich Jewish man named Joseph of Arimathea (Matt. 27:57-60), who was a prominent member of the Jewish council.

The tomb in which Jesus was buried had never been used before. According to Jewish law held by the Pharisees, only people in an immediate family could be buried in the same tomb, so it’s likely that no one in the family of Arimathea would ever use it again. Thus Joseph made a big sacrifice when he allowed Jesus to be buried in his brand-new tomb.


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