About a quarter mile from Jerusalem's Damascus Gate is Version #2 of Golgotha/Calvary and Jesus's Tomb. Visually, this site is much more convincing than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--at least for me--because it is outdoors, simple, and relatively quiet, things we have come to expect of a death and burial site (as opposed to the noise and bling of Version #1).
But that's okay, because our local guide told us that many scholars believe the crosses would have been placed at the base of the hill as the scriptures quote the words of those who were passing by, and the road to Damascus ran right next to the flat area at the bottom of the hill. Here is a picture from a long, long time ago (although probably not 2,000 years ago):
The only problem with that theory is that the flat part at the base of Golgotha is now a bus terminal. I really didn't expect that, and suddenly the Altar to the Crucifixion in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is looking a little bit more probable.
What does matter to me is 1) having a visual that I can link to my thoughts about these events in Jesus's life, and 2) appreciating the feelings and participating in the spirit of the people who worship at both sites.
Great effort is made to present a completely different image in the Garden Tomb than at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. A table loaded with copies of the scriptures is near the entry, and visitors are welcome to pick up one for reading and meditation while they are in the Garden.
The focus in the Garden is on peace and prayer. During our time there, we heard several tour groups singing hymns, music more familiar to us than the chanting of Armenian monks in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Familiarity always helps me to feel more comfortable (although it doesn't make something "true"). On the other hand, new and foreign experiences can have their own impact.
We began at Golgotha, so-named here for its appearance rather than for Adam's skull as it is in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre:
. . . and that's exactly what we saw:
|I expected Golgotha to be a bit larger than the hill in the picture,|
but the camels are a nice touch.
Sadly, no one seems to care about what might have occurred here long ago. There are no archaeological digs and no brass stars marking the place, just a lot of noisy buses.
There are even two minarets in the background. Not quite the same atmosphere here as in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But the Garden itself is lovely, and does a good job creating a peaceful, worshipful spirit.
Another reason this site has been considered as a possible site for the crucifixion and resurrection is that there is a cistern on the property, indicating that this was a garden of some sort. John 19 (KJV) reads, "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid." Gardens had cisterns like this one to provide water for the plants:
It is easy to think of the garden as belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and disciple of Jesus. By the way, I wonder what Joseph's role in the trial might have been. Did he and his fellow Sanhedrin member Nicodemus have a chance to defend Jesus? (Did anyone?)
According to Matthew 27 (KJV), the tomb was actually one Joseph had made for himself: "[Joseph] went to Pilate and begged the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn out of the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre."
It is easy to stand in this beautiful garden, not far from the rocky, scarred face of Golgotha, and imagine these events taking place. We were there in the late afternoon when a soft breeze was blowing and both sun and shadow were marking the tomb's outer wall.
I can see Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary" sitting with their backs against this wall, grieving.
We waited in a short line for our turn to go inside. Everyone was generally quiet and respectful. I was glad we were there in March rather than during one of the the busier tourist months:
|Stan and Chris at the front of the line|
We stood in the antechamber (#6 above) and looked through the iron gate at the tomb area, a Byzantine cross painted on the wall. (Actually, one source says the original cross is covered in plaster to protect it, and this new-looking version is painted on top.)
I can relate to this spare, unadorned (minus that reproduced cross) room much more than I can to the one in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but that is partly because of my upbringing and expectations. Both places are beautiful in very different ways.
|Stan on his way out of the tomb|
A round rock nearby is an example of the actual "great stone" that was rolled into place to seal the doorway. This stone is only about half the size of the door, but I'm pretty sure I could not move it. It must have taken many men to seal the entry (but only a couple of angels to unseal it):
. . . along with this one placed in the garden: