Thursday, June 11, 2015


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).
The Garden Tomb is primarily a Protestant site, as opposed to the Orthodox and Catholic ownership of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It has been owned and operated by the British Evangelical Association for the last 104 years. One of the main arguments in favor of this site is that it is clearly outside the city walls, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lies well within the city walls. Scripture plainly states that Jesus was crucified and buried outside the city walls. There has been a lot of debate over when and where wall boundaries have changed, however, and many scholars believe that the area where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits was actually outside the walls until after the crucifixion.
My own religious leaders have leaned more towards the Garden Tomb as the actual site, but as for me, I think it's just about impossible (and probably not that important) to know for sure exactly where the crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection occurred almost 2,000 years ago.

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.
Beautiful landscaping creates a far more natural setting than chandeliers:

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:
We were primed for what we were going to see . . .
. . . and that's exactly what we saw:
Unfortunately, the top of this Golgotha is now a Muslim cemetery, so there was no going up there to look for the exact spot where the three crosses were placed.
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):
I expected Golgotha to be a bit larger than the hill in the picture,
but the camels are a nice touch.
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.
However, the scriptures also say the crucifixion occurred near Mt. Moriah, and this Golgotha is connected to it. Another point in its favor.

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):
Of everything in the Garden Tomb, this sign posted on the inside of the current wooden doorway to the sepulchre is the most important:
. . . along with this one placed in the garden:


  1. A nice comparison. It reminds me of the song"Big Yellow Taxi" by Joni Mitchell: "Don't it always seem to go; That you don't know what you've got; Till it's gone; They paved paradise [Golgotha]; And put up a parking lot."

  2. I like your discussions of the contrast between the Holy Sepulchre and this simple, reverent tomb. I really had thought of these places in relationship to each other. The quiet simpleness of this tomb is certainly more striking than the noisy business of the Church.

  3. Lovely write up. I do think, judging from the previous place, that this location exudes a more peaceful feeling than the chaos of the other. Of course, I'm influenced by all the Harry Anderson pictures of my youth.

  4. The theory that appeals the most to me is that the crucifixion site and the tomb were both on the Mount of Olives. There are rock-cut tombs of the right era (the Garden Tomb dates to the Iron Age, so it can't be the new, unused tomb described in the Gospels) and a crucifixion place that would have overlooked the temple.

    1. That's one I haven't heard before, Angie. Very interesting. Do you have a link that talks more about it?

  5. I found all of this Very Interesting as I read in bed on Easter morning. Happy Easter.

  6. Christ is arisen !
    Joy to the Mortal One,
    Whom the unmerited,
    Clinging, inherited
    Guilt did imprison.

    „O felix culpa,
    quae talem ac tantum meruit habere Redemptorem!“