Where was Jesus Buried- The Garden Tomb or the Sepulchre?

When you visit Jerusalem or read history books, you will be told that Christ was buried at a site now covered by the architecturally impressive Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a huge edifice in the old city, full of cassocked priests, burning candles and gold bling. It has the slab of stone upon which Jesus’ body is said to have been embalmed. You can spot it by the number of Catholic and Orthodox visitors kissing it. It all sits rather uncomfortably with my Protestant Christianity.

There is, however, a far more amenable alternative site called the Garden Tomb (above, top). Outside of the city walls, by the bus station, are some craggy cliffs and below these, the remains of a tomb. It’s beautifully looked after by British and European Evangelicals; the surrounding gardens are pretty, the bookshop plays modern worship songs and they sell good quality Christian literature and posters. I want this to be the real site of the tomb; not only is it more suitable for my theology, but it gently mocks all the centuries of squabbling between the Catholics, Armenians and Orthodox for custody of the Sepulchre Church (below). In 1883, General Gordon (‘of Khartoum’) visited the holy city, and identified the cliffs as the real Place of the Skull. I suspect that he wished to carve out a place and a role for the vibrant, Bible-based Christianity of his native land.

Someone at Salem lent me Messiah Magazine (Issue 95), a messianic Jewish publication, which, surprisingly, advocates the authenticity of the Sepulchre. Although I think it is rather too dismissive of the Garden site (claiming the tomb is several centuries too old, when other authorities I’ve read say it is in fact from the first-century), it does demonstrate the credibility of its more established rival. While the huge church is within the current city walls, it would not have been in Jesus’ day, having been expanded by Herod Agrippa some ten years later.

The article also points out that Hadrian built a temple to Venus on the Sepulchre site, along with one to Jupiter on the Temple Mount, to obliterate from memory both the Jewish Temple and the scene of some Jewish holy man’s resurrection. Kathleen Kenyon, the great archaeologist of the holy land, also confirmed that soil samples from the spot reveal evidence of grains and seeds, suggesting the place was garden-like 2000 years ago.

Sadly, I must say the article convinces me. Lovely and peaceful though the Garden Tomb is, and delicious might the prospect be of the Protestant British general identifying the real location of Christ’s resurrection, St Helena and Constantine were probably right all along. Remember though, that the tomb is only significant because of a negation, an absence, its very redundancy. Where ever it is, there’s nothing to see. Christ rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. So should you ever go to Jerusalem, by all mean pay court to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But if you really wish to meditate upon, and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Saviour- go to the Garden Tomb.