Tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem?
Tomb of Jesus - Jerusalem?
Stepping through the entrance of this tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, then ducking through a smaller, second entrance inside the tomb brought me to two almost perfectly square and identical stone plates (above) where Jesus supposedly lay entombed for 3 days.
Upon exiting this tomb of Jesus, I circled around and found the tomb to be made entirely of wood. I found a priest sitting at a shrine dedicated to Mary, Jesus' mother, at the opposite end from the entrance of this tomb of Jesus and asked him if this was really the tomb of Jesus. He said yes. I asked him, "Wasn't the tomb of Jesus cut into a rock?" He frowned and said, "What?" When I repeated the question, he got visibly upset, muttered something in his language and turned away from me.
Later, I had a chance to repeat the question to a pleasant nun at the "Christian" Information Center, prominently situated facing the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem and run by the Catholic church. She replied that the rock tomb of Jesus had been cut away to expose the two plates. "Why would they do that?" She didn't know. "When did they do that?" She didn't know that either. "And how come the tomb of Jesus is inside Jerusalem when the Bible says that it is outside Jerusalem?" She smiled and replied that since her tradition says it's the tomb of Jesus, that was good enough for her.
After the trip, I looked into the location of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, and here's what I found.
Soon after the Roman general Titus sacked Jerusalem and scattered the Jews in 70 AD, they started to trickle back into Jerusalem. A few decades later, the Jews in Jerusalem were a force to be reckoned with once again, and in 132 AD rose up in what is known as the Second Jewish Revolt.
This time they were crushed by Hadrian, the Emperor himself, who decided after his victory in 135 AD that to prevent the Jews from rising up yet again he would have to do more than just re-destroy Jerusalem, and promptly went to work to rebuild it as a pagan city. He re-laid the city except for Temple Mount like a Roman camp with two main streets intersecting in the center, where he erected a temple dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, the three Capitoline gods of Rome. Jerusalem was renamed "Aelia (the name of Hadrian’s imperial clan) Capitolina" and a large pagan population imported. All Jews were banished from the city under the threat of execution if they returned, and the Tenth Roman Legion took up residence to enforce the order. For the next two centuries, paganism was the dominant religion in Jerusalem.
In 325 AD, all Christian leaders in the Roman empire were summoned to the Council of Nicea by Constantine, the newly-minted “Christian” Emperor. Among them was Macarius, the leader of the small Christian community in Jerusalem. Macarius considered the pagan temple in Jerusalem an abomination and wanted it taken down, but tabling the matter before Constantine was a delicate matter. After all, it had been built by the great Emperor Hadrian, who had tied the prestige and the name of his (and Constantine's) clan to it.
During the Council proceedings, Macarius, supported by the others assembled, asked Constantine if he would commission the excavation of the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem. The answer was yes. Great, and by the way, since Jesus' tomb is somewhere beneath the temple that Hadrian had built, there would be no choice but to take it down... Would the Emperor mind?
The temple came down and excavation started. And guess what they found? In one area, they found a cave with a bunch of tombs, one of which they designated Jesus'. They also found a rock, which they named Golgotha, and even some wood, which they said were pieces of the crosses on which Jesus and the two robbers had been crucified. Mission accomplished, they replaced the previous pagan temple with what eventually became part of the present Holy Sepulcher Church.
But something isn’t quite right. As mentioned above, Hadrian re-laid Jerusalem like a Roman camp with two main streets crossing at the center and built the pagan temple at that intersection. This means the temple was built at the center of Jerusalem. But the Bible says, "the place where Jesus was crucified was NEAR the city" (John 19:20, emphasis mine), so Jesus' tomb couldn't have been at the center of the city.
And the Bible identifies Jesus' tomb as one that had been cut "out of the rock" (Matthew 27:60), not a bunch of tombs in a cave. Furthermore, the Golgotha in the Bible is a "place" (Matthew 27:33), not a rock, and what proof was there that the wood found were bits of the crosses, let alone the very crosses on which Jesus and the two robbers had been crucified three centuries earlier?
Had they really found Golgotha and Jesus' tomb, or were they digging up stories to justify knocking down Hadrian's temple to Constantine and the disgruntled pagan Romans in his court? And is there a tomb and Golgotha that actually fits the Bible's details?
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