Holy Sepulchre Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Holy Sepulchre Church

Holy Sepulchre Church is located at the "traditional" site of Jesus' crucifixion and burial in Jerusalem. Above is the church's gate on the road named after Helena, the mother of Constantine, the first "Christian" Roman emperor who in 325 AD commissioned the Holy Sepulchre Church to be built. Walking down the steps on the other side of this gate leads to the church's square (below) and the church's main door (bottom right of the photo).

Holy Sepulchre ChurchThe Holy Sepulchre Church originally commissioned by Constantine was completed in 335 AD but burned in 614 AD.

The second version of the church was completed in 630 AD, damaged by earthquake in 746 AD, and by fires in 841, 938 and 966, and destroyed by Muslims in 1009 AD.

The third and current Holy Sepulchre Church (left) was built in 1048, expanded in 1149, fire-damaged in 1808, and repaired in 1809.

Just inside the door of the church is an almost perfectly flat, stretcher-sized rock (photo) called the "Stone of Anointing," which is claimed to be where Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus anointed Jesus' crucified body for burial.

Stone of Anointing

Is it true?

The Bible mentions Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus binding Jesus' crucified body with myrrh and aloes prior to burial, but there is no mention of them doing it on a rock, let alone on such a peculiar one.

In reality, the Stone of Anointing was added to the Holy Sepulchre Church only in 1810, yet continues to be presented by those who manage the church and revered by un-informed pilgrims as having supported the crucified body of Jesus.

The interior of Holy Sepulchre Church is divided into six sections, each occupied by monks from the Roman Catholic Church or one of five Orthodox Churches: Armenian, Greek, Syrian, Coptic (Egyptian), and Ethiopian. Until recently, their respective territories inside the church were demarcated by broken line boundary markings painted on the floor and even pillars, and there are still set times for crossing into each other's territories. Tensions between the six factions persist and occasionally lead to shouting matches, even fist fights.

Beyond the Stone of Anointing and under the church's rotunda is the towering edicule (photo), said to encase the burial place of Jesus.

Holy Sepulchre Church

And adorning the top of the entrance to this edicule are inexplicably detailed and European-looking portraits (photo) of the twelve Apostles as old men, despite the fact that all of them were Middle Easterners and most were martyred long before reaching old age.

Holy Sepulchre Church

Stepping into the edicule and then ducking through a smaller, second entrance inside the edicule leads to two almost identical and almost perfectly flat square stone plates (below) where Jesus' body supposedly lay entombed for three days.

Holy Sepulchre Church

Is this true?

No, and this church isn't where Jesus was crucified and buried. Presented below is how the Holy Sepulchre Church ended up where it is today.

In 66 AD, Jews rebelled against Rome. In 70 AD, the Roman general and future emperor Titus sacked Jerusalem and scattered the Jews, but they soon trickled 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 sitting Roman emperor, 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 the Jewish capital, and promptly went to work to rebuild it as a pagan city. He re-laid the city except the Temple Mount like a Roman camp with main streets intersecting in the center,** where he erected a pagan Roman temple. Jerusalem was renamed "Aelia (the name of Hadrian’s imperial clan) Capitolina" and a pagan population was brought in. 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” Roman emperor. Among them was Macarius, the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem. Macarius considered the pagan temple in Jerusalem an abomination and wanted it taken down, but tabling the matter to 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 Jesus' tomb in Jerusalem. The answer was yes. Great, and by the way, since Jesus' tomb is somewhere beneath the pagan temple that Hadrian had built, there would be no choice but to take it down... Would the emperor mind?

The pagan temple came down and excavation started. 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 sought and received permission from Constantine to replace the previous pagan temple with the first Holy Sepulchre Church.

But something isn’t quite right.

As mentioned above, Hadrian re-laid Jerusalem like a Roman camp with main streets crossing at the center and built the pagan temple at that intersection. This means the temple was built in the center of the city. But the Bible says, "the place where Jesus was crucified was NEAR the city" (John 19:20, emphasis added), so Jesus' tomb couldn't have been in the center of the city.

(Those who support the Holy Sepulchre Church today claim that its location was just outside the city when Jesus was crucified around 30 AD. As presented above, this location was city center by 135 AD. A location just outside the city becoming its center requires the city to double its width and expand in the direction of that location. According to the mathematical formula for the area of a circle (π r ²), if a city's width and radius double, its surface area quadruples. For the claim of the Holy Sepulchre Church's supporters to be true, Jerusalem would have had to quadruple in size between 30 AD and 135 AD. Already a large city by 30 AD, Jerusalem suffered a major famine thereafter (see Acts 11:29), and then a war against the Romans as well as a civil war among the Jews between 67 AD and 70 AD, followed by a genocidal massacre by the Romans in 70 AD. Famine, wars, and genocide deplete a city's population, not grow, let alone quadruple, it.)

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 crosses, let alone the very crosses on which Jesus and the two robbers had been crucified 300 years earlier?

Had they really found Golgotha and Jesus' tomb, or were they digging up stories to justify knocking down Hadrian's pagan temple to the disgruntled pagans in Constantine's court in Rome? And is there a tomb and Golgotha that fits the Bible's details?

There is. See Golgotha and Jesus' Tomb.