The tomb of Jesus: Gravediggers’ disappointment

Headlines and pictures with an ancient bone box, carved with the name of Yeshua appeared lately, in the wake of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s decision to let reporters have a sneak peak into their warehouse of ancient treasures. Could it be that they had found the bone box (ossuary) of Yeshua of Nazareth? Back in times gone by, the ancients would lay bodies in a tomb, and later collect the remaining bones into a box as long as the femur called an ossuary.

However, this Yeshua ossuary headline is not really connected to our saviour and friend, Yeshua the Messiah, as you might expect. The celebrated box that whipped up so much excitement was discovered to have come from a completely different century, and it was established that no link could be made with the world famous carpenter who split time in two. Many such ossuaries have been discovered, and there are some 30 with the name of Yeshua carved upon them. It was a very common name at that time.

“Today we can reconstruct very accurately many, many aspects of the daily life of the time of Christ,” archaeologist Gideon Avni of the Israel Antiquities Authority affirms, but he added that they had nothing connected to the person himself [1].

If only Yeshua’s bones could be found, all those wild theories about him rising from the dead could be finished! But we are supremely confident that those who are looking for his remains are never going to find them.

Unmoved By Stone

There has also been considerable excitement about the completion of $3.5 million renovation work in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where it is thought that Yeshua was crucified and buried. The nine month renovation was the first carried out since 1810, and dug further down than anyone had gone since the third century. On 22nd March, there was the inauguration ceremony, to which thousands of clergy and pilgrims, Christian, Muslim and others, all attended. Both of these developments have caused great interest in different ways, but neither comes any closer to finding any trace of Yeshua himself.

He’s not there! We can assure you! He is sitting at the right hand of the Father.

However, controversy still runs riot over the exact place of his (temporary) burial place. The two main contenders are the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb, both of which have had some very good reasons to think that it could have been there, but they are two very different sites, as anyone who has visited them can tell you.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is about as unholy as can be, with several Christian groups (Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and others) scrambling for ownership of various parts of the building, so at loggerheads with one another that the only person they can all trust with a key to the place is a Muslim man called Adeeb Joudeh. Adeeb’s faithful family has been entrusted with the key for generations in the complete absence of accord between the denominations over the years.

Not-So-Holy Sepulchre

One of the last things Yeshua asked from his Father was that his followers would be one, so that the world could see that God has sent him. This church makes a complete mockery of the idea of unity between believers, and is the exact opposite of the witness to the Messiahship of Yeshua that he prayed for. It has even been known for violence to break out between the religious groups, if you can fathom it.

A jarring symbol of this discord is a ladder from renovation works in the eighteenth century which was left on a window ledge (which belonged to the Greek Orthodox) but rested against an Armenian owned window. Since there is no communication between the warring factions, that ladder could not be moved! It has been there as a stain on the name of Yeshua for centuries, and is in every photograph of the church available. Can you imagine what the Jewish and Muslim people of Jerusalem must think about Jesus and his followers from this spectacle?

It is certainly possible that Yeshua did indeed die in where the church of the Holy Sepulchre stands today, and that his body was laid there. The church is inside today’s city walls, but those walls were not there in the time of Yeshua. It could be the right spot. Church tradition going as far back as we know believes it to be there, and it would not be uncharacteristic for Satan to do his worst at that location if it really was the place of his resounding defeat.

Mistaken for a Gardener

The site of the Garden Tomb is the polar opposite – the peaceful, beautiful, and humble environment points to the person of Yeshua and what he accomplished at calvary more than all the candles and incense dispensed by pompous-looking priests elsewhere. The gospels tell us that the tomb was in a garden, and that Mary mistook Yeshua for the gardener! It all takes us back to the first mention of a garden in the Bible: The Garden of Eden. This is no accident.

The ancient Jewish tomb was discovered in 1867, right next to a rock formation that had already been identified as looking an awful lot like a skull. The place was outside the city walls by a thoroughfare, to the north of the city. An ancient winepress and huge water cistern found close by indicated that the area had once been a rich man’s garden, and the tomb itself was much as the Bible described – cut out of rock with a weeping chamber, a burial chamber, and sealed with a rolling stone.

But recently it has been confirmed that the tomb where it is thought Yeshua’s body may have been placed was carved around 500 years before the time of Yeshua, meaning that it would in no sense be considered a “newly hewn” tomb, carved out for Joseph of Arimathea as the New Testament describes (Matt 27:60). Still, as the staff at the Garden Tomb always emphasise, in a way it doesn’t really matter if it was the exact spot or not – the point is that he is not there: He is risen!

He is risen indeed.

This article originally appeared One for Israel and is reposted with permission.