Gordon's Garden Tomb
Lecture by Archaeologist Gabriel Barkay
(details about the Garden Tomb start at the 37:00 mark of the video)
This lecture is from 2009. Since then, the walls of Jerusalem have been identified. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was clearly outside the city walls during the time of Jesus.
Places of Interest
1. Gordan’s Garden Tomb is located just 250 yards (220 m.) to the north of the Damascus Gate of Old City Jerusalem.
2. The evidence is overwhelming that it is not the authentic site of Golgotha, but it does provide a serene setting in a garden-like place where many go to meditate and reflect upon the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
3. It is considered by some to be the location of Golgotha, but again, the evidence clearly points to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the true site (see below for why).
1. The property of the Garden Tomb was purchased in 1894 by The Garden Tomb Association.
2. It is a Charitable Trust based in the United Kingdom and is made up of people from many different denominations and national backgrounds.
3. Their passion is to help people understand all Christ did for them on the Cross.
4. The site is maintained by volunteers that come from around the globe and join a team of local Palestinians and Israelis.
Places of Interest
1. Garden Tomb. A cave-like tomb that can be entered. It has a channel at the entrance where a stone could be rolled to cover and uncover the tomb.
2. A rock face cliff that has the form of a skull which is believed to be Golgotha.
3. Damascus Gate
4. Old City Jerusalem
5. Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Why the Garden Tomb is Not the Authentic Site of Golgotha
After endless research, we have clearly come to the firm belief that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the true place of Golgotha. While we understand some may disagree, here is the evidence that leads us to our conclusion.
1. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was outside the Old City Walls of Jerusalem during the time of Christ.
While the staff at the Garden Tomb are gracias, they lead you to believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was inside the Old City Walls of Jerusalem during the time of Christ, so it's unlikely to be the site of Golgotha. This is false. The wall that now encompasses the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was added about 10 years after Christ. Historical records, archaeology, and eyewitness accounts all reveal this as factual. This later wall was incorporated into the city shortly after the time of Christ by Herod Agrippa (AD 41-44). This is also supported by records of Josephus (Flavius Josephus, 1st-century Roman historian).
We have become concerned about the truthfulness and integrity of those at the Garden Tomb. They should know about the evidence of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre being outside the Old City Walls of Jerusalem during the time of Christ. However, they still lead you to believe otherwise. This is a strong argument they use to defend their site as the true site of Golgotha, but it's built upon false information. This seems very misleading.
There are many eyewitness accounts and writings (Jerome, Eusebius, etc.) that clearly affirm the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as being Golgotha (we will elaborate more about this below.
2. The Garden Tomb is an Old Testament tomb, not a new tomb from the 1st century (time of Christ), as described in the Gospels.
Scripture clearly states that Jesus was laid in a new tomb. "And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut out in the rock" Matthew 27:59-60).
The problem with the Garden Tomb is that it's in the midst of an 8th-century (BC) grave complex. It follows all of the known patterns of 8th-century (BC) tombs and breaks all the patterns of known 1st-century tombs. In short, it’s from the wrong era to be Christ’s tomb.
3. Scripture clearly teaches that one had to bend over or stoop down to see and enter the tomb of Jesus.
So Peter and the other disciple left, and they were going to the tomb. The two were running together; and the other disciple ran ahead, faster than Peter, and came to the tomb first; and he stooped [NASB, ESV, NKJV] bent over [NIV, KKV] to look in, and saw the linen wrappings lying there; however he did not go in (John 20:3-6).
The problem with the Garden Tomb is that you walk up to it and enter. You don't stoop down or bend over to enter or see it.
4. Golgotha was near Old City Jerusalem
Scripture states in John 19:20 that the place of crucifixion was near the city of Jerusalem, so this place fits the biblical narrative well: Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.
The Garden Tomb would have been much farther away than the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
5. During the time of Christ, there was a gate to Jerusalem called the Gennath Gate, which means Garden Gate.
This gate has been discovered in recent times. It is in a little different location than the Jerusalem model, as the model was built before the gate was discovered.
Josephus makes mention of this gate in his historical writings as well. There was a road that passed by the stone quarry for travelers entering and leaving Jerusalem. Because the quarry had fallen out of use many years before Christ, it slowly developed into a garden and had a cistern and pool of water close by. Some of the rock was left, and the Romans crucified people upon it. This rock can be seen in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today. It was an ideal place because it was just outside the city and located on a well-traveled road. The Romans crucified people in the most visible places possible, so all would learn what would happen to them if they disobeyed Roman laws. There were also tombs in the rock faces that were used for burials.
Substantial remains of the First Wall have been found in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. In these latter excavations, the remains of the Gennath (Garden) Gate and the beginning of what is believed to be the Second Wall have been found, just where Josephus described them as being (cf. War 5.146).
The name "Garden Gate" indicates that a garden must have been located nearby. However, this garden wasn't like a flower garden but a farming garden for raising crops. Excavations below the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer show that this area used to be an ancient quarry, which was later abandoned.
A layer of new farming soil has been found under the Church of the Redeemer that verifies it was a garden area. The excavators believe that the area was filled with good soil, presumably to turn the ugly quarry remains into a small farming garden.
An additional area by the rock quarry became a cistern as the city developed.
From the Gospels, we know that Jesus was crucified in a place called "Calvary" and buried in a garden that was in the same place as Joseph of Arimathea's tomb. The front wall of the tomb faced east so the early morning sun could illuminate it. According to Hebrews 13:12, Jesus was crucified outside the city.
Some people have a problem that the place of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus are so close together in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. However, John 19:41 states: "Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid." So, Scripture clearly indicates that the crucifixion and tomb were close by to each other.
6. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has 2,000 years of continual historical, archaeological, and eyewitness history confirming it as the site of Golgotha. The Garden Tomb has no such history.
Here's an overview of this history:
1. According to tradition, the early Christian community of Jerusalem worshiped at this site of the crucifixion from the time of the resurrection until 135 AD, when Emperor Hadrian destroyed and rebuilt Jerusalem. Visiting the burial sites of rabbis was a common practice that is even done to this day by the Jews. So, there is no doubt the early Christians would have visited the place where Christ died and rose again as well. There was no one like Jesus, so His followers knew exactly where Golgotha was and venerated it. There is no way this spot would have been lost or forgotten by them.
For example, shortly after the resurrection of Christ, the Upper Room was converted into a church, and the apse (which is a half-round circle with a dome shape) pointed toward the crucifixion, burial, and resurrection place of Christ. This gives significant evidence that this place was venerated and visited early on after Christ's resurrection. Because this place was so important, the apse of the Upper Room Church pointed toward it and not the temple.
Another interesting fact is that there are also burial tombs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that date to the time of Christ. They are of the type that were used from about 37 BC to around 70 AD. These tombs clearly indicate that this area had tombs and was outside the City of Jerusalem during the time of Christ, as regular people were not buried within the city.
Lastly, during this time period, from the time of Christ to 132 AD, a carving with an ancient Latin description was found here. It says, "Yes, Lord! We will go." This shows this place was venerated by early Christians.
2. About 10 years after the crucifixion of Christ, a wall was built by King Agrippa I that enclosed the area of Christ's execution and burial within the city. This accounts for why the Holy Sepulchre is located inside the Old City walls of Jerusalem today.
3. The next major event that affected the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ was a major Jewish rebellion against the Romans called the Bar Kokhba revolt in around 132 AD. Because of the revolt, the Roman Emperor Hadrian destroyed much of Jerusalem and changed its orientation. He renamed the city Aelia Capitolina and the country to Palestine, which was a Philistine name. His desire was to erase the Jewish connection to the land because of the Jew's continual rebellions and uprisings. He constructed a main street that ran north and south called the Cardo Maximus (which means heart or center of). He also desecrated the place of the crucifixion and resurrection that had been venerated by the early Christians, and in its place, he built a large platform that filled in the quarry and had upon it a large temple dedicated to Jupiter and Aphrodite (Venus), an ancient Greek goddess of sexual love and beauty, identified with Venus by the Romans. Hadrian was so intent on destroying any connection to the land by the Jews and the Christians that he buried all the evidence of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ under a platform that housed his large temple to Jupiter and Venus. Hadrian laid out the new City of Jerusalem so that the major streets led to his temple to Jupiter and Venus, which again were over the remains of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ.
Coins have been discovered that depict the image of the temple Hadrian built to venerate Jupiter and Venus.
Eusebius, the bishop of Caesarea, Israel, who lived from 260 to 339 AD, gave a chronological account of the development of Early Christianity from the 1st century to the 4th. He was an eyewitness to some of the events Hadrian did and wrote down what he saw. Regarding the desecration of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ, Eusebius says: "The Romans brought a quantity of earth from a distance with much labor and covered the entire spot and buried it. Then having raised this to a moderate height, they paved it with stone." What he described was the raised platform Hadrian built, upon which he erected his temple to Jupiter and Venus. This platform had retaining walls around it, some of which can still be seen inside the Church today. Also, some of the stairs leading up to the temple of Hadrian can be seen today in the lower part of the church to the east.
Eusebius goes on to say: "The monument of his most holy passions so long ago buried beneath the ground." Here he is describing the place of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ that were buried.
Hadrian also minted a coin depicting the temple he built upon Golgotha.
The temple of Hadrian would remain in place for another 200 years or so until the time of the Roman Emperor, Constantine.
4. In 313 AD, a major change happened in the Roman Empire when Constantine legalized Christianity. Later, because his mother was so passionate about Christ, she made a trip to the Holy Land to build churches over the main events of Christ’s life. She built the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount of Olives (currently known as the Pater Noster Church), the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Roman Emperor Constantine had the temple Hadrian erected to Jupiter and Venus demolished to make way for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the process of the demolition, the tomb and crucifixion site of Jesus were uncovered once again, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was erected. Additionally, Constantine's mother, Helena, is claimed to have discovered the relic of the Cross of Jesus at this time as well. The church was dedicated in 335 AD.
5. Now let's see what Jerome says about the fact that Hadrian’s temple was located on the top of the crucifixion and tomb site of Christ. Jerome lived from 347 to 420 AD. In about 389 AD, he established a monastery at Bethlehem and translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin. Bethlehem is very close to Jerusalem, so Jerome was an eyewitness to what he wrote.
Here's what Jerome tells us: "From the time of Hadrian to the reign of Constantine, the spot which had witnessed the resurrection was occupied by a figure of Jupiter while on the rock where the cross had stood a marble statue of Venus was set up by the heathen and became an object of worship. The original persecutors indeed suppose that by polluting our holy places, they would deprive us of our faith in the passion and in the resurrection." So Jerome confirms that from the time of Hadrian to Constantine, the temple Hadrian built was located on top of Golgotha.
So, in the place where Christ died for the sins of humanity, Hadrian set up a temple to false gods who promoted deep immoral sins. What a contrast.
6. Eusebius, whom we referred to earlier, describes the destruction of Hadrian's temple by Constantine: "As soon as his [Constantine's] commands were given, these engines of deceit were cast down from their proud eminence to very ground and the dwelling places of error with the statues and the evil spirits which they represented were overthrown and utterly destroyed. Nor did the Emperor's zeal stop here, but he gave further orders that the materials of what was thus destroyed, both stone and timber should be removed and thrown as far from the spot as possible, and this command also was speedily executed."
Eusebius continues: "The emperor, however, was not satisfied with having proceeded thus far, once more fired with holy adjure he directed that the ground itself should be dug up to come to a considerable depth and the soil which had been polluted by the foul impurities of demon worship transported to a far distant place. This also was accomplished without delay, and as soon as the original surface of the ground beneath the covering of the earth appeared, immediately the venerable and Holy Monument of our Savior's resurrection was discovered. Then indeed did the most holy cave [referring to the tomb] present a faithful similitude of his return to life and that after lying buried in darkness, it again emerged to light and afforded to all who came to witness a sight a clear and visible proof of the wonders of which that spot had once been seen, a testimony to the resurrection of the Savior clearer than any voice could give."
Eusebius then speaks about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that Constantine built: "Accordingly, on the very spot which witnessed the Savior's suffering, a new Jerusalem was constructed where at the side opposite to the Sepulcher [Jesus's tomb] which was the eastern side, the church itself was erected, a noble work rising to a vast height and a great extent in length and breadth."
Eusebius now describes the construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Constantine: "Thereupon the Emperor issued sacred edicts, and when he had provided an abundant supply of all the things required for the project, he gave orders that a House of Prayer worthy of God should be erected round about the cave of salvation [he is speaking about the tomb], and on a scale of rich and imperial costliness to be greater than anything else that had been built on earth." So Constantine built a large mausoleum over the place of the tomb. A mausoleum is a structure designed for burial or entombment above the ground.
7. Another eyewitness account that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was located on the site of the crucifixion and tomb of Christ comes from the Pilgrim of Bardot from 333AD: "On your left is a little hill of Golgotha where the Lord was crucified, about a stone's throw from it is the Crypt where they laid his body and from where he rose again on the third day. These are present by order of Constantine. There has been built a basilica that is a church of wondrous beauty."
8. A quote from another pilgrim's account of a worship service in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre comes from 380 AD: "I know you were eager to know about the services they have daily in the holy places, I shall tell you about them. When the first cock has crowed, the bishop straightaway enters and goes into the tomb and the anastasis [anastasis means resurrection and is the round rotunda dome place in the church over the tomb of Christ] and the whole crowd streams into the Anastasis which is already ablaze with many lamps. Then the bishop standing inside the screen takes the gospel and advances to the door of the tomb, where he himself reads the account of the Lord's resurrection. When the gospel is finished, the bishop comes out and is taken with hymns to the cross, and they all go with him to the great church, the martyrium. The people assemble in the great church built by Constantine upon Golgotha."
9. Another amazing piece of evidence is found at the Basilica of Santa Pudenziana, which is recognized as the oldest place of Christian worship in Rome. In the apse of the building, which dates to around 400 AD, is a mosaic of Christ and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the background. So, we actually have a photo of what Constantine's Church of the Holy Sepulchre looked like. This is strong evidence of the authenticity of the church.
10. In addition, more substantial evidence supporting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the true site of Golgotha is found in Madaba, Jordan. The Madaba Mosaic Map is part of a floor mosaic in the early Byzantine church of St. George in Madaba, Jordan. The map is of the Middle East, and part of it shows the oldest surviving original depiction of the Holy Land and Jerusalem. In the map of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre can be found in the center of the city. This reveals that the church existed and was venerated as the site of Jesus' death and resurrection. The map dates to around 550 AD.
11. In April of 2022, a stone slab was recently turned over during renovations, and its significance was rediscovered. They identified on this stone slab unique decorations which combine Classical, Byzantine, and early Islamic art, in which finely cut tiles of colorful marble are used to fill in circular engravings on the stone. The stone slab stood at the apex, at the sanctuary of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This provides more evidence that this site has been venerated for millenniums as the true site of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
7. Based on all the above accounts, the true site of Golgotha should have evidence of buildings on and around it.
The problem with the Garden Tomb is that it has none of this. There is no evidence of buildings or anything on or around it. It was only discovered in 1883. The true site of Golgotha must have ruins on and around it. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre meets this requirement.
8. When attempting to find an authentic site, the best candidate is where one thing has been built upon another, dating close to the time of its beginning.
Again, the problem with the Garden Tomb is that it has none of this. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre does.
Now in archaeology, one of the most important factors in locating an authentic site is having one thing built upon another. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has around 2,000 years of such history. For me personally, there is no doubt this is the genuine place where Christ was crucified, buried, and rose from the dead to pay for our sins. All of the evidence and historical writings from eyewitnesses provide overwhelming evidence that points to the authenticity of this site.
Therefore, the true site of Golgotha should have all the evidence of the buildings described by all the eyewitness accounts, should match the historical records, archaeological discoveries, and have these remains visible to some extent today. There is only one place in the world that contains all this evidence, and it's the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The evidence is just so overwhelming that this is the true location of Golgotha. Here is the very place Jesus was crucified, buried, and risen from the dead. It is, therefore, Christianity's most holy site.
9. Christians would not have forgotten where Golgotha was.
There was no one like Jesus. The holiest site for Christians was marked out early and venerated. It continued to be venerated for 2,000 years and continues today. The early Christians would not have forgotten where Golgotha was. The problem with the Garden Tomb is that it is based upon Christians forgetting this holiest event.
10. The rock face that resembles a skull at the Garden Tomb is weak evidence.
The shape of the rock face at the Garden Tomb seems like convincing evidence. However, in just over the past 50 or so years, its look has dramatically changed. In fact, it now hardly resembles the look of a skull. That's why the Garden Tomb has a photo of it posted for all to see.
Imagine how this shape has probably changed over the past 2,000 or so years with all the wars, rain, erosion, and so forth that have happened to it. As mentioned, today, it hardly resembles a skull.
When Scripture mentions this site, it doesn't necessarily refer to a natural shape but is more likely referring to a place where crucifixions took place. Therefore, the natural formation at the Garden Tomb is weak evidence and shouldn't be a major factor in determining the true site of Golgotha. This shape could have looked entirely different during the time of Jesus.
It appears that part of the reason why evangelicals don't like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and favor the Garden Tomb has to do with theological reasons and not biblical, historical, or archaeological ones. They don't like the fact that it has a Catholic influence. However, it's only partly Catholic. There are six different faiths that own it. Greek Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, etc.
The other reason they don't like it is because of its atmosphere. It's hard to picture what it would have been like during the time of Christ, and all the ornaments and decorations aren't appealing to them. Because of all the adornments and construction over the centuries, it is hard to imagine how the site would have looked like in the time of Christ. However, these 2,000 years of activity and tradition give greater weight to its authenticity. Some people have an adverse reaction to the atmosphere inside the church. However, this is what we should expect from a place that has been venerated for two millenniums.
Holy Land Site Ministries is an evangelical ministry consisting of born-again believers passionate about God's Word and the truth. We understand why most evangelicals don't like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and favor the Garden Tomb. However, if it's the truth we are looking for, then the overwhelming evidence points to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre location as the true site of Golgotha.
We also understand that many find great meaning in the atmosphere of the Garden Tomb, and it serves as a very meaningful place to meditate on all that happened at Golgotha. We are in no way against this. We are just trying to be faithful servants who present the evidence for the truth. We wish the Garden Tomb God's richest blessings.
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