The two places most sacred to Christians should be the Crucifixion site and the Burial site of Jesus Christ. Are these places known? Wait a minute: aren’t thousands of pilgrims visiting Jerusalem every year to see these sites? Everyone has heard about the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Via Dolorosa (the route Jesus took carrying the Cross) with its 14 stations?
If you visit Jerusalem (I have done it twice), you will find there are two places claiming to be the burial place of Jesus. So there begins the confusion. Is it important to find out which one is the correct site? I think so, for the same reason as finding the correct Mt. Sinai and the correct Noah’s Ark location. The real places offer us much understanding of the biblical events associated with them. The Bible comes alive in the Real places, not in the fake locations!
I shall discuss both the Crucifixion site and the Burial site of Jesus in this article. Later on, under ‘Sacred Relics’ you will find additional meaning and significance attached to these sites.
The Traditional Sites of Crucifixion and Burial
In AD 326 Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, traveled to Palestine to find the holy places associated with Jesus’ nativity, crucifixion and burial. She was apparently successful, and the places she identified were commemorated with magnificent churches. However, the Persian attack of Christian holy places in Palestine AD 614 resulted in the demolition of all the Churches except the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Jerusalem came under Crusader rule in the 12th century for 88 years, and during this time most of the destroyed Churches were rebuilt. Even the Church of the Nativity is a Crusader modification. The magnificent Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was built at the location of Helena’s Church built over the site of the supposed Burial site. The Church’s ownership is divided among the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Ethiopian Churches who conduct separate services in their particular sections.
This Church looks anything but the open ground of Calvary and the sepulcher in the rock that the Bible describes. Church floors have covered the original grounds and it is hard to recognize ancient land marks. Yet, the officials point out one location as the site of Crucifixion, another as the site of burial. The burial chamber has a rock slab at waist level on which one can see some ordinary nails placed. One gets suspicious of the authenticity of this sepulcher. The last few Stations of the Cross are also in the Church. The Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows) is a narrow tortuous route originating from the Ecco Homo gate (ruins) where Pilate sentenced Jesus. The Old Jerusalem within the walls is a very different city from the time of the New Testament. The city walls were rebuilt in the 16th century by the Turkish Sultan, and the original boundaries have been changed in the south and the west. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher lies within the present City walls, but must have been outside the city wall in the first century.
Let us start with a map of the Old City as it appears now. The dashed lines indicate the walls that have been changed from the first century lines.
For the sake of clarity only the more important locations are shown. The most prominent land mark is the Dome of the Rock, the Moslem shrine on the so-called Temple Mount. The popular belief is that Zerubbabel’s and Herod’s Temples (both referred to as the Second Temple, since Herod only modified and enlarged Zerubbabel’s Temple) had once stood somewhere on the Temple Mount, most likely between the Dome and the Mosque (see my article, ‘The True Site of Herod’s Temple’ to find more about the real Temple Mount). The original Temple was built by Solomon in the 10th cent. B.C. but was destroyed completely by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. For Christians the most holy Church within the City walls is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Crucifixion site is believed to be a small hill outside the 1st century western city wall. Of course, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher covers both the Crucifixion and burial sites, as they claim.
How Helena Was Deceived
The real Crucifixion and Burial sites were lost for nearly three centuries. The Romans had covered up these places, and pagan monuments were built in Jerusalem which took the name Aelia Capitolina. The Christians fled the city and the Jews were banished. However, there were Christians in certain locations, and Christian bishops later on ruled from Caesarea, the Roman capital of Palestine. How could Helena so easily identify the Crucifixion and Burial sites?
Dr. Ernest Martin (Founder of Scripture Truth Associates) researched this thoroughly. (Dr. Martin is credited with the identification of the ‘Star of Bethlehem’ and the computation of Jesus’ birth date. I’ll cover this in another section). His 1988 book, The Secrets of Golgotha (ASK Publications, Alhambra, CA) gives much information. Dr. Martin has exposed the deception connected with the ‘discovery’ of Jesus’ burial site.
Helena had come to Jerusalem to confirm what Constantine had learned about the Crucifixion site in his visions and dreams. As you can imagine, it was hard to find anyone to help her locate the site. Finally, a Jew by the name of Judas (!) came forward and told her he had family records that indicated the true location. He took her to the site where three Crosses were dug up. Constantine proclaimed it as the true site and ordered a Church to be built there. The bishop of Palestine at the time, the famous Church historian Eusebius who lived in Caesarea objected to this declaration, but the Emperor would not be persuaded. He knew the location was wrong.
It turns out that the site Judas pointed out was the site of the a sacred Jewish shrine that had once existed, the burial tomb of the renowned Maccabean priest king John Hyrcanus. Later on, in AD 135 the Roman emperor Hadrian desecrated it by demolishing it and building a Venus temple there. Constantine in his dream recognized this pagan monument but thought it was the site of the Crucifixion. So he had the temple razed to the ground. Judas ‘confirmed’ the dream to the delight of Helena. Thereafter Christians have been making pilgrimage to John Hyrcanus’ tomb, the present site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Judas was converted to Christianity, and was offered the position of bishop of Jerusalem with the name, Judas Quiriacus!
The Garden Tomb and the Skull Hill
In 1867 Dr. Conrad Schick excavated a hidden ancient tomb in an area north of the Damascus Gate. This tomb was cut in a rocky wall, and was unusually large. There was evidence that the Crusaders had used it as a burial place, but the tomb itself was much older. In 1893 an Anglican Trust bought the property and ever since it is known as the Garden Tomb property. Its greatest attraction is the large tomb cut in the rocky wall. This property has other attractions such as an ancient wine press and a large underground water collection cistern. The property was converted to a beautiful garden with protective walls by the owners.
The Tomb in the rocky wall was suspected to be the real tomb of Jesus owned by Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-53). John’s gospel says it was near a garden (John 19:41-42) The wine press found certainly would credibility.The picture below shows the outside view of the Tomb.
It will be noticed there is a fairly large entrance and outside of it is a two feet wide slot which was for a rolling stone. This had to be a large stone from the size of the door. In fact the gospels tell us it was a Great Stone (Matt.27:60). I’ll tell more about it later. Inside is a ‘weeping chamber’ and the adjoining room is a little lower level with an elevated slab where the dead body would be placed.
The manner in which Jesus’ body was wrapped before placing on the slab in the tomb is explained in the article, ‘The Mysterious Holy Shroud of Christ‘
The Great Seal Stone was rolled in and placed in the trough outside the entrance wall. It was big enough to cover the fairly large door. How did the Roman soldiers prevent the Stone from rolling back? Apparently by a spike at the edge of the Stone to the wall. We can see a broken iron spike embedded in the wall 71 inches above the ground, several feet to the left of the door; there is a stop carved into the face of the rock on the right side of the door. Obviously the spike was broken when the angel rolled the Stone on Resurrection morning. The separation of the spike from the stop is over 13 feet, which may be considered the diameter of the Stone. Recently elemental analysis has been carried out on fragments of the spike, and the metals found were iron and lead. The Roman practice was pouring molten lead into the hole before inserting the iron nail. Dating the metals is not possible with radiometric dating techniques. For more information visit www.wyattmuseum.com and www.anchorstone.com These details give much support to our belief that the Garden Tomb is the real Tomb of Jesus.
Outside the Garden Tomb property the rocky wall continues to the east as a cliff, and the ground level is much lower. At present this place is a bus station. It is believed the rocky cliff resulted from quarrying Mt. Moriah which had once extended from north to south encompassing the Temple Mount. Abraham is said to have brought Isaac to be sacrificed on Mt. Moriah (Gen. 22) where the Temple was later on erected. It was perhaps Solomon, and later on Herod who cut Mt. Moriah into two to get rock for the Temple and Wall building. So Mt. Moriah has been turned to a flat land between the rocky cliff and the northern wall of the Old
City. Part of the northern wall has a rocky cliff, and underneath is a vast cave system formed by quarrying underground. This cave system is called ‘Zedekiah’s Cave’.
General Gordon who briefly visited the rocky cliff outside the present Garden Tomb in 1883 noticed a skull shaped depression in the cliff with sunken eye sockets. The nearby cave was called ‘Jeremiah’s Grotto’. Due to the proximity of the Tomb, he believed this to be the place of Calvary. The Romans used to crucify criminals on public roadsides, and this was a fitting place. On the other side of the Garden is believed to be the place where Stephen was stoned. ‘Calvary’ or ‘Golgotha’ meant the ‘Place of the Skull’ (Matt.27:33).
The present Garden Tomb property guides point to this rocky cliff as the true Calvary. So now we have a second site for Calvary The Garden Tomb itself is a strong competition site for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the real Tomb of Jesus. I happen to believe that the Garden Tomb indeed is the real burial Tomb of Jesus. However, the identification of the ‘Skull Hill’ with Calvary is doubtful. The question then is, ‘Where is the Real Calvary?’ It had to be somewhere near because we are told the Tomb where Jesus’ body was laid was in a newly cut rock tomb, and the tomb belonged to the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea, of the Jewish Council.
Ron Wyatt Discovers the Crucifixion Site
Ron Wyatt, whom I have referred to several times, and particularly in the previous article on Mt. Sinai and the Red Sea Crossing, returned from the Nuweiba site in 1978 for a brief stay in Jerusalem near the Damascus Gate. He decided to take a walk along the ‘Calvary Escarpment’, the rocky cliff that I just described above. This cliff extends east west through the Garden Tomb property ,the ‘Skull Hill’ and further east. There was an Israeli authority about Roman antiquities walking with him. Ron says that at one point he stopped and his left hand automatically lifted and pointed to trash dump and he uttered, ‘That’s Jeremiah’s Grotto and the Ark of the Covenant is in there’. Ron was not thinking about the Crucifixion site nor the Ark of the Covenant. He had never been involved in these items in his archaeological work. The remaining story is given in Ron’s booklet, ‘The Ark of the Covenant’ originally released in his Newsletter (#12) in July 1995.
Ron returned to the site in January 1979 with his sons to start some digging at the site with permission of the authorities. Digging down directly in front of the cliff wall he reached the Roman level of the 1st century about 14 ft below (as evidenced by Caesar’s coins found there), which was the bed rock. He found a square cut hole 12 to 13 inch size. Further below (ca. 4 ft) but in front of it was found a number of similar square holes. He assumed these were holes for erecting the Crosses. The vertical beam of the Cross (or tree trunk) was apparently fashioned to fit in the hole (not necessarily of the same size). Ron noticed the rock adjoining the single square hole above was cracked. A tape measure descended into the crack went freely down another 25 ft. This meant the crack had extended down to a considerable distance. Ron remembered the Scripture account of the Crucifixion of Jesus where it is stated that at the time of Jesus’ death there was an earthquake and the ‘rocks were split’ (Matt. 27:51) Could this finding confirm that event?
The figure shown below from a photograph of the site taken at the time Wyatt made the discovery of the Cross hole and the crack is reproduced with permission from Wyatt Archeological Society (see also their web site, www.wyattmuseum.com).
Further indications came that this could be the Crucifixion site. While the square hole was a few feet in front of the cliff wall, Ron found a rectangular slab sticking out of the cliff. He also found the foundations of a room wall encompassing the slab and the hole. It appeared to him the Christians had built an altar and a Church at the place of Crucifixion some time later. Even more astonishing was a a protrusion of a round slab of rock, two feet thick lying flat nearby, buried in soil. He could only expose a part of it, but he estimated the diameter to be 13 ft. Was this the Seal Stone that had been placed to cover the Tomb? If so, it fitted the biblical description of the ‘Great Stone’. The picture below is my representation of a seal stone of this size in front of the Tomb.
During my Israel trip, the largest Seal Stone I found was nine ft diameter, at Mt. Nebo. Near the Garden Tomb is a seal stone of 5 ft diameter, obviously brought there from another location. I have seen stones of that size elsewhere in Israel.
So where is the Crucifixion site? In our recent Israel-Jordan-Sinai trip we were carefully pointed out to the site. The photograph below taken by me is similar to what Ron has published in his article. Due to the sensitivity of the officials in Israel, further public identification is purposely omitted. You will see later why this location is so sensitive (see article on the Ark of the Covenant in the next section, ‘Sacred Relics‘). I can tell you emphatically that the site is not in front of the ‘Skull Hill’. The real site, after digging, was completely covered up as agreed, so you will not notice any evidence of excavation. To expose it again, one has to dig several feet to the bedrock. It is shame that the truth still cannot be found easily. The authorities in charge of the competing sites in Jerusalem would do everything to suppress the evidence. However, in God’s own time, the truth will be revealed to the whole world. On the one hand, all of us would like to see more tangible proof of all that is down there. On the other hand, can we afford not to believe the strong evidences brought forth?
I may just point out that there is yet another Crucifixion site proposed by Dr. Martin (Secrets of Golgotha). He argues that Jesus was crucified on Mt. Olives directly opposite to the Temple because the centurion could see the torn curtain in the Temple at the time of Jesus’ death (Matt.27:51-54). He thinks since Christ was the Atonement, he, like the red heifer which was burned on Mt. Olives on the Day of Atonement, was also executed there, but the execution was by nailing him to a live tree. He further states that the two thieves were also nailed to the same tree! I think Dr. Martin has gone too far.
What about the Ark of the Covenant? Ron Wyatt found the Cross site while digging and looking for the Ark. God later on did lead him to the Ark, but he had to first reveal to him the Cross site. In the section ‘Sacred Relics‘ you will find the dramatic conclusion of this search.