Where was Jesus buried? (WASHINGTON POST) By Kim Lawton JERUSALEM, ISRAEL 04/04/12)
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JERUSALEM (RNS) During Holy Week, Christians remember the familiar
story of Jesus’s death and resurrection. But exactly where does that
story take place? The Bible offers only a few clues.
“The Gospels weren’t really written to record a history,” the Rev.
Mark Morozowich, acting dean of the School of Theology and Religious
Studies at the Catholic University of America, told the PBS
program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.” ‘’They were written to
provide a testimony of faith.”
According to the New Testament, Jesus was crucified at a spot outside
Jerusalem called Golgotha, which in Aramaic means “place of the
skull.” The Latin word for skull is “calvaria,” and in English, many
Christians refer to the site of the crucifixion as Calvary.
The Gospel of John says there was a garden at Golgotha, and a tomb
which had never been used. Since the tomb was nearby, John says,
that’s where Jesus’s body was placed. The Gospel writers say the tomb
was owned by a prominent rich man, Joseph of Arimathea. They describe
it as hewn from rock, with a large stone that could be rolled in
front of the entrance.
“When he was crucified, (Jesus) was not really a significant feature
in Israel,” said Morozowich. “Certainly there was jealousy, certainly
he had his followers, but there was no church that was built
immediately upon his death or to mark his resurrection.”
In the 4th Century, as Emperor Constantine was consolidating the
Roman Empire under his newfound Christian faith, his mother, St.
Helena, traveled to Jerusalem. According to tradition, she discovered
relics of the cross upon which Jesus had been crucified. The spot had
been venerated by early Christians, and she concluded it was
Golgotha. Constantine ordered the construction of a basilica on the
spot, which became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Over the centuries, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was destroyed,
rebuilt and renovated several times. There have been numerous power
struggles over who should control it, and even today, sometimes
violent squabbles can break out among the several Christian
denominations that share jurisdiction.
Still, it’s considered one of the holiest sites in Christianity, a
massive place of pilgrimage and intense spiritual devotion. “What
more of a moving place, to walk in Jerusalem, the place of the
crucifixion, to meditate at Golgotha where Jesus Christ died, the
place where he rose from the tomb,” Morozowich said.
But despite the history and devotion, some Christians — including
many Protestants — believe Jesus could have been crucified and buried
at a different place in Jerusalem known as the Garden Tomb.
“The (Garden) Tomb was discovered in 1867. For hundreds of years
before that, it had lain buried under rock and rubble and earth,”
said Steve Bridge, deputy director at the Garden Tomb, which is
located just outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate.
He said this site was promoted in the late 19th century by British
Gen. Charles Gordon. The site includes a rock formation, with two
large indentations, which resemble the eye sockets of a human skull.
Gordon, and others, believed this could have been the “place of the
skull” mentioned in the Bible.
The ancient garden below the rock formation has ruins of cisterns and
a wine press, which Bridge said could indicate that it was owned by a
wealthy person, perhaps Joseph of Arimathea. In the garden is a tomb,
cut from the rock.
“The tomb itself is at least 2,000 years old. Many date it as older
than that. But it’s certainly not less than 2,000 years old,” Bridge
said. “It’s a Jewish tomb. It’s definitely a rolling stone tomb. That
means the entrance would be sealed by rolling a large stone across.”
According to Bridge, the Garden Tomb is not trying to set up a
competition with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. “There’s no doubt
that historically, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, has the evidence
on its side,” Bridge said. “What we say we have here is something
that matches the Bible description.”
And for him, Bridge said it ultimately doesn’t matter where the
actual place was, because he believes Jesus rose from the dead three
days after the crucifixion. “On that score, us and the Holy Sepulchre
would be exactly the same, telling the same story, but on a different
site,” he said.
Morozowich agreed. He said his faith teaches that during the Easter
season, Christians should focus more on what Jesus did, rather than
on where he may have done it.
“We know that Jesus is more than this historical figure that walked
the earth. And in his resurrection, he transcends all of that so he
is as real and present in Mishawaka (Ind.) and in Washington, D.C. as
he is in Jerusalem,” said Morozowich.
(A version of this story was first broadcast on the PBS television
program “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” www.pbs.org/religion) c. 2012
Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly
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