For about sixty hours, researchers were given the opportunity to examine what is considered the holiest place in the Christian world. The research was focused on investigating what is considered the burial site of Jesus. The findings from the investigation seem to indicate that portions of Jesus’s tomb are there up to this day. That is significant since the area surrounding the site has undergone numerous cycles of destruction and reconstruction over the years. Today, the site is also the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
About the Tomb
This site, which is the most venerated in the Christian world, is made up of a limestone bed that was hewn out of the cave walls. Since 1555 or earlier, the bed was covered in marble to prevent curious pilgrims from attempting to remove bits of the limestone bed as souvenirs.
When the marble top was recently removed, an inspection showed what appeared to be a thick layer of fill material. However, the researchers continued with their digging until they came upon another marble slab with a cross on it. After a few more hours of digging, they revealed the original burial bed, which was still intact after all these years.
Besides the limestone bed, scientists were able to confirm the existence of the original limestone cave walls. They even managed to cut a window in the interior wall of the shrine enclosing the tomb to reveal the limestone walls.
How Can Archeologists Be Sure this is the Real Tomb of Christ?
While it is impossible to say that with a 100% certainty this is the tomb of Christ, there is evidence to suggest that Christ was buried in the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The site was identified by representatives of Constantine, a Roman emperor, as the place where Jesus’ body was placed, 300 years after his crucifixion.
Accounts of Jesus Burial
The first accounts of the burial of Jesus can be found in the Canonical Gospels, which are the first four books of the New Testament. The books were believed to have been composed just a few decades after Jesus died; around 30 A.D. while the scripts have some variations, they all state that Jesus was placed in a tomb hewn out of a rock. The tomb is said to have belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy Jew and a follower of Christ.
Thus far, over a thousand rock-cut tombs have been identified in the area surrounding Jerusalem. All of them were quite similar; they were chambers with niches cut into the tomb side to accommodate a body. The evidence is quite consistent with how historical records state about how wealthy Jews disposed of bodies.
In Jewish society, burial within the city walls was not allowed. In the Gospels, it is stated that Jesus was buried outside the city. After Jesus was crucified, the walls of the city were expanded, which placed Jesus burial site within the confines of the city.
When the representatives of Constantine went to Jerusalem around A.D. 325, they were pointed to a temple built Hadrian, a Roman emperor. Apparently, he had ordered the temple built around 100 years after the death of Jesus to assert the dominance of Roman state religion.
Constantine ordered the Roman temple to be razed and a rock-cut tomb was revealed beneath it. After that, the top of the limestone cave was removed to expose the interior. After that, Constantine had a church built to over the tomb. The Fatimids destroyed the church in 1009. It was later rebuilt in the mid-11th century.
When excavation work was done around the 20th century, the remains of Hadrian’s temple and the church built by Constantine were found. The findings were quite consistent with historical records.
Archaeologists say the discovery of other tombs in the area is of great significance. It shows that the area as considered to be a burial ground by the Jews. While archeologists cannot conclusively say, that is where Jesus was buried. No other site has as much weight in laying claim to being the site of the holy sepluchre.
The burial Bed Was Resealed
After further examination, the burial bed was resealed. It may remain that way for centuries to come. Before resealing, extensive data collection with advanced scientific tools was done. A renowned archaeologist stated that the only way to know why the site was considered so holy was to review data about the limestone bed and walls of the cave. Among the data used to collect data about the site was ground-penetrating radar.
According to a renowned archeologist, finding graffiti was important. The archeologist cited other tombs in the area where graffiti had been found. Research shows that these tombs are covered in crosses and inscriptions. The graffiti could provide insight into why this tomb was chosen from among many others in the area as being the site of Jesus’ burial.
The data collected from the recent excavation of the site of the holy sepluchre will probably be studied for years to come. After the excavation, the conservators will now focus on reinforcing, documenting, and cleaning every inch of the site.
A Brief History of construction and Destruction at this Holy Site
The building surrounding the tomb was damaged by fire around 614 during an invasion by the Sassanid Empire. In 630, Emperor Heraclius restored the building after he recaptured the city. When the city of Jerusalem was placed under Arab rule, it retained its status as a church. The Muslim rulers of the city continued to protect the Christian sites within the city.
A story in history is reported about Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab. He visited the church and stopped to pray there. However, when prayer began, he stepped outside the church to pray. It was believed that he did not want future generation misinterpreting his gestures. He did not want them to use his prayer as a pretext to turn the site into a mosque. He, later on, wrote a decree, which prevented Muslims from praying at the church.