Which Way??

An interesting article appeared in the Daily Mail yesterday discussing the merits or otherwise of the traditional route Jesus took to Calvary. Perhaps we have an apt example that His ways are not just higher than mans’ but also literally different. Anyway, having read the article Job reflected upon his own visit to Jerusalem in 2005, and the various conflicting claims of where specifically Jesus was crucified and buried which he encountered during his visit. Job wrote a short piece following his visit, based upon some simple research into the conflicting claims of the Holy Sepulchre and ‘Gordon’s Calvary’ and reproduces the article below. Hope you enjoy it.

The visitor to Jerusalem is presented with two different sites commemorating the central event of Christian history, namely the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus Christ. Clearly there are differing opinions regarding the authenticity of these sites. It is impossible that both sites are authentic, thus the debate continues as to which (if either) is the true site. Long standing tradition will convince many that the Holy Sepulchre is the location of these central events, whilst the natural and aesthetic appeal of the Garden Tomb will appeal to others.

The strongest argument in favour of the Holy Sepulchre has always been its claim to ancient tradition. The present church is essentially a Crusader Church that was built on the site of Constantine’s Basilica. It is held that Constantine’s church will have been built on the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, as local, reliable and long-standing tradition would have identified the spot as such. Much of Christendom has ever since supported the continued claim that this site is authentic.

History records that Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70. The Romans lay siege to Jerusalem under Titus and eventually storm the Temple area in August AD70. Within a month the upper city had been burnt to the ground and destroyed. The extent of this destruction was almost total. The Jerusalem that grew out of the rubble would be much smaller. Sixty years later history was to repeat itself. Peter Walker states, “This time the Roman Emperor was Hadrian, who having quashed the rebellion, tried to ensure that it could never happen again. In accordance with a scheme that he may have been entertaining before the revolt, Hadrian now refounded Jerusalem as a pagan city. He called it Aelia Capitolina and laid it out on the regular pattern of a Roman camp, divided by two main roads known as the Cardo Maximus and the Decumanus”

We know from the book of Acts that following some immediate success in the proclamation of Jesus as Israel’s messiah; Jerusalem became an increasingly difficult place for the Christian community. Acts 8:1 tells of a persecution that led to “all except the apostles being scattered”. For sometime, the apostles would continue to utilise Jerusalem as their base, however in time they also departed Jerusalem according to their Christ given mandate to preach unto the ends of the earth.

The immediate question that must be raised is that in the light of such physical destruction and rebuilding of Jerusalem together with the dispersion of an entire Christian community, how can any certainty be attached, two hundred years later, to the site of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of Christ’s death and resurrection. When relating to the Christian traditions surrounding the holy sites in the city, one should bear in mind that the Christian community which remained in the city after its destruction in 70CE was small and poor. Furthermore no documentation concerning the sites that were considered holy, or about their precise location has remained. Moreover when Jerusalem became a pagan city in 135CE, the persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities precluded the development and maintenance of the holy places, and thus, many of the authentic sites disappeared leaving no traces. Those who believe therefore, in the sites authenticity are compelled to assume that the tradition was successfully passed on from the first century AD to the fourth century AD.

The traditional site of the Holy Sepulchre has consistently been vulnerable to the charge that it may well have been inside the “second wall” at the time of Jesus. To date, however no archaeological evidence of the line of this wall has yet been found. Should it be proved so, the claim of authenticity would have to be immediately dismissed, as the one fixed point in the debate remains that Jesus was crucified outside the city wall. The main strength of the Garden Tomb’s claim to authenticity is that it was clearly outside the city. This has never been seriously disputed. Most scholars believe that the northernmost point of the ‘second wall’ would have been roughly along the line of the current Turkish wall – at least for the section going eastward from the Damascus gate. The proposed authenticity of Skull Hill and the Garden Tomb as Christ’s place of death and resurrection has however, been subject to immense controversy, particularly in the early years following its discovery and purchase. Some important questions have been raised, which broadly defined fall into two categories.

Firstly, in comparison with the Holy Sepulchre, the Garden Tomb is clearly vulnerable on the issue of tradition. The 300 years between Christ’s death and resurrection and the building of Constantine’s sepulchre may seem like an age, but in comparison with 1800 years which elapsed before the discovery of the garden Tomb, it will appear extremely short. It is of course possible that the memory of the tomb’s location was effectively lost to Christian tradition until the advent of modern archaeology, but we have no way of being certain.

Secondly, many differing dates have been suggested as to the origin of the tomb. Macalister suggested the twelfth century AD, Conder the ninth, reputable scholars such as Petrie, Marston, and, not least Kathleen Kenyon all believed that it could be a Herodian tomb, thus dating it to the era of Jesus. More recently, however, Gabriel Barkay has published an article in which he argues for it being an Iron Age tomb – that is from the eighth or seventh century BC.

And so the debate continues. The result of which is that the authenticity of either site is at best inconclusive. Perhaps therefore, when attempting to make headway amongst the various differing traditions and arguments, perhaps we would be better served placing overriding emphasis on the historic facts and redemptive meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ as opposed to the precise location of the events.

Happy Easter.


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