Archeology and Jesus



Theological Fiction or Trustworthy Facts?



The archaeological discoveries [concerning Jesus] are not known outside sophisticated circles; yet, few areas of scholarly research prick the imagination and stir the excitement of scholars and students so much as new archaeological discoveries. In the past three decades, spectacular discoveries are proving significant for research on the historical Jesus. 1

—James M. Charlesworth




Let's begin our look at the archaeological evidence for Jesus' historical presence by considering the following statement by Marcus Borg:


The truth of Easter does not depend on whether there really was an empty tomb. It is because Jesus is known as a living reality that we take Easter stories seriously, not the other way around. And taking them seriously need not mean taking them literally.


If the above statement seems reasonable to you, count yourself among the ranks of modern critical scholarship who find faith in Jesus to be of greater reality than the facts about Him. This position does not necessarily question that a historic Jesus did exist, but whether the Jesus of the New Testament actually existed. Promoting this view in a previous generation was Rudolph Bultmann, whose works have become textbooks in many Christian seminaries. He proclaimed, "All that remains of Jesus is an eschatological call to decision; the picture of his person and work has disappeared."2


69. A fishing boat from the time of Jesus—found in the Sea of Galilee and recently restored using a chemical preservation technique.


With the present-day advent of the Jesus Seminar, a forum of New Testament scholars whose quest to discover the actual words of Jesus in the Gospels is based on separating the "Christ of faith" from the "Christ of fact,"3 many Christians have begun questioning whether what they were taught about Jesus in Sunday school was trustworthy fact or theological fiction. At issue in this debate is whether the Gospels, which present the claims of Jesus through the records of His disciples, are accurate records. If they can be shown to compare favorably with the inscriptional and artifactual evidence from archaeology, should they not be reckoned as carefully composed history rather than theological creations of a later Christian community, contrived to address the problems of their day?


A first-century date for the Gospels (if not all of the New Testament) has now been confirmed by comparison with such discoveries as the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Nag Hammadi Gnostic codices. This has launched the new field of Jesus research, in which scholarship seeks to return to the Jewish roots of Jesus through a proper archaeological and historical investigation.4 This approach was commended by the German theologian Leonhard Goppelt, who, rejecting Bultmann's pessimistic conclusion, held that the "Christ of faith" must be found by searching for, not separating from, the "Christ of history." He states:


Of primary importance for the gospel tradition is the integration of the earthly ministry of Jesus and the kerygma so that the former becomes the supportive base for the latter. This "recollection" about Jesus remains, especially in the large Gospels, the primary intention. If we desire to represent New Testament theology in keeping with its intrinsic structure, then we must begin with the question of the earthly Jesus.5


In this chapter our goal is to consider several primary pieces of archaeological evidence for the earthly Jesus. These corroborate various persons and events in the Gospels, revealing the accuracy of the Gospel writers and the trustworthiness of the historic message they confessed. After all, if Jesus is called by some the "Rock of Ages," should not the stones of the centuries also speak of Him?


The First Christmas


Some recent archaeological evidence has provided new insights into the time and place of the birth of Jesus. The Gospel of Luke gives the time of birth with a specific reference to a census decreed by Quirinius, the governor of Syria (Luke 2:2). While inscriptional evidence reveals that there was more than one ruler with this name, a Quirinius within the time frame of Jesus' birth has been found on a coin placing him as proconsul of Syria and Cilicia from 11 B.C. until after 4 B.C.6 Quirinius' census, mentioned also by Luke in Acts 5:37, has numerous parallels in papyrus census forms dating from the first century B.C. - first century A.D. For example, both the Oxyrhynchus papyrus 255 (A.D. 48) and British Museum papyrus 904 (A.D. 104) order compulsory returns to birthplaces for census-taking, just as Luke records (Luke 2:3-5).


In addition, the traditional place of Jesus' birth—-in a cave in Bethlehem—has had a long history at the site of the Church of the Nativity. The Church Father Jerome, who moved to Bethlehem in A.D. 385, already referred to it then as "the most venerable spot in the world."7 Paulinus of Nola said that the Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) had planted a grove for the worship of Adonis (a Roman mythical figure) on the site to profane the Christian faith.8 Eusebius in the fourth century described how Helena, the mother of Constantine (who sought to preserve traditional Holy Land sites connected to Jesus), covered the cave and manger with a church. Excavations have revealed the remains of the cave, which was defaced by various opponents of Christianity in early times. Similar excavations by the Franciscans in Nazareth have found, beneath the floor of the present-day Church of the Annunciation, remains of a third-century Jewish-Christian synagogue (possibly the one referred to in Luke4:16).9


The Late Herod the Great


Herod the Great was the Roman-appointed king over Judea from 37 B.C. until his death in 4 B.C. Under His reign, Jesus was born and His family threatened. Herod's fame lay in his great building activities, and remains of some of his projects still command prominent positions on the landscape of modern Israel and Jordan. One of these, known as the Herodium, stands imposingly on the horizon in the vicinity of Bethlehem and is about a three-to-four-hour walk from Jerusalem. The Herodium was a hideaway for Herod, whose life was frequented by enemy attacks and assassination attempts. Originally there stood twin hills in the area, but Herod had his builders remove part of one of the hills and then raise the other hill so that his retreat would have no rivals. He constructed a crown around the hill comprised of two circular walls (one inside the other), then sloped the hill to meet these walls and formed a hollow, volcano-like structure in which he built his villa-palace-fortress. The first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that the king was buried at the Herodium borne by a parade of his kinsmen, a Thracian company, Germans and Gauls in full battle order, and 500 slaves and freedmen carrying hundreds of pounds of burial spices.10


Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer of the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology has been excavating at the site


71. Author at suspected burial place of King Herod—monumental building, lower Herodium.


72. Archaeologist Ehud Netzer with inscription on which is written the full title of King Herod.


since 1973, and he believes that he has finally located this long sought Herodian burial chamber:


The Herodium was not just a palace but a memorial for the king. It was the only site named after King Herod and the site where he planned to be buried. We are trying to locate this burial place [at the Herodium]. In the course of our excavations we found a very impressive building, [which] we thought might be the mausoleum. Gradually we located some other objects across the street, [for example] a miqve (ritual bath), which have to do with burial tombs in the Second Temple period, and also wonderful stones which were the facade of the tomb. This same architectural style [appears] in monumental tombs in Jerusalem and elsewhere. We hoped to find the tomb itself in the shape of a cave or underground burial room. Unfortunately, the [Palestinian] Intafada which started in 1987 stopped our work, but I'm looking for peaceful times to continue the work in the near future.


The suspected entrance of the mausoleum lies not within the artificial mound but near one of the lower pools at a site called the monumental structure. It resembles royal architecture with a colonnaded facade, and a long level course on the hill above it may have served as the place for the parade of Herod's burial bearers. Netzer assumes that the tomb, when found, will be empty, having been robbed in antiquity—but who knows? Netzer was able to excavate at the Herodium during the summer of 1997, but a new wave of terrorism in this West Bank area has again threatened the dig. So for now, we will have to wait to see! Even so, the site itself bears ample testimony to the vanity of a king whose handmade hill overshadowed a humble stable in which was born the King of kings!


In the Name of the King


Meanwhile, Netzer and Guy Stiebel (of the Hebrew University Institute of Archaeology) have also renewed the excavations at Masada, which were last directed by the late Yigael Yadin in the 1960s. Masada was a mountain fortress next to the Dead Sea built by Herod the Great as a last refuge for troubled times. Designed with Herod's particular needs in mind, it included northern and southern palaces, a swimming pool, a richly decorated reception hall, a Roman-style bathhouse, ritual baths, and a synagogue. Masada is best known for its use during the period of the Great Revolt (A.D. 66-73) as a last stand for the Jewish resistance known as the Sicarii. Overrun by the Roman army, the Jewish inhabitants committed suicide rather than be devastated and desecrated by the half-crazed Romans who had spent years trying to scale the fortress walls.


This past season, Netzer and Stiebel uncovered at Masada the first inscription ever found with the full title of the infamous Herod. Its discovery adds the "flesh-and-blood" of historical reality to this king and his dynasty, who figure prominently in the career of Jesus. The discovery occurred last year while clearing rubble from a cave near the site of the synagogue from a roof that had collapsed in antiquity, burying several large storage vessels (known as amphorae) and numerous artifacts.12 Among the broken fragments from the amphorae a number of ostraca with Greek and Latin inscriptions were found. One of the ostraca, which came from an amphora that had contained wine, bore the now-famous inscription. Netzer describes it as follows:


The inscription is three lines, a standard form found in such inscriptions. The first line is a date and gives the year this [wine] was made. The second line gives the place and the [specific] type of the wine, and in the last line we have the name: "Herod, King of Judea."13


Here was the name and title of the New Testament tyrant who lavishly added to the Temple in Jerusalem, met the wise men searching for the infant Jesus, but whose own search for Jesus ended with the order to slaughter the infants in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1-18).


Where Jesus Liked to Preach


According to the Gospel accounts, the center of Jesus' ministry was the town of Capernaum, the former home of the prophet Nahum (Caper = "village" of Nahum), located beside the Sea of Galilee. The black basalt walls of the very synagogue where He often preached have been uncovered beneath all four corners of the polished white limestone synagogue dated from the Byzantine period.14 A first-century date for these walls has been confirmed from pottery finds beneath the floor of a cobblestone pavement dating from the same time as the basalt walls under the nave of the synagogue.15 The Bible records that Jesus here performed a notable miracle for the Roman centurion proselyte who built the synagogue (Matthew 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10). Recently the Roman presence was confirmed through the excavation at Capernaum of a number of Roman-style buildings, including a Roman bathhouse.16 Even the house of Peter, where Jesus often stayed and where He healed Peter's mother-in-law of a fever (Matthew 8:14-15; Mark 1:30-31; Luke 4:38-39) appears to have been discovered just 84 feet south of the synagogue.17 Made of the same native basalt rock, it lay beneath an octagonal building from the Byzantine period, which was used to venerate holy places. Its presence confirms that this site had an early tradition as a place connected to Jesus. The house's narrow walls would not have supported a masonry roof, so it probably had a roof of wooden branches covered with beaten earth.18 This would have made its roof similar to that of another house in Capernaum in which a hole was dug to let down a paralytic man for Jesus to heal (Mark 2:4).


Where Jesus Performed Miracles


Not far from Capernaum has been discovered the ancient site of Bethsaida, the hometown of Simon Peter, Philip, and Andrew (John 1:44; 12:21). Excavated since 1989 under the direction of Israeli archaeologist Rami Arav,19 the site has recently yielded impressive remains from the earlier Iron Age fortifications of Geshur, including the royal palace where Absalom would have resided for three years (2 Samuel 13:38), a Roman-period stele of a minotaur, a pre-Christian pottery shard bearing an image of a cross, and a golden earring.20 From the period of the New Testament there has been uncovered the evidence of the fishing industry (anchors, fishhooks), which employed these disciples of Jesus, as well as a street and houses certainly used by them on occasion. In one of these houses was discovered a grinding stone that reminds us of the bread that was made in this place, not only by women, but also by Jesus when He performed the miracle of the multiplication of the fish and the loaves at this site to feed the 5,000 (Matthew 14:1-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17). From this site Jesus also went to meet the disciples walking on the water of the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 6:45-51; John 6:15-21). Having witnessed such miracles, and yet rejecting the Messiahship of Jesus, Bethsaida was condemned along with the nearby cities of Chorazin and Capernaum (Matthew 11:21-23; Luke 10:13-15).


Caiaphas Comes to Light


Moving from the Galilean ministry of Jesus we come to His ministry in Jerusalem. One of the most prominent figures in all the Gospel accounts that describe Jesus' final week of conflict in the Holy City is the high priest Caiaphas. Caiaphas, who served as the leader of the Sanhedrin from A.D. 18-36, is known in the Gospel accounts as the one who prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, set in motion the plan to kill Him (John 11:49-53; 18:14), and then presided over the late-night trial at which Jesus confessed Himself to be the Messiah and was subsequently condemned (Matthew 26:57-68). It was in the courtyard of Caiaphas's house that Peter waited for word about Jesus, but instead betrayed Him three times before the cock crowed (Matthew 26:69-75).


Whether or not the place identified as Caiaphas's house today in Jerusalem is the actual site, we now have discovered the actual remains of the high priest in his ossuary within his family tomb. The find occurred by accident in November of 1990 when workers were building a water park in Jerusalem's Peace Forest, which is south of the Temple Mount.21 The discovery was made when the roof of the burial chamber collapsed and revealed 12 limestone ossuaries. One of the ossuaries was exquisitely ornate and decorated with incised rosettes. Obviously it had belonged to a wealthy or high-ranking patron who could afford such a box. On this box was an inscription. It read in two places Qafa and Yehosef bar Qayafa ("Caiaphas," "Joseph, son of Caiaphas").22 The New Testament refers to him only as Caiaphas, but Josephus gives his full name as "Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood." Inside were the bones of six different people, including a 60-year-old man (most likely Caiaphas).23 At the time of the discovery Steven Feldman, associate editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, observed that "the find should be particularly exciting to some believing Christians because to them it may bolster the Bible's accuracy... ,"24 Indeed it does, especially when we add together


73. The richly ornamentec, of Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus (the inscription bearing his name is on the smaller side).


74. Author with ossuaries from the first century discovered in a burial cave on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives.


the facts that Caiaphas handed Jesus over to Pontius Pilate, whose existence archaeology can also attest to.


Pontius Pilate Appears


For ten years, from A.D. 26-36, Pontius Pilate was the Roman officer in charge of Judea. During this time he had one of the most unforgettable confrontations of his life—with Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate has the distinction of being the only person that Jesus chose to talk with during His trials. He refused to answer the Judean king Herod Antipas and only under oath did so for Caiaphas. Pilate alone seems to have been singled out for an explanation for Jesus' unique purpose in ministry (John 18:36-37). It was Pilate who uttered the immortal words "What is truth?" and who would have apparently released Jesus had it not been for the Sanhedrin applying political pressure (John 19:12-15). Perhaps it was for this reason that Pilate placed a titulus (sentence inscription) above Jesus on the cross, which read in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, "Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews" (John 19:19). We only know that Pilate himself ordered it written, and refused to change it when the Sanhedrin protested its public display (verses 21-22).


Pilate's official residence was the Mediterranean seaboard city of Caesarea Maritima. It was fitting that in 1961, during Italian-sponsored excavations at Caesarea's Roman theater, a stone plaque bearing Pilate's name was discovered. The two-foot by three-foot slab, now known as the Pilate Inscription, was found re-used as a building block in a fourth-century remodeling project, but it was an authentic first-century monument, apparently written to commemorate Pilate's erection and dedication of a Tiberium, a temple for the worship of Tiberias Caesar, the Roman emperor during Pilate's term over Judea. The Latin inscription of four lines gives his title as "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea," a title very similar to that used of him in the Gospels (see Luke 3:1). This was the first archaeological find to mention Pilate, and again testified to the accuracy of the


75. Inscription from Caesarea bearing Pontius Pilate's name.


Gospel writers. Their understanding of such official terms indicates they lived during the time of their use and not a century or two thereafter, when such terms would have been forgotten.


A Witness to Crucifixion


Archaeology reveals that crucifixion probably began with the Phoenicians (around the tenth century B.C.), was adopted by the Assyrians as a form of torture known as impaling (see the Lachish relief), but was most perfected by the Romans, who chose it as a method of execution for state criminals. Both the army of Spartacus, as well as some 800 Pharisees, were recorded put to death in Jerusalem by crucifixion. Yet despite widespread references to its practice in ancient literature such as the Dead Sea Scrolls,25 the writings of Josephus,26 the Talmud,27 various Roman annals,28 and the New Testament, no material evidence of a crucified victim had ever been found in the Holy Land until 1968. It was then that the remains of a crucified man from Giv'at ha-Mivtar, a northern suburb of Jerusalem, were discovered in an ossuary from near the time of Jesus.29 The name of the man, based on an Aramaic inscription on the ossuary, was Yohanan ben Ha'galgol,30 and from an analysis of the skeletal remains we can determine that he died in his thirties, about the same age as Jesus when He was crucified.31 The significant evidence of crucifixion was an ankle bone still pierced with a seven-inch-long crucifixion nail and attached to a piece of wood from a cross. When the man was crucified, the nail had apparently hit a knot in the olive wood patibulum (upright stake) and become so lodged that the victim could not be removed without retaining both the nail and a fragment of the cross. This rare find has proved to be one of the most important archaeological witnesses to Jesus' crucifixion as recorded in the Gospels.


First, it reveals afresh the horrors of the Roman punishment. A study of the remains appears to indicate the position the body assumed on the cross. According to proposed reconstructions, this was either with the legs bent and turned adjacent to the body or nailed on either side of the upright stake (this latter position


76. Right heel bone of a first-century man from Giv'at ha-Mivtar (a suburb of Jerusalem) showing evidence of crucifixion. Several fragments of olive wood-were found between the nail head and the bone.


is currently favored). Therefore, this method of execution forced the weight of the body to be placed on the nails, causing terribly painful muscle spasms and eventually death by the excruciating process of asphyxiation. This particular position may have been used along with the breaking of the legs, which Yohanan's bones indicate, to hasten death. When Jesus and the two criminals were crucified it was on both the afternoon of the greatest festival in Judaism (Passover) and the Sabbath. The Jewish rulers demanded a quick crucifixion so as to not desecrate the approaching holy day (John 19:31-32). Such details of the horrors of crucifixion, as attested by archaeology, reveal that the Gospel writers really had been historical eyewitnesses of the crucifixion, just as they said (John 19:35).


(ACTUALLY  THE  TRUE  SCRIPTURAL  PASSOVER  WAS  HELD  THE  EVENING  BEFORE  THE  CRUCIFIXION [IN 30 A.D. THAT WAS TUESDAY EVENING]  AND THE SABBATH  COMING  WAS  THE  FIRST  DAY  OF  THE  FEAST  OF  UN-LEAVENED  BREAD  [WEDNESDAY  EVENING  TO  THURSDAY  EVENING]  -  Keith Hunt)


Second, it was once claimed that the Gospel's description of the method of crucifixion was historically inaccurate. Scholars once argued that nails could not have been used to fasten a crucified victim to a cross because nail-fastened hands and feet would not have been able to support their bodies. The victims were rather bound by ropes.32 Yet after the resurrection Jesus revealed His crucified body to His disciples and said, "See My hands and My feet" (Luke 24:39). The scars He revealed were not from rope burns but "nails." In like manner, scholars contended that Jesus' body, as the bodies of most criminals and insurrectionists, would not have received a proper burial, but instead would have been dumped into a common grave set aside for the corpses of those defiled by crucifixion. According to them, the narrative concerning Jesus' burial in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:51-56), from which He was resurrected, was a fictitious tale.


The discovery of the nail-pierced ankle bone refutes those who say nails could not have been used. The most recent examination of Yohanan's other bones by anthropological analysts has not revealed a nailing of the wrists. This may have been because of Roman economy in crucifixion, in which both the horizontal and vertical parts of the cross were re-used. Ancient sources reveal that wood was scarce in Jerusalem, for Josephus (War 5:522-23) notes that Roman soldiers were forced to travel ten miles outside of the city to find timber for their siege machinery. The fact that Yohanan's bones were found in secondary burial within a tomb also disproves the second scholarly hypothesis. This crucified victim, like Jesus, had received a proper Jewish burial.33


(OFTEN  IN  ROMAN  CRUCIFIXION  THERE  WAS  A  PIECE  OF  WOOD PLACED  ON  THE  UPRIGHT  POST  FOR  THE  BOTTOM  TO  REST  UPON;  IT  IS  A  FACT  OF  HISTORY  THAT  MANY  TOOK  DAYS  TO  DIE  ON  THE CROSS;  IT  WAS  MEANT  TO  BE  A  SLOW  AGONIZING  DEATH.  IN  THE  CASE  OF  JESUS  AND  THE  OTHER  TWO  MEN  CRUCIFIED  WITH  HIM,  THE  JEWS  WANTED  A  QUICK  DEATH  BECAUSE  OF  THE  COMING  OF  THE  SABBATH  OF  THE  UNLEAVENED  BREAD  FEAST.  THE  WHOLE  SITUATION  OF  DARKNESS  AND  THE  RENTING  OF  THE  TEMPLE  CURTAIN  DIVIDING  THE  HOLY  PLACE  FROM  THE  HOLY  OF  HOLY  PLACE,  WOULD  PUT  THE  JEWS  IN  PANIC  MODE.  JESUS'  DISCIPLES  WERE  DOWN-CAST  AND  SCATTERED;  THE  ROMAN  SOLDIERS  COULD  HAVE  CARED  LESS  WHAT  HAPPENED  TO  THE  3  BODIES.  THE  GOSPELS  SHOW  IT  WAS  EVENING  WHEN  NICODEMUS  AND  JOSEPH  OF  ARIMATHAEA  CAME  TO  PILATE  TO  ASK  FOR  THE  BODY  OF  JESUS.  IT  WAS  ALL  A  VERY  DIFFERENT  SITUATION  THAN  THE  NORMAL  CRUCIFIXION  EVENT,  VERY  DIFFERENT  INDEED  -  Keith Hunt)


An interesting testimony to the later veneration of Jesus as a crucified victim has come by way of a crude piece of graffiti found in 1856 in one of the guardrooms of the Palatine in Rome, the site of the imperial palace. Drawn by a pagan mocking Christian worship, the graffiti dates to the first half of the third century A.D., and depicts a crucified figure with an ass's head and a kneeling worshiper beside. The Latin inscription reads, "Alexamenos worshiping his god." To such a pagan, elevating a crucified felon to the place of divinity was absurd. Yet, such faith makes no sense unless there is a historical reality behind it. Some of this reality can be felt as we are able to literally touch, through archaeology, the places of the events associated with Christ's death, burial, and resurrection.


Touching the Tomb of Jesus


Archaeology has revealed numerous tombs in Jerusalem with similarities to the New Testament's description of the tomb of Jesus. One is "Herod's Family Tomb," located today on the grounds of the famous King David Hotel. It presents a Herodian-period tomb of the wealthy class with a rolling stone still in place beside the entrance. However, when tourists in Jerusalem are taken to visit the tomb of Jesus, they are regularly shown two sites that guides say vie for the title of the burial place of Jesus. One is the Protestant site known as Gordon's Calvary, named after its discoverer in 1883, Charles Gordon. The other is the traditional site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has a history going back at least to the fourth century A.D. (based on the existence of columns still in use today from the church of Constantine34 and its description in Byzantine sources). While most evangelical Christians prefer the serene and undisturbed setting of the Garden Tomb situated next to the hill Gordon identified as Skull Hill or Golgotha, there is no archaeological evidence to support this site. Previously its main support came from the fact that it was outside the present walls of the Old City, whereas the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was within them. Since the New Testament made it clear that Jesus was crucified "outside the walls" (John 19:20; Hebrews 13:11-12), and it was assumed that the modern walls followed the ancient course, the support for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre depended primarily on tradition. However, in the late 1960s Kathleen Kenyon found proof that the wall now enclosing the traditional site was a "Third Wall" constructed after the time of Jesus (about A.D. 41);35 therefore, when Jesus was crucified, it would have been outside the earlier "Second Wall." In addition, in 1976, Magen Broshi uncovered a portion of a Herodian wall in the northeast section of the church. This means that when Jesus was crucified the area upon which the church is built was just outside the western wall of the city on the line of the First Wall. Others have found that a "Garden Gate" was on this wall, which agrees with references to a garden in this area (John 19:41; 20:15).36


Furthermore, Jerusalem archaeologists Gabriel Barkay and Amos Kloner have shown that the Garden Tomb is undeniably part of a system of tombs in the area, the most prominent of which are next door to the Garden Tomb on the property of the French School of Archaeology, the Ecole Biblique.37 All the tombs in this complex of tombs date from First Temple times or Iron Age II (eighth-seventh centuries B.C.).38 Because the New Testament says that Jesus was buried in "a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid" (John 19:41), the Garden Tomb must be excluded from consideration. By contrast, the tombs in the vicinity of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are late Second Temple tombs (first century A.D.). In the late 1970s excavations at the site revealed the foundations of Hadrian's Roman Forum, in which the Temple of Aphrodite had been built (about A.D. 135). Just as he had done at the site of the Jewish Temple, Hadrian had built pagan temples and shrines here to supercede earlier religious structures. If this site were the one venerated by early Christians as the tomb of Jesus, it would explain this location for the building. The fourth-century church historian Eusebius says that Hadrian built a huge rectangular platform over this quarry, "concealing the holy cave beneath this massive mound."


The rock upon which the Church was built can still be seen in part today through a section preserved for viewing. This rock bears evidence of earthquake activity, a fact that accords with the Gospel story (Matthew 27:51). Excavations intended to expose more of this rock have revealed that it was a rejected portion of a pre-Exilic white stone quarry, as evidenced by Iron Age II pottery at the site. In this light, it has been suggested that Peter's citation of Psalm 118:22, "The stone which the builders rejected..." may have a double meaning (see Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7).39 By the first century B.C. this rejected quarry had gone from being a refuse dump to a burial site. This site was also located near a public road in Jesus' time (see Matthew 27:39), which helps to qualify it as the authentic site because it fits both the Jewish and Roman requirements as an execution site (see Leviticus 24:14).40 For this reason the rock may have been called "the place of the skull" because it was a place of death.


There is yet another consideration in favor of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: the type of tomb in which Jesus was laid. In the first century, two types of tombs were in use. One was the more common kokim, which are long narrow niches cut into the chamber of the burial cave walls at right angles. The other, called arcosolia, were shallow benches cut parallel to the wall of the chamber with an arch-shaped top over the recess. These types of tombs were reserved for those of wealth and high rank. This seems to be the type of tomb in which Jesus was laid because Jesus' tomb was said to be a wealthy man's tomb (Matthew 27:57-60; cf, Isaiah 53:9), the body could be seen by the disciples when it was laid out (possible only with a bench-cut tomb—John 20:5,11), and the angels were seen sitting


11. An arcasolium-type tomb, like the tomb of Jesus (Kidron Valley, Jerusalem).


where both Jesus' head and feet had been (John 20:12). The badly eroded tomb in the Garden Tomb has neither of these characteristics,41 whereas the so-called Tomb of Jesus at the traditional site, though deformed by centuries of devoted pilgrims, is clearly composed of an antechamber and a rock-cut arcosolium.42


Determining a Verdict


When the disciples first came to Jesus' tomb, we read that "they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus" (Luke 24:3). In the same manner down through the ages skeptics and critics have also come, whether literally or figuratively, and the verdict of history has remained the same as in ancient times: "They did not find the body of the Lord Jesus." In the final analysis, archaeology may bring us to the tomb, but only faith—-informed by the facts—can bring us to Christ. Yet because archaeology has shown us that the facts that support faith are accurate-—-an identifiable tomb attesting to literal events-—-faith in the Christ of history does depend upon a historically empty tomb for its reality. While archaeology can only reveal the tomb, the persons and events attending to its historic purpose (Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas, crucifixion, and so on), the resurrection is interwoven with these facts so as to command the same consideration. The first generation of Jewish Christians who were bequeathed the Gospels no doubt had firsthand experience with the history and places they describe. Archaeology has restored for us much of what they experienced, and many of the questions modern scholars have concerning the authenticity of the Gospels might be answered if such archaeology was more carefully considered. As Bargil Pixner, Prior of the Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion, has advised, Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and one you will find in the Land they call holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.43


When we read the four Gospels in light of the fifth, the Jesus of history and the Christ of the Gospels are found to be one and the same. Whether or not such an affirmation can be drawn from archaeology calls into question the nature and limits of archaeological proof—an issue that we will address next.

………………..


TO  BE  CONTINUED


JOSEPHUS  THE  JEWISH  HISTORIAN  OF  THE  FIRST  CENTURY  DOES  RECORD  THAT  JESUS  CHRIST  DID  LIVE  IN  THE  FIRST  CENTURY.  THOUGH  HE  SAYS  LITTLE  ABOUT  HIM,  THAT  CAN  BE  UNDERSTOOD  FROM  THE  FACT  THAT  MOST  "LEARNED  RELIGIOUS  JEWS"  DID  NOT  ACCEPT  JESUS  AS  THE  PROMISED  MESSIAH,  EVEN  AS  THEY  STILL  DO  NOT  TODAY;  AND  DO  NOT  WANT  TO  SPEAK  ABOUT  HIM;  MANY  JEWS  ARE  DISOWNED  BY  THEIR  FAMILIES  IF  THEY  ACCEPT  JESUS  AS  THEIR  SAVIOR  -  Keith Hunt