Christianity is the only religion in the world that claims the resurrection and ascension of its founder. Jesus was resurrected after spending three days in the grave. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher maintains that within its compound is the actual grave where the body of Jesus was kept for three days. The Holy Sepulcher is one of the most revered and visited sites in the Old City in Jerusalem. But just in case the church leaders got it wrong, there is an alternative location in Jerusalem for Christ’s tomb — the Garden Tomb.
The belief that this could be the probable site of Christ’s actual tomb is not without evidence. Believers look to textual, historical and archeological proofs. The location is perfect since according to the New Testament, Christ’s body was taken to a rock tomb in a garden, was sealed by a rolling stone, and with a burial chamber to the right. The crucifixion took place outside the walls of Jerusalem, along a major thoroughfare and near a city gate.
Today, the Garden Tomb is located outside the city walls and near the Damascus Gate, adjacent to what is supposed to be the correct location of Golgotha (Calvary). Several archeologists have visited the garden and approved to the idea that this could be the site where Jesus’ body was laid for three days. The first expert who examined the site was the Swiss archeologist Conrad Schick in 1874, and later in the late 20th century by Gabriel Barkay, a Biblical archeology professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Barkay concluded that the interior of the tomb proves that it was the type used from the 8th-7th century BC, and the groove and cistern inside the tomb were probably built by Crusaders in the 11th century. Many scholars, today, reject the possibility, although Protestants still uphold its validity as the actual tomb of Christ over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
Protestants argue that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was originally built by Hadrian, a Roman Emperor, as a temple for Aphrodite before Constantine converted to Christianity. Its location is also a problem for Protestant scholars since it is located within the city walls, unlike the Garden Tomb. Biblical texts point to the tomb’s location outside Jerusalem’s walls.
Regardless of religious assumptions and historical controversies, a large number of tourists flock to see the Garden Tomb not just for what it probably represents but simply for its beauty and archeological significance. This is clearly an ancient burial place, no matter whose remains might have occupied it, representing how early Jews buried their dead.
Inside the tomb are benches where bodies were laid and a burial chamber on the right side of the tomb, which is rare in Jerusalem. Outside the tomb are a wooden door and a multi-lingual sign that reads, “He is not here — for he is risen”, pertaining to the Biblical account of the Resurrection. Also nearby is a cliff-side that bears the shape of a skull, which many believe as the correct location of Golgotha and again not within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
The Garden Tomb is open every day except Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon and 2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The site is kept quiet and peaceful, and never crowded with tourists.