Unsealing of Christ’s Reputed Tomb Turns Up New Revelations

Source: National Geographic Partners

Jerusalem, October 31, 2016

As this site is from a secular source, it speaks of the
“reputed” tomb of Christ and asks if the Holy
Sepulchre is truly His tomb. As Orthodox Christians we
have no doubt that the Tradition of the Church is true,
but we have published this article as is, as it provides
the latest details, photographs, and videos of the work
being done on the Lord’s Tomb
O.C.

Members of the conservation team lift a stone to clean and digitally scan before reinstalling it on the faзade of the Edicule, the shrine that houses what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Members of the conservation team lift a stone to clean and digitally scan before reinstalling it on the faзade of the Edicule, the shrine that houses what is believed to be the tomb of Jesus. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Researchers have continued their investigation into the
site where the body of Jesus Christ is traditionally
believed to have been buried, and their preliminary
findings appear to confirm that portions of the tomb are
still present today, having survived centuries of damage,
destruction, and reconstruction of the surrounding Church
of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The most venerated site in the Christian world, the tomb
today consists of a limestone shelf or burial bed that was
hewn from the wall of a cave. Since at least 1555, and
most likely centuries earlier, the burial bed has been
covered in marble cladding, allegedly to prevent eager
pilgrims from removing bits of the original rock as
souvenirs.

When the marble cladding was first removed on the night of
October 26, an initial inspection by the conservation team
from the National Technical University of Athens showed
only a layer of fill material underneath. However, as
researchers continued their non-stop work over the course
of 60 hours, another marble slab with a cross carved into
its surface was exposed. By Friday night, just hours
before the tomb was to be re-sealed, the original
limestone burial bed was revealed intact.

A restorer removes debris beneath a broken marble slab to expose the original rock surface of what is considered the burial place of Jesus. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
A restorer removes debris beneath a broken marble slab to expose the original rock surface of what is considered the burial place of Jesus. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

“I’m absolutely amazed. My knees are shaking a
little bit because I wasn’t expecting this,”
said Fredrik Hiebert, National Geographic’s
archaeologist-in-residence. “We can’t say 100
percent, but it appears to be visible proof that the
location of the tomb has not shifted through time,
something that scientists and historians have wondered for
decades.”

In addition, researchers confirmed the existence of the
original limestone cave walls within the 18th-century
Edicule, or shrine, which encloses the tomb. A transparent
window has been cut into the southern interior wall of the
shrine to expose one of the cave walls.

Inscribed with a Christian cross, this broken marble slab may date to the Crusader era. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Inscribed with a Christian cross, this broken marble slab may date to the Crusader era. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

“This is the Holy Rock that has been revered for
centuries, but only now can actually be seen,” said
Chief Scientific Supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou,
who is directing the conservation and restoration of the
Edicule.

Was This Really the Tomb of Christ?

While it is archaeologically impossible to say that the
tomb recently uncovered in the Church of the Holy
Sepulchre is the burial site of an individual Jew known as
Jesus of Nazareth, there is

indirect evidence to suggest that the identification of
the site by representatives of the Roman emperor
Constantine some 300 years later may be a reasonable one.

The earliest accounts of Jesus’ burial come from the
Canonical Gospels, the first four books of the New
Testament, which are believed to have been composed
decades after Christ’s crucifixion around A.D. 30.
While there are variations in the details, the accounts
consistently describe how Christ was buried in a rock-cut
tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy Jewish
follower of Jesus.

Archaeologists have identified more than a thousand such
rock-cut tombs in the area around Jerusalem, says
archaeologist and National Geographic grantee Jodi
Magness. Each one of these family tombs consisted of one
or more burial chambers with long niches cut into the
sides of the rock to accommodate individual bodies.

A conservator cleans the surface of the stone slab venerated as the final resting place of Jesus Christ. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
A conservator cleans the surface of the stone slab venerated as the final resting place of Jesus Christ. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

“All of this is perfectly consistent with what we
know about how wealthy Jews disposed of their dead in the
time of Jesus,” says Magness. “This does not, of
course, prove that the event was historical. But what it
does suggest is that whatever the sources were for the
gospel accounts, they were familiar with this tradition
and these burial customs.”

Outside the City Walls

Jewish tradition forbade burial within the walls of a
city, and the Gospels specify that Jesus was buried
outside of Jerusalem, near the site of his crucifixion on
Golgotha (“the place of skulls”). A few years
after the burial is said to have occurred, the walls of
Jerusalem were expanded, putting Golgotha and the nearby
tomb within the city.

When Constantine’s representatives arrived in
Jerusalem around A.D. 325 to locate the tomb, they were
allegedly pointed to a temple built by the Roman emperor
Hadrian some 200 years earlier. Historical sources suggest
that Hadrian had the temple built over the tomb to assert
the dominance of Roman state religion at the site
venerated by Christians, much as he had a pagan temple
built on the site of the Jewish Second Temple, which was
destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70.

According to Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, the pagan
temple was razed and excavations beneath it revealed a
rock-cut tomb. The top of the cave was sheared off to
expose the interior, and a church was built around it to
enclose the tomb. The church was completely destroyed by
the Fatimids in 1009 and rebuilt in the mid-eleventh
century.

Chief Scientific Supervisor Antonia Moropoulou shows the exposed tomb to (from left) representatives of the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and Franciscan Custos Fr. Francesco Patton, and Thephilos III, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem. PHOTOGRAPH BY ELISAVET TSILIMANTOU, JERUSALEM PATRIARCHATE - NATIONAL TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS
Chief Scientific Supervisor Antonia Moropoulou shows the exposed tomb to (from left) representatives of the Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and Franciscan Custos Fr. Francesco Patton, and Thephilos III, the Greek Patriarch of Jerusalem. PHOTOGRAPH BY ELISAVET TSILIMANTOU, JERUSALEM PATRIARCHATE – NATIONAL TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS

Excavations inside of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
during the 20th century revealed remains of what is
believed to be Hadrian’s temple and walls from
Constantine’s original church. Archaeologists also
documented an ancient limestone quarry and at least half a
dozen other rock-cut tombs, some of which can be seen
today.

Women pray atop the marble cover of the tomb before it was removed for restoration work. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Women pray atop the marble cover of the tomb before it was removed for restoration work. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

The presence of other tombs of the period is important
archaeological evidence, according to Magness. “What
they show is that in fact this area was a Jewish cemetery
outside the walls of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus.”

According to Dan Bahat, former City Archaeologist of
Jerusalem, “We may not be absolutely certain that the
site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus
burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a
claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to
reject the authenticity of the site.”

Months of Restoration, Decades of Study

During the past few days, the burial bed has been resealed
in its original marble cladding and may not be exposed
again for centuries or even millennia. “The
architectural conservation which we are implementing is
intended to last forever,” says Moropoulou. Before it
was resealed, however, extensive documentation was
performed on the surface of the rock.

An engineer uses ground-penetrating radar to detect the walls of the original tomb behind its marble facade. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JERUSALEM PATRIARCHATE, NATIONAL TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS
An engineer uses ground-penetrating radar to detect the walls of the original tomb behind its marble facade. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY JERUSALEM PATRIARCHATE, NATIONAL TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY OF ATHENS

Archaeologist Martin Biddle, who published a seminal study
on the history of the tomb in 1999, believes that the only
way to really know, or understand why people believe, that
the tomb is indeed the one in which the Gospels say
Jesus’ body was laid, is to carefully review the data
collected when the burial bed and cave walls were exposed.

“The surfaces of the rock must be looked at with the
greatest care, I mean minutely, for traces of
graffiti,” Biddle says, citing other tombs in the
area that must have been of considerable importance
because they are covered with crosses and inscriptions
painted and scratched onto the rock surfaces.

“The issue of the graffiti is absolutely
crucial,” Biddle says. “We know that there are
at least half a dozen other rock-cut tombs below various
parts of the church. So why did Bishop Eusebius identify
this tomb as the tomb of Christ? He doesn’t say, and
we don’t know. I don’t myself think Eusebius got
it wrong—he was a very good scholar—so there
probably is evidence if only it is looked for.”

Meanwhile, the team from the National Technical University
of Athens continues its restoration of the Edicule.
Conservators will be reinforcing, cleaning, and
documenting every inch of the shrine for at least another
five months, collecting valuable information that scholars
will study for years in an attempt to better understand
the origin and history of one of the world’s most
sacred sites.

Steel girders supporting the Edicule will be removed when restoration work is completed next Spring. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
Steel girders supporting the Edicule will be removed when restoration work is completed next Spring. PHOTOGRAPH BY ODED BALILTY, AP FOR NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *