The Garden Tomb is an alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the actual site of Jesus' burial in Jerusalem. It was discovered in 1867 and is especially popular with Protestants as a place of devotion.
It is easy to see why the Garden Tomb is a popular site for Protestant piety — it is clearly located outside the walls, it is next to a place that looks like a skull, it conforms to what one imagines when reading the Gospel accounts, and it is far easier to pray and contemplate here than in the crowded Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
But is the Garden Tomb really the tomb of Jesus? The main reason some people think so is that early accounts of the burial (e.g. Hebrews 13:12) describe it as occurring outside the city walls. And today, the Garden Tomb is outside the walls while the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is within them.
However, the city walls were expanded by Herod Agrippa in 41-44 AD and only then enclosed the site of the Holy Sepulchre, so both sites were outside the walls at the time of Jesus.
However, scholars are generally agreed that the Garden Tomb is not the actual site of Jesus' burial. According to Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "there is no possibility that it is in fact the place where Christ was buried." Holy Land specialist Dr. Carl Rasmussen comments, "it is my opinion that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher preserves a more accurate tradition."
One problem with the Garden Tomb is that, based on its configuration, it dates from the late Old Testament era (9th-7th century BC). Thus it was not a "new tomb" (Matt 27:60; John 19:41) at the time of the crucifixion.
In addition, the burial benches were cut down in the Byzantine period (4th-6th century AD) to create rock sarcophagi, radically disfiguring the tomb. This clearly indicates that early Christians did not believe this was the burial place of Christ.
The site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on the other hand, seems to have attracted Christian devotion since before Constantine. (See under "Authenticity" in that article for more information.)
The wardens of the property (the UK-based Garden Tomb Association) stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important. Regardless of its authenticity, the Garden Tomb is a fine place for contemplating the death burial of Christ and certainly more readily identifiable with the Gospel accounts than the dark and urban scene of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
History of the Garden Tomb
In the 19th century, a number of scholars disputed the identification of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the actual site of Jesus's crucifixion and burial. In 1842, Otto Thenius proposed that a rocky outcrop outside the walls was Calvary (Golgotha), the place of the skull.
The Garden Tomb itself was discovered in 1867, and was soon identified as the burial place of Jesus, mainly because of its location in the area that had been identified as Calvary. Another factor in its favor was the recent discovery the tombstone of the deacon Nonnus in the nearby Church of St. Stephen, which mentioned the Holy Sepulchre.
The Anglican Church committed itself to the site as the place of Jesus' burial and "Gordon's Tomb" became the "Garden Tomb." The Church has since withdrawn its formal support, but the Garden Tomb continues to be identified by popular Protestant piety.
What to See at the Garden Tomb
At "Gordon's Calvary," the shape of a skull, at least large eye sockets, can be discerned in the cliffside. This rocky escarpment was used as a rock quarry, perhaps druing the time of Herod Agrippa I (37-44 AD).
The garden tomb itself is located about 100 yards west of the "skull." The tomb is marked by multilingual signs and a wooden door bearing the English words, "He is not here - for he is risen."
The door and windows in the tomb facade probably date from Byzantine or Crusader times. The deep channel along the ground, sometimes identified as the groove for the rolling stone used to seal the tomb, is of unknown date and purpose.
Inside the tomb there are two chambers side by side. From the vestibule, one turns right to enter the burial chamber. This configuration is typical of 9th-7th century (Iron Age) tombs in the area. Tombs from the time of Jesus have the burial chamber behind the vestibule in a straight line, and each body bench (arcosolium) set within an arch. In the Garden Tomb, the body benches simply extend from the wall.
As mentioned above, the body benches were carved down by Byzantine Christians to use as rock sarcophagi; this can still be seen. In the Middle Ages, the Crusaders lowered the rock surface in front of the tomb, built vaults against it, and used the site as stable.
The Garden Tomb is a quiet place intended for worship and reflection. There are good facilities, including benches, drinking water , toilets, and wheelchair access to the garden. There is also a well-stocked gift shop.
From the Damascus Gate on the northern side of the Old City, cross the main street and walk up Nablus Road. The Garden Tomb is located on Conrad Schick Street, a narrow lane 400m up Nablus Road, on the right hand side. It is clearly signposted.
Quick Facts on the Garden Tomb
|Names:||Garden Tomb · Gordon's Calvary · Gordon's Tomb|
|Categories:||biblical sites; ruins; rock-cut tombs|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||31.783852° N, 35.229979° E|
|Address:||Physical: Conrad Schick Street, New City, Jerusalem, Israel |
Mailing: PO Box 19462, Jerusalem, 91193, Israel
|Phone:||00 (972) 2 6272745|
|Hours:||Mon-Sat 8:30-noon, 2-5:30; closed Sundays|
|Lodging:||View hotels near the Garden Tomb|
- Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, Oxford Archaeological Guides: The Holy Land (Oxford, 1998), 141.
- Kay Prag, Blue Guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories (Black and Norton, 2002), 244-45.
- Official Website of the Garden Tomb - Garden Tomb Association
- Dr. Carl Rasmussen, "Garden Tomb" - Holy Land Photos
Map of the Garden Tomb, Jerusalem
Below is a location map and aerial view of the Garden Tomb. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.