A Good Friday visit to the mysterious Garden Tomb of Golgotha
JERUSALEM, April 10, 2020 – As the coronavirus continues its deadly scourge to every corner of the globe the most important celebration in the Christian world looms before use. With Good Friday and the Easter story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, many, if not most, Christians will be self-sequestered at home. Without a prospect to observe the traditional services that typically abound at this time each year.
20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. – Matthew 18:20 King James Version (KJV)
Many churches are offering virtual services through online streaming, which may be a partial solution, but they don’t carry the same intimacy, nor do they have the same impact as being among friends and fellow worshippers.
This Easter may, in fact, leave sensations of living in some time-warped science fiction movie that has a Twilight Zone quality to it.
The mysteries of the Holy Land
In many ways, the Holy Land itself is a place where, at times, its history can be as confusing as its modern-day politics, thanks largely to the seemingly infinite layers of antiquity that have accumulated on top of each other over the past 20 centuries. If anything, they are more likely to enhance the controversies than offer solutions.
One of the first things visitors to the Holy Land are told is that many religious sites cannot be specifically identified.
Excavating present-day Old Jerusalem would be a never-ending mingling of events that boggles the mind. Little wonder the Holy Land is a place of generalities that, for most, is good enough.
Take, for example, Garden Tomb of Golgotha in Jerusalem which some observers believe to be the actual burial place and location of the resurrection of Christ.
The traditional location of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection is situated at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but during the 19th century, some doubts were raised about its authenticity.
The most popular alternative to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the Garden Tomb, which many believe was the garden and sepulcher of Joseph of Arimathea. In a land with thousands of years of heritage, the Garden Tomb theory is embryonic by comparison, dating only to 1842.
The importance of Skull Hill to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ
In that year, Otto Therius, a German theologian, presented the idea that an outcropping of rock in the Garden Tomb might be the site of the crucifixion. Four decades would pass before Therius’ suggestion gained serious consideration.
While on sabbatical in 1893, General Charles Gordon, an important member of British society, became curious about the name of the rock cliff in the garden known as “Skull Hill.”
Whether a person calls the crucifixion site Golgotha (Aramaic, and the language of Jesus) or Calvary (Latin), both terms mean “the place of the skull” when translated. The appropriately named cliff resembles the face of a skull when viewed from several angles.
Slim evidence to be sure, but the story is bewitching enough to capture the imagination and arouse curiosity. Garden Tomb officials make no claims that their site is the indisputable place where Jesus was interred. What they will state, however, is there are several features about the area that coincide with biblical accounts of the crucifixion.
The Bible says Golgotha was located outside the city walls of Jerusalem. It was along a busy thoroughfare near a gate of the city at a place of execution with a garden nearby, and the site was shaped like a skull.
The tomb itself was located in a garden belonging to a rich man, and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. It was hewn out of rock, entered through a low doorway with a burial chamber located to the right of the entrance and sealed by a rolling stone.
All of these elements are found at the Garden Tomb.
The Gospel According to John provides clues
In the “Gospel According to John” in the King James Version of the Bible, John specifically states that Jesus’ tomb was located in a garden.
John 19:41: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new Sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.”
Two important discoveries, an ancient wine press and a cistern, are cited as proof the area was once a garden. Both would have only been owned by someone of means and were typical items in a garden of the time.
As expected, many authorities have opposing archaeological concerns about the authenticity of the Garden Tomb as the true site of the crucifixion and resurrection.
Despite those beliefs, the Garden Tomb has become a popular pilgrimage site, especially for Protestants. Academicians and biblical scholars can, and most assuredly will, debate the validity of multitudes of historic sites throughout Israel and the Holy Land until Judgment Day.
For travelers however, whether the Garden Tomb or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the actual spot where Jesus died and was resurrected is a matter of personal conviction.
Admission to the Garden Tomb is free, but a $5 donation is suggested. Garden hours are Monday through Saturday between 8:30 am and 12:00 and from 2:00 pm until 5:30 pm.
The emotional power of the Tomb of Golgotha
It would be impossible to measure the emotion of knowingly standing at the precise locations where such major events occurred. Even so, the personal experience of walking in places so familiar to people of faith from around the globe is spiritually powerful.
In that sense, the Garden Tomb offers serenity, solitude, and meditation with a unique reverence for events that changed the world more than two thousand years ago.
In a city where the layers of time have hidden so many answers to questions we will forever pose, the Garden Tomb is a venue that looks and feels the way we have always imagined it.
Therein lies the magic, for as one Catholic priest once put it, “If the Garden Tomb is not the right place, then it should be.”
Updated and reprinted from March 2016
Images courtesy of the author, Bob Taylor
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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