It’s a skull, the world’s largest and most terrible skull—empty eyes glaring toward the Damascus Gate of Old City Jerusalem. Darkly pondering, it seems, the crucifixion deaths of those who perished at the bloody hands of Romans and priests two millennia ago. There is one who perished underneath its malevolent gaze, but did not stay dead.
The nearby Church of The Holy Sepulcher is the traditional site of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. However, as a historian, I find little evidence to support the claim. Several 19th Century scholars also came to the same conclusion and rejected its validity in favor of what is now simply called “The Garden Tomb.”
In the Bible, John points out that Jesus’ tomb was located in a garden. In 1867, adjacent to the rocky escarpment which has been known since the mid-19th Century as Golgotha, or “Skull Hill,” archaeologists unearthed a tomb that is perfectly described in the Bible as containing two chambers and a walk-in area. It is virtually under the harsh gaze of the Skull.
Also within view of the tomb is the garden specified by John. At the time it would have been a wine press and a cistern. Executions at the time were not held in secret. They were meant to be highly-visible, a deterrent. Two main roads cross outside the Damascus Gate, well-traveled at the time, which means the executed would have been left on their crosses for perhaps days as an example.
Golgotha, nearby Mt. Zion, the Garden of Gethsemane, the pathway from Gethsemane where Jesus was seized to the city gate, the crossing main roads, the tomb—all match accounts of the Four Gospels.
“If the Garden Tomb is not the right place,” a Roman Catholic priest reportedly stated, “it should be.”
I entered the tomb with a shudder. I walked through the garden and prayed. For long minutes I stared at the looming monster Skull, wondering if Jesus had been taken underneath its gaze.
Still, in the final analysis, it’s not where Jesus went to the tomb that counts. What counts is that he did not stay in the tomb.
“I know that God has been teaching me all these years, using the outdoors as his slate. . . I would like to share with you, in this little book, some of the life lessons I learned from God on creek banks. . .”