HE IS RISEN; But Not from the Garden Tomb!


Like most of what I write here, this is an opinion piece, not based on personal experience or my own research, but rather on a lot of reading and thinking about things that pique my interest. With, occasionally, some personal observation thrown in. Of course, my opinions don’t really carry much weight in the world. My readership is small, and in any case, the question in consideration is mainly of academic interest, important only to purists like me.

Recent scholarship recognizes two main possibilities for the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial: Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb; and inside the bounds of the Church of the Resurrection (hereinafter, “the church”). The current scholarly view is that the latter is the correct choice. I am personally 98% sure that the former is not correct and 85% sure that the latter is. Here are some arguments:

Gordon's Calvary Typology (2)

Gen. Charles Gordon popularized the notion that the northern site is correct, based not on archaeological evidence but on a strongly anti-Semitic typology which I will describe below. The church location was given official status by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century based on local Christian tradition. An apparently unbroken chain of succession of bishops in Jerusalem, and the importance of the death and burial, make it quite easy for me to believe that the tradition is valid.

In Gordon’s thinking, the skull-shaped outcropping represents the skull of Jesus; the Antonia Ridge, which arcs from northwest to southeast between his Golgotha and the Antonia Fortress outside the northwest corner of the Temple Mount is Jesus’ spine and torso; the Mount itself is the pelvis; the ridge on which the City of David rests represents the legs; and the Siloam pool, the feet. According to this imagery, that made the Jewish Temple an anus!

Gordon, like many people since, was impressed by the skull shape itself. After all, “Golgotha” does translate to “skull hill.” The problem with this is that with 2,000 years of weathering, the probability that the outcropping looked at all the same in Jesus’ day as it does now is virtually zero. The traditional site of Golgotha may be aptly named for either of two reasons: first, another Christian tradition, not so easy to believe, is that the skull of Adam was buried beneath the cross; the more plausible explanation is simply that this was a common execution site.

John 19 Inset

Both sites are likely execution places in that both are located at rock quarries close to a major road and a populated area. These conditions were ideal for Roman crucifixions, which were designed to be seen and to provide a deterrent to future malfeasance. Additionally, Jewish stoning was done by placing the guilty party at the bottom of a cliff or in a pit and rolling large stones on top of him or her.

Jewish law forbade executions inside the city. It was long thought that because the church location was inside the Third Wall of Jerusalem, it could not be the legitimate site of an execution. Gordon’s Calvary, on the other hand, was about a hundred yards outside the Third Wall, just off the Damascus Road. We now know, however, that the Third Wall was built later during the regency of Herod Agrippa I and later rulers, so both sites were appropriately outside the city at that time.

Both sites meet the criteria of a tomb in a garden located near the execution site. Gordon preferred the tranquil setting of the northern site as compared to the pomp and bustle of the church. This is merely an emotional preference, not any kind of proof, since in Jesus’ day the site of the garden at the church would have been just as tranquil.

Another “proof” used to champion the northern site was the discovery of two early tomb inscriptions found nearby. These have since been discredited.

The most telling argument of all is that it has become apparent from subsequent archaeological studies in Israel that the burial grounds around the church contain Second Temple era tombs, while the Garden Tomb and all those around it are from the Iron Age, in particular around the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Since John’s gospel describes Jesus’ tomb as “new”, it almost certainly wouldn’t have been built to specifications that had gone out of style centuries earlier. Though the two styles were somewhat similar at first glance, they were actually very much different.

I would suggest one more argument of my own to support the church as the authentic burial site: during the Roman period, Emperor Hadrian built a temple to Jupiter, not on the Temple Mount as used to be thought, but in the present Christian Quarter, adjacent to the eventual site of the Church of the Resurrection. Outside his temple, and squarely on top of the traditional site of Jesus’ tomb, he leveled the terrain and erected a statue of Aphrodite! Perhaps this was a response to the Christian traditions. My thinking is that, because the 10th Roman Legion was still quartered in the city, there would still, just a century later, be a great deal of institutional embarrassment over the “losing” of Jesus’ body and the subsequent development of a major and very troublesome new religion around the claims of His resurrection at that spot. I think that the inevitable Roman military traditions alone would constitute a very powerful argument in favor of that location.

The Upper Room and End-Times Nuttiness

I just dug up something that I posted in early June 2014, and took down again when part of it became old news. My original post was in response to an article that was being circulated claiming that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was planning to hand control of the traditional “Upper Room” site of Jesus’ Last Supper, on Mt. Zion, to Pope Francis, presumably so that it could be developed into yet another Catholic shrine. The author of the article was enraged because he viewed the Pope to be the False Prophet of Revelation and “giving him an official seat in this most sacred of places … is the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel.” The question was posed, “Should [the False Prophet] be glorified before the nations on Mount Zion, God’s holy mountain?”

Unfortunately, in my life I have seen no shortage of end-times weirdness, and this certainly qualifies. I would call it “poorly informed pop theology.”

What made me think of this now (April 2023) is that the current Southern Baptist Sunday School quarterly includes several lessons from John’s Gospel covering parts of the Last Supper, and also a back-page map showing the commentator’s interpretation of Jesus’ movements from the Upper Room to the Cross. He shows Jesus’ trek beginning at the traditional site on Mt. Zion. I usually tend to place a lot of stock in early Christian tradition, but I’m very dubious of this one, which I discussed in more detail in my own interpretation (see Jesus’ Last Steps).

The traditional “Upper Room” This is a 12th Century Crusader structure, image downloaded from Vintage Grace, constancedenninger.blogspot.com.

Honestly, I can’t really recall much detail from the article I was responding to, and the link to it is now broken, no doubt because the particular “abomination” it warned of never happened. I am now reposting an updated version of my response, simply because there are still points to be made about the Upper Room, and Eschatology in general. For perspective, I am Premillennial, and my views presuppose a pre-Tribulation Rapture of the Church.

The Abomination of Desolation will be a desecration of the Holy of Holies in the Tribulation Temple; not of the Upper Room, as stated in the article. The majority of today’s Christians belong to denominations that are either Catholic, Orthodox, or Reformed, and most of those teach that God has permanently turned His back on the Hebrew people. This is a characteristic of Covenant Theology in general, which I suspect is the reason the article elevates the Upper Room in significance, at the expense of the Jewish Temple.

Any suggestion that the prophesied Abomination would pertain to any strictly Christian holy site, like the Upper Room, is bogus. The end-time prophesies, and the Tribulation itself, are related wholly to Israel and to Gentile nations, not to the Church and New Testament Christianity. By the time of the Abomination, the Church will have been Raptured. Any believers present on earth as the Tribulation period advances will be worshiping in a totally Jewish context.

The Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel, Jesus, Paul—and of course John in Revelation—referred to end-time events. It was prefigured during Intertestamental times by a similar Abomination perpetrated by the Syrian king Antiochus IV. It is not uncommon in history to see prophesied events prefigured by earlier events. Prefiguration is illustration. Because Antiochus defiled the Most Holy Place in the Jerusalem Temple, we are strengthened in our understanding that it will be the Most Holy Place in the Jerusalem Temple that Antichrist will defile.

To state it again, the Abomination will be perpetrated by Antichristnot the False Prophet. Messiah ritually cleansed the Temple when He drove out the moneychangers. Antimessiah will defile it.

The Upper Room shrine is one of the most poorly attested of the ancient holy sites. The room shown in the photo above is Byzantine, and the most that can be said about it is that it may be built on or near the original site of the actual Upper Room. Even more dubiously, the ground floor of the same building is also said to sit on the tomb of King David. This is way, way down the scale of likelihood!

Mt Zion, where the shrine is located, is not even “God’s holy mountain” at all! In Bible times, “Mt. Zion” referred to Mt. Moriah, where the First and Second Temples stood and where previously God directed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. All Biblical references to Zion refer to Mt. Moriah. In Byzantine times, probably due to confusion, the name “Zion” became connected instead to the “Western Hill” area (the Upper City) between the Tyropoeon Valley and the Hinnom Valley. This area, as well as the Bezetha Hills to the north, were first built up by King Hezekiah, in order to accommodate a huge immigrant population from the region of Samaria.

Before I leave that subject, the so-called “Ten Lost Tribes” were never totally lost. After the conquest of the Northern tribes by Assyria, hordes of upper- and middle-class Jews were exiled to other Assyrian conquests. Many peasants were left behind to share the land with conquered peoples from elsewhere that were resettled there. Many of those intermarried to produce the mamser (“bastard”) Samaritan population later despised in Judea. But shortly before the Assyrian conquest, many well-to-do northerners fled to Judea. The size of Jerusalem doubled as a result of that influx. In the First Century, this region was populated largely by aristocratic Sadducees and Roman officials—hardly a holy mountain!

Contrary to the famous, controversial claim by the late Jerry Falwell, Antichrist will not be Jewish, in my understanding—but the False Prophet will be. I base this on my strong belief that in prophecy, “the sea” usually, if not always, refers to the masses of non-Jewish people surrounding the Holy lands, and “the Land” refers to the lands given by God to His people. Antichrist is “the beast from the sea”, and the False Prophet is “the beast from the land.” To my knowledge, no Pope has ever been Jewish!

Reading in the Pope as the False Prophet, I’m sure, comes easily because Premillennialists have long assumed that the “Great Whore” of Revelation is the Catholic Church, or some form of apostate Christianity. Catholicism seems to fit the metaphor because to Protestants it incorporates many syncretistic rituals and beliefs. On the other hand, history now suggests another possible identity of the Harlot of Revelation: Islam. Militant Islam is a whorish religion in that it insists on an illicit union between false religion and the state, and I believe it to now be a far more powerful entity than Catholicism or the apostate Church.

That is not to suggest that the False Prophet will be a Muslim. Early in his regime, Antichrist will cozy up to all religions, but his own religion, and later the only one allowed, will be worship of him. The False Prophet will ultimately be a prophet of only that one religion, which will probably have little or no liturgy or theology. He will be more of a chief of staff or press secretary by then.

Finally, I am puzzled by the outrage in the article. Surely God’s plan is the best plan! Why not say, with the Apostle John,

[20] He which testifieth these things saith, “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.”
—Revelation 22:20 (KJV)