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There's been a lot of news recently about the renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the opening of the tomb for the first time in a long time (200 years I believe). Growing up though I had always been shown pictures of the Garden Tomb as the likely site of Jesus' burial and resurrection.

I am curious to know what claims of authenticity each site have, as well as other major purported sites of Jesus' burial and resurrection (looking around online it seems there are more than just the two named here).

I ask all this with the realization that it is probably impossible for us to know the exact location of Jesus' tomb from archaeology and tradition alone. I'm not asking for an answer as to which location is the most likely location, just what claims of authenticity each site have.

  • Welcome, and nice question! Thanks for contributing. If you haven't already done so, I hope you'll take a minute to take the tour and learn how this site is different from others. – Nathaniel Jun 27 '16 at 13:05
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    We do already have a similar question – Where was Jesus' tomb? – but the wording of yours is better, and the answer there is not helpful. – Nathaniel Jun 27 '16 at 13:06
  • @Nathaniel, the question you linked was the first one I looked at coming to this site to find an answer to my question. I hope the wording of my question is sufficiently clear to see how what I'm trying to understand is different from the material that question and its answer provide. – NeutronStar Jun 27 '16 at 13:12
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    IMO this question is not at all broad, as long as the title is amended to refer to the authenticity of the two sites linked in the body of the question. On that basis, it can be answered simply and directly. However, I'll wait to see if it is closed first. – Dick Harfield Jun 28 '16 at 0:32
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    @LeeWoofenden I agree that the question is not too broad. Any book on the two tombs could be summarized in a small number of paragraphs. – Andrew Jun 28 '16 at 21:18
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located at the spot where in the fourth century Helena, Emperor Constantine's mother, identified the very place where Jesus had been buried on Mount Golgotha. The location was upon the site of a Jewish burial chamber and beneath a Temple of Aphrodite.

Michael Grant, in The Emperor Constantine, pages 202, says that Eusebius tells us, in Life, that Helena was shown the correct location in a vision. Constantine himself ordered Bishop Macarius of Jerusalem to build on the site “a basilica more beautiful than any on earth”, without sparing money, craftsmen, labourers or materials.

Wikipedia explains that Constantine's church was built as two connected churches over the two different holy sites, including a great basilica, an enclosed colonnaded atrium (the Triportico) with the traditional site of Golgotha in one corner, and a rotunda, called the Anastasis, which contained the remains of a rock-cut room that Helena and Bishop Macarius identified as the burial site of Jesus.

Possible reasons to doubt the authenticity of Helena's claim include that building the basilica required the destruction of an important pagan temple, and the unlikelihood that Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy and influential Jew, would choose to have the tomb intended for his own burial so close to where the Romans executed common criminals (although John 19:41 places them in proximity). Helena had been phenomenally successful in Palestine, and Grant reports the words of a scholar that her thrilling discoveries were made “with miraculous aid seldom now vouchsafed to archaeologists”.


During the post-Reformation era there was an increase in doubts regarding the traditional holy places and various other locations began to be put forward. In Aramaic, Golgotha actually means 'skull', and one of the proposed locations was 'skull hill', a small hill that resembles a skull in appearance. This contains a few natural cavities as well as a man-made cave, which Christians call Jeremiah’s Grotto and which biblical scholar Otto Thenius suggested was the tomb of Christ.

General Gordon accepted that skull hill must be Golgotha, but proposed that Jesus was actually buried in one of a number of tombs found nearby. This particular tomb also has a stone groove running along the ground outside it, which Gordon argued to be a slot that once housed a stone, corresponding to the biblical account of a stone being rolled over the tomb entrance to close it. An ancient wine press and cistern have been cited as evidence that the area had once been a garden, and the somewhat isolated tomb adjacent to the cistern has become identified as the Garden Tomb of Jesus.

John McRay (Archaeology and the New Testament, page 212,) says that two tomb inscriptions found nearby in 1885 and 1889 were used improperly, if not fraudulently, as supporting evidence for this as the site of Jesus' tomb. On its own, the 1889 inscription simply marked the site of "Deacon Nonnus Onesimus of the the Holy Resurrection of Christ and of this monastery." Jerome Murphy-O'Connor (The Holy Land, page 161) says that on this evidence, the Anglican Church committed to the identification of the Garden Tomb but subsequently removed its formal support.

The site of the Garden Tomb has really been built on speculation: that 'skull hill' really was Golgotha, that the Garden Tomb's Golgotha is north of Mount Zion and that the wine press and cistern were sure signs of the area once having been a garden.

As with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, there are good reasons to doubt the authenticity of the Garden Tomb. Christian and pre-Christian Temple Judaism traditionally maintained the name of Golgotha as the final burial site of Adam's skull and bones, and 'skull hill' played no historic part in Jewish or Christian tradition regarding Golgotha's location. The groove could not have held a rolling stone and it has since been identified as a watering trough for horses. The cistern, which was built as part of the same stable complex as the groove, must date to the time of the Crusaders. The hill now known as Mount Zion has only had that name since the Middle Ages, before which Mount Zion referred to the Temple Mount, due east of the traditional site, but south south east of the Garden Tomb.

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