The Resurrection


"After three days I will rise again" (Matthew 27:63).

11th Station of the Cross - the Resurrection of Jesus

Exactly what happened the Sunday morning after the Crucifixion is not known.

Matthew alone refers to a "violent earthquake" and an angel rolling the stone away (Matthew 28:2).

Mark tells us that "Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus' body" (Mark 16:1). Because of the fast-approaching start of Sabbath Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus had been unable to properly prepare Jesus' body before the hasty burial on Friday evening. But when the three women arrived at the tomb they found the large stone used to secure the entrance rolled away and were "greeted by a young man dressed in a white robe."

Luke relates that some unnamed women took the spices, went to the tomb, found the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus gone.

In John, Mary Magdalene alone went to the tomb and, upon finding the stone removed from the entrance, ran back to tell Simon Peter and the disciple "Jesus loved" (presumably John) that Jesus' body had been taken from the tomb. Peter and the beloved disciple went to the tomb to verify Mary's story. Inside, they saw the linen grave-cloths in two parts. A literal interpretation of the Greek of John's gospel leaves the impression that the body simply disappeared, leaving the grave-cloths exactly in place, except for the main shroud which was lying flat. After Peter and John returned to their place of residence, the gospel relates the touching account of Mary Magdalene (the only woman mentioned in all four gospels) wandering disconsolate near the tomb. She saw a figure who, in her tear-blurred vision, she mistook for the gardener. He spoke only one word "Mary" and she instantly recognized him as the risen Jesus.

The female disciples of Jesus

Salome was the wife of the fisherman Zebedee and the mother of the disciples James (called "the elder") and John.

Mary was the sister of the virgin Mary (in other words, Jesus' aunt); she was married to a man named Clopas (Cleopas KJV) or Alpheus, and her son was the other disciple named James, sometimes referred to as "the younger."

Mary Magdalene is the only one of the woman mentioned in all four gospels; she came from the town of Magdala on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, between Tiberias and Capernaum. Early in his ministry Jesus cured her of a serious illness, driving "seven demons" out of her. From then on she was a devoted follower. Tradition has made her an ex-prostitute. This misconception arose at the end of the 6th century when she was characterized as such in a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great who identified her with the penitent woman in Luke who anoints the feet of the soon-to-be-crucified Jesus and dries them with her hair.

The prominence given these women in all four of the gospel accounts of the resurrection lends authenticity to the empty tomb story if it were invented, no one would have given women such a key role, for they were considered unreliable witnesses in court.

In the footsteps of Jesus...

Now we are standing beneath the main dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the "Anastasis" (Greek "to stand again," "resurrection"), each of us waiting in line for a chance to enter a small olive-wood construction that presumably encloses the actual rock-cut tomb of Jesus. Called the "edicule" (Latin little house), the present-day enclosure (below) was built in 1809-1810 AD, following a severe fire in 1808 AD. It replaced one dating from 1555 AD. Previously there had been a succession of shrines replacing the original 4th century AD one destroyed by the mad sultan al-Hakim in 1009 AD.

(Left) entrance to the edicule in the center of the Anastasis beneath the main dome of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; (above) the edicule from above showing the exposed steel girders erected in 1947 to keep the structure from collapsing.

The edicule is by no means beautiful. Frankly some wish it would so it can be replaced with something more fitting. It encloses what is thought be the actual tomb of Christ. Inside are two small rooms. The first is the Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Angel (below left) featuring an altar containing a piece of the stone rolled away by angels at the Resurrection.

From there a low door leads to the tiny inner Chapel of the Holy Sepulcher (below right). Only 4 or 5 people can fit inside at one time for a chance to touch the white marble slab covering the limestone ledge where Jesus' body supposedly laid. The marble stone was placed here in 1555 AD and purposely cracked to deter looters.

The original church was constructed early in the 4th century by the emperor Constantine. One of the most often asked questions about this most-famous of Christian shrines: "Is it really built on the site where Jesus was buried?" Incredibly, the answer is very probably, yes!

How was it possible for Constantine, almost 300 years after the crucifixion (in 33 AD by one reckoning), to identify the actual place of Christ's burial? In this city, with thousands of anonymous tombs lying around its ancient walls, how did he locate the exact tomb of Jesus? Were there any special features that helped him make a positive identification?

The most direct descriptions of Jesus' burial are found in the gospels, and applying them to old plans and excavations under the city, archaeologists have pieced together details about the location of the tomb. The most telling description of the tomb is in John's gospel:

"At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no-one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was near by, they laid Jesus there" (John 19:41-42).

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher fits this description because it is believed to contain not only a tomb, but 39 yards away to the northeast, a 16-foot-high rocky outcrop on which Jesus' cross stood. In the 4th century AD the softer surrounding rock was cut-away to allow room for construction of the original church of Constantine; the remainder can be seen in two places: below the altar in the Greek Orthodox chapel over the summit of the rock and in the Chapel of Adam at the base of the rock, on the church's main floor.

In 1961 archaeological trenches were opened in various points of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, disclosing an extensive stone quarry used from the 8th to the 1st centuries BC. Originally this large east-west quarry supplied building stone for the ancient city, but it was abandoned in the 1st century BC. Subsequently, the quarry was filled with reddish-brown soil and the area became a garden for growing figs, cereals, olives and carob. Moreover, archaeologists tell us that tombs for wealthy Jews were often cut into old quarries. Such was the case here as various tombs were dug in the high walls surrounding the garden. Amongst these was one popularly known today as the "Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea" lying only 49 feet away from the olive-wood edicule containing the supposed rock-hewn tomb of Christ. It can be seen by walking to the back of the edicule to a tiny chapel belonging to the Copts, and behind it beyond the pillars of the rotunda another chapel belonging to the Syrians-Jacobites. This anonymous rock-hewn burial cave (right) proves that this area was indeed a Jewish cemetery. It appears that both the garden and the cemetery were in use at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. This fits exactly with the description in John's gospel: "At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden and in the garden a new tomb, in which no-one had ever been laid." (John 19:41)

Archaeological evidence shows that the tomb of Jesus had been dug out in an isolated spur of the quarry. In this spur the proprietor had started preparations for a family tomb. This new tomb faced east and had a low door (one had to almost kneel down to get through the passage). Inside was a vestibule leading into the funerary chamber, where a single funerary bench had been hewn in the northern wall (on the right side, as one enters the tomb). It is probable that Joseph intended to finish his family tomb by having two other funerary benches dug in the western and southern walls but the events of the Holy Week changed his plans.

Everyone visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher realizes that today's building is well within the walls of the Old City. Under Jewish law, tombs had to be located outside city walls because they are considered unclean. What was a cemetery doing inside the city? Records tell us that Jerusalem expanded over the Holy Sepulcher site only during the reign of Herod Agrippa I (41-44 AD), a few years after Jesus' crucifixion. At the time of Jesus, the western city wall was located farther to the east. Of this so-called "Second Wall," nothing has been found. However, you can look down on the city and see where it ran; the foundations of buildings constructed on what would have been the area of the city at Jesus' time are at a higher level. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is situated on a lower, more recent level. Therefore, the site was outside the western wall of the city of Jesus' time.

Lastly, this question: "How was Constantine able to identify the exact tomb of Jesus?"

There are indications of a nearly continuous Christian presence in the city from the time of the Crucifixion through the 2nd century AD, when the emperor Hadrian built his pagan city of Aelia Capitolina (after his family name Aelius and his patron god Jupiter Capitolinus) over the ruins of the city destroyed by Titus in 70 AD. These early Christians would have remembered the site of the crucifixion and they would have frequently gone to his burial place to pray. After Hadrian had his temple to Aphrodite built over that site, then naturally the Christian memory was intensified by bitterness. He had excluded them from visiting the tomb of their holiest person. Subsequently, when visitors came, they were told, presumably with great anger, that Jesus' tomb was right there, buried beneath Hadrian's pagan temple. You can just here the local Christians saying, "That's where Jesus was crucified, that's where he was buried!"

Even with precise directions from local Christians, what made Constantine so certain he had found right burial chamber after dismantling the pagan temple and dug down into the cemetery below? What did he see that convinced him that he had identified the exact tomb. Was there something about it that differentiated it from the other tombs there?

Constantine's biographer, the 4th century AD bishop Eusebius, who was present when Hadrian's earthen fill was excavated, revealing Christ's tomb, stated that it provided "clear and visible proof ... a testimony to the resurrection of the Savior clearer than any voice could give." (Italics added for emphasis.)

What clue, "clearer than any voice could give," had Eusebius seen?

The answer may lie elsewhere, in tombs like those in the Roman Catacombs, where early Christians came to pray and hold remembrances to saints who had died for the faith. Before leaving, they left their prayers and names in the form of graffiti, scratched in the walls around the burial niches. Undoubtedly, Constantine and Eusebius noted this same behavior by Christian pilgrims to Christ's tomb before it was buried by Hadrian during construction of his pagan temple, providing clear evidence that the burial chamber they discovered, then enshrined, really did belong to Christ!!!.

This tradition of Christian graffiti can be seen today on the 12th century AD columns flanking the entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and elsewhere on the walls and other parts of the building. Here, over the course of some 900 years, pilgrims have scratched hundreds of visible prayers into the stone, mostly in the form of crosses (right). Like the earliest Christians, they left their marks their holy graffiti behind to commemorate theirs visits. (Below right) One final view before exiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the dome of the Anastasis/Rotunda, first revealed in 1997.

Jesus' Life Home n After the Resurrection