Have Tomb, Will Argue

"We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site."

--Dan Bahat, former City Archaeologist of Jerusalem:

Many regular posters on the Internet Infidles have published a book, The Empty Tomb. This book is aimed at disproving the historicity of the tomb. While others attack the articles in the book, I thought I would do my bit by bolstering the historicity of the tomb itself. After all, it doesn't matter how many speculative arguments skeptics might have, if the tomb itself really existed, their arugments are in vein. While we can't prove the tomb did exist, we can incrase the probability of its historicity sufficiently to off set any ground gained in speculative argument.

My arguments are found on Doxa here:


I have two major argments both of which demonstrate the historicity of an early claim of an existing empty tomb.

(1) The pre Markan redactions include story of empty tomb as early as AD 50

(2) archaeoloigcal evidence indicates the tomb is under the chruch of the Holy Seplechur.

this is the second argument:

One of the major Skeptical arguments against the Resurrection of Christ states that no tomb was ever venerated as the stie of the Resurrection until Constantine arbitrarily chose one in the foruth century;that the Chruch of the Holy Seplechur, the oldest traditional site, was just a fabrication. None of this is true. While it cannot be proven conclusively that the CHS is the actual tomb site, there is a strong probablity that it is, and there is good evidence to suggest this. The tradition can be traced back to the first century. Thus a tomb was venerated in the first century.

The Church of the Holy Seplechur is owned jointly by three major Christian denominations: The Roman Catholics, the Orthodox, and the Arminian Orthodox. The site was chosen and "discovered" to be the orignal tomb of Christ by Constantine in 336 AD when he accompanied his mother to the Holy Land in search of the true cross and other artifacts.

My Argument is not that we can prove that the CHS is the tomb, but that the strong probablity that it was venertaed as the tomb in the frist century, destorys the skeptical claim in books such as The Empty Tomb.The skeptics contributing to that book must disprove the possiblity of the CHS before they can dismiss historicity of the empty tomb.

My arguments will be presented in three major areas:

I. The modern site of CHS is the site Constantine chose; its place in the sourrounding city is an exact fit for the physical and social envoriment of the tomb.

II. Oral tradition guided Constantine's choice, passed down from the Jewish Christian community to the Gentile Chrsitians.

III. Modern archeaology verifies the claims of this tradition.

I. The modern site of CHS is the site Constantine chose; its place in the sourrounding city is an exact fit for the physical and social envoriment of the tomb.

A.Validation of Constantine's site two sources:

(1) The Description of the site itself

The Descriptions given by Eusebius, and by Crusaders in the Middle ages, match the actual site.

Carbo Excavation.

Chruch of The Holy Seplechur--Government of Israel site, visited 6/7/01


"This courtyard, outside the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is partly supported by a large, vaulted cistern. The northern wall of this cistern is very impressive, consisting of large blocks with dressed margins, still standing several meters high. It has been suggested that this early wall served as the retaining wall of the second century Hadrianic raised platform (podium). This appears to support Eusebius' statement that the Temple of Venus, which Hadrian erected on the site of Jesus' tomb, stood here before the original church was built."

"The Basilica: Early masonry below the catholicon of the Crusader period was exposed during the excavations. This made possible the reconstruction of the original design of the 4th century basilica. The position of the two central rows of columns in the basilica (out of the four rows) may be determined by the remains of their foundations, which can be seen along the northern and southern sides of the chapel of St. Helena. In a small underground space north of this chapel, a massive foundation wall of the early basilica was exposed. On a large, smoothed stone which was incorporated in this wall, a pilgrim to the original church left a drawing of a merchant ship and the Latin inscription: "O Lord, we shall go." Beneath the apse of the present-day catholicon, part of the apse that marked the western end of the original church was exposed. Eusebius described this apse as being surrounded by twelve columns, symbolizing the twelve apostles."

"The Rotunda and Sepulcher:The most important element of the complex is the rotunda which contains the sepulcher itself. The sepulcher stands in an elaborate structure within the rotunda, surrounded by columns supporting an ornamented, domed roof.Some masonry remains were revealed below the floor and around the perimeter of the rotunda. Wherever bedrock was exposed, there were indications of stone-quarrying in earlier periods. The quarrying operation lowered the surface level around the sepulcher, which thus stood well above its surroundings. An architectural survey of the outer wall of the rotunda - 35 m. in diameter and in some sections preserved to a height of 10 m. - shows that it maintains its original 4th century shape. The sepulcher itself is surrounded by a circle of twelve columns - groups of three columns between four pairs of square piers. It is possible that the columns for the 4th century rotunda were removed from their original location on the facade of the Roman temple. Renovation of the piers exposed evidence that the columns had originally been much higher and that the Crusaders cut them in half for use in the 12th century rotunda.The renovation of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is still in progress, but after generations of neglect, the building has already regained most of its former beauty.

"The survey and excavations were conducted by V. Corbo, Ch. Coüasnon, M. Broshi and others, on behalf of the Christian communities which control most of the Holy Sepulcher: the Roman Catholic; the Greek Orthodox; and the Armenian Orthodox."

(2) Description of the Edicule.

The Edicule is the little house put over the tomb to protect it, before the basillica was built. Constantine is known to have put up the first one, and it has been described and documented in many ways. Biddle Traces this developement and finds:

The History of the Edicule

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"From the time of Constantine to the present day historians have been blessed with the archaeological evidence discovered showing the Edicule in its original form. The following list is only a fraction of what has been retrieved and the approximate dates of their origination.

Appearances of the Edicule (325-1009 ad)

1) 440 a.d.: on ivory casket side carving.
2) a Narbonne marble model (5th century).
3) Casket lid (6-7th century).
4) Pewter flask (6-7th century).
5) Pewter Medallion.
6) Glass Flasks.
7) Pottery Pilgrim Flask (shows Edicule and Golgotha).
8) Gold ring with the 3D Edicule on top.
9) Mosiac in the Church of St. Stephen in Jordan.
10) Bronze Censer casts (1009 a.d.)

Appearances of the Edicule (11th Century -1555)

1) Paintings.
2) Drawings.
3) Crusader Coins/Seals.
4) Models.

Appearances of the Edicule (1555-1808 ad)

1) Stone scale models.
2) Wooden models of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Edicule model inside.
3) Engravings.
4) Pottery.

Martin Biddle

Tomb of Chist

Israel Review of Arts and Letters

Wesite belonging to:Israel Ministry Foreign Affairs

visited 1/8/05

Biddle:Constantines edicule, the first of the four "little houses" which have covered and protected the remains of the tomb since its discovery in 325-6, was destroyed in 1009 and no fragment of it has been seen since. How then do we know what it looked like? The best evidence is provided by a replica standing about a metre high, cut in a block of Pyrennean marble, found at Narbonne in south-west France, and dating from the fifth or sixth century CE. Being cut in local marble it cannot be a direct copy of the edicule in Jerusalem, but must be based on some intermediate copy, probably itself a model rather than a set of drawings. Its evidence is therefore second-hand, but there are sufficient other sources to show that it is likely to be in architectural terms a close representation of the Jerusalem original. The other fifth to seventh-century sources are pictures in mosaic, moulded pewter flasks and medallions, the painted lid of a box of relics (found in the Lateran in Rome), images on pottery and glass, and the written records of pilgrims. All these sources present their own problems of date and interpretation, but it is a remarkable range of evidence in different media, more evidence perhaps than for any other vanished building of late antiquity. But the picture is confused by the parallel existence of completely fanciful representations, some of the highest artistic quality, in the form of ivory panels carved in Alexandria and Italy. These show idealized edicules, bearing no relation to reality, but they have confused generations of scholars. Only the objects made in Palestine, mostly probably in Jerusalem, for the pilgrim trade, or copying such local products, like the Narbonne marble, tell us what the edicule built by Constantine was really like.

Constantines edicule survived for 600 years until it was deliberately destroyed in 1009 by order of the Fatimid Caliph of Egypt, al-Hakim, in an insane and short-lived attack on the holy sites of Christianity. Within three or four years al-Hakim had relented, urged on by his mother, Maria, a Christian whose brother Orestes had been Patriarch of Jerusalem. By 1012 rebuilding had begun, and by 1014, Maria had "began to rebuild with well-dressed squared stones the Temple of Christ destroyed by her sons order."

The destruction had been very thorough: Constantines great church of the Martyrion was cut down and never rebuilt, but al-Hakims agents admitted that they could not entirely root out the tomb, and they left parts of the rotunda surrounding the tomb standing to a height of about 11 metres, as one can still see today. By the millennium of Christs crucifixion in 1030 or thereabouts, when thousands of pilgrims were again travelling to the Holy Land, the edicule and the rotunda had been put back into sufficient order for pilgrims to take part in the Easter liturgies and to observe the ceremony of the Descent of the Holy Fire.

William of Tyre, the great Crusader historian, who wrote in the 1160s and 1170s, says that the restoration was completed by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachos in 1048. William is our only evidence for this, and his indications of date are inconsistent. No Byzantine chronicler believed this. John Skylitzes, writing in the mid-11th century, a strictly contemporary witness, noted that the Emperor Romanos III (1028-34) "strove eagerly to take the rebuilding in hand; but his death intervened and his successor completed the work." This was the Emperor Michael IV, the Paphlagonian, who reigned from 1036-41.

Biddle traces the full history in the article (see link).

The shapes and appearances have been correlated by the Biddle excavation using advanced thechnology wihch enable the archaeologist to see inside to the orignal layer. The Ediclues was repaced many times wiht scuceeding layers, until it became onionlike, hiding an original core of Constantine's Dome, which has now been penitrated by Biddle using the most advanced technology. There is virtually no doubt that the CHS is the site Constantine chose.

Secrets of the Dead (PBS)

In addition to the traditional methods used by archeologists to study buildings, including taking comprehensive and detailed photographs and studying ancient documents and drawings, archeologists Martin and Birthe Biddle and their colleagues employed a number of sophisticated scientific techniques to examine the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the edicule that purportedly houses the Tomb of Christ.

The primary technology used in their survey of the site was photogrammetry, which allows researchers to create two or three-dimensional images of a structure from any vantage point. The data from which the images are constructed comes from conventional or digital photographs. Not just any photographs, however; they have to include small, reflective "targets" stuck on walls or other surfaces with adhesive. The targets have cross-hairs, which allow their exact location to be measured with a surveying tool called a theodolite. From the location of the targets, an imaginary coordinate grid is constructed in and around the entire site -- within the edicule of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for example. "When you take your photographs you have, preferably, four of these targets in each one," says Martin Biddle. The photographs are taken in "stereopairs," overlapping images that, when viewed in a certain way, form a three dimensional image of an object. "The stereopairs are set up in a photogrammetric plotter with the coordinate values you know from your survey. Thereafter, you can plot any point in the stereo image in terms of that coordinate grid. You know the x and y and z axes -- up and down and sideways," Biddle explains. "Once you have that data in, you can instruct the machine to print out a view looking up from underneath, or down from above -- whatever way you want."


B. Site's Physical and Social Fit in the Jerusalem Environment

(1)Site location is right in Relation to City Wall

One of the major means of identification is through the relation to the city wall. They know where the tomb was suppossed to be in relation to the wall and that gives a vector in which to begin searching. Than there are two other peices of crucial evidence, the description by Eusebius and artifacts which link the site with the tomb.

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The Tomb of Jesus, where is it?

"In 1963 Archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon while digging near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher proved that at the time of the Crucificion, the Church location was outside the walls of the Old City, during a dig a 49 ft. trench revealed a quarry which was in used between the 7th century b.c. and the first century. Additional support comes from the middle 1960's where repairs were given to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (floor) as well as a nearby Lutheran Church where quarrying evidence and pottery was uncovered. In addition to these discoveries the 1976 excavation by Dr. Christos Katsambinis revealed a cone-shaped grey rock with an incline (35 ft. high) probably the famed Golgotha which had two small caves that from a distance looked like a large skull (E.B. Blaiklock and R.K. Harrison)."

(2) Site was a Cemetary with Garden

Martin Biddle

Tomb of Chist

Israel Review of Arts and Letters

Israel Ministry Foreign Affairs

"It is not as if it was the only tomb there. Some eight rock-cut tombs have so far been found below the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Some have kokhim (Heb.), the deep niches at right-angles to the wall into which a body could be inserted as into the drawers of a modern mortuary. At least one of these tombs (now below the Coptic Patriarchate) seems to be very like the tomb whose remains are still today covered by the edicule. Perhaps Eusebius identified the tomb now preserved within the edicule as the Tomb of Christ because it was near to Golgotha. This is suggested in St. Johns Gospel when it says that there was a "garden" at the place of Crucifixion, and that in that garden there was a tomb. But it may also have been because of the features of the tomb then discovered: a movable rolling stone, a low entrance through which it was necessary to bend down to look in or enter, and a bench on the right-hand side where Christs body could have lain and the "angel" could have sat, matched those described in the Gospel."

(3) Name Galgotha Stuck to the Site.

"Some points are crucial to note. First, the site was outside the city walls at the date of the Crucifixion in 30 or 33 CE. Second, the tomb was in an existing Jewish cemetery of rock-cut tombs typical of the Jerusalem area in the Second Temple period. Third, the place-name Golgotha seems to have lived on in local memory, despite the vast changes in the area brought about by Hadrians foundation of Aelia Capitolina in 132 CE. Before the end of the third century, Eusebius wrote in his Onomastikon, the "Place-Names of Palestine," that: "... Golgotha, place of a skull, where the Christ was crucified ... which is pointed out in Aelia to the north of Mt. Sion."

"It is only in recent years that study of Eusebius text has shown that the writing of his Onomastikon should be dated to the late third century, perhaps to the 290s, long before Constantines workers cleared the Rock of Golgotha and uncovered the tomb.

There was thus a landmark to guide Constantines workmen. They removed the Roman temple covering the site and the masses of earth and rubble forming the platform on which it stood, cleared the Rock of Golgotha and then, to their surprise, found a tomb which fitted the Gospel descriptions. The position is best put by the Israeli scholar Dan Bahat, former City Archaeologist of Jerusalem:

"We may not be absolutely certain that the site of the Holy Sepulchre Church is the site of Jesus burial, but we certainly have no other site that can lay a claim nearly as weighty, and we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site."

II. Site Location Handed on by Oral Tradition.

No one really knows how Contantine chose the site. Biddle thinks it was by graffiti found on the walls. Most historians beileve that the Jewish-Christian community passed on an orgal tradition telling their Genitle counterparts how to find the location.

A. Location Handed Down From First Century Jewish Christians, To Gentile Christians, to Eusebius.

New Advent
Catholic Encyclopeida
Holy Seplechur

Transcribed by Robert B. Olson


"But nearly all scholars maintain that the knowledge of the place was handed down by oral tradition, and that the correctness of this knowledge was proved by the investigations caused to be made in 326 by the Emperor Constantine, who then marked the site for future ages by erecting over the Tomb of Christ a basilica, in the place of which, according to an unbroken written tradition, now stands the church of the Holy Sepulchre."

The oral tradition makes the most sense because it would give the clearest marker. Of course it is true that Constantine could have just chosen the site at random, or for some other reason. But oral tradition is alluded to by Eusebius, and it is validated by modern archaeology. Before getting into that, let's explore the tradition itself.

B. Tradition linked to First Century.

Several issues that skeptics will raise include: 1)the tradition only began in the foruth century, 2) That Helena just chose the site arbitrarily, 3) that the site was moved in the middle ages, 4) that legonds and "traditions" are worthless. But all of these are false. The tradition can be linked to the first century..

New Advent
Catholic Encyclopeida
Holy Seplechur


Transcribed by Robert B. Olson

1) Site remembered by Jewish Christian Community after departure from Jerusalem in 60.

"These scholars contend that the original members of the nascent Christian Church in Jerusalem visited the Holy Sepulchre soon, if not immediately, after the Resurrection of the Saviour. Following the custom of their people, those who were converts from Judaism venerated, and taught their children to venerate, the Tomb in which had lain the Foundation of their new faith, from which had risen the Source of their eternal hope; and which was therefore more sacred and of greater significance to them than had been the tombs of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, which they had hitherto venerated, as their forefathers had for centuries. Nor would Gentile converts have failed to unite with them in this practice, which was by no means foreign to their own former customs.

2) Christian Community Re-established in Second Century.

"The Christians who were in Jerusalem when Titus laid siege to the city in the year 70 fled, it is true, across the Jordan to Pella; but, as the city was not totally destroyed, and as there was no law prohibiting their return, it was possible for them to take up their abode there again in the year 73, about which time, according to Dr. Sanday (Sacred Sites of the Gospels, Oxford, 1903), they really did re-establish themselves. But, granting that the return was not fully made until 122, one of the latest dates proposed, there can be no doubt that in the restored community there were many who knew the location of the Tomb, and who led to it their children, who would point it out during the next fifty years. The Roman prohibition which kept Jews from Jerusalem for about two hundred years, after Hadrian had suppressed the revolt of the Jews under Barcochebas (132-35), may have included Jewish converts to Christianity; but it is possible that it did not. It certainly did not include Gentile converts."

3) Tradition past from Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem to Gentile Christians.

"The list of Bishops of Jerusalem given by Eusebius in the fourth century shows that there was a continuity of episcopal succession, and that in 135 a Jewish line was followed by a Gentile. The tradition of the local community was undoubtedly strengthened from the beginning by strangers who, having heard from the Apostles and their followers, or read in the Gospels, the story of Christ's Burial and Resurrection, visited Jerusalem and asked about the Tomb that He had rendered glorious."

C.Trial of Witnesses from Second Century to Contantine.



"It is recorded that Melito of Sardis visited the place where "these things [of the Old Testament] were formerly announced and carried out". As he died in 180, his visit was made at a time when he could receive the tradition from the children of those who had returned from Pella. After this it is related that Alexander of Jerusalem (d. 251) went to Jerusalem "for the sake of prayer and the investigation of the places", and that Origen (d. 253) "visited the places for the investigation of the footsteps of Jesus and of His disciples". By the beginning of the fourth century the custom of visiting Jerusalem for the sake of information and devotion had become so frequent that Eusebius wrote, that Christians "flocked together from all parts of the earth". It is at this period that history begins to present written records of the location of the Holy Sepulchre. The earliest authorities are the Greek Fathers, Eusebius (c.260-340), Socrates (b.379), Sozomen (375-450), the monk Alexander (sixth century), and the Latin Fathers, Rufinus (375-410), St. Jerome (346-420), Paulinus of Nola (353-431), and Sulpitius Severus" (363-420).

2) Eusebius.

Of these the most explicit and of the greatest importance is Eusebius, who writes of the Tomb as an eyewitness, or as one having received his information from eyewitnesses. The testimonies of all having been compared and analysed may be presented briefly as follows: Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, conceived the design of securing the Cross of Christ, the sign of which had led her son to victory. Constantine himself, having long had at heart a desire to honour "the place of the Lord's Resurrection", "to erect a church at Jerusalem near the place that is called Calvary", encouraged her design, and giving her imperial authority, sent her with letters and money to Macarius, the Bishop of Jerusalem. Helena and Macarius, having made fruitless inquiries as to the existence of the Cross, turned their attention to the place of the Passion and Resurrection, which was known to be occupied by a temple of Venus erected by the Romans in the time of Hadrian, or later. The temple was torn down, the ruins were removed to a distance, the earth beneath, as having been contaminated, was dug up and borne far away. Then, "beyond the hopes of all, the most holy monument of Our Lord's Resurrection shone forth" (Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", III, xxviii). Near it were found three crosses, a few nails, and an inscription such as Pilate ordered to be placed on the Cross of Christ. The accounts of the finding of the Holy Sepulchre thus summarized have been rejected by some on the ground that they have an air of improbability, especially in the attribution of the discovery to "an inspiration of the Saviour", to "Divine admonitions and counsels", and in the assertions that, although the Tomb had been covered by a temple of Venus for upwards of two centuries, its place was yet known."

Of course, Corfeld says that these pagan monuments, intended to defile the site and make it unfit for veneration, only served to mark the location, so that Christains could remember where it was by marking the pagan monument.There are more serious considerations which I do not have time to address here. I suggest that the reader click on the link above and read the entire article. But the point here is that, unlike many skeptics try to claim, the situation is not that no one ever heard of the site before Contantine; he did not pull it out of think air. There is a traceable tradition going back to the fist century.

D. Site not questioned until 18th century.

"It was not until the eighteenth century that the authenticity of this tomb was seriously doubted. The tradition in its favour was first formally rejected by Korte in his "Reise nach dem gelobten Lande" (Altona, 1741). In the nineteenth century he had many followers, some of whom were content with simply denying that it is the Holy Sepulchre, because it lies within the city walls, while others went further and proposed sites outside the walls. No one, however, has pointed out any other tomb that has a shred of tradition in its favour."


Peter Kirby said…
This material was discussed at IIDB. There remains zero evidence from the first century that any tomb, let alone the 'Holy Sepulchre', was venerated as the tomb of Jesus. Since Melito also does not evidence veneration of the tomb of Jesus, as I've already pointed out, there is also zero evidence from the second and third centuries. Our earliest account is in the fourth century. Metacrock uncritically, to the point of naievete, quotes from the 100-year-old Catholic Encyclopedia, which shows on a straightforward reading to have made its claims based on "what must have been" using the assumption (not showing the conclusion) that the 'Holy Sepulchre' was the resting place of Jesus. All in all, Metacrock's entry is hopelessly deficient in providing any kind of reasoning.

best wishes,
Peter Kirby

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