Excavating the empty tomb

Excavating the empty tomb October 28, 2016

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is traditionally considered to be the site of Christ’s tomb from which He rose from the dead.  That claim is actually well-attested by historians.

In the course of a restoration project in the church, workers have removed the marble covering that had been installed in 1555 over the place where Jesus’s body supposedly had been laid.  They found a rock surface that is apparently the “burial shelf” that is a feature of ancient Jewish tombs.  Archaeologists plan to excavate the site.

Some of the evidence that supports the church as the site of Christ’s tomb is that the building, erected over an ancient stone quarry, has been found to enclose other tombs of the period.  This one is empty.

Details after the jump, with pictures at the link.

For the first time in centuries, scientists have exposed the original surface of what is traditionally considered the tomb of Jesus Christ. Located in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, the tomb has been covered by marble cladding since at least 1555 A.D., and most likely centuries earlier.

“The marble covering of the tomb has been pulled back, and we were surprised by the amount of fill material beneath it,” said Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, a partner in the restoration project. “It will be a long scientific analysis, but we will finally be able to see the original rock surface on which, according to tradition, the body of Christ was laid.”

According to Christian tradition, the body of Jesus Christ was laid on a shelf or “burial bed” hewn from the side of a limestone cave following his crucifixion by the Romans in A.D. 30 or possibly 33. Christian belief says Christ was resurrected after death, and women who came to anoint his body three days after the burial reported that no remains were present.

This burial shelf is now enclosed by a small structure known as the Edicule (from the Latin aedicule, or “little house”), which was last reconstructed in 1808-1810 after being destroyed in a fire. The Edicule and the interior tomb are currently undergoing restoration by a team of scientists from the National Technical University of Athens, under the direction of Chief Scientific Supervisor Professor Antonia Moropoulou.

The exposure of the burial bed is giving researchers an unprecedented opportunity to study the original surface of what is considered the most sacred site in Christianity. An analysis of the original rock may enable them to better understand not only the original form of the tomb chamber, but also how it evolved as the focal point of veneration since it was first identified by Helena, mother of the Roman emperor Constantine, in A.D. 326.

“We are at the critical moment for rehabilitating the Edicule,” Moropoulou said. “The techniques we’re using to document this unique monument will enable the world to study our findings as if they themselves were in the tomb of Christ.”

[Keep reading. . .]

For more details, read this New York Times report.  Sample:

Many historians have long believed that the original cave, identified a few centuries after Jesus’ death as his tomb, was obliterated ages ago.

But an archaeologist accompanying the restoration team said ground penetrating radar tests determined that cave walls are in fact standing — at a height of six feet and connected to bedrock — behind the marbled panels of the chamber at the center of Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

“What was found,” said National Geographic archaeologist Fredrik Hiebert, “is astonishing.”. . .

Underneath the marble was a layer of debris. By Thursday afternoon, workers had finished removing the debris, revealing something unexpected: another marble slab.

Hiebert said he thinks the second slab, which is grey and features a small etching of a cross, dates to the 12th century. It is cracked down the middle, and underneath it is a whitish layer.

“I don’t believe … that is the original rock,” Hiebert said. “We still have more to go.”

 

 

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