Dating Christ’s Tomb

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Last year, as we blogged about, in connection with renovation work on Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre, archaeologists and other experts were able to study the traditional site of Jesus’s burial site.  Now results of some of those studies are coming out.

Analysis of the mortar used on a marble slab covering the stone shelf where Christ’s body would have been laid dates shows that it dates from the time of the ancient Romans.  This is evidence that the site is the same one discovered by St. Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine, who first identified the location of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

Prior to this finding, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could be dated only to the time of the Crusaders.  During last year’s restoration of the “edicule,” the shrine that surrounded what was thought to be Christ’s tomb–one of many remains of limestone caves preserved in the sprawling church structure–was excavated.  The researchers removed a marble covering over the stone bed on which the body in the tomb would have been placed.  Beneath it was yet another marble plaque over the stone surface, this one inscribed with a cross.

The mortar that secured this plaque is what researchers have dated to Roman times.  Their assumption had been that this too was from the time of the Crusaders, before the church was destroyed in 1009 and rebuilt in various stages over the centuries.  But the mortar was dated 345 A.D.   St. Helena came to Jerusalem, hunting for relics and identifying holy sites, in 326 A.D.  So this slab is apparently part of the original shrine that she had built over what she thought, based on local testimony, was the site of Christ’s burial and resurrection.

This does not prove that the site is actually the burial place of Christ–though the authenticity of the location is pretty well attested— but it does help confirm the antiquity of the shrine.

Read Kristen Romey, Exclusive: Age of Jesus Christ’s Purported Tomb Revealed, National Geographic.

Photo by Jorge Láscar, “Aedicule which supposedly encloses the tomb of Jesus – Church of the Holy Sepulchre”  via Flickr, Creative Commons License

 

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