The Door to the Empty Tomb

The Door to the Empty Tomb November 11, 2020

Here is a short little section regarding the tomb itself, that Jesus supposedly rose from death from, that I am working on for my book on the Resurrection:

Before I go on, I would like to quickly discuss the tomb itself. Or, more pertinently, the stone that supposedly enclosed it. I have already discussed the unlikeliness of a Sanhedrin member having an empty tomb conveniently available for Jesus (and not the other criminals) to be buried in but a further problem involves the shape of the stone door.

The stone that blocked the entrance is described as a “very large” stone with the woman visiting the tomb asking “Who will roll away the stone for us?” (Mark 16:3)

The issue here is that evidence suggests that Jesus would almost certainly have had a square-shaped (cork-shaped) stone door, as Megan Sauter states in her article “How Was Jesus’ Tomb Sealed?” for Biblical Archaeology Society:[1]

In fact, of the more than 900 Second Temple-period burial caves around Jerusalem examined by archaeologist Amos Kloner, only four have been discovered with disk-shaped blocking stones. These four elegant Jerusalem tombs belonged to the wealthiest—even royal—families, such as the tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene.

Was the tomb of Jesus among the “top four” Jerusalem tombs from the Second Temple period?

Since disk-shaped blocking stones were so rare and since Jesus’ tomb was built for an ordinary person—because it was actually the borrowed, but unused, tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (Matthew 27:60)—it seems highly unlikely that it would have been outfitted with a disk-shaped blocking stone.

Matthew, Mark and Luke have the stone as being “rolled away”, with John having it “taken away”. However, even the archaeologist mentioned above, Amos Kloner, himself argues that the Gospels are still referring to a square stone, which would make more sense for the Angels to be able to sit on, in looking more closely at the word for “to roll”. This is a potential contradiction of known archaeology or something that can be solved with a little bit of lexical give and take.

One critical position to take that has some sound reasoning behind it is the fact that, when the Gospels were written, after 70 CE, round stones were much more likely at tombs. As a result, tomb stones at the door literally would have been rolled away. Therefore, if you were writing at that time and using words historically au fait with your tomb door construction knowledge, you would assume a round stone covering the entrance. In reality, however, the tomb would be covered with a square-shaped stone that would be pretty difficult to shift, especially if you were a couple of women coming to anoint the body without any prior organisation (no sexism intended). More on that later.

[1] Sauter (2019).


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