Opening the Tomb of Jesus

Opening the Tomb of Jesus

Is it possible that the actual tomb where Jesus was placed by Joseph of Arimathea has been opened?


Transcript Opening the Tomb of Jesus

KEVIN HARRIS: Dr. Craig, I'll tell you, some of the headlines in the news will really get your attention. The tomb of Jesus has been opened for the first time in history! I know that you commented on this as well – this archaeological dig into the hidden layers of Jesus' tomb site. Give us a thumbnail of this. What is going on here?

DR. CRAIG: The church called The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is alleged to have been built on the site of Jesus' tomb – the actual tomb in which Jesus' corpse was laid by Joseph of Arimathea. In the bowels of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem you can see where this tomb lies. The tomb itself – the rock – has been overlaid with marble to protect it from damage. This marble covering has never been lifted since around 1555! So five hundred years this has been covered over by marble. The authorities at the church have now allowed the same archaeologists who have been involved in the restoration of the Acropolis in Athens to remove that marble covering and to expose and clean the site thereby laying bare the actual limestone slab or shelf upon which the body of Jesus was alleged to have been laid. It is really, really amazing!

KEVIN HARRIS: Most people think of the Garden Tomb when they think of the tomb of Jesus. What about that site?

DR. CRAIG: If you go on a visit to Jerusalem, your guided tour will inevitably include a visit to the Garden Tomb. Indeed, it is lovely. It is a beautiful quiet little garden, and there is a tomb there that you can go into. There is no rolling stone there to cover the door anymore, but there is a tomb. Unfortunately, there is no credible evidence that this is a first century tomb, much less the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth. So while it provides a very picturesque image of the tomb, it has no historical value. I much prefer in taking visitors to Jerusalem to bring them to a genuine first century tomb with a rolling stone that is used to cover the door of the tomb. What I'm thinking of is called The Tomb of Herod's Family. This tomb is in the park behind the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. It is rarely visited by tourist groups, but you can walk into this park and actually see the tomb which was used for the members of Herod's family. The huge disc-shaped stone is still there that would be rolled up the groove to admit you to the tomb and then rolled down to seal it. When we were there a few years ago with our Reasonable Faith group, the metal door that has been installed to keep the tomb shut was actually open for some reason. We could actually go in. This is a place to go if you want to see what an authentic first century tomb with a disc-shaped rolling stone for the door looked like.

KEVIN HARRIS: Bill, bottom line here – are there some reasons to think that this could be the site?

DR. CRAIG: Actually scholars believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher has a very credible claim to be on the site of the actual tomb of Jesus. This is based on a couple of very interesting facts about its discovery.

In the year 326 (this is just one year following the Council of Nicaea that was convened by the Emperor Constantine and promulgated the famous Nicene Creed), Constantine's mother, Helena, went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land for the purpose of finding relics from the time of Christ.[1] When Constantine's mother came to Jerusalem she asked the residents of Jerusalem where the tomb of Jesus had been. The people in Jerusalem at that time pointed her to this site where a pagan temple now stood. They said the tomb of Jesus was on this site and this pagan temple was built over it. Helena ordered the temple to be razed and the earth to be excavated and get rid of this pollution of paganism.

What was interesting about the site identified by the residents of Jerusalem at this time is that the site lay within the walls of Jerusalem. If you look at where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is, it is inside the city walls. But the Gospels state that Jesus was crucified and buried outside the walls of the city. They would never allow a crucifixion site and burial of unclean corpses to be going on inside the holy city. It had to be outside the walls. So it was odd that the residents of Jerusalem would point Helena to a site inside the city walls. Well, as it turned out many centuries later, archaeologists excavating the city discovered that the original walls of Jerusalem were more narrowly constrained and that the site that the residents of Jerusalem pointed Helena to actually lay outside the original walls of Jerusalem. They had been later expanded by the Emperor to be more expansive and thus enclosed then the site of the tomb. But originally it did lie outside the original city walls which no one knew where they were at the time Helena visited.

The second thing that is interesting is that when they began to excavate the site and removed the earth they dug down and what did they find? Lo and behold, they excavated a tomb exactly where the residents of Jerusalem said that it would be. What is interesting is that this pagan temple stood on that site since it was built by the Emperor Hadrian in AD 110. Since Jesus was crucified around AD 30 that means that the memory of this temple being on the site of Jesus' tomb goes back to within just eighty years of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus – well within the time historical memory might be preserved.

So there is a very, very good chance that in fact this is the very tomb in which Joseph of Arimathea lay the corpse of Jesus of Nazareth.

KEVIN HARRIS: Isn't that amazing?

DR. CRAIG: It is amazing! It just underlines again the fact that when you are talking about Christianity, you are not talking about fairy tales and myths, but you are talking about solid down-to-earth historical facts.

KEVIN HARRIS: I seem to recall that one of the evidences for the resurrection is that there was never an enshrinement of the tomb where the body lay in a tomb. If there was a famous person or a beloved person there would be somewhat of an enshrinement.

DR. CRAIG: If the bones of the deceased still lay there, that is right. But if it were empty then while the site would undoubtedly be remembered in Christian memory it wouldn't be venerated because there were no (so to speak) relics there. The bones of Jesus were no longer there to be found. That is one of the evidences for the historicity of the empty tomb – you don't have this early veneration of the site of Jesus' burial. But I think that it was remembered obviously by the church in Jerusalem where Jesus' body had been laid. Later, of course, this site did come to be a place of veneration, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was then built upon it after Helena had it excavated.

KEVIN HARRIS: Another related issue: have you ever heard theologians say that the reason that God doesn't preserve certain things is because people have a tendency to idolize it and make it into an idol. Like if they found the original manuscripts of the Bible, or if they found the nails and the cross, and things like that.[2] We have a tendency to do that and that's why . . .

DR. CRAIG: I've heard them say that, though I am sort of skeptical about those sorts of speculations. It seems to me to be just conjectural. In a case like this, I think it is very credible that we do, in fact, have the original tomb in which Jesus was laid.

KEVIN HARRIS: Let's talk a little bit more as we wrap up today. What is the significance to apologetics? What are some of our opportunities to discuss this when the headlines say, “Experts uncover hidden layers of Jesus' tomb site?”

DR. CRAIG: We need to be informed about it so as to clarify exactly what they meant, like “hidden layers.” It sounds as though there was something being kept secret – a sort of Da Vinci Code conspiracy. What they simply mean is that the original limestone was covered by marble to protect it and in that sense hidden. The protective covering was temporarily removed. I do think though that the apologetic significance would be that, again, it underlines the historical credibility of the empty tomb and the historicity of the Gospels in this regard. By the time the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem that tomb had to be empty because they could never have proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus in Jerusalem in the face of a tomb containing his corpse. So the fact that Christianity was born and flourished in Jerusalem where Jesus had been publicly crucified and buried is a remarkable fact that I think points to the historicity of the empty tomb.

KEVIN HARRIS: By the way, as I understand, these archaeologists opened this up and they didn't find Jesus in there, but they did find Jimmy Hoffa.

DR. CRAIG: Oh, Kevin! [laughter][3]



[1] 5:07

[2] 10:11

[3] Total Running Time: 12:30 (Copyright © 2016 William Lane Craig)