How Does Archaeology Explain Jesus’ Tomb?

Did the stone at Jesus’ tomb roll uphill? Where was Jesus’ tomb?

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ burial describe the tomb and the stone. But archaeologists question some of the ways that they are described. You can find the accounts of Jesus’ burial in Matthew 27:52-61; Mark 15:42-47; Luke 23:30-36; John 19:38-42.

The Gospel Accounts

The synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) tell us that Joseph of Arimathea was involved in quickly burying Jesus’ body. These three also tell us that there were women with him. Only John mentions that Nicodemus was also with them.

It was a hurried burial because the Day of Preparation for the Passover festival began at sundown. It was also the Sabbath. So they had to quickly perform the Jewish burial. It was probably a temporary tomb because of the speed of the burial. The women planned to return to finish the burial.

Tomb Location

John is the only one who tells us where the tomb of Jesus was. He states that there was a garden where Jesus’ body was buried. It was a new tomb that had never been used before. It might be the garden of Gethsemane, or a garden very close. This makes it very possible that it was a hilly area. The synoptic Gospels tell us that the tomb was cut into the rock.

Kind of Tomb and Stone

Archaeologists record that there were only four tombs from the rich that a circular stone. All of the other tombs that have been examined from the second Temple period (up to 70 A.D.) had square or rectangular stones that resembled a cork. These stones were pulled away rather than rolled away.

The four tombs having circular stones belonged to extremely wealthy people, such as kings. Some believe a tradition that Joseph of Arimathea was a rich person and may have had one of these circular stones. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and this may have been true. It seems statistically more likely that Jesus was buried in one of the other tombs.

Rolling the Stone

The stone would have been too heavy and awkward for Joseph to roll it away himself. He would have needed help. It could’ve been up to two tons, the weight of a car today. As to whether or not it would have been rolled uphill, we cannot know for certain that terrain of the land where the tomb was in the rock. It required at least two people if not more to move it.

Many of these stones were on a limestone track to make it a little easier to pull or roll them away. Archaeologists are divided on which kind of stone Jesus’ tomb had. There is a tomb that has been suspected since the 300s A.D. to be the burial tomb of Jesus on which a church is built.

The verbs for “rolling away” and “rolling toward” suggest that the tomb stone was able to be rolled and also that it was not rolled from side to side. They indicate the direction was away from and toward the tomb opening.

The word for “rolled” does not have to mean that it had to be a circular stone. It could have been one of the cork stones. Either way, it was pulled or rolled away from the opening of the tomb.

Who would have rolled the stone away?

Matthew 28:2 tells us that the angels that visited with the women rolled it away. Jesus would not need it to be rolled away for him. He could pass through walls with his new body. The stone wasn’t rolled away for Jesus’ benefit to get out of the tomb. It was rolled away for the benefit of the disciples to see that the body was gone.

Further Resources

Image by Matthijs van der Ham from Pixabay

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