Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, and his adjacent tomb were the subject of intense debate in the 19th century. Orthodox and Catholic Christians contended that their location in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was authentic. Some Protestants were doubtful.
To resolve the dispute, scholars needed to determine the location of the city wall in Jesus’ time.
The problem arose because the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was well inside the walls of a bustling city and, according to contemporary Roman and Jewish custom, crucifixion and burial must have occurred outside the city walls. The Gospels seemed to confirm the assumption that the crucifixion and burial occurred outside the city walls (Mark 15:20; Matthew 27:31ff; John 19:17ff).
Efforts to find a so-called Second Wall south of the Holy Sepulchre Church that had served as the northern wall of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time (and would have moved the site of the church outside the city in Jesus’ time) proved elusive—although Josephus, the knowledgeable first-century Jewish historian, does refer to such a wall (The Jewish War 5.146).a In 1893 a wall was uncovered when the Church of the Redeemer was being constructed in Jerusalem’s Muristan quarter just south of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. According to Conrad Schick and Father Louis-Hugues Vincent, two 029 eminent scholars at the time, this was the Second Wall. Thereby the location of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site of Golgatha seemed to be confirmed.
In the early 1970s, Ute Wagner-Lux of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology (GPIA) in Jerusalem excavated underneath the Church of the Redeemer and uncovered this supposed Second Wall. However, this wall was only five feet thick—far too narrow to be a city wall. It could not have been the so-called Second Wall. So the search for it went back to square one.
The GPIA’s archaeological park underneath the Church of the Redeemer, however, provides some clues that indeed point to the authenticity of the Holy Sepulchre’s Golgotha and tomb of Christ. Bedrock revealed traces of a quarry that had been used until the first century B.C. This fit perfectly with the findings of other excavations in the area. In the 1960s, British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon demonstrated that today’s Muristan area had been a huge quarry until the first century B.C. The next higher (later) stratum of soil had been washed into the area after the quarry was no longer in use; the area may have served as gardens or fields of the first century A.D. Traces of plowing were found in this level.
In the stratum above, the soil is sloped from south to north. The material is a mixture of bricks, plaster, tiles and ceramics. This indicates an artificial leveling of the terrain with debris. The most recent coins dated to the First Jewish Rebellion against Rome (66–70 A.D.). The excavators concluded that these were traces of the Roman Emperor Hadrian’s rebuilding of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina after 130 A.D. and the suppression of the Second Jewish Revolt.
Above this, a wall was unearthed built of reused, worked stones. That is the wall that had been earlier identified as the Second Wall. In fact, the wall in question is not only too small for a city wall, but it is also too young—dating to the fourth century A.D.
So Golgotha and the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could well be authentic. The GPIA’s excavation provides support for this position:
The quarry found at the bottom of this excavation indicates that this area was outside the city wall in Jesus’ time. The Second Wall must be somewhere east of today’s Church of the Redeemer.
The Gospels tell us that the place of Jesus’ crucifixion was surrounded by gardens or fields (Mark 15:21; Luke 23:26; John 19:41). The stratum above the quarry with traces of gardens or fields can be dated to the first century A.D.
Golgotha was probably at a high elevation that was greatly visible as mentioned in Mark 15:40, 066 Matthew 27:55 and Luke 23:49. The difference in height between the “garden” stratum and Golgotha in the Holy Sepulchre is considerable.
The GPIA’s excavation of the Church of the Redeemer opens a window into 2,000 years of Jerusalem’s history—from the time of King Herod until the visit of German Emperor Wilhelm II to Jerusalem in 1898. This story is now told with the help of 3D animation in the GPIA’s archaeological park, which opened in 2012.
Meanwhile, the search for the Second Wall goes on.
Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, and his adjacent tomb were the subject of intense debate in the 19th century. Orthodox and Catholic Christians contended that their location in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was authentic. Some Protestants were doubtful. To resolve the dispute, scholars needed to determine the location of the city wall in Jesus’ time. The problem arose because the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was well inside the walls of a bustling city and, according to contemporary Roman and Jewish custom, crucifixion and burial must have occurred outside the city walls. The Gospels seemed to confirm […]
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