Hershel Shanks

Is this the scene that confronted the two Marys when they arrived at Jesus’ tomb? According to the Gospel of Mark 16:4, “When they looked up [at the tomb], they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back.”

The 4.5-foot-tall blocking stone shown here separates the living from the dead at the so-called Tomb of Herod’s Family in Jerusalem. Used to seal the tomb entrance, the disk-shaped stone could be rolled into a niche beside the entryway (as shown here) to allow for new interments in the six-chambered tomb. The massive stone gives proof of the distinguished pedigree of the wealthy family to whom the tomb belonged. Square blocking stones, however, were customary in Jesus’ day; round blocking stones were extremely rare, appearing only in the very prosperous and distinguished family tombs.

Most modern reconstructions of Jesus’ tomb—based heavily on English translations of the gospel text—depict a round blocking stone. But author Amos Kloner notes that the Greek word kulio, translated as “rolled” in the Gospels, may also mean “dislodged” or “moved.” This textual ambiguity, combined with the archaeological evidence, suggests that the blocking stone used to seal Jesus’ tomb was most likely square, not round.