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Garden Tomb
phot by Rhonda Spivak, 2009

The mourning area for visitors to the tomb
photo by Rhonda Spivak, 2009

Garden tomb near the Gift Shop
photo by Rhonda Spivak, 2009

Near the entrance to the Garden Tomb
phot by Rhonda Spivak, 2009


by Rhonda Spivak, October 27, 2013

I was in East Jerusalem not far from the old city and  was looking to find a place to go to the washroom, hoping not to have to go into Damascus gate where inevitably I would get lost and find a bathroom that might not meet up to  my discriminating standards.


Up ahead down Salah-Din street there was an Antiquity site marked "the Garden Tomb" and it looked like there was a nice gift shop. Since I like nice gift shops and they usually have clean bathrooms, I decided to stop in. I had some vague notion that this was a Christian site, but like most Jews I know, I really had no idea about its relevance. In fact, because of the increased secularization of our society, most Jews I know, have little if any knowledge about the Christian Gospels and also know nothing about the crucifixion of Jesus.


Alas, the Garden Tomb turned out to the most interesting place I've ever chosen as a washroom destination, that's for sure. That's because it is possible that the Garden Tomb is the place where the defining scene that has been at the core of Western civilization for more than two thousand years took place--the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (who was 33 years at the time according to many scholars). That one event changed the world for both Jews and Christians. For Jews, the Garden Tomb is the site of an event which arguably led to generations of Christian anti-Semitism. Let me explain.


 Since Jesus was an orator and did not leave any historical writings, the only writings that exist about the crucifixion story are what his disciples wrote. The first Gospel was written by Mark (a Jew) some 37 years after Jesus was crucified, and his Gospel is the fragment used by other later Gospels. The time is a tumultuous one, where Jesus, a Jew, is preaching that he is the Messiah, which the Jewish High priests and elders and the whole of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish High court) do not accept for numerous reasons. According to Mark's Gospel (Mark 15), early one morning, the  Sanhedrin make a decision and tie Jesus up and hand him over to Pontius Pilate who is the Roman governor in charge of Judea in the Roman Empire from 26-36 C.E. (Since historical records exist as to when when Pilate ruled, scholars have been able to approximate the year of  Jesus's death.. The key part of Mark's Gospel is that Pilate feels he has to appease the Jews by ordering Jesus crucified, since otherwise Pilate fears the Jews will revolt against the Roman Empire.  "What shall I do with Jesus? Pilate asked the crowd of Jews during Passover. "Crucify him!" they answer. "Why? What wrong has he done?" asked Pilate. But they shouted even louder, "Crucify him!" Pilate saw that he wasn't getting anywhere with the Jewish crowd. He took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am not guilty of this man's death, Pilate says, according to Mark's Gospel (which is where we get the oft used phrase "I wash my hands of it".)  Pilate then has Jesus whipped and he handed him over to be nailed to the cross. (In Mark's Gospel, the Jewish High priest also scourges Jesus.)

Mark's Gospel thus provides the foundation for the Deicide charge against the Jews--that the Jews killed the Lord Jesus Christ. And this unfortunately becomes the well-spring of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism against the Jews throughout Europe and Western civilization.





The garden tomb is a very beautiful location, but is it where Jesus was crucified? The traditional location of Christ’s crucifixion, burial and resurrection is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem, but around 1842 some doubts were raised about this and the Garden Tomb theory arose. (Note: According to Judaism, the Messiah would not be killed and thus the notion of Christ's resurrection and "Second Coming" is arguably a means of making Jesus's story consistent with Jewish scripture.) 



The crucifixion site is called Golgotha (Aramaic, and the language of Jesus) according to the New Testament  Golgotha is located outside the Old City  along a busy thoroughfare near a gate of the city at a place of execution with a garden nearby.(Note: The Garden Tomb is along a busy thoroughfare which is how I came to choose it as a place to find a washroom.)



When I first entered the Garden Tomb, I came across the low doorway with a burial chamber located to the right of the entrance-which is the "mourning area" for visitors to the tomb [see second photo]--There was no men or women's sign so I knew it wasn't the washroom, but aside from that I really had no idea at the time why all the other tourists were going to see it). But just outside the garden, directly opposite the East Jerusalem bus depot, is Golgotha (meaning "place of the skull"), which is where the New Testament says Jesus was crucified. You ca clearly see a rock formation resembling a skull-in the quarried rock (Although the nose was almost worn off !.).



In the “Gospel According to John” in the King James Version of the Bible, John states that Jesus’ tomb was located in a garden. [John 19:41: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.”]



Many believe the Garden Tomb was the garden and sepulchre of Joseph of Arimathea. The tomb itself was located in a garden belonging to a rich man, and Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy. Joseph of Arimathea is a saint in many denominations. He was believed to be a secret follower of Jesus (he was a member of the Sanhedrin) and was the one who helped to bury the body.



Those who maintain that the Garden Tomb is the crucifixion site cite the discovery of an ancient wine press and a cistern, as proof the area was once a garden. These would have only been owned by a person of means and were typical items in a garden of the time. No doubt, many archeologists and scholars contest the authenticity of the Garden Tomb as the site of Jesus's crucifixion.



The Garden Tomb really is a gorgeous spot for quiet contemplation. It really is worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood. The washrooms are clean. I can't tell you about the gift shop—it closed before I got there.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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