The Garden Tomb Burial Cave

By the Editors of the Madain Project

The Burial Cave inside the Garden Tomb complex is a rock-cut funerary cavern in Jerusalem which was unearthed in 1867 CE and has subsequently been considered by some Christians to be the site of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. The interior of the burial cave itself shows every sign as Barkay maintained, of having been constructed in the late eighth or seventh century BCE, the end of archaeological Iron Age II. This would date it to sometime in the era beginning with the prophet Isaiah and ending with the prophet Jeremiah.


The garden tomb was originally an Iron Age II multi chambered triple bench sepulchre cut out six to seven hundred years before Jesus was born. Archaeologists often use the term cave to refer to a rockcut rock cut tomb.

This Iron Age II burial cave consisted of two chambers (illustration) an outer chamber with a single stone bench along the back north wall and an inner chamber to the right (east) with a triple bench design, stone benches along three walls north east and south. This was before it was altered by gentile christians in the Byzantine period who carved its stone benches into casket like troughs.

In its original form the garden tomb was not very similar to the highly ornate Iron Age II tombs at the St. stephens monastery located just north of the garden tomb grounds, even though both sites featured the triple bench design common to many Iron Age II burial caves. The garden tomb in its original state was a very typical example of the two chamber triple bench genre.

Architecture of the Tomb Cave

circa 800 BCE

The cave-tomb has two chambers, the first was the antechamber where the relatives or visitors would have sat and mourned the dead, the second to the right of the first, with stone benches along the sides of each wall in the second chamber, except the wall joining it to the first, and along the back wall of the first chamber; the benches have been heavily damaged but are still discernible.

circa 800 BCE

Two of these benches (the northern and southern) inside the burial chamber were converted in to loculi (burial niches), with slits (inspect) for vertical partition walls on the inner side of the chamber.

The tomb's benches were carved into fixed sarcophagi for burial of byzantine christians four to six hundred years after Jesus. It has been proposed that the features outside the garden tomb including the "track" feature and large cistern were from a stable complex for donkeys or mules constructed during the crusader period.

circa 800 BCE

Painted Crosses
Two painted crosses were discovered inside the tomb, painted in red on the East Wall. Though the red pigment quickly faded upon being exposed to air, these markings were of Byzantine design and potentially as old as the 5th or 6th centuries. The crosses were accompanied by Greek letters referencing Jesus as the Alpha and Omega. One of them (inspect) was in the centre, and the other over the main (finished) loculus.

circa 800 BCE

Rolling Stone Channel
A section of rock-cut channel below the entrance to the garden tomb 8.5 meters long (27 feet 7) inches, is nearly always represented to visitors as a track in which a large stone disc once stood; a "rolling stone" to seal the tomb entrance. However this "track" was not designed at all properly for a stone disc type of tomb door. The inside face of the channels outer edge was not cut straight up and down but was cut at a 45-degree angle away from the tomb facade making the width of the channel 37 centimeters wide (15 inches) at the bottom but 50 centimeters wide (19 inches) at the top.

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