Religious aesthetics in Jerusalem: III (tomb sites)

There are actually two sites in Jerusalem claiming to be the location of the crucifixion and resurrection, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. As my man in Jerusalem, Justin, told me, it’s totally the Protestant version of the site, and it’s hilarious.  

The Garden Tomb

The Tomb

The Garden

The Garden

The claim for this site was first made by the British army officer and colonial administrator Charles George Gordon in 1882, and it is currently run by British ex-pats. Its Golgotha is a hill with skull-like features (now topped by a Muslim cemetery); the crucifixion is proposed to have happened at the base of the hill, now paved over for a bus depot.  The grounds are covered by a garden which clearly owes more to the British Mandate than the local landscape and which is sprinkled with little plaques bearing Bible verses.  The tomb is still cut into the rock (in the Holy Sepulchre, the rock around the tomb was cleared away by Constantine’s builders to make room for the first church on the site) and features a channel carved in front of the door to the tomb where a stone could be rolled in front of the doorway (most archaeologists date the tombs at this site to 9-700 BC, however). Unlike the Holy Sepulchre, it is outside the current city walls (later excavations have revealed that both were outside the first century walls).

The literature distributed at the site makes much of these details and their accord with points of the Gospel narratives. The idea of the argument made for the site and of its current presentation seems to be a site frozen in time, unaffected by the intervening years, accessible now as it was, accessible as the Western, Protestant mind had imagined it…

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