New evidence supports the authenticity of Christianity’s most hallowed and resilient archaeological site.
Last year on BreakPoint, we told you about the opening of what’s traditionally held to be the tomb of Jesus, located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.
A world-class team of monument restorers who previously worked on the Acropolis in Athens was allowed inside the shrine to strengthen the structure and deep-clean its soot-coated stones.
In the process, they found something no person alive today had ever seen. Inside the shrine, encased within several slabs of marble, was a bare, limestone shelf. It gave every appearance of being the remnants of an upper-class, first-century Jewish tomb.
Other tombs in the vicinity supported this theory, but researchers still could not reliably date this one to within the time of Jesus. They couldn’t even prove that the slabs placed on top of it to stop pilgrims from chipping away at the limestone were part of the original shrine.
That is, until earlier this year.
In an exclusive just a few days ago, National Geographic reported that researchers had reliably dated the mortar between the tomb rock and the later slabs to 325 A.D.—over 650 years older than previous estimates.
This is a little technical, but it’s still really cool: The Independent reports that the dating technique used—known as optically stimulated luminescence—shows when quartz inside the mortar was last exposed to light. The answer? Nearly 1,700 years ago—the time when Emperor Constantine, who legalized Christianity, is said to have identified the site and built the first church there.
In other words, the last eyes to see the rock where Jesus’ body may have lain were those of ancient Roman Christians. And we know the tomb itself could not have been in use for a couple of centuries prior to that. How? Because of what historians tell us was sitting on that Jewish cemetery for more than 200 years: a temple to the goddess Venus, constructed by Emperor Hadrian around 130 A.D.
As Eric Metaxas told you last year, the placement of this temple was no accident. Some sources even say Hadrian built a statue of Venus on top of nearby Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified.
Constantine had all of this demolished, and in the process, apparently discovered remains of a tomb that matched the description of the one owned by Joseph of Arimathea, who loaned it to Jesus.
Now, as National Geographic put it, it’s “archaeologically impossible to say for certain that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth.”
But what these results do prove is how ancient the Holy Sepulcher is. More importantly, they reinforce the fact that ours is a faith rooted in history and reality.
When Christ rose from the dead, He did so in real time and space. The alleged site of His tomb has been revered by His followers for seventeen centuries precisely because the Man who first occupied it left it empty. And no one—not the Sanhedrin who plotted against Him or the Romans who crucified Him—could produce the only thing it would have taken to strangle Christianity in its cradle: a body.
You see, the empty tomb of history—whether or not it’s the limestone slab inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—remains as stubbornly undeniable as the risen Lord who left it behind.
John Stonestreet is President of The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and BreakPoint co-host.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by BreakPoint.