When Jesus’ Tomb Was Opened For The First Time, Scientists Made A Groundbreaking Discovery – Legitpost.com.ng
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When Jesus’ Tomb Was Opened For The First Time, Scientists Made A Groundbreaking Discovery

“When Jesus’s tomb was opened for the first time in hundreds of years, scientists made a groundbreaking discovery. Modern-day Israel is home to some of the most revered holy sites in Christianity, but none are more important than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, set to house Jesus’s tomb. After centuries of decay from water and structural damage, scientists finally began a long overdue renovation of the tomb in October 2016.

When they removed a slab of marble for the first time in hundreds and hundreds of years, lying beneath it was a never-before-seen discovery. According to the New Testament’s chronicle of his death, Jesus’s tomb was built close to the place of his crucifixion. The structure was meant to include both his body and the cross that he died on. While the exact site of the burial hasn’t been proven archaeologically, historians do know one thing for certain about the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The first church on the site was built by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great in about 326 CE and was meant to house his own burial site. First, Constantine’s mother, Helena, was sent to find the exact location of Jesus’s tomb from three centuries before. With the help of an ambitious man named Isubius, she believed she’d found it. From the church site that Emperor Constantine’s mother established, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lasted through various iterations, greatly boosted by centuries of Crusaders.

The church’s bell tower collapsed in 1545, so Franciscan friars completed their own renovations on the long-neglected church. This included one of the earliest cleanups of the Aedicule, the shrine housing Jesus’s tomb. The Franciscan monks then sealed the burial in 1555 to preserve the site and prevent eager pilgrims from touching the actual bedrock where Jesus’s body once lay. The monks installed a slab of marble over the limestone burial, and for centuries, it had remained unopened.

Archaeologists had wanted to excavate further into the burial to see if there was any archaeological proof that Jesus’s body was once there. Modern restoration of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was centuries overdue, but implementing change at this most important church of Christian holy sites is notoriously difficult. Part of the difficulty stems from the fact that three major Christian denominations – Roman Catholic, Armenian Apostolic, and Greek Orthodox – share custodianship over the church, and they don’t always agree with one another.

For example, a debate has lingered for two and a half centuries over whether or not to remove a ladder of Lebanon cedar that sits above the entrance to the church. The object has been effectively nicknamed the “Immovable Ladder” and is still there today. Differences aside, the priests decided it was time for a cleanup. Little did they know what they would eventually bear witness to.

In 1947, during British colonial rule, iron scaffolding was placed around the Ottoman-style Aedicule to keep it from crumbling to the ground. Then came a 2016 project to help preserve this traditional site of Jesus’s tomb, undertaken by a team of scientists from Athens University. This restoration would also include an archaeological excavation of Jesus’s tomb. Hopefully, they might reveal its innermost contents.

The growing field of biblical archaeology aims to reveal the historical truth or, conversely, to disprove it of events and places described in the Bible. This was exactly the plan of the 2016 excavation. Modern technology would provide unprecedented access to information that has taunted Bible enthusiasts for their entire life.

The main question that scientists were looking to answer was, “Is the current tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre really the final resting place of Jesus?” Centuries of wars and natural disasters made scientists highly suspicious that the Aedicule really housed Jesus’s tomb. A few decades after his death, Jerusalem was completely destroyed and raised to the ground in 70 CE during the First Jewish-Roman War.

To further complicate matters, despite what’s written, there’s only physical evidence of two crucifixions carried out by the Romans during the time of Jesus. One was found near Jerusalem in 1968, the other in Italy in 2018. In addition, the church’s known history made it unlikely that the burial remained in the same location. After all, it had been destroyed or altered by centuries of successive conquerors.

Now the plan was to remove mold and water damage, reinforce the exterior of the Aedicule that was starting to crumble, and finally to excavate Jesus’s tomb. More recent excavations around that site gave them hope that they might find something huge. From excavations conducted at the church during the 1970s, researchers were able to determine that the Holy Sepulchre structure was built in a way intended to cover up the ruling religion that had come before Christianity.

The site Helena and Isubius had declared to be Jesus’s tomb had first been a temple to the Roman gods Jupiter or Venus, built by Emperor Hadrian centuries before Constantine’s reign. The leader of the excavation in the 70s, a Franciscan priest and archaeologist named Virgilio Cano Corbo, surmised that the church’s enclosure would have been roughly in the same place as it was during the time of Hadrian. That meant that the Aedicule’s location wouldn’t have changed since the 2nd century CE.

Though Corbo’s hypothesis has been contested, luckily, more evidence surfaced to further support the claim that this was indeed the place of Jesus’s tomb. Additional excavations undertaken during the 20th century revealed groundbreaking discoveries at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This included several rock tombs and an ancient limestone quarry thought to be the remains of Constantine’s first church from 326, a description that supports the one given in the Bible.

These finds shed important light on the current accepted location of Jesus’s tomb. Another key question is whether or not the existing location would have been within the walls of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’s death. The Bible tells us that he was buried outside the city’s walls, but the current church and tomb sit inside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.

But more discoveries prove that the church would have been outside the city during the time immediately after Jesus’s death, and the walls expanded after. So far, much was lining up. These more recent discoveries that have been made in and around the church were considered when the Holy Sepulchre’s monks made the decision to allow the team from Athens to begin restoration work. With the team’s promise that the existing structure wouldn’t be altered, approval was given, and work was set to begin, offering a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see the inside of Jesus’s tomb.

It took the team 10 months to complete restorations to the exterior of the Aedicule. With painstaking care, they removed the mold and water damage by hand and also inserted modern screws to strengthen the walls and foundation. This ensured the structure would be sound for at least several more centuries. But the team of researchers saved the best part of the project for last.

Remember the slab of marble that the Franciscan monks laid over the burial chamber to keep it from being exposed to millions of pilgrims? The team was about to remove it for the first time since it was put there in the mid-16th century. It was a moment of discovery that the scientists and the monks had been looking forward to for their entire lives.

On October 25th and 26th, 2016, the team worked in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for 60 hours straight to remove the marble slab, being extra careful not to damage any part of the surrounding burial chamber. When at last the marble was lifted, the team saw something they had not been expecting.

Underneath the marble were several layers of dirt and debris that had piled up for literally thousands of years. It was the first time that humans had laid eyes on the deepest part of the burial chamber, and very possibly the last. After hours of digging, sifting through, and removing the debris, they made a new shocking discovery.

The scientists had no idea that another slab of marble laid beneath the one put there by the Franciscan monks in 1555. It was a complete surprise. While the first layer of marble was a stark milky white, the second one was grey, a sign of its extraordinary age. On the surface of the grey marble, the team spotted something they couldn’t believe. There was a beautifully inscribed cross etched into the center of the stone.

This long-hidden second slab of marble was such a mystery that it put historians in a frenzy searching for answers. Some speculated that the cross was put there during the time of the Crusaders, a lasting mark from one of their conquests of the holy city. Some thought that a crack in its surface could have been the result of an attack from Arab conquerors even before the Crusades, circa 1009.

Still, others suggest that it might be even older. Yet, despite the myriad of theories, there was one thing that the team agreed on: the newly discovered marble had to be at least as old as the wall surrounding it, which would make it, at the bare minimum, 500 years old. But was there any way to verify how old it was?

The true data of the newly explored tomb could only be found after lengthy scientific analysis. With only two days to work, the team gathered as many rock samples as they could from the depths of the burial chamber. The samples were then sent to a lab to be dated. They would take one year before yielding results.

One archaeologist, Martin Biddle, completed a groundbreaking study on the area in the church surrounding the Aedicule. He used thermal imaging and robotic mini-cameras to help build virtual models of shrines that could have been built over the tomb. From his research, he felt there was a possibility that the current location could have been unchanged since the time of Constantine, but this was yet to be proven.

The 2016 excavation team utilized a process called optical stimulated luminescence (OSL) to determine when the material that was collected was last exposed to light. This would provide the scientific evidence to provide the exact date of the chamber. After nearly one year, the results came in.

Despite previous evidence linking the chamber to the period of the Romans before they became Christian, the more recent tests proved that the burial slab and the hidden cover were last exposed during the 4th century. That was the same time period when the first church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by Constantine.

There were more discoveries that could provide a cogent archaeological record throughout the depth of the chamber. Analysis of mortar taken from the southern wall of the tomb corroborated with the dating of the marble slab and cover. For the team from Athens and the monks who had the chance to oversee the work, it was positively electrifying news.

With the restoration completed, it is unlikely that the marble slabs and burial chamber will be open again anytime soon. The results from the excavation revealed new facts that will forever change the way that people all over the world look at Christianity’s holiest site. The ripples were felt far and wide.

Even some of archaeology’s biggest critics of the authenticity of the site of Jesus’s tomb have had a change of heart regarding the recent discoveries. Famed Israeli archaeologist Don Bahat, who questioned the veracity of Corbo’s claim that the church was roughly in the same place as it was when it was built nearly 2,000 years ago, said, “There is now no reason to doubt the veracity of the site.”

While there might not be hard evidence to prove that Jesus’s body was actually buried directly beneath the existing Aedicule, “we really have no reason to reject the authenticity of the site,” Bahat says. Certainly, there are no other sites that can lay claim nearly as weighty. Though the Protestant world and many archaeologists believe the actual site was outside the Old City at a place called the Garden Tomb, the findings of the 2016 excavations convinced more than a few experts.

Undoubtedly, archaeologists and historical truth-seekers will continue to make groundbreaking discoveries that uncover new truths about the physical history behind the stories in the Bible. But for true believers, finds like the one made by the team from Athens are inconsequential. One trip to Jerusalem is proof enough. Encountering the city for the first time, it’s not difficult to be overwhelmed by the questions of history.

Once inside the Old City, visitors will see countless pilgrims rejoicing, crying, blessing their children, and experiencing their own form of religious epiphanies. For them, the authenticity of the sites is unshakable, and the answers they seek are simply in their faith.”

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