Jesus Never Existed – Christianity's Fabrication Factory
Holy theme park
In Jerusalem's Church of the Holy Sepulchre,
JC's "passion" and "resurrection" are
conveniently sited under one roof.
The church, built by
Crusaders on earlier foundations,
contains a bizarre assortment of altars, chapels, and religious
The building's motley array of architectural
styles complements the uneasy division of the theme park between six
franchisees – Latin,
Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian and Ethiopic.
The keys to the place
are actually held by a local Muslim family – an
ancient custom that keeps the peace between not-so-loving Christians.
Ridicule of the Edicule
Does this look like a tomb to you?
This grotesque confectionary is the centrepiece
of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The "tomb" is
about as genuine as a hammer that has had three new heads and four
new handles – and that's assuming there was ever a tomb in the
Investigation of the site is tightly controlled by a
consortium of the three major Christian faiths which profit from the
the Latin, Greek and Armenian churches.
Relations between the various Jesus fan clubs were not
always so harmonious. Candlesticks, rugs, lecterns,
etc., used to mark out territory, are a continuous source of friction.
earlier times gang warfare led to mayhem.
"At the Easter festival in
1834, a fight took place in this church which resulted in the death
of four hundred people."
– Charles Kelly (Rambles
in Bible Lands, 1891, p46)
Greek Orthodoxy is closer to the original
church but historically has been the loser to an imperial Catholicism.
Whatever the monument began as in 325 AD, the Edicule was
completely destroyed by Caliph al-Hakim in
the early 11th century. Later rebuilt, it again fell into ruin and
was rebuilt in 1555, this time from its "first foundations".
After fire damage, yet a third rebuilding took place in 1809/10.
Damaged by an earthquake
in 1927, the Edicule has
been held together by a brace of timber and steel since 1927.
The current Edicule is about 25' in length
- plus a carbuncle on the back end added around 1818 which serves as
a shrine for the Coptic Christians. They sell blessings and a peek at
bogus "original" rock, visible in a cupboard beneath a small
Was there ever a real tomb?
A glimpse of the original Constantinian "tomb of
Jesus" from a 4th century ivory. Even here, the Edicule does
not reveal a genuine tomb.
Plan of the supposed original tomb, cut
free of the bedrock and clad in its 4th century marble sheathing. Hard
to imagine all the comings and goings of the passion narrative in such
a confined space.
that there is no ante-chamber "tomb
of the angel" – that was added centuries later to fit in with
the gospel fable.
The structure built by Boniface of Ragusa, the Franciscan
guardian of Jerusalem's holy places. Boniface had a marble slab, complete
with faux crack, fitted over the alleged burial couch of Jesus.
Boniface also added a larger second
chamber, no doubt
large enough to accommodate three women and a couple of angels.
that several women and a couple of apostles?
Greek, Catholic and Armenian Christians share
the main structure. To placate the Copts and give them a slice of the
action a small chapel was added to the back of the Edicule.
Chapel of the Angel, complete with the Altar
of the Rolling Stone. No kidding.
Holy of Holies
This is it – the LORD's tomb, sheathed in marble
and not a rock to be seen. The chamber is about 6' by 7' – scarcely room
for an angel to spread its wings.
Does the cladding keep the chamber safe from
sovereign hunters – or
merely inhibit too close an inspection by the skeptical?
A hill called skull
Hill next to wall?
In their determination to fit fable and fabrication into
verifiable history, Christian apologists have to maintain that the hill
of Calvary (Golgotha) was outside of a wall "but only just".
a configuration would make nonsense of any defensive wall by providing
the enemy with a ready-made siege ramp. A ditch, not a hill, would normally
augment a wall.
The wall in question has never been
found. For that matter, nowhere in the New Testament does
it say Golgotha was a hill. Piety added that detail. The anonymous
Pilgrim of Bordeaux in 333 AD is this first to refer to Golgotha
as a "small hill".
Despite its questionable provenance, a slab of innocuous
bedrock gets 5-star treatment inside the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre.
Alexander the Great – a "man made
god" and entombed in splendour.
Augustus was the first of many
emperors who paid homage at his tomb and he used the image of Alexander
on his official seal.
It was all too much for the Christians.
The tomb of Alexander
disappeared shortly after the tomb of Christ appeared.
Empty tombs in Josephus
"Herod the tetrarch, who was in great favour
with Tiberius, built a city of the same name with him, and called it
Tiberias. He built it in the best part of Galilee,
at the lake of Gennesareth. There are warm baths at a little distance
from it, in a village named Emmaus."
– Antiquities 18.2.3.
Josephus tells us that in the construction of Tiberias, "many
sepulchers were to be here taken away in
order to make room for the city".
– Wars 4.1.3.
No doubt the extensive building work at Tiberias caused
a scramble to remove venerated ancestors.
Could this have seeded
the notion of an "empty" tomb?
Real Tombs - but whose?
Two "kokhim" or shaft tombs found close to the
west wall of the Holy Sepulchre church. Piety alone identifies them as
of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus." Fat chance.
They certainly confirm a burial site within the environs
of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – but from what time
period? If the shafts date from several centuries BC, they do nothing to
substantiate Christian claims that the area was a precinct of execution,
burial and a garden in the "time of Jesus".
The evidence of the kokhim shafts suggests that they and
any "tomb of Jesus" a few yards away must have been part of a single catacomb
typical of the area in the 1st century BC.
Not exactly the
fresh cut, unused tomb of the Jesus legend.
Syrian ("Jacobite") chapel in the Church
of the Holy Sepulchre.
A "Garden tomb" – in Josephus
"Uzziah, the son of Amaziah, began to reign over
the two tribes in Jerusalem, in the fourteenth year of the reign of Jeroboam
When a general festival was to be celebrated, he put on
the holy garment, and went into the temple to offer incense to God upon
the golden altar, which he was prohibited to do by Azariah the high priest,
who had fourscore priests with him, and who told him that it was not lawful
for him to offer sacrifice, and that "none besides the posterity
of Aaron were permitted so to do."
... He threatened to kill them
... a great earthquake shook the ground and a
rent was made in the temple ... leprosy seized upon him
immediately ... He was so confounded at the sad distemper ... for that
impiety against God ... So he abode out of the city for some time, and
lived a private life, while his son Jotham took the government; after
which he died ... and was buried
by himself in his own gardens."
– Josephus (Antiquities
Adam at JC's feet
In Christian iconography, Adam' skull lies within the pyramid-shaped
hill of Calvary.
Talpiot – Mr and Mrs Christ
A Discovery Channel special
aired early in 2007 and followed by the book The Jesus Family
Tomb argued the case for yet another Jesus tomb.
A Messiah can have as many tombs as he likes, right?
Stealing the Holy Sepulchre?
Some insight into Christian shenanigans can be gained
from the entertaining report that a 17th century Grand Duke of the Medici
family had plotted to steal the Holy Sepulchre and whisk it back to Tuscany!
The Medici – the family that produced three popes (Leo
X, Clement VII, and Leo XI) – were particularly peeved that the rival House
of Savoy had acquired that wonderfully lucrative fraud, the Shroud
A Franciscan friar in the pay of Ferdinando II de' Medici
suggested a bold counterstroke: removing the Holy
Sepulchre to the new Medici church of San Lorrenzo in Florence.
The scheme was hatched in cahoots with a renegade Muslim
Prince Fakhr al-Din II, who would seize Jerusalem from the Turks.
Unfortunately for the plotters, an Ottoman fleet arrived on the coast and
chased Fakhr al-Din into Italian exile, where he lived in splendour for
five years at Medici expense.
(Victoria Clark, Holy Fire, p 91,93)
A state religion needs the paraphernalia
of public sanctuaries, "holy places" where the serried
ranks of the faithful can prostrate before the gods and abase themselves
before the earthly legates of the divine. No more is this true
than in the delirium of religious revolution when the old gods
are thrown down and a new god enthroned. Such was the religious
revolution of Constantine.
Where better to place the "life and times"
of the new god than upon the sacred places of the old? The literary
basis of the Christian holy drama was obligingly vague. The
gospels failed to identify precisely where the hero of the Christian
story "conquered death" – but
then those same gospels failed to substantiate every other salient
detail of Jesus' life. It should surprise no one that the venues
of his death and entombment are clouded by contention
Thus it comes as something of a revelation
to discover that not just the purported tomb of Jesus but also
the alleged place of his execution are to be found within a
single building. Is it really tenable that the godman's
tomb could have been less than thirty metres from the site of
Calvary and the Holy Sepulchre are
pivotal points in the Christian dreamscape – but were they
ever a reality in the known universe?
Golgotha – "Sacred Space"
"And he bearing his cross went forth into a
place called the place of a skull, which is called
in the Hebrew Golgotha ...The place where Jesus was crucified was nigh
to the city." – John 19.17,20.
"Jesus ,,, suffered without the gate.
Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp." – Hebrews
Golgotha – otherwise known as Calvary from
the Latin for skull, calvaria – can be seen today
in two places, one identified by a Christian fanatic in the 19th
century, the other identified by a Christian fanatic in the 4th century.
Neither is genuine, of course, but the weight of "tradition" favours
the earlier identification.
To fully appreciate how the earlier fraud was concocted
it is instructive to review how the recent Victorian chicanery was
assembled from a heady mix of pious enthusiasm,
amateurish "archaeology" and religio-political imperatives.
Quite simply, the Protestants wanted their own sepulchre, free of
Catholic idolatry, and in a larger than life scion of the British
military establishment they found their man. General
in an interlude between sacking Nanking and dying at the hand of
the Mahdi in the Sudan, brought his Evangelical fervour
and wide-eyed mysticism to the city of Jerusalem. Palestine at
the time – 1883 – was a province of an Ottoman empire
increasingly at the mercy of the European powers and Britain had
just seized Cyprus from the perfidious Turks.
Gordon was contemptuous of the Catholic, Greek and
Armenian monks that had turned the Church of
the Holy Sepulchre into
a thieves' market. That alone convinced him that the true tomb of
Christ must lie elsewhere. Some forty years earlier an Otto Thenius
had directed pious attention to a hill north of the Damascus Gate,
whimsically named "Jeremiah's Grotto" in
the 15th century, and Gordon, like Thenius, could see in the hill's
contours the features of a human skull (or at least a couple of eye
sockets). Christian mysticism – or perhaps we should say, lunacy
– did the rest. "Skull
hill" does contain
a tomb (several in fact) – unfortunately dating from the Iron
Age and tarted up by Byzantine Christians when building the monastic
complex of St. Stephen's. Yet despite the transparently fake credentials,
the so-called "Garden tomb" still draws the crowds. As
Murphy O'Connor cheerfully admits (The Holy Land, p125.), "In
Jerusalem the prudence of reason has little chance against the certitude
On the wilder shores of biblical mania there
are still fools and charlatans who feed each other superlative nonsense
about the "Ark of the Covenant" being found directly below "Gordon's
Calvary" but – don't tell anyone – the discovery is kept
secret by the Israeli government in the interests of public order!
Geddit? Me neither
The Garden tomb
"And he shall kill
it on the side of the altar northward before the LORD:
and the priests, Aaron's sons, shall sprinkle his blood
round about upon the altar." – Leviticus
Like an early-day
David Icke, General Gordon could see cosmic design
drawn on a vast canvas. The Bible – you may have guessed – was
his guide. Jesus on his cross had embraced the whole
city of Jerusalem and his true sepulchre obviously lay
within the skull-shaped hill the gospels appropriately
had named Golgotha. Arcane wisdom, obliquely referred
to by the books of holy scripture, confirmed that this was
the spot and of course it looked right – modest,
peaceful, a real tomb, and a garden – every
Protestant's idea of what the tomb of Jesus should look
cannot help seeing that there is a body, that Schick's
conduit is the oesophagus, that the quarries are
the chest, and if you are venturesome you will carry
out the analogy further."
– Gen. Gordon, Palestine Exploration Fund
Quarterly Statement, 1885.
Even today, but for the steady
stream of tourists, the garden has a tranquility and
the tomb chamber remains unadorned. Is this not the tomb
that befits the simple piety of real Christians?
as fraudulent as the Catholic extravaganza down the
Golgotha – Original Recipe
Constantine demands a superlative
The so-called "Garden tomb" may be a palpable
fake but the Catholic shrine is no less a fraud. It is simply older.
Given the paucity of biblical directions ("without the gate
... nigh to the city") the place of execution could have
been anywhere. Likewise, the holy tomb. Which rather nicely
left a great deal of scope for fraudsters to concoct a tableau to
delight and delude the foolish – particularly when commanded
so to do by the ruler of the world. Emperor Constantine gave the
heart-warming reassurance that "money was no object".
"I have no greater care than how I may best adorn
with a splendid structure that sacred spot, which, under Divine direction,
I have disencumbered as it were of the heavy weight of foul idol
worship; a spot which has been accounted holy from the beginning
in God's judgment, but which now appears holier still, since it has
brought to light a clear assurance of our Saviour's passion.
"It will be well, therefore,
for your sagacity to make such arrangements and provision of
all things needful for the work, that not only the church itself
as a whole may surpass
all others whatsoever in beauty, but that the details
of the building may be of such a kind that the fairest structures
in any city of the empire may be excelled by this ...
artificers and labourers, and whatever they shall understand from
your sagacity to be needful for the advancement of the work, shall
forthwith be furnished ... columns and marbles,
whatever you shall judge ...
to be especially precious and serviceable ...
the ceiling be ornamented with gold ... whatever
quantity or sort of materials we shall
esteem from your letter to be needful, may be procured
from every quarter, as required, for it is fitting that
the most marvellous place in the world should be worthily decorated."
– Constantine's Letter
to Macarius, Eusebius (Vita
Although today's apologists love to suggest a "tradition"
of early visitors to the tomb of Jesus (without a shred
of evidence), nothing can disguise the fact that until the 4th century
Christians got along just fine without a Jesus tomb and had no special
reverence for the place of his supposed execution. After all, his
kingdom was "not
of this world".
Nicaea – a council with attitude
"The truth is evincing itself daily by fresh
wonders, so our souls may all become more zealous"
In May 325, about three hundred, of perhaps eighteen
hundred, ordained bishops gathered for Constantine's "religious
policy conference" at
Nicaea on the Bosphorus. Constantine may
have attributed his mastery of the Roman world to divine favour but
he certainly understood the political value of a universal
religion identifying his own person as God's regent on earth.
After Constantine, for more than a thousand years, monarchy would
be made secure and unfettered by a "divine right of kings",
an article of faith in the empire of Christendom.
The creed eventually
hammered out at Nicaea would have immediate and material consequence
for the soon-to-be Holy Land. Three richly endowed churches
would give concrete form and physical presence to a religious ideology
codified eight hundred miles away by churchmen, most of whom had
never stepped foot in Palestine. The new state religion required
its hallowed ground: a church to mark where the new deity had taken
form in the womb of a virgin, a church to glorify the spot where
his lifeless body had been resurrected to life eternal, and a church
to honour the place where he had ascended to heaven.
"The three spots memorialise
some of the most fundamental passages of the Nicene Creed. For
this asserts that Jesus was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin
Mary (the Nativity Church at Bethlehem), was crucified and died
and rose again on the third day (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre),
and ascended into Heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father
(Church of the Ascension)." – Romer, Testament, p
Urged on by Christian fervour, Constantine made the
overthrow of the old gods a matter of state policy. Helena, the
emperor's aged mother, was more than willing to ease her impending
transfer to heaven by devoting herself to the task of sanctifying
appropriate sites in Palestine. Yet the "discoveries" of
the dowager empress were not the consequence of divine guidance or
even joyful serendipity. They were the implementation of a state
policy determined by an imperious and superstitious monarch and a
coterie of senior churchmen at Nicaea. Each and every "Jesus venue"
would displace a venerated pagan shrine. Before Helena "progressed" in
regal splendour to the east, Constantine had already issued instructions
to his Palestinian bishops.
Recycled Sacred Space
A careful reading of the Life
of Constantine reveals
the sequence of events. At first, the tomb of Jesus was unknown to
"This sacred cave certain impious and godless
persons had thought to remove entirely from the eyes of men ...
these devices of impious and wicked men against the truth had
prevailed for a long time ... the monument of his most holy Passion,
so long ago buried beneath the ground, should have remained
unknown for so long a series of years."
Constantine, heady with the success of Nicaea and urged
on by scheming bishops to build a New Jerusalem on the despised city
of the Jews, ordered the destruction of the Hellenistic temples of Aelia
Capitolina. Macarius, the Christian bishop, was delighted. It
eliminated the pagan competition and he knew a state-funded church
"Constantine ... calling on the divine
aid, gave orders that the place should be thoroughly purified,
thinking that the parts which had been most polluted by the enemy
ought to receive special tokens, through his means, of the greatness
of the divine favour. As soon, then, as his commands were issued, these
engines of deceit were cast down from their proud
eminence to the very ground, and the dwelling-places of error,
with the statues and the evil spirits which they represented,
were overthrown and utterly destroyed."
The first target was the Hellenistic temple
built by emperor Hadrian two hundred years earlier. The pagan edifice
was destroyed and engineers readied
the site for a new construction. More than a year had passed when, "contrary
to all expectations",
an ancient tomb came into view. The opportunistic priests immediately
proclaimed the tomb to be that of Christ.
"As soon as the original
surface of the ground, beneath the covering of earth, appeared,
immediately, and contrary
to all expectation, the venerable and
hollowed monument of our Saviour's resurrection was discovered.
Then indeed did this most holy cave present a faithful similitude
of his return to life, in that, after lying buried in darkness,
it again emerged to light, and afforded to all who came to witness
the sight, a clear and visible proof of the wonders of which
that spot had once been the scene, a testimony to the resurrection
of the Saviour clearer than any voice could give."
The joyful news was relayed back to Constantine, whose
"piety", ego and ambition were stroked by the momentous discovery.
It was Christ's tomb, of course, because the divinely chosen monarch
had foreseen the event in one of his all too frequent visionary dreams.
The imperial purse strings were opened and the nouveau
"Immediately after the transactions I have recorded,
the emperor sent forth injunctions which breathed a
truly pious spirit, at the same time granting
ample supplies of money, and
commanding that a house of prayer worthy of the worship of God
should be erected near the Saviour's tomb on
a scale of rich and royal greatness.
This object he had indeed for some time
kept in view, and had foreseen, as if by the aid of a superior
intelligence, that which should afterwards come to pass."
The "pilgrimage" of Helena which followed
in the year 326 was an inspection of a fabulously expensive work-in-progress
by a member of the divine household. She did not find the "true
but quite possibly was presented by a groveling cleric with a set
of nails said to have pegged Jesus to his stake. These unusual "lucky
charms" the empress sent back to her son. He had one mounted
on his helmet and another in his horse's bridle. It began the thoroughly
shamanistic degeneration of Christian belief in which anything
deemed to have been touched by either the dead or living Jesus
was transmuted into a potent instrument of divine magic.
Helena appears to have
spent time at Bethlehem and Nazareth unsuccessfully
seeking Jesus artifacts before a sojourn on the Mount of Olives.
Here a Church of the Ascension was under construction. She is even
said to have identified Jebel Musa as the Mount
Sinai where Moses
had received the ten commandments, a location unknown even to the
Jews. Helena died the following year, no doubt content that she
had quite literally put Christianity on the map.
A generation later,
she was to be credited posthumously with the discovery of the
tomb and the true cross itself (St. Ambrose, De
The Cover Story
One might legitimately
wonder how the priests, who supervised Constantine's builders,
managed to so quickly recognize the tomb of Jesus. One hole cut into
rock is very much like another hole cut into rock. Obviously there
were no bones with which to recognize the "resurrected" saviour
and, of course, his burial garments were well on their
way to Turin. Indeed,
Constantine's rotundra ploughed straight through an ancient catacomb
("as old as the kingdom of
Romer, p179), such was the regard for ancient Jewish burial sites.
A remnant of this tomb now masquerades as the last resting
place of Joseph
of Arimathea and Nicodemus. In
that, there is a clue to the origins of the "tomb of Jesus".
A lie, dreamed up in antiquity and still circulated
by Christians, was that the iniquitous pagans had first buried and
then built upon the tomb of Jesus.
"Those who embraced the Christian faith, after
the period of his passion, greatly venerated this tomb; but those
who hated Christianity, having covered the spot with a
mound of earth, erected on it a temple to Venus, and set up her
image there, not caring for the memory of the place." – Socrates
Scholasticus (Ecclesiastical History, XVII,
c. 440 AD)
was said that the Roman Emperor Hadrian, in his hatred for the
true religion, had ordered the whole area be buried and a
large platform made ready and a temple erected there to Aphrodite and
his own vanity. Jerome, in contrast, reports that it was a statue
of Jupiter which
stood on the site for 180 years. The honoured god may even
have been Tyche, which shows up on coins for the period.
The temple may even have served a number of deities.
A temple of some kind is certain. But did it bury any tomb of Jesus?
A cross-section through the temple precinct
of Aelia Capitolina – and what is now the
site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Cardo, Old City,
The loving Christians
destroy a temple to love
One hundred and
eighty years after Hadrian, when the egomaniac Constantine made available
near limitless funds for instituting the holy places of Christianity,
Hellenistic temples were a primary target. The temple of Venus/ Aphrodite
in Aelia was particular vulnerable, unloved by either the nouveaux
riche Christians or Jews who had re-entered the city over the
course of two centuries.
When Constantine converted the empire
to Christianity, he had the pagan temple dismantled, the earth
removed and a church built on the spot. The destruction of the
Hellenistic sanctuary by the vindictive Christians was more or less
total. However, temples still extant
in other cities of the region provide a good indication of
the probable size and style of the pagan sanctuary and
excavation of the Cardo Maximus (the main north-south thoroughfare)
and sections of the precinct platform (temenos), make
it possible to approximate the location of the Hadrianic temple.
The sacred precinct was larger than any of the Christian churches
The 5th century Christian historian Socrates records
the fantastic yarn that it was Helena herself, divinely directed,
who ordered the destruction of the pagan temple. He relates that
when the tomb was cleared of soil, three crosses were found within
the sepulchre itself, complete with
the nails and the inscription written
by Pilate (presumably in the three languages of
Luke 23.38)! Apparently,
the correct cross was identified by its ability to cure a dying woman – although
John Chrysostom was happy with the explanation that it was the "one
in the middle", such is the awesome naivety of the pious imagination!
of the Holy Sepulchre – displacing Alexander
The building of Constantine's Church of the
was a religio-political act of Christian triumphalism. The old
gods were to be destroyed physically as well as ideologically.
It suited the political and religious policies of the first
Christian emperor to "find" the tomb of his saviour
at the very centre of the city which he would style the New
Jerusalem, facing the forlorn ruins of the old.
it was an ideologically imperative to displace the other tomb
that honoured a "man made god" and held
the mummified remains of the conqueror (and saviour) of the
world. The tomb
of Alexander the Great had
drawn pilgrims from across the Hellenic world for more than
five centuries. Emperors and Roman grandees had joined the
throngs of local pilgrims that made the journey to Alexandria
to catch a glimpse of a sepulchre of the "greatest man
who had ever lived", fabulously adorned with gold and
Augustus, after his defeat of Mark Antony, had
Alexander's mummy removed from its sarcophagus and crowned the
head with a golden diadem (Suetonius),
in the process accidentally breaking off part of Alexander's
Cassius). Caligula stole Alexander's breastplate for
his "campaign" in Gaul, no doubt for its talismanic qualities.
Caracalla draped Alexander's grave with his own imperial
The shrine of Alexander, venerable and loved, was
an intolerable affront to the new dogma of Christ and did not
long survive Constantine's triumph. A superior, "authentic"
tomb for Jesus was certainly not too much to ask and imperial
engineers soon hacked away enough rock to satisfying their paymaster.
An entire district
of Alexandria was named The Soma ("dead
body") in honour of Alexander's tomb. By the
end of the 4th century church patriarch John Chrysostom
could boast that Alexander's tomb no longer existed
– a victim of Christian iconoclasts and
The so-called Sarcophagus
of Alexander in
is actually the ornate coffin of one of
the king's Persian provincial governors. Even that
is very impressive.
Despite the claims of Eusebius that the very fabric of the pagan
by demons", was carted far off, the more useful stones
found their way into the new edifice, as recent excavations
below). Curiously, Eusebius failed to mention that
not only the tomb of Jesus but Golgotha itself had been
found by Constantine's builders. The reason is simple: the noble
bishop remained convinced that Golgotha was in a
different place entirely!
"Golgotha. 'Place of the skull'
where the Christ was crucified. It is pointed out in Jerusalem north
of Mount Zion." – Eusebius,
Melito of Sardis, the 2nd century bishop
of Asia Minor, had been even more vague about the site of the
crucifixion, describing it as taking place “in the middle of the street, in
the middle of the city” (On Pascha). No green
hill far away for this guy.
Luckily, fifty years after Eusebius had celebrated the unexpected
discovery of JC's tomb, it was noticed that the site of the Lord's
crucifixion had indeed moved from Mt Zion to a far more convenient
spot within Constantine's big church. An outcrop of limestone,
which had probably intruded innocently enough in the vicinity
of the Temple of Venus, entered the Christian dreamscape as a
place of sanctity and awe.
The reigning bishop, Cyril
of Jerusalem (c.315-386)
declared Golgotha to be the "mid-point of the earth" (Catechesis,
13.28). Even the ancient sockets that had held the cross were
identified and, by some mysterious osmosis, had themselves become
holy. It was Cyril who instituted a two-day observance which
began each Easter Thursday. Passages from the Passion narratives
were read aloud while the faithful solemnly followed a processional
route from the Mount of Olives to Constantine's church.
It was the origin of the Way of the Cross (the Via
the 16th century). In 417 Emperor Theodosius II had the large
wooden cross mounted on Calvary replaced with one made of gold
and precious stones.
The holiness just kept on growing.
The present, patched-up crusader
church occupies less than half of the area of the 4th century
Constantinian structure. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is
sited on the central area of what was once Hadrian's sacred
the favour of God, the holy places which had been hidden
of Jerusalem (Letter to Constantius II, c 339).
Centre of the World
For centuries, the centre of the Greek world had been
marked by the omphalos or "navel stone" at
the sanctuary of Delphi. But the Christians found this
intolerable. With the triumph of the One True Faith the
sanctuary at Delphi was impoverished, attacked and ultimately
destroyed. The earth's centre now moved to the splendid
new church in Jerusalem and an inert limestone rock displaced
the claims of Delphi.
By the 6th century, Calvary was
being celebrated as the "sacred navel" of the
world (Sophronius of Jerusalem, Anacreontica),
and mediaeval Christian mapmakers coined the term "Holy
Jerusalem at its centre. The rock
within the church within the city became the epicentre
of salvation, towards which all nations should progress
in homage and supplication.
The aggrandizement of the "holiness" of Jerusalem
proved to be a powerful weapon in the battle of the patriarchates.
The eventual triumph of Rome over its more sanctified rivals
in the east had more to do with the onslaught of Islam
than with Rome's own inferior claims.
More honoured in the past than now, today
a humble marble vase on the floor of the Catholicon,
half way between a rock and a hard place, marks the geocentric
Omphalos from Delphi
Urn at the centre of the
A Crusader Fantasy
Constantine's showpiece did not survive the Muslim
era. 12th century Crusaders built a smaller, cruder church on
the ruins, but one not lacking a panoply of religious novelties
and relics to entice and fleece intrepid pilgrims. For the knights
of Christendom, Calvary turned out to be a remarkable "hill" indeed.
Unbelievably, the tomb
of Adam now
emerged from beneath the slab of limestone called Golgotha. It
seems that Adam – yes, the first
man from Eden – was
buried on the very same spot that Jesus was crucified! Origen
seems to have floated this idea as early as the 3rd century (In
Matth. 126) but now the "theology" gained a visible presence
in the world.
As far as the Jews were concerned
Adam's grave was in Hebron with the rest of the patriarchs. In
the new "tradition",
when Jesus died on the cross his blood trickled down to touch
Adam's skull, and thereby redeemed the first sinner and hence
“Under this rock the skull of the
first man lay … the rock was opened above the skull
of Adam and the Blood and Water which flowed from the side
of Christ ran through this crack and washed away the sins of
– Fr. Daniel, Russian Abbot (c. 1106).
Should you doubt the veracity of this remarkable
event be assured that the Holy Sepulchre theme park provides all
the evidence that the pious mind might require. The tomb (or chapel)
of Adam is actually hacked out of the rock below Golgotha
(directly below the Greek Orthodox chapel) for all to see.
is vouchsafed by a nifty little window which gives a view of the
sacred limestone, complete with crack from the very moment "Jesus
gave up the ghost" (or perhaps where
a Crusader pickaxe missed its mark).
Tomb of Adam (aka "The
Cave of Treasures"). During excavations, Godfrey
de Bouilon, first crusader King of Jerusalem, modified
the brickwork for his own use.
Today the Chapel of Adam has a
glass plate window through which you can see the very crack
in the stone through which JC's blood trickled onto Adam's
Ain't that something?
Divine earthquake damage – or just
a crack in an ancient lump of limestone?
Finding the True Cross a new home
The tomb of Adam was not the only Crusader innovation.
When Latin knights explored the remains of Constantine's church
in the early 12th century, they broke into a cellar beneath the
ruins of the ancient basilica. The subterranean passages had
previously been something of a forbidden zone.
"For many centuries these
pits under Calvary were bricked off from the church above because,
it was believed, they had led straight to Purgatory and the cries
of suffering would disturb the congregation in the church above." – Romer,
Overcoming their fears, the Crusaders built a stairway
into the rediscovered crypt. With a new "holy" chamber
at their disposal, the "discovery
of the true cross" of Greek legend was discretely and sensibly
moved from the sepulchre itself to the now accessible dank cellar
a couple of hundred feet further east. The cellar metamorphosed
into the "grotto" of
Helena and at the far end a space was sanctified as the "Chapel
of the Invention of the Cross". You can't beat
that for candour!
By the time the Latins were expelled from the Holy
Land the whole Christian quarter and much of the Old City was a
riot of holy shrines, churches, monasteries and pilgrim hostels.
Today the "grotto" of Helena is known as
the Chapel of St Helena. No doubt for a small remuneration to the
Armenian monks a slither of wood can still be purchased.
anyone worked out how three crosses purportedly from circa 30 AD
got themselves into a cistern built in the 2nd century?
Down into the old basilica.
Chapel of St Helena
Chapel of the Invention of the Cross
Finding Aelia Capitolina
In the early 1970s the Armenians opened up another
section of the ancient basilica's foundations, exposing several
walls from the 2nd century and evidence of very ancient
quarrying. These finds gave the lie to Eusebius' claim that the
polluted spoil of Hadrian's temple of Venus "had been carried
But they also revealed a delightful etching of a Roman ship on
one of the temple's foundation stones.
Hadrian's temple wall with etching. (Constantine's
The 2nd century Roman ship with the legend
DOMINE IVIMUS (Lord we went)
the Armenians named the new chamber for an Armenian warrior
saint ("St Vartan"), and
claim the ship is the work of a 4th century Christian pilgrim
– well they would, wouldn't they?
The "chapel" is kept closed
to the public.
The Fabrication Factory
Did Hadrian bury Golgotha and
the tomb of Jesus?
In the "origins fantasy" dreamed
up by the Christians, their numbers were always more
numerous and their struggle always more heroic, than
history bears witness. In Christian mythology, as
it relates to the Holy Sepulchre, Hadrian had deliberately
built his pagan sanctuary over sites holy to the
fans of Jesus. The idea is palpable nonsense.
"Christians would later
accuse Hadrian of deliberately desecrating this
holy place, but it is most unlikely that the
emperor had even registered the existence
of the obscure church of Jewish Christians
in Jerusalem." – Karen
Armstrong, A History
of Jerusalem, p165.
would be bizarre beyond credulity that the ruler
of the world would just happen to site the shrine
of his favourite goddess directly above a rock-cut
tomb rumoured to be associated with the prophet of
a cult which at that time was virtually
the Roman world. In reality, the emperor sited his
temple/forum complex precisely where it would be
found in most other Roman cities – at the intersection
of the major east-west and north-south roads.
Remnants of a Hadrianic triple arch
which opened onto the forum and part of the retaining
wall of the temple precinct are visible in the basement
of the Russian Mission ('Alexandrovsky
Hospice' but not a hospice at all). The Russian
Orthodox moved into a vacant lot near the Holy
Sepulchre in the mid-19th century. Fortuitously,
their mission preserved the underlying evidence of
a nobler, pagan past.
In the same building a nondescript
2nd century door sill is protected by glass and hallowed
as part of the Jesus trail, the "Judgment Gate",
supposing it to be a gate in the elusive "second
on the bones of giants?
Within the Alexandrovsky
Hospice, a triumphal arch of Hadrian.
"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." – John
Omitting all later building work, the
supposed "holy sites" of Christianity produce
a surreal 1st century landscape. All the features
of the dreamscape fall within a hundred and or so
paces. The "garden" of John's gospel
is the size of a dog kennel and the hill of Calvary
has sides inclined like a tepee.
The top of the Golgotha rock measures
barely 6 feet by 12 feet.
It must have been quite
some squeeze, fitting in three crosses, all those
soldiers and a posse of wailing women!
Florida theme park (The
Holy Land Experience - yuck!)
rather nicely captures the fantasy of a hill
and a tomb in a convenience-sized carryout
How wonderfully reassuring that the human imagination,
which gave us the Holy Sepulchre and Golgotha,
is alive and well and has taken up residence in Hollywood. Jesus,
we now learn, had a son named Judah and was buried alongside Mary
Magdalene, his wife, in a "family tomb" a mile or so
south of the Old City. Such are the claims of film makers Simcha
("Ali G. meets Indiana Jones") Jacobovici and James ("Titanic")
Cameron, with encouragement from New Testament scholar James Tabor
whose own book The Jesus Dynasty promotes the "family
of Jesus" notion.
The tomb from the 2nd temple period (6th century
BC - 1st century AD) at East Talpiot is real enough. It was
discovered in 1980, two miles south of the Holy Sepulchre site,
together with ten ossuaries (stone bone boxes) in
situ. The ossuaries
were removed, catalogued, and basically forgotten. There are, after
all, thousands of similar ossuaries and hundreds of known tombs.
At some point, one of the ten bone boxes from Talpiot – an
uninscribed one, left in a storage yard – was stolen. The
tomb itself is now buried under an apartment block and is not open
to the public.
"This places us smack dab in The Da Vinci
Code territory but is it possible that Dan Brown had at least
some of it right? It requires a flight or two of fancy,
but if we connect a few dots we can draw a line through history
from the tomb straight to today."
Enter Jacobovici, a journalist/film maker who mines
biblical history for sensational stories. Having already traced
the tribe of Dan to Crete (at least to his own satisfaction) and
credited the alphabet to Hebrew slaves in Egypt, the "naked archaeologist"
is one of the few defenders of the authenticity of the infamous "James
brother of Jesus" bone
box. He has now managed to finesse said box into a "missing
link" for his latest extravaganza – the family tomb
With breathtaking flair and audacity team Jacobovici/Cameron/Tabor
take 2 + 2 and manage to produce an answer of 17. The cluster of
names on the half dozen inscribed boxes from Talpiot are statistically
indicative of the famous New Testament family. Sure. DNA
analysis of bone fragments within the boxes show that the “Jesus
– or is that Hanun? – son of Joseph” skeleton
was not related
to the “Mariamne
the Master” – or is that Mary and Martha?
– skeleton and therefore the two must have been married. Sure. Which
means the “Judah
son of Jesus” skeleton was the son of the Son of God by Mary
Magdalen. Hooray, don't we all want MM to
be rehabilitated? The
"James ossuary" (now with a "genuine" inscription) completes
the set. It has to be the very box taken from the storage yard,
and its contents were once the famous brother of the even more
Which surely opens the way for the next blockbuster,
Jurassic Jesus, in which the messiah's DNA is extracted from a
bone fragment and is raised from the dead. DVD, anyone?
The empty tomb? Vacuous
Christians – Protestants now as well as Catholic
and Orthodox – give credence to what they believe was the
joyful discovery of the "holy sepulchre" of Jesus, although
many would distance themselves from the miraculous "finding
of the true cross", parts
of which, infamously, became the most desirable and ubiquitous
relic in medieval Christendom. They are probably embarrassed
by the blatant chicanery that permeates the whole "Jerusalem
But if there were no miraculously
preserved artifacts within the sepulchre, how, then, was the
tomb identified? It is beyond intelligent belief that,
in the aftermath of two destructive wars (66-70 and 132-135), with
decades of desolation in between, and with a wholly reconstituted,
pagan population, that any "tradition" of a tomb belonging
to a Christian godman, could or would have been preserved. With
mental gymnastics that would make a medieval churchman blush, modern
apologists argue that Christian pilgrims would have scratched graffiti
on the tomb to the effect "Jesus
was here"! And this, despite the sacrilege of such vandalism
and the supposed indelible memory that the tomb location supposedly
had in the minds of generations of Christians.
For all the sophistry, there is no evidence of early
Christian pilgrimage to the site of any Jesus tomb or place of
execution. Such "pagan" reverence for holy places was alien to
the first Christians. St Paul, for example (assuming for the moment
he even existed) showed no interest in such earthly trivia. Even
Eusebius was lukewarm to the vulgar notion of sanctifying specific
locations – but he was obliged to "get with the program".
The reality of the deception is very simple
– and the Christians have honoured the practice ever since. Armed
with their holy story they fabricated a landscape to fit the
fantasy. In time, every jot and
tittle of the Jesus fable would have its sanctified venue and
pilgrim shrine. There was no "empty tomb" because there
was no tomb. But when a Roman shovel happened to uncover an
ancient catacomb, the opportunist priests exploited the chance
discovery for all it was worth.
M. Price, Jeffery Jay Lowder, The Empty Tomb: Jesus
Beyond The Grave (Prometheus 2005)
Robert Gordon, Holy Land, Holy City (Paternoster, 2004)
H. J. Richards, Pilgrim to the Holy Land (McCrimmons,1985)
Shimon Gibson, Joan Taylor, Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Palestine
Exploration Fund, 1994)
Joan Taylor, Christians and Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian
Origins (Clarendon, 1993)
Martin Biddle, The Tomb of Christ (Sutton, 1999)
Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, The Holy Land (Oxford, 1986)
Karen Armstrong, A History of Jerusalem (HarperCollins, 1997)
organisation, authority and membership preceded
rather than followed the justifying doctrine. As
the organisation and its needs changed so has the ‘Testament
of God’ adapted accordingly. Dogma – The
Word in all its Savage Glory