Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem in the April of 30 or 33 CE. He was probably buried in a new kokhim-tomb, with horizontal shelves dug into the rock round a central chamber, each shelf and the chamber itself plugged with a stone.
Within decades, the Jews rebelled twice against the Roman Empire; both times they were defeated and large parts of Jerusalem were destroyed. After the second revolt, the Emperor Hadrian refounded Jerusalem, c.135 CE, as a pagan city. Within a newly walled western area, over a quarry, he built a platform for the city’s principal shrines; one tall shard of natural rock was allowed to rise prominently through its plaza’s pavement.
Two more centuries passed. In 325 Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, ordered Bishop Makarios of Jerusalem to clear these pagan temples from their platform. Makarios reported back: excavating the platform, his workmen had found the tomb of Jesus. Calvary itself was identified as that shard of rock, 20 yards to the south east. At some stage the Empress Helena discovered, as she believed, the cross of Jesus a further 20 yards east of the tomb. All three sites were united in a vast complex of buildings, one of the great churches of Christendom. A rotunda, an imperial mausoleum, was built around the empty tomb; the rock surrounding it was cut away, the tomb itself was enclosed in a central structure or aedicule (‘little house’).
Why should we care? The tomb only matters because Jesus is not there. But the resurrection of Jesus only matters in its turn because he truly lived, died, and was buried. Only two places had been able to contain the uncontainable: his mother’s womb, for nine months; and his grave, for two days. He had left the first, to live among us; he left the second, the cave that we can still visit, to assume God’s power over all creation.
1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Magʹdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13T hey said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rab-boʹni!” (which means Teacher).