The Burial Bench of Jesus?

On Friday, 14 April, the National Geographic Channel will air (10:00 PM EDT)  a one hour special on the recent (November 2016) discoveries at one of the traditional sites of the burial of Jesus.  I have waited for years for this—I hope it will not disappoint!

View looking down from the dome of the rotunda on to the structure that covers the Tomb of Jesus.

This structure is the most recent of a series of structures, from the time of Constantine (ca. A.D. 335) that have enshrined the tomb of Jesus.  It was constructed after the great fire of 1808 and was completed in 1810.

In the lower left portion of the image the canopy over the Coptic chapel is visible, this is on the back (west) side of the structure.  Above, and to the right of center, is the entrance into the Greek Orthodox Catholicon.  The entrance to the two rooms of the tomb is from upper right moving to left (not visible in this image).

Note the iron casing that was put in place during the days of the British Mandate to prevent the structure from collapsing.

View looking down and west at the marble covering over the (traditional) burial bench of Jesus.

According to tradition, Jesus’ head was placed where the vase with five candles is located.  I expect that the National Geographic Channel presentation will show the “uncovering” of this bench—among other “goodies!”


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, called the Church of the Resurrection by the Greek Orthodox, is the most sacred space in Christendom.

The New Testament gospels indicate that Jesus was crucified outside of the walls of Jerusalem and then was buried in a garden nearby. This church houses the site of the crucifixion and that of the tomb of Jesus.

This area was venerated by Christians in the first century A.D. However, the Roman emperor Hadrian (A.D. 117–138) turned it into a place of pagan worship.

This area was “rediscovered” and cleared when Constantine’s mother, Helena, visited Jerusalem in A.D. 326. By A.D. 335 a Christian Church was built over the area. Although destroyed by the Persians in A.D. 614 — it was rebuilt. In A.D. 1009 it was again destroyed by Hakim. The crusaders rebuilt the church and the basic structure that one enters today, basically follows the plan of the Crusader church.

Site of Crucifixion of Jesus?

Probably the most sacred place in the whole of Christendom is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (aka Church of the Resurrection) in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Since the first half of the fourth century a church has encased both the places of crucifixion and burial of Jesus.

Greek Chapel at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

View looking east at the focal point of the Greek Chapel at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

In the center of the image is the altar beneath which is located the traditional spot where Jesus was crucified.  Behind it is a silver iconostasis.  On both sides of the altar portions of the bedrock are visible behind the glass.

View looking northeast at the general area of Calvary.

From right to left note the “Latin” Calvary with the Medici Altar that commemorates Jesus being nailed to the cross (= Station XI of the Via Dolorosa).  Just left of center is a small shrine that commemorates that this is the spot where Jesus was removed from the cross (= Station XIII of the Via Dolorosa).  On the far left is the Greek Chapel (see above) where Jesus was crucified (=Station XII of the Via Dolorosa).

To view 15 images of this place Click Here.


Coming soon: Tomb of Jesus; Gordon’s Calvary; Garden Tomb.

Another Son of God? Pilate’s Tiberieum at Caesarea Maritima

Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea that condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18 and 19). He is mentioned 61 times in the New Testament.  He governed Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.

The Pontius Pilate Inscription from Caesarea Maritima—now in the Israel Museum.

Pilate was facing at least two major problems when Jesus appeared before him to be tried.  The first was that he needed to deal with any potential rebellion against Rome—what else would a “king of the Jews” do?

A second problem was how seriously should Pilate take the accusation that

John 19:7-8  . . .  he [Jesus] must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”  When Pilate heard this, he [Pilate] was even more afraid,

Why was Pilate “more afraid” when he heard this charge?  Well, the dead “ascended” Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire as a deity.  By the time that Jesus began his public ministry there were Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit])  that had been in existence for over 40 years!

And in addition, Augustus’ son, and now Emperor(!), Tiberius, was worshiped as the “son of god” (that is, the son of the deified Augustus)!  In this regard it is not often remembered that it was Pilate who built a temple for the worship of Tiberius as the “son of god” at Caesarea Maritima!  How could there be a “son of God” to compete with the Imperial “son of god?”  In addition Pilate was confronted with the potential accusation of the local leadership: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12).  Pilate had a “lot on his plate!”

In light of this, I invite you to check out the following description and discussion of the “Pilate Inscription” from Caesarea Maritima.


In 1961 by an Italian expedition that was excavating the theater at Caesarea Maritima discovered a Latin inscription that actually mentions him.

The “Pilate” Inscription from Caesarea Maritima

When people comment on this inscription they usually emphasize that now there is actual archaeological evidence for Pilate’s activity in Judea and that his title was “Prefect.”  This is fine,  BUT what about the word “Tiberieum” in the first line?  To what does “Tiberieum” refer?

This stone was used at least three ways.  First, it was probably a dedicatory inscription in a temple called a “Tiberieum.”  Pilate built this temple to honor the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37)—the current “son of god”!  This was then the second imperial cult temple in Caesarea—the first was the (probably much larger) Imperial Cult Temple that had been built by Herod the Great (37– 4 BC) for the worship of Augustus and deified Roma!

Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37).  All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!

Secondly, the stone was taken from the temple and used as part of a well–head—note the half-circle on the right hand side.  Finally, it was used as a step in the fourth century Byzantine theater (where it was discovered).

Four lines of the Latin inscription are visible.

[_ _ _]S TIBERIÉUM
[_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
[PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E
[_ _ _ _ _ ] É [_ _ _ _ _ _ _] (Taylor, p. 564)

[. . .] Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilate
[Pref]ect of Judaea
[. . .]e[. . .] (p. 565)

Joan E. Taylor translates the inscription as:   “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, [made and d]e[dicated] the Tiberieum for the (Augustan) gods” (p. 570).

For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 564–65.

Place of Peter’s Denial of Jesus?

Many Christian tour groups to the Holy Land will visit the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. This church is located on the eastern slope of the western hill of ancient Jerusalem—south of the Old City wall, on present day Mount Zion.

View looking west southwest at the church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. Below and to the right of the church note the excavations and the staircase the leads up and down the hill that dates to the Second Temple Period.

According to a sixth or seventh century tradition this is the site of the Palace of Caiaphas before whom Jesus was questioned (mentioned 9 times in the New Testament; Matt 26:57–68; Mark 14:53–65; Luke 22:54).  According to the Gospel accounts, Peter, in the courtyard denied any association with Jesus after which the “rooster crowed” (= Latin: galli-–cantu; Matt 26:69–76; Mark 14:66–72; Luke 22:55–65; John 18:25–27).

The church was completed in 1931 and the Assumptionist Fathers serve there.  The church is built on three levels, the bottom of which contains a series of rock cut caverns that are said to date to the time of Jesus.

View looking west at the steps that ascend the western hill (Mount Zion) from the central Tyropoeon) Valley.possible that Jesus walked on these steps.

Excavations to the north of the church have revealed a variety of rock cut remains along with a flight of steps that leads up and down the hill—it is said to date to the time of Jesus (= Second Temple Period).

View of one of the underground rock cut chambers located on the lowest level of Saint Peter in Gallicantu.

Supposedly the church is build over/near the house of Caiaphas the High Priest (mentioned 9 times in the New Testament), before whom Jesus was questioned.  According to tradition, Jesus was imprisoned here during that time and later Peter and John were imprisoned here as well (Acts 5).

The caves/chambers evidently date to the Second Temple Period.

For 16 images of Saint Peter in Gallicantu Click Here.

Bone Box of Caiaphas the High Priest

Caiaphas, the High Priest, is mentioned 9 times in the Gospels and is one of those before whom Jesus appeared before being condemned to death by Pilate (Matthew 26; John 18).  A few years ago a “bone box” (ossuary) was found, along with 11 others, in a Second Temple tomb located two miles south of Jerusalem on a hill that today is called “the hill of Evil Counsel” (John 11:49–50).  On it the name “Joseph “son” of Caiaphas” was inscribed!

The Joseph “son” of Caiaphas Ossuary. In the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.  See below for the inscription.

The ossuary has a slightly curved cover that is etched with designs.  The front of the soft limestone ossuary is beautifully carved with rosette and leaf designs.  Note the red paint is still visible in some places.

The bones of six(!) individuals were found inside of the ossuary: 2 infants, 1 child, 1 teen aged boy, 1 adult woman, and a man—approximately sixty years old.

View of one of the Aramaic inscriptions on the Ossuary [bone box] of “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”

On one of the short sides, and on the back, the name Caiaphas had been etched into the stone with a nail—see the  image.  It is evident that the ossuary was prepared in a workshop, but then when the bones were placed inside the name was inelegantly scratched on to it.

The Aramaic inscription on this side of the ossuary reads “Joseph the ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”

 יהוסף בר קפא 

Most scholars believe that the Caiaphas mentioned here is the same one that is mentioned six times in the New Testament as well as in Josephus.  Ronny Reich argues that the person was named “Joseph” and had a nickname “Caiaphas.”  Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 to 36 CE and was the one before whom Jesus was tried and is famously quoted in John 12:50

For an accessible discussion of the name Caiaphas, plus others appearing on ossuaries, see Reich, Ronny. “Caiaphas name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (September/October 1992): 38–44.

Crucified Man from Jerusalem

It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals.  In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child.

This is a replica of a right heel bone of a 28 year old man who was crucified in Jerusalem prior to its in AD 70. This replica is presented in the Israel Museum.

A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone of the man.  A piece of wood was placed on each side of the heel prior to the pounding of the nail to affix the person to a cross.

The skeletal remains of the man with the nail in his heel bone were found in this ossuary that was discovered north of Jerusalem.

Clearly visible is the Hebrew writing of the name “Yehohanan son of Hagkol.”  Note the two clear lines.  Above and to the right of the name “Yehohanan,” in the first line, is another faint inscription (click on image to enlarge to view inscription).

A diagram in the Israel Museum.

The above picture represents a scholarly reconstruction of how Yehohanan son of Hagkal was crucified.  Note how his arms are tied to the cross—no nails were found in his hands or wrists.  In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth’s hands were nailed to the cross—Thomas wanted to see the “mark of the nails in his hands” (John 20:25).


Revision — In a PBS program on Jesus, (aired 4 April 2017) the heel bone with nail were taken out of a small storage box located in a huge warehouse.  Thus, it does not appear that the original comment (deleted) regarding its “location” was correct.

For a convenient description of this find see pp 318–22 in Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.

The Best Rolling Stone Tomb in Israel — Khirbet Midras

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View Looking East at the Entrance to the First Century A.D. Tomb

View looking east at the entrance to the tomb. The rolling stone was 6 ft. [1.8 m.] in diameter and 1.3 ft [0.4 m.] thick. It was placed between two walls, each built of hewn stone. When discovered, it still rolled in its trough!

The tomb itself was in use during the Roman Period — up until A.D. 135.

In my estimation, it was the best example of a rolling stone tomb in the country of Israel. It seems to illustrate well passages from the Gospels which speak of Jesus’ tomb as being closed by a rolling stone. See especially Matthew 27:57-66; 28:1-2; Mark 15:42–47; 16:1–8; Luke 24:1–2, 10–11; and John 20:1, 11–18.

MidrasMap3Horvat Midras (Hebrew) or Khirbet Durusiya (Arabic) is located 19 mi. [30 km.] southwest of Jerusalem in the Shephelah. The ancient remains are spread over hundreds of dunams in the area. The site dates to the Hellenistic and Roman periods.

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View of the Courtyard of the “Rolling Stone Tomb” at Khirbet Midras—prior to its destruction

In 1976 part of the cemetery was excavated. Several tombs were uncovered, including, in my estimation, THE BEST ROLLING STONE TOMB in the country. Unfortunately in the late 1990’s the tomb site was totally destroyed by vandals!#%$@!!

BUT it has been reconstructed and is now visible in the Adullam Park!

To view 3 additional image of the tomb Click Here.

For images of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher see: Calvary and Tomb.

Click to see images of Gordon’s Calvary and the Garden Tomb.