1902 Encyclopedia > The Holy Sepulchre

The Holy Sepulchre

THE HOLY SEPULCHRE, the rock-cut tomb in which, after His crucifixion, the body of our Lord was placed. Few questions of topography have been debated with greater persistence or, in many cases, with greater bitter-ness than that of the site of this tomb. Only a brief sketch of the leading features of the controversy can be given here.

The only information on the subject to be gained from the New Testament is that the tomb was in a garden " in the place where Christ was crucified" (John xix. 41), which again was " near the city" (John xix. 20) and "without the gate" (Heb. xiii. 12), and that the watch, proceeding from the sepulchre to the chief priest's, "came into the city" (Matt, xxviii. 11). The first requisite, therefore, of any locality professing to be that of the Sepulchre is that it should, at the date of the crucifixion, have been without the Avails of Jerusalem.1

The existing church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is admitted on all hands to have occupied the same site for the last 800 years, is in the heart of the present town, 300 yards from the nearest point of the existing wall and in the immediate vicinity of the bazaars. Saewulf, writ-ing in 1102, Hildebrand of Oldenburg in 1211, and Jacobus de Vitriaco in 1220, assert that up to the time of Hadrian the site was still without the circuit of the walls. Brocardus in 1230 states that the modern walls included more in breadth than they did at the time of
Christ, and that there were even some who refused to be-lieve that the present site was the true one. Ordericus 6 in 1320 and William de Baldensel7 in 1336 corroborated Saewulf; but Baldensel adds that the sepulchre then shown was no longer the one in which the body of Christ had been laid, for that had been cut out of the solid rock, while the other was formed out of stones cemented to-gether. Gretser8 in 1598 and Qussresimus9 in 1616-25 refer to the objections started in their time by some whom the latter calls " misty Western heretics," and the difficulty was broadly enunciated by Monconys10 in 1647. It was not, however, until 1741 that the site was openly declared to be false by Korte. The attack of the latter writer was followed up in greater detail by Plessing12 in 1789, and in England by Dr Edward Clarke13 in 1810; but until the appearance of the Biblical Researches of Dr Bobinson of New York in 184114 the attention of inquirers in England and America can hardly be said to have been seriously drawn to the subject. This elaborate work called forth energetic replies from Cardinal Newman15 and Williams,16 the latter of whom subsequently republished his work in two large volumes in 1849, which, to the up-holders of tradition, may be said to occupy the same position as those of the American author to its oppo-nents. Since that date the writers on both sides have been numerous; among them may be specially noted, as im-pugning the accuracy of tradition, Fergusson, Tobler, the author of an elaborate essay in the Museum of Classical Antiquities for 1853, Barclay, Bonar, Schwartz, Sandie, and Conder ; and on the other side Lord Nugent, Schutz, Krafft, Schaffter, De Saulcy, Abbe Michon, Thrupp, De Vogue, Lewin, Pierotti, Caspari, and Sir Charles Warren.

The main question on which the dispute has turned is the circuit of the walls at the time of Christ. The city at that date was surrounded by two walls. The first or oldest began, according to Josephus, "in the north, at the tower called Hippicus, and extended to what was termed the Xystus; it then formed a junction with the council house, and terminated at the western colonnade of the temple."17 By almost all the writers on either side this northern portion of the first wall is traced along the southern side of the depression, which extends from the central valley eastwards to the Jaffa gatc.ls From some point in that northern line of wall the second wall took its departure, and of it all we are told by Josephus is that " it had its beginning at the gate called Gennath, belonging to the first wall, and reached to the Antonia, encii cling only the western quarter of the city." If this Gennath gate was near Hippicus, the line of the second wall, in order to exclude the present site, must be drawn along a route curiously unsuited, from the slope of the hill, for defensive purposes ; and that it was near Hippicus seems demonstrable from the declaration of Josephus that the city in his time was " fortified by three walls except where it was encompassed by impassable ravines1; from the absence of any record of an attack on the first wall till the second had been taken; from a variety of incidental references in the siege by Titus ; from the apparent necessity of including within its circuit the pool Amygdalon, now known as Hezekiah's Pool or Birket Hamman el-Batrak ; and from the remarkably small area which would otherwise be included by it.

Writers on both sides have pressed into their service the remains of ancient buildings found in the districts traversed by the second wall according to their respect-ive theories. It seemed doubtful, till quite recently, if any sound argument could be based on these, the ruins being too fragmentary and occurring in too many different quarters to warrant any positive identification with a line of fortification as distinguished from other edifices. But in the summer of 1885 a stretch of ancient wall 40 or 50 yards in length was disinterred, running northwards from the open space within the Jaffa gate to the west of Heze-kiah's pool, which certainly, as figured in the January number of the Quarterly Reports of the Palestine Explora-tion Fund, seems to go a long way to settle the question against the genuineness of the existing site.

Considerable stress has been laid by some writers on the existence of ancient J ewish sepulchres, of a date apparently anterior to the Christian era, in the rock on which the present church is built, as proving that that rock could not have been within the circuit of the walls, inasmuch as it is alleged " the Jews never buried within their towns." There is, however, no trace in the historical books of the Bible of any aversion on the part of the Jews to intra-mural interment. Whatever width of interpretation may be given to the recorded burial of eleven of the kings of Judah "in the city of David," the phrase can hardly be held to prove that such burial-place was without the walls ; while 2 Chron. xxviii. 27 and xxxiii. 20 seem to point very strongly in the opposite direction. Joab also, we are told, was buried " in his own house in the wilderness," and Samuel "in his house at Ramah." B But the most striking case of all is Hebron, where in the midst of the city are found the jealously guarded walls which enclose the cave of Machpelah. If, then, these tombs arc older than the time of Christ, there seems little difficulty in crediting that they might have been included within the second wall. We know for a certainty that they were within the third. The curious point rather is that their existence in the rock may be used as a strong argument against the site, for, speaking of the disinterment of the rock of the sepulchre from the accumulated soil heaped over it by the Romans, Eusebius impresses on us the fact that there was " only one cave within it, lest, had there been many, the miracle of Him who overthrew death should have been obscured."

One argument remained which, at least up to 1847, it seemed difficult for the impugners of the orthodox site to meet, namely,—Was it at all probable that Constantino should have been deceived, either by erroneous inference or by wilful misrepresentation, when in 325 he erected a monumental church over what was then believed to be the holy tomb 1 Apart from the consideration that of all localities this seemed to be the least likely to pass from the memory of the Christian church,8 its exact position had been in a manner identified by the existence on the rock of Golgotha of a temple or statue of Venus, and on the site of the resurrection of a statue of Jupiter erected by Hadrian in the 2d century ; and the fact remains that on the superincumbent rubbish being cleared away by the orders of Constantine a cave was discovered, which it seems difficult, even were we willing with Taylor9 to impute deliberate fraud to the existing bishop of Jerusalem, to believe could have been previously prepared beneath a heathen shrine, and in the midst of a population of pagans and of Jews.10

In 1847 Fergusson, in his Essay on the Ancient Topography of Jerusalem, attempted to show that Constantine had built his memorial church on another site altogether, and that it was still existing under another name. On the eastern hill of the city, in the sacred Mohammedan enclosure of the Haram-es-Shcrif, and on a spot generally considered to have formed part of the temple area, stands the magnificent octagonal building called the Dome of the Rock, usually but erroneously believed to have been erected by the caliph 'Omar, and so popularly known as the mosque of 'Omar. The jealousy of the Moslems had, with rare exceptions, prevented up to quite recent times the intrusion of Christians within its sacred precincts, but it was known to have been erected over a large mass of native rock rising above the surface of the ground and having a cave within it. A section of the building, very roughly executed, was given in the Travels of Ali Bey, published in 1816 (vol. ii. p. 71); but in 1833 Mr. Cother-wood, under the pretext of being a civil engineer in the employment of Mchemet Ali, and of examining into the structural condition of the building with a view to its repair, spent three weeks in examining it and its sur-roundings, of which he made elaborate drawings and sections, A general account of his investigations and their results, published in W. H. Bartlett's Walks about the City and Environs of Jerusalem (p. 148), led to Fergusson's getting access to those drawings, which confirmed him in the belief he had already begun to entertain from other sources, that the Dome of the Rock was originally a Chris-tian edifice; and in the essay referred to he argued at great length and with much vigour on both architectural and historical grounds that it and the Golden Gateway— a walled-up entrance to the Haram from the east—were built in the time of Constantino ; that the former was the church of the Anastasis, erected by that emperor over the tomb of our Lord, and the latter the entrance to the atrium of the great basilica described by Eusebius as immediately adjoining ; and that the transference of the site from the eastern to the western hill took place some-where about the commencement of the 11th century, when, in consequence of the invasion of the Turks, the Christians were driven from the former hill for a time. This work was followed up by his article "Jerusalem" in Smith's Dictionary of the Bible and by several minor pub-lications : and the whole question was, with some modifi-cations, re-argued by him at great length in The Temples of the Jews and the other Buildings in the Haram Area at Jerusalem in 1878.

Though at first Fergusson's essay seemed to fall dead, it inaugurated a discussion which has within the last twenty years been carried on with much keenness. His views have been supported on architectural grounds by tjnger,2 and on general grounds by Sandie,8 Smith,4 and Langlois,5 while among the multitude of his opponents may be specially noted Williams,6 Lewin,7 the Abbé Michon,s De Vogué,9 Pierotti,10 Sir Charles Warren, and Captain Conder.12

The architectural arguments in favour of Fergusson's theory have forced Lewin, one of his most strenuous opponents, to argue that the Dome of the Rock may have been a temple to Jupiter erected by Hadrian, wdiich he imagines may have been restored or rebuilt by Maximin Daza, the successor of Diocletian.13 But they must be studied in Fergusson's own works or in that of TJnger above referred to. The topographical objections are mainly founded on the necessity of restricting the Jewish, temple to the south-eastern corner of the Harâm, the site, how-ever, assigned to it by Lewin himself and Thrupp,14 and on the difficulty of supposing a place of interment so near the sacred building. But Josephus, at the time of the siege, speaks of "the monuments of King Alexander," whatever that may mean, existing just over against or in front of the north colonnade of the temple.15

As regards the historical argument, it would certainly appear that up to the close of the 6th century the balance of evidence is in favour of the eastern site. The narrative of the Pilgrim of Bordeaux16 may perhaps be read as sup-porting either view. But Antoninus Martyr17 and Theo-dosiusls can hardly be reconciled with the existing location ; in two manuscripts of the latter19 the writer believed that the same hill witnessed in succession the offering of Isaac, the vision of the angel at Araunah's threshing-floor, the building of the temple, and the death and resurrection of our Lord. Many more passages might be quoted from writers of this period testifying to the belief that the hill that witnessed the offering of Isaac witnessed also the resurrection of Christ, and many others identifying the scene of the offering of Isaac with the hill on which the temple was built. Perhaps the strongest point in this connexion against Fergusson is that so striking a fact as the identity of the hill of the Passion with that on part of which the temple stood should only be directly spoken to by a single writer. After the 9th century the historical evidence becomes more difficult to interpret. Fergusson would date the transference of the site about 1000 ; but it seems clear from Istakhri (978) 20 and Mokaddasi (987),21 both of whom were unknown to him, that before their days the Dome of the Rock was a Mohammedan place of worship, and the latter expressly states that it was suggested by a great Christian church.22 The natural date to assign for such a transference would be about 614, when the city was captured by the Persians, and, to quote the carefully guarded narrative of Gibbon, " the sepulchre of Christ and the stately churches of Helena and Constantine were con-sumed, or at least damaged, by the flames." The buildings were repaired or rebuilt by Modestus a few years later, and their praises are sung by Sophronius, his successor in the patriarchate, but in terms which give little topographical information. Sophronius lived to see the capture of the city by 'Omar in 636, the earliest records of whose doings as yet available are the brief one of Theophanes (818) and the more lengthened one of Eutychius (937). From both of these it seems clear that the caliph confirmed the Chris-tians in the possession of the sites (whatever these might be) which he found in their hands. In or about 670 the French bishop Arculph visited Jerusalem, and under the hand of Adamnanus we have a detailed account taken down from his lips,23 and a plan of the church of the Besurrec-tion as he saw it, which strikingly corresponds to the Dome of the Bock,—as, however, it necessarily would correspond with any church which had been erected in close imitation of that building.24 There are passages, however, in Arculph descriptive of the city very difficult to understand unless on the assumption that the transference of Sion, which had hitherto (see JERUSALEM) been identified with the eastern hill, had already in his time taken place. The next pil-grim who has left us a record is Willibald,25 who visited the city early in the 8th century, and wdiose description applies on the whole better to the western than the eastern site;

but, on the other hand, that of Bernard, who travelled about 870, applies better to the eastern than to the western. If the transference can be supposed to have taken place at the time of the Persian invasion, one of the main difficul-ties in the adoption of Fergusson's theory will be greatly lessened, for the intervening period of more than 450 years would go far to explain how the crusaders, on gaining possession of the city in 1099, failed to make it their first business to revert to the original site. On the whole, the question is one which can hardly be satisfactorily deter-mined until the Arabic authorities on the subject have been duly scrutinized, and as yet we have practically access to none earlier than the two above referred to.

Within the last few years a third locality has been suggested. In 1878 Captain Conder, in his Tent Work in Palestine (i. pp. 372-376), expressed a strong conviction that the real site was to be found on a rocky knoll outside the northern wall, and close to the cave known as "Jeremiah's Grotto." He argued that not only did this locality meet the requirements of the Gospel narratives, being outside the city and near one of the great roads leading from the country, but that in this direction lay " the great ceme- tery of Jewish times" as testified by " the sepulchre of Simon the Just preserved by Jewish tradition," and the monument of Helena " fitted with a rolling stone such as closed the mouth of the Holy Sepulchre." Here also by early Christian tradition had been the scene of the martyrdom of Stephen, which doubtless occurred at the place of public execution, and to this day, according to Dr Chaplin, the Jews designate the knoll " by the name Beth has-Sekilah, ' the place of stoning' (domus lapidationis), and state it to be the ancient place of public execution mentioned in the Mishnah." The hill itself -appears to present a striking resemblance to a human skull, and so to associate itself with the word " Golgotha." The adoption of this site by Dr Chaplin, the Bev. S. Merrill, Schick, and perhaps especially the late General Gordon, has aided in giving it a considerable popularity. It is, however, a purely conjectural location, and involves the assumption that all the Christian writers from the 4th century down- wards, as well as the mother of Constantine, were in error as to the real site. (A. B. M'G.)


1 Bell. J ml., v. 4, 1.

6 1 Kings ii. 34. 6 1 Samuel xxv. 1.

-° Bibl. Geog. Arab., ed. De Goeje, Leyden, 1870-71, i. p. 56 sq.

21 lb., iii. p. 165 sq.

22 lb., hi. p. 159.

23 Jtin. Lat. (Soc. de l'Or. Lat.), 1879, i. pp. 141-202.

24 The view that at the time when Arculph wrote the Dome of the Rock was in the hands of the Mohammedans seems strengthened by the well-known Cufic inscription which still runs round the colonnade of that building, and a complete translation of which by the late Professor Palmer will be found in the Quarterly Report of the Palestine Exploration Fund (1871, p. 164) and Fergusson's Temples of the Jews (p. 269). In it the construction of the dome of the building is dated 72 A. H. (691), but the name of the builder, which clearly was Abd-el- Melek in the original, has been erased and that of Abdallah el-Mamun (198 A.II. ; 813) fraudulently substituted, " the short-sighted forger," as Palmer calls him, having omitted to change the date as well as the name. In this inscription there is very special mention made of our Saviour, and in a way which seems inexplicable unless the building on which it was inscribed had been, in the mind of the writer, associated in some important respects with the history of Jesus. And the tradi- tion that it was so continued long after ; for we find Theoderic so late as 1176 writing of it, "Hoc templum, quod nunc videtur, ad honorem Domini nostri Jesu Christi ejusque pise genetricis ab Helena regina et ejus illio, imperatore Constantino, constructum est" (ed. Tobler, St Gall, 1865, p. 46). Fergusson believes this inscription to have been written ill the 12th century, but is obliged to admit that the alphabet employed is identical with that found on the coins of Abd-el-Melek (Temples of the Jeu-s, p. 24). A facsimile of the sentence containing the date ami the forgery will bo found in the Rev. Isaac Taylor's The Alphabet (London, 1883. i. p. 322). Itin. Lat. (Soc. de l'Or. Lat.), 1879, i. pp. 214-297.

The above article was written by: A. B. McGrigor, LL.D.

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