Investigating Jerusalem (part 3 of 3).


After my visit to the Crusader church dedicated to St. Anne on the morning of the 8th of September 2015, (the Festival of the Birth of Mary the Immaculate)(1), I made my way up to the north wall of the old City of Jerusalem in order to visit the now famous “English Garden Tomb”. The Tomb lies beneath a rocky promontory, once traditionally called the “Skull''. The site is just a stone’s throw north of the |Damascus Gate, but because some buildings have been erected between the Gate and the layered quartz escarpment in which the Tomb was found, the Skull mound is no longer visible from the Gate. The Tomb and its garden is now a quiet verdant setting in which a rock-carved Burial chamber of the 1st century lies exposed. As was mentioned earlier, the Tomb was unearthed in the late 19th Century and commonly known as “Gordon’s Calvary”.

Some years after the 1st World War, several small funded excavations by the “English Garden Tomb Association” continued to clear away the years of debris from the Tomb doorstep until the original uncut bedrock floor was uncovered for over 50 yards in front of the Tomb. This area was then laid out as part of the Garden site found there today. In this Garden, the conservationists also uncovered the remains of a winepress and what was at first thought to be a ‘well mouth’, which was covered by a millstone. The millstone sealed what was an entrance down into a vast purposely carved and smoothly plastered, underground Cistern, over 20 foot deep and 30 foot wide, with a length of over 100 feet. Its rocky base showed seismic cracks, which rendered the cistern dry of any water storage for centuries. It was estimated to have once held at least 120 thousand gallons and it also showed signs of having been used as a church long ago, with metal Greek crosses struck into the Cistern's northern wall. It has to be remembered that the Greek Byzantine Christian settlement in Jerusalem, ran unchallenged from the late 4th century up to 7th century until the devastating Persian sacking of the Christianised City.

Because it is of relatively recent discovery in respect of the antiquity of other City sites around Jerusalem, the Tomb strongly represents a pristine and visible relic of a New Testament Jewish burial chamber. This is notwithstanding the thinking of a number of researchers however, who consider that the rock cut tomb is actually hundreds of years earlier than the Herodian period. Such comments did not dissuade me from my own opinion that, as Archaeology is in no way an exact science as yet, there are far too many circumstantial considerations for people to ignore the preferred date for the site outright. For example, the Tomb is of a unique type and most likely carved in the Roman period. Also, as far as I know, no oxidation analysis of cut rock has yet been tried on the site to indicate a clear construction date. The Tomb bears all the marks, in its size, of being a private Commission. It is approximately the size of a box room, some 8 x 8 x 12 feet, which is too small to be anything but a singular person’s burial chamber, also indicating that it was especially ordered to be made by and for, a rich person (Isaiah Ch.59, v.9). It was therefore never a family tomb, having only the one chamber with one body-length cut rock slab and a small shelf at either end, all shaped out of the living rock. The location and seating space eminently suit the details mentioned in chapter 19, verses 41 & 42, and also verse 12 of chapter 20, of St. John's Gospel. These verses clearly indicate that Christ's Tomb “lay close-by'' the place of his execution and so it is, that the English Garden Tomb lies closer to the mound called the “Skull” than any other tomb in the area. Furthermore, all the other nearby tombs have multiple chambers with several body slabs.

So, standing in the Garden by the rock cut Tomb, the Christian, particularly the Protestant pilgrim, can experience in simple faith, what the real site of “Calvary'' might have looked like. The site creates for them, in however theatrical a fashion, a deep impression on the psyche, by which the pilgrim can envisage and correspond with all the details described in the Gospels concerning the Crucifixion.

As a result of the English Garden Tomb's unique site, type and discovery, its growing fame raises for people like myself some serious questions about the other calls for the true site of Calvary, which is the main claim of the Holy Sepulcher Church. That ancient site however, is situated inside the old City walls, thus exposing the first of a number of objections to its claims to fame. As mentioned earlier, many scholars were convinced, long before the Garden Tomb was uncovered, that the Holy Sepulcher Church was not sited correctly to indicate that it covered Calvary. It was not outside the ancient City walls, as Scripture indicates. Doubts first arose when the Synoptic Evangelists told us that “He went out carrying his cross'. It is not clear if “out” means just making a journey away from the place of Judgment, or that a journey was made to a place outside the City walls! However, Matthew writes in Chapter 28 v 11, that some of the Watchmen set over the Tomb “came into the City and showed the Chief priests all the things that were done'' concerning the burial and disappearance of the body of Jesus on the day of the Resurrection. Whereas John, who asserts that he was a witness to the Golgotha events, writes in Chapter 19. v19-20, that Pilate ordered a “Title of Sentence'' to be placed on the cross, with the intent that this Title, or “Epigraph' with the text :”Isois o Nazaraios o Basileus ton Iohedaion”, which was purposely written in Greek, Latin and Hebrew, so that it would be read by “many of the (passing) Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified lay near the city”. For me, this could only be on a high spot, by a busy roadside, which can only be found outside a main City gate. The operative word here is “busy” and the Damascus gate fits the bill much more so than any other gate in the City walls.

For greater clarity I also believed that a quick tour of the City Gates, incorporating their history, their use and geophysical orientation, would give the ‘visitor’ a better overview of the importance that the Gates had and still have in the layout of Old Jerusalem. I decided to start with the greatest of these, namely the Damascus Gate. It is said that if the ‘visitor’ wishes to “meet the whole world” they must meet at the Damascus Gate. The battlemented caramel-coloured stone of the present Damascus Gate, which bedecks the northern wall the City, was erected at the time of Suliman the Magnificent (circa 1534). Following recent excavations beneath the Bastion towers flanking the Gate, there are several Roman arches now exposed to view. It was obviously the main gateway into the New City ordered to be built for the Roman Emperor Hadrian (circa 130 AD). (2) At the Gate, the visitor can envisage that, at the foot of these arches, the original Roman road surface now some 15 feet below the present Damascus Gate, ran straight uphill from the Gate running north-by-north-west. This Road would have passed within a few yards of the very noticeable Mound, which we now know as the “Skull” or “Gordon's Calvary” and it would climb up to it as a l-in-25 foot gradient for over half a mile. That is from a 2450 ft. contour at the base of the old Gate to the 2550 ft. contour which presently tops the |”Skull” on the escarpment. No other Gate offers this vista!

Other excavations around the arches exposed an earlier northern wall, constructed under Herod Agrippa (circa 40 AD). He is reputed to have strengthened an original Northern wall and built a small exit named Herod’s Gate. That Gate, though very narrow, is still in use today and is some 400 yards east of the Damascus Gate. This was the son of Herod the Great before whom Christ was interrogated and he was the last Herod to stay in favour with Rome.

This reminded me that trouble first broke out in Judea about the time that Nero died (66 AD) and Vespasian, who returned from Dorset in Britain and eventually became Emperor, instructed his son Titus to put down the Judean zealots. After a long siege and destruction of the City by Titus in 70 AD, there followed over 50 years of unrest in Judea whilst Rome lost thousands of Legionaries there in constant guerilla warfare. Finally, after the Warrior Emperor Trajan had followed Titus and his brother Domitian (81 – 96 AD) to the throne, he went on to nominate his cousin Hadrian as his successor. Hadrian was then ordered to Judea and came as Emperor with Legions from as far away as Britain, yet again! He waged an ultimate war against the whole Jewish nation. As a mark of his 'Triumph' over the last of the zealots and their ruthless rebel leader Simon Ben Kokebah, Hadrian had a magnificent city built on the untouched ruins left by Titus.

Hadrian was famous for his interest in Classical Architecture and had studied the encyclopedic work of Vitruvius (circa 20 AD), the Father of “Sacred Measure' . The plans for the City, would have been drawn up in detail by City planners or Auguries, (Urbs terebratis formatans). This type of planning was an old Etruscan tradition and much used by Roman architects to honour the Gods, Heroes and conquerors. All of the planning for the Roman Victors’ City would have been inspired by this Tradition. Hadrian called this new City “Colonia Aelia Capitalina” (Aleia being Hadrian's first name). In the street plan of the City today, one can sill trace in the layout of the streets, the pattern of a double Pentacle, which is the main symbol of the goddess Venus, to whom Hadrian had dedicated his life. Noticeably, the exact centre of the Pentacle plan was reputed to have once been an ancient glace of worship, (nothing to do with the ‘messianic’ cult which was unknown to Hadrian). But, it was so auspiciously marked, that he there sited a magnificent temple to Venus in 135 AD. Hadrian also had a temple erected to Jupiter on the Temple mount. This City Project was for Hadrian the zenith of his triumph and outranked the fame of the great wall being built in Britain at the same time.

The destruction of the Biblical City by Titus, that is, the City once familiar to Jesus and his Apostles, was the climax to that 1st dreadful war started by zealots. The historian Josephus, who was a Jewish priest that had joined Hadrian's court as a Jewish advisor, recorded the story of the Titus destruction in some gruesome detail, an event ascribed to the prophesies of Jesus Himself, as recorded by the Gospel writers (Matt. Ch. 24 v 2). It was also Hadrian, who after his victorious annihilation of the rebellious Jewish nationalists, removed the name ‘Judea’ from the maps forever. He then had the country named ‘Philistina' (Palestine). This remained the most common name for that part of the Levant until after World War 2. In order to stop any further revolt Hadrian continued to stamp out every Jewish settlement and prohibited all Judeans from living anywhere in the land of Palestine, a ban that lasted for hundreds of years and gave birth to the notions of the 'Diaspora' and the ‘wandering Jew’. In the light of this reflection on the troubled history of Jerusalem in the first few centuries of the Christian era, any sites of importance to 'Judaism', up to and including places of importance for the early Apostles and followers of Christ would have easily been forgotten and their identity lost in the rubble of the City ruins. Even the exact location of Herod's Temple on the Temple Mount is only guessed at today. Furthermore there was a permanent military encampment for 3 occupying Legions, over 20 thousand men, established inside the City walls. In that 50 year period no rebuilding or resettlement was allowed in the old City. The camp was finally dismantled for Hadrian's new city to spring up. Meanwhile small groups of messianic Jews had to move away to the East of the Jordan and thereby integrate with the foreign Diaspora. These left a few written traces here and there of their memories.

One such group settled just south east of Galilee, in a village called Pella, named after Pella in Macedonia, where Alexander was born. The Pella group was reputed to have been the first Romanised Christians to resettle in Hadrian’s new City. Another Jewish-Christian community left a permanent memory of the City plan on a mosaic floor in a Byzantine church in Madaba, east of Amman in Jordan. This was only uncovered in 1896. However, the floor was possibly laid as late as 570 AD.(3) The mosaic tiled floor shows that the fulcrum of the whole City scheme was the grand entry of the Great Northern Road into “Aleia Capitalina'' which went through the Damascus Gate. Inside the Damascus Gate, Hadrian had a very large ''Plaza'' built and at the centre of the ''Plaza'' he had a ''Triumphal Pillar'' erected. This pillar probably imitated that of his predecessor Trajan, who erected his famous column in Rome. One supposes that Hadrian's pillar had sculpted battle scenes, winding up its 100 ft. height, just like Trajan's monument. Furthermore, the pillar must have stood for a long time by the Damascus Gate, because almost 1000 years after the pillar's erection, the Crusaders called its stump, ''St. Stephens Pillar'. Like Titus, the Crusaders in 1099, also broke into Jerusalem at Herod’s Gate, an obvious weak spot in the ancient walls.

As seen on the mosaic, the layout for Hadrian's new City can still be traced where, some 50 yards inside the Damascus Gate and where Hadrian's Column once stood, the Damascus Road fans out into 3 lanes, left and right of the main road. The lanes were purposely angled at 36 degrees from each other and met at the Pillar forming the apex of the planned Pentacle or 5 pointed star. The central road, called by the Romans the ''Cardo Maximus'' was laid out exactly on the North to South Pole star axis. The Cardo, short for via Cardinalis, the Arabs labeled ''Tarik Bab al Amoud', where Tarik refers to a street, Bab to a gate, and Amoud to a Pillar. The Cardo retains the name ''Damascus Street'' and seems to end, on the Mosaic, at a gate that must have been set in an earlier southern City wall. A wall that is not defined on the Mosaic, but must have run East to West, from the Citadel near the Jaffa Gate to the southern wall of the Temple Mount. That is, at the foot of the Al Aksa Mosque where parts of that wall still exits.

Accordingly, the original Cardo was about 730 yards in length. To the West of its central point, (365 yards from the Pillar), Hadrian established his Venus Temple, supplying it with lifelong benefices, Priests and its Vestal convent. This pagan institution continued to function until the time of Constantine, over 200 years later. It was on top of this very site that the Christians had Constantine build the Holy Sepulcher Church!

(1) The Significance of Mary as a Maid, not yet mature enough for Marriage, being addressed as Blessed or ''Gratia plena'' in conceiving the ''Messiah' has timeless implications for all of History.
(2) Photos of the Damascus Gate - Old Gate by courtesy of Wikipedia. Photo by self.
(3) Madaba Mosaic - showing the Pillar (North), the Typropean Road, the Sheep Gate (East) with Church of St. Anne on left (Probaticum).



This is the final part.