(We’re big Billy Joel fans around here. Can you tell?)
The lovely Isra over at The Frugalette has started a year-long challenge to get happy in a variety of creative ways that cost little or nothing. This week’s challenge has to do with going some place out of the ordinary, so girly-girl Isra packed up the whole family and took them to… an auto show. (Awesome!)
I actually spend a lot of time going to out-of-the-ordinary places. It’s one of my favorite things to do; taking different routes, wandering around odd corners of this incredible city, getting lost on purpose… But after a while, you get to the point where, no matter how amazing the city you live in, there is no place that is out of the ordinary. Where do you go when you are familiar with churches, mosques and synagogues? When you have been to museums that are brand new and archaeological sites that are millenia old? When people are just as likely to see you munching on bourekas in the Jewish Quarter as falafel in the Muslim Quarter, lamb meatballs in the Armenian Quarter or pizza in the Christian Quarter?
I go everywhere. So when out-of-the-ordinary is actually, well, ordinary, where does one go?
So I went to a place that I have long discounted as not worth seeing because it is (most likely) not what it claims to be…
The Garden Tomb is an alternative possible site of the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is located just outside the Old City, not far from Damascus Gate. Numerous scholars have proved again and again that there is no way it could be the real site, and that the real site is almost certainly the Holy Sepulchre, an eons-old church covered with layer upon layer of history and candle soot. The location of the Holy Sepulchre, which is currently in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, was outside the city walls at the time of Jesus and has been venerated since ancient times as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection. Unfortunately, though, the Holy Sepulchre is also loud, crowded, and dirty, and six Christian factions (Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and, to a lesser extent, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, and Assyrian Orthodox) that “share” the church are constantly vying for power in a variety of un-Christian ways. It is hard to have any sort of spiritual experience in this place that should be the most spiritual place on earth for a Christian; you are constantly herded around and snapped at by grumpy Greek Orthodox monks, when you’re not being jostled around by the organized groups (nice oxymoron there) of thousands of foreign tourists who are really just wondering when and where lunch will be. The actual empty tomb of Jesus in the Holy Sepulchre was destroyed by invaders centuries ago. Only the floor remains, and the space is protected by a marble edicule placed there just a few hundred years ago. On a good day it will take at least 30 minutes of waiting in line to get inside the edicule, to be in the space, if not in the actual tomb. The church also contains the entire hill of Calvary, which is only accessible through a baseball-sized hole under a Greek Orthodox altar. One can kneel under the altar and touch the hill through the hole, but there isn’t even time for a quick Glory Be prayer before a grumpy monk will start shouting at you in Greek to keep the line moving.
I have heard it said that though the Garden Tomb is not the actual place, it almost makes you wish it were, because it is so quiet and peaceful. You can actually hear yourself think. You can actually take time to pray. You can picture what it was actually like on that fateful Sunday when the women arrived and found it empty. The scene is more authentic, even if the place itself is not.
The tomb itself is most likely from several centuries before Christ, and was severely damaged in an earthquake centuries later, after which it was repaired with the small stone wall you see in the photos (to my right in the photo above).
The small window up high could be a window through which they once believed the soul would depart the body three days after death. (This could be one reason why Jesus waited until after the third day to raise Lazarus from the dead; He was proving to the onlookers that the guy was good and dead by the time He came along.)
The tomb, as mentioned in the Bible, is hewn from rock rather than a naturally occurring cave.
A Byzantine-era cross on the wall (currently covered in plaster to protect it and re-painted for reference) shows that this could have been a holy site to early Christians. (It could also have simply been re-used as a Byzantine-era tomb.)
There is no conclusive evidence of this place being a venerated site any time before the 19th century, when a group of Anglican Protestants, led by Major-General Charles George Gordon, grew tired of the politics of the Holy Sepulchre and the general exclusion of Protestants from any interest at all in the site, and chose to look elsewhere for an alternate site. After its discovery, the Anglican church at the time enthusiastically and officially threw its support behind the site, but in time withdrew it after further study revealed it to be not quite right. The site is now overseen by a private non-profit, and thousands of Christians continue to venerate the site each year. However, most of the arguments for the validity of the site are a stretch at best.
For instance, the first part of the site found by Gordon was the hill of Calvary, which is called Golgotha in the Bible and means “skull” in Aramaic. At the time of Jesus, they called the Hill of Calvary “The Place of the Skull.” Gordon found a rock outcropping with sunken circular holes above protruding rows of vertical layered rocks, resembling eye sockets above rows of teeth. He remarked on the rock formation’s resemblance to a skull and began looking in the area for a rock-hewn tomb matching the description of Jesus’.
Here is a picture of Skull Hill:
As you can see, it’s interesting, but a bit of a stretch. Perhaps this will help:
Much later, they excavated this first-century wine press not far from the tomb, lending credence to the theory that this was, in fact, a rich man’s garden at the time of Jesus, and so fits with the biblical account of Jesus being buried in Joseph of Arimethea’s garden after the crucifixion.
Between Skull Hill and the tomb, they have a lovely well-kept garden to emulate the garden at Jesus’ time.
It is a quiet and peaceful oasis in a hectic part of the city, and a gorgeous place to spend a quiet afternoon, especially on a lovely, warm, clear day following the horrible weather we’ve had in past weeks.
It is a wonderful place to retreat from the chaos, to pray and commune with nature, and to picture the events of that Sunday.
Heartbroken and hopeless, the women walked through a garden like this one, to a tomb like this one, and they were terrified to see the tomb open with an angel sitting outside.
“Do not be afraid!” the angel said. “I know that you are seeking Jesus the crucified. He is not here, for He has been raised, just as He said.” – Matthew 28
And, as a bonus… I missed last week’s challenge, which was actually the first one in the series. The challenge was to focus on relationships, which Isra did by spending quality time playing hide-and-seek and tea party with one of her adorable little ones. Since I’m far away from a lot of the people I hold dear, I spent some “quality time” with them by writing a stack of letters to some dear friends and family members that I know would love to get some mail!