The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a Christian shrine and church in Jerusalem. Situated in the northwest quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, the Church is built on the purported site of Jesus’ burial. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was first built by Emperor Constantine in the 4th century, and was later expanded to encompass the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Though multiple Christian faith traditions recognize the site of the Church as the site of Jesus’ tomb, and have done so since the 4th century, this claim is debated.  Attempts to trace the provenance of the site back to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, as recorded in the Bible, is met with several challenges.

Historical Challenges

The historian Eusebius, a contemporary of Constantine, recorded that the site was previously the location of a temple to the Roman goddess Venus, built by Emperor Hadrian c. AD 130 in order to obscure the burial place of Jesus. Prior to Hadrian’s arrival and rebuilding of Jerusalem, the city had been in ruins since it was destroyed by Rome in AD 70, during the First Jewish Revolt.  By the time of the revolt, members of the Christian church in Jerusalem had already fled the city in AD 66.

Archaeological Challenges

In 1893 archaeologists, excavating around the site, determined the Church’s location to be inside the north wall of Old City. This find is not consistent with the Biblical account that Jesus was crucified and buried in a garden outside of the city (John 19:20, 41-42).  However more recent archaeological study has determined that this wall was too small to have been part of a city wall, and was likely built in the 4th century.  Furthermore, archaeological remains along the east and south sides of the shrine have been interpreted as the original city walls.

Competing Claims

Two alternate sites have been suggested as possible locations of Jesus’ tomb, though neither provides a body of evidence as robust as that of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  The Garden Tomb, discovered in 1867, is a rock cut tomb in Jerusalem; however, archaeologists date this tomb to the 7th century BC. The Talpiot Tomb, discovered several miles outside of Jerusalem in 1980, was the subject of a 2007 documentary, and has largely been dismissed by serious scholars as the burial place of Jesus.

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