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The empty tomb: archaeology and the ancient record

The empty tomb: archaeology and the ancient record

Apr 14, 2017

Editor's Note: Gary D. Myers is the director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a master of arts student in biblical archaeology who has participated in archaeological excavations at Tel Gezer and Palmachim.

JERUSALEM (BP) – The thought of Jesus stepping out of the tomb on the first Easter morning is simply overwhelming. His atoning death was magnified by the miracle of His resurrection.

While the cross remains the undisputed symbol of Christianity, the empty tomb conveys the abundant life found in Christ. Just imagine seeing the empty tomb as it was that day.

As a believer, I have experienced the power of Jesus' cross and His empty tomb. I don't need to see the tomb to experience its power while, as a student of the Bible and archaeology, I am compelled to learn as much as I can about the setting in which the Bible was written. Seeing the empty tomb is an exciting thought.

Archaeology offers a wealth of contextual information about biblical places, events and people. However, archaeology rarely offers proofs. Such is the case with Jesus' tomb. Archaeology alone cannot lead to the tomb. It is not as simple as locating an empty tomb. Many empty tombs dot the landscape around Jerusalem -- emptied by the ravages of time and human raiders.

With these limitations in mind, what can one learn from archaeology regarding the tomb of Jesus? It turns out, quite a bit. With a little help from early church writers, the chances of identifying the location of Jesus' tomb rise significantly.

First and foremost, archaeology confirms that the Bible gives an accurate, though not exhaustive, description of a first century tomb. The accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke describe a tomb cut from rock with a stone to cover the opening. John implies the visitors to the tomb had to stoop down to enter (John 20:5, 11). Matthew ( Matthew 27:60), Luke (Luke 23:53) and John (John 19:41) make it clear that the tomb was new and had not been used for other burials. This is an important distinction because tombs often included multiple burials (family tombs) and, at times, tombs from previous periods were reused.

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