Throughout the course of history, religious leaders have met untimely deaths. No one escapes the grave. Abraham is dead. Buddha is dead. So too Confucius and Mohammed. But only the tomb of Christ is empty.
Over the years, there have been claims to have discovered the tomb of Jesus with his bones still in it. In 1935, Kiyomaro Takeuchi claimed to have discovered a 1,900-year-old document locating the tomb of Jesus in Herai Village in Aomori district of Japan. The Ahmadiyya Muslims, a 19th century rationalist Islamic sect, claim they have the tomb of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir, India.
Most recently, on 26 February 2007, the Discovery Channel held a news conference in New York to unveil the TV documentary 'The Lost Tomb of Jesus' by James Cameron.
The evidence that Cameron presented in his documentary was not new.The tomb he examined was already discovered in 1980 in the Jerusalem suburb of Talpiot. In fact, the BBC aired a documentary on the subject in 1996.The vast majority of archaeologists disputed the claim.
Responsible scholarship would have placed the claims about the tomb of Jesus and his family in the hands of fellow archaeologists for scientific review before going so public. Meanwhile the Christian faith has nothing to fear from any archaeological discoveries.
Faith and reason are not at odds.The desire for the truth is part of human nature itself. Whatever science uncovers by its legitimate methodology can be a benefit to reason in the search for truth.
To claim to have discovered the bones of Jesus is simply to say that the Christian religion is based on a lie.The Christian faith falls or stands on the truth that Christ has been raised from the dead. His tomb is empty. He lives.No other religion makes this claim.
Pilgrims to the Holy Land have as the high point of their journey of faith a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This sacred place once held the lifeless body of Jesus who rose from the dead.
What modern pilgrims see is not what they expected. But what they are looking for is right before them. Archaeology has uncovered the layers of history that have encrusted this place so sacred to Christian faith. Archaeology provides a great service to faith at the tomb of Jesus for serious scientific work done over 60 years pulls back the veil of history and sheds light on the central belief of the Christian faith.
When Constantine's engineers came to fourth century Jerusalem, they wanted to find the place of the Crucifixion and burial of Jesus. Local residents pointed to an old Roman temple.Under it, they said, was the tomb of Jesus. And they were sure of this.
In 135 AD, the Jews had revolted against Rome under Bar-Kokhba, who claimed to be the Messiah.The Roman legions completely smashed the uprising. A second time since 70 AD, Jerusalem was once again destroyed. The Roman Emperor Hadrian then built a new city over the ruins of the old.He named it 'Aelia Capitolina.'
When Constantine legalised Christianity, he began to build churches in the Holy Land over places important to the life of Jesus. He built a church at Bethlehem where Jesus was born. He built another on the Mount of Olives where Jesus ascended into the heavens. And, over the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, he built a shrine complex composed of a basilica known as the 'Martyrium,' a rotunda over Jesus' tomb called the 'Anastasis,' and a chapel on Calvary.
On the very places where the events took place, pilgrims could now celebrate their faith and, through the liturgy, enter the very mysteries they were celebrating. However, what Constantine did was not new. He merely made legal what Christians had done immediately following the Resurrection of Jesus.
The record of what the very first followers of Jesus did right from the first Easter morning is found embedded in our Gospels.The Gospel narratives of Easter morning contain more than the historical fact that Mary Magdalene, the other women, and Peter and John, visited the tomb and found it empty. These narratives tell us what happened. But they also reveal what continued to happen at the tomb.
In the first century, pious Jews would visit the tombs of their rabbis. They would keep their memory alive and offer prayers at their graves. No doubt the first Christians did the same. But they did so with a greater faith and unbound joy. The tomb they visited was empty. Jesus had been raised from the dead.
What a gift this is to us. It evidences how important this precise spot was for the early Christians.The body of Jesus was not removed to some other grave. In fact, right from the beginning, Christians kept returning to the empty tomb to celebrate the Resurrection.
Jesus has been raised from the dead. This most profound truth transforms our world and lifts us up to God.
The above edited text from two related columns by Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli of Paterson, New Jersey, is reprinted with the permission of 'The Beacon', newspaper of the Diocese of Paterson, in which these columns were first published.