Friday, July 25, 2008

What Did Calvary Look Like? An Interview with Leen Ritmeyer

Justin Taylor @ gives some background on the forthcoming ESV Study Bible
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ was crucified on a Friday after Passover (probably in April of 33 A.D.) at “Golgotha” (Aramaic for “Place of a Skull”; the Latin Vulgate translated it as “Calvary”). After he died, his body was wrapped in linen clothes and placed in Joseph of Arimathea’s newly hewn tomb, located in a garden.
We brought together the best people we could find to help us reconstruct what Golgotha and the tomb would have looked like. So we employed the skills of archaeological architect Leen Ritmeyer, widely considered the world’s leading authority on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Dr. Ritmeyer was the chief architect of the Temple Mount Excavations which took place in Jerusalem after the Six-Day War. He served in a similar capacity in the Jewish Quarter Excavations and also in the City of David Excavations, producing important reconstruction drawings for all of them and for many other sites in Israel and Bible Lands.
Below is our reconstruction of Golgotha, which can be seen in the foreground, with the massive Temple Mount in the background. The viewpoint of the drawing is from the northwest. (Click the picture to enlarge it to full size.)

He asks:

Let’s start with the internal evidence for Golgotha; what do we know about the location from the biblical evidence alone?
Here is a picture of the exposed top of Calvary:

When was the site of the Holy Sepulcher built, and when was it first identified with the location of Golgotha?

What can you see today of Golgotha within the church?

Most of the rock remains are hidden behind and under the different chapels in the church. However, below the altar in the Greek Orthodox chapel there is a hole through which one can touch the rock. The rest of the rock can also be seen below a glass cover, see picture below:

In 1883 General Charles Gordon argued that the real Golgotha was located to the north of the Old City of Jerusalem in the Garden Tomb. Why do most archaeologists today reject that location as the place where Jesus was crucified and buried?

In the ESVSB painting one can see the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Where exactly is the so-called Wailing Wall where many Jews have prayed and worshiped over the last 700 years?

The red outline below is the approximate location of the “Wailing Wall” on the drawing:

How many years have you spent working on the Temple Mount reconstructions? What degree of confidence do you have that what we see today in these drawings is what it looked like then?

Despite decades of work on the Temple Mount, you had never before drawn it from the northwest, showing it in relation to Golgotha. Why not?

It’s probably the combination of lack of knowledge plus the result of seeing too many popular films on the life of Christ, but the mental image I always had was a hill far away from the hustle and bustle of the city. But according to the ESV Study Bible depiction, when Jesus was talking to the thief on his left, he would have seen the massive Herodian Temple in the background. As he looked out at his beloved friend John and his mother Mary he would have seen the Hasmonean Palace and Herod’s Palace in the distance behind them, where he had stood the night before in front of Herod and Pilate. From the cross he could perhaps have seen the tomb into which his dead body would soon be laid. It changes the entire setting, doesn’t it?

Any thoughts on the final result of the Golgotha painting rendered by Maltings?

the Tomb of Jesus. Our drawing is below (click image to enlarge to full size):

After it was confirmed that Jesus was dead, the Bible tells us that his body was taken to a garden and laid in Joseph of Arimathea’s newly hewn tomb (Matt. 27:60; Luke 23:53; John 19:41). Why is that important information for archaeologists?

Other reconstructions of Jesus’ tomb show burial niches carved into the wall. Why are these lacking in the ESV Study Bible illustration?

Within the tomb where did they probably place Jesus' body?

How big would such a rock have been?

How big would have been the entrance to the tomb?

Thanks, Dr. Ritmeyer, for taking the time to do this interview, and for the countless hours you invested in this project. Any final thoughts?

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