Secrets of a tomb thought to be Jesus Christ’s burial place have been revealed after startling new scientific testing.
Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been victim to attacks, fires, and earthquakes over centuries and it was totally destroyed in 1009.
Ancient Romans identified a limestone cave enshrined within the church as Jesus’ resting place around 17 centuries ago — 300 years after The New Testament says he died.
However, because of the church’s destruction more than 1000 years ago on the orders of al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the Fatimid caliph, making it difficult for modern scholars to draw conclusions from the site
Now, according to new research seen by National Geographic, the tomb is nearly 1700 years old. Previous evidence had only dated the tomb back 1000 years, to the Crusader period.
The research, carried out by the National Technical University of Athens, does not offer definitive evidence as to whether Jesus was actually buried in the tomb, but it is consistent with the historical belief that the ancient Romans constructed a monument at the site around 300 years after his death.
Kristin Romey, National Geographic’s archaeology and palaeontology editor, wrote that it was “archaeologically impossible to say that the tomb is the burial site of an individual Jew known as Jesus of Nazareth, who according to New Testament accounts was crucified in Jerusalem in 30 or 33”.
But “new dating results put the original construction of today’s tomb complex securely in the time of Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor,” Romey added.
The test results, which show the lower slab was most likely mortared in place in the mid-fourth century under the orders of Emperor Constantine, come as a welcome surprise to those who study the history of the sacred monument, according to National Geographic.
“Obviously that date is spot-on for whatever Constantine did,” archaeologist Martin Biddle, told the magazine. “That’s very remarkable.”
In October 2016, tomb was opened for the first time since Constantine’s representatives arrived in Jerusalem around 325AD to locate it.
His troops were allegedly pointed to a Roman temple built some 200 years earlier.
According to National Geographic, the Roman temple was razed and excavations beneath it revealed a tomb hewn from a limestone cave. The top of the cave wassheared off to expose the interior of the tomb, and the tomb was built around it.
When the tomb was cracked open last year, the main Christian communities that govern the church allowed the work crew only 60 hours to excavate the inner sanctum. Experts worked day and night to reach the tomb’s core and to analyse it.
David Grenier, secretary of a group that oversees Roman Catholic church, said: “What happened here 2000 years ago completely changed the history of the world.
“To be able to dig, let’s say, to the rock where the body of Jesus was laid … it’s overwhelming joy.”