The burial cave known as the Garden Tomb was found in 1867 by a peasant who wanted to cultivate the land there. While trying to cut a cistern into the rock, he accidentally came upon the cave. Conrad Schick, the Jerusalem correspondent for several learned societies in Europe, visited the cave soon afterward, and it is from his reports that we first learn of the discovery. One of the few Europeans then living in Jerusalem, Schick assumed the task of keeping up-to-date scientific journals of news from the Holy City. His first report about the cave was published in 1874.

…in 1883 the newly discovered cave was identified by the military hero of his day, General Charles George Gordon, as the tomb of Jesus. That identification caused, and still provokes, waves of controversy among pilgrims who wish to visit authentic sites of the Gospels. Even today the Garden Tomb is one of Jerusalem’s best known sites; it is visited by well over a hundred thousand tourists and pilgrims a year, visitors who imbibe its serene and sacral atmosphere.

…there was never any sound scientific basis for locating the tomb of Jesus in the area of the Garden Tomb. The identification of the Garden Tomb as the tomb of Jesus thus reflects the psychology and atmosphere of late 19th-century Jerusalem, rather than any new evidence—scientific, textual or archaeological.

In 1974, I decided to investigate the matter afresh. I did so in a series of visits beginning in the latter part of the year.

I have concluded that the cave of the Garden Tomb was originally hewn in the Iron Age II, sometime in the eighth or seventh century B.C. It was reused for burial purposes in the Byzantine period (fifth to seventh centuries A.D.), so it could not have been the tomb of Jesus. All lines of reasoning support this conclusion.

Excerpted from Gabriel Barkay, “The Garden Tomb- Was Jesus Buried Here?” BAR 12-02, Mar-Apr 1986.