Rolling stone tombs #3 – a tomb in Jordan

Our tomb with a rolling stone today is located near Heshbon in Jordan. A number of tombs from the Roman period have been excavated. Tomb No. 5 has a swinging door of limestone with decorated jambs, lintel and sill. In the Spring of 1971 a rolling stone tomb was found. It was the first such “rolling stone” tomb found east of the Jordan. It differs from those known in Palestine/Israel in that there is no trench cut in the bedrock. This stone rolls on a slab courtyard floor between two walls.

The archaeological excavations at Heshbon have been conducted by Andrews University.

Roman tomb with rolling stone.

Rolling stone tomb discovered at Heshbon in the Spring of 1971. Photo (scanned slide) by Ferrell Jenkins.

Eugenia Nitowski excavated the tomb. She says,

I have studied 61 rolling-stone tombs in Palestine/Transjordan, dating from the Early Roman through Byzantine periods (63 B.C. to 640 A.D.). I have studied many other tombs of this period without rolling stones. Based on this study, I have reconstructed the most likely architectural features of Jesus’ tomb. It is clear both from the Gospel evidence (Matthew 27:60; Mark 16:3, 5; Luke 23:53, 24:3) and the archaeological evidence that Jesus’ tomb was located in a burial cave. There was probably a courtyard outside the cave. The entrance to the cave was quite small, approximately two feet by three feet, allowing access by only one person at a time. In Jesus’ burial cave, as we learn from the Gospels (Mark 15:46, 16:3, 4; Luke 24:2) this entrance was controlled by a rolling stone consisting of a large, round stone disc set on edge. Two kinds of rolling-stone tracks have been found: those with slanted tracks, which provide automatic closure if unattended, and level tracks, which on the other hand, enable movement of the stone by one person. In other caves, the entrance was controlled by a square slab, or by a swinging door that could be locked. The closure was never meant to be permanent because of the continual need for reuse: Inside the cave was provision for a number of burials. (Kohlbeck, Joseph, and Eugenia Nitowski. “New Evidence May Explain Image on Shroud of Turin.” Biblical Archaeology Review, July-Aug. 1986, p. 22.)

The Horn Archaeological Museum in Berrien Springs, Michigan, displays a drawing of the tomb, showing the rolling stone and the interior of the tomb.

The Roman tomb at Heshbon. Horn Archaeological Museum.

This drawing displayed at the Horn Archaeological Museum shows the rolling stone and the interior of the tomb. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This rolling-stone tomb is typical of limestone-carved, first-century tombs in Judea and nearby areas, this one from Tell Hesban in Jordan may be very similar to the tomb in which Jesus was buried. The Gospel of Matthew (27:59–60) relates that Joseph of Arimathea wrapped the body of Jesus in a clean linen cloth and laid it in his own new tomb, and “rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre.” In such tombs, the round stone rolled freely along a slanted track or was pushed along a level track in order to cover and seal the entrance to the burial cave. (Shown here is a level track.)

Roman tomb with rolling stone. Discovered at Heshbon, Jordan, in 1971. Photo:

Roman tomb with rolling stone. Discovered at Heshbon, Jordan, in 1971. Photo (scanned slide) by Ferrell Jenkins.

In 2018 Leon Mauldin and I visited the Hesbon area and located this tomb with considerable difficulty. It is in the middle of a field, grown over, and impossible to see clearly.

2 responses to “Rolling stone tombs #3 – a tomb in Jordan

  1. David Diestelkamp

    I really enjoy and benefit from your travel blog and look forward to it popping up in my emails – David Diestelkamp

  2. Ferrell thank you for these great articles and photos! The memory of our trip to the Horn Museum gave me a smile.

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