The Jordan River at Qasr el Yahud

From the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea is a distance of 65 miles but the Jordan river twists and turns for about 200 miles. The fall is about 590 feet (about 9 feet per mile). Nelson Glueck began his 1945 book, The River Jordan, by describing the river in beautiful terms.

THE JORDAN is a weird stream. It twists and tears its way swiftly downward in an almost incredibly sinuous manner from the sweet waters of the Lake of Galilee to the bitter wastes of the Sea of Salt or Dead Sea. Squirming frantically, burrowing madly, seeking wildly to escape its fate, the Jordan’s course from its crystal-clear beginnings to its literally dark and bitter end is a helpless race to a hopeless goal. Like Lot’s wife, it looks backward, but only inevitably to perish in the perdition of Bahr Lut, the “Sea of Lot,” as the Dead Sea is called by the Arabs. (p. 3)

At the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, a place called Qasr el Yahud, a few miles north of the Dead Sea, only very short stretches of the river are visible (Matthew 3:13-17; John 1:28). The photo below shows one of the many curves in the river. Click on the photo for a larger image.

Jordan River at the site of the baptism of Jesus. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This photo was made at Qasr el Yahud, the traditional site of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The prophet Jeremiah describes the heavy growth on the banks of the Jordan as the thicket of the Jordan (Jeremiah 12:5; 50:44). Perhaps the reading in the Net Bible, “the thick undergrowth along the Jordan River,” provides a clearer understanding. “Lions could suddenly appear from the bushes” (Jeremiah 49:19; Lalleman, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries).

Rolling stone tombs #6 – a tomb near Megiddo

Several tombs of the type in which Jesus was buried have survived the centuries. This one was discovered during road construction a few years ago near the Jezreel Valley, not very far from Megiddo. This is my favorite photo of rolling stone tombs.

Rolling stone tomb near the Jezreel Valley and Megiddo. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

This rolling stone tomb was discovered during road work. It is a beautiful example of a tomb of this type. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

To locate this tomb in Google Earth Pro or Google Maps these these coordinates: 32 36 43.31 N, 35 08 17.01 E. It also worked on my Android phone to locate the site on the map and provide a photo of the tomb along the highway.

Rolling stone tombs #5 – the site of the Holy Sepulchre

Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem (John 19:20), probably not far from a gate (Hebrews 13:12), near a road (Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:39), and near a garden with a new tomb in it (John 19:41). Nothing about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre reminds one of the actual setting where Christ was crucified and buried. One must remember, that Jerusalem has been continuously inhabited for many centuries. Strong evidence suggests that the site now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was outside the wall of Jerusalem at the time of Christ.

Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

Crowds wait to enter the edicule covering the tomb of Jesus after examination and cleaning in 2017. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Kathleen Kenyon found evidence in the 1970s that the wall which now encompasses the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built on the foundation which was constructed about A.D. 41 by Herod Agrippa. In A.D.
30 [or 33, depending on how one reads the evidence], when Jesus stood before Pilate, the site of the Holy Sepulchre would have been outside the wall.

Some columns in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre date from the fourth century church built by Constantine. Excavators exposed part of the foundations of Hadrian’s Roman Forum, dating from A.D. 135, in which the Temple of Aphrodite was built.

A portion of the Herodian wall was discovered in the 1970s by M. Broshi within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This showed that Golgotha was just outside the city wall.

D. Katsimibinis, in the late 1970s, showed that the rock of Calvary still rises nearly 40 feet above bedrock. The rock bears the mark of ancient quarrying. Some scholars believe that this remnant of stone was a rejected quarry stone (Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, 124). “And moreover, there are no competing places for Calvary or Golgotha prior to the last century” (Charlesworth, 123). See also André Parrot, Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Jesus would have been placed in this tomb sometime before sun down on Friday, and raised sometime before sun up on the first day of the week (our Sunday). See Luke 24:1, 13, 21.

The tomb of Jesus. Parrot, Land of Christ.

Drawing showing the tomb of Jesus according to the data of the gospels. From Parrot, Land of Christ, 131.

We share the sentiment of the late F. F. Bruce that “interesting as the problem must be to every Christian, it is not of the first importance; wherever our Lord’s sepulchre is to be located, ‘he is not here, for he has risen’” (“Archaeological Confirmation of the New Testament,” Revelation and the Bible, ed. Henry, 330).

Model of the tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. From the Franciscian Museum, Jerusalem.

This model from the Franciscan Museum, Jerusalem, show the tomb at the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #4 – the Midras ruins

The Midras Ruins (Horvat Midras) in Israel are part of the Adulam Grove Nature Reserve east of Hwy 38 between the Elah Valley and Beit Guvrin. According to the Parks department sign at the site, the ruins are part of an ancient settlement including caves, pits, and other installations. The Carta touring atlas says the area was continuously inhabited from the time of the Kings of Judah to the Roman period.

For a more complete discussion of the Midras Ruins tomb, along with links to photos before the tomb was vandalized, read here.

This photo was made in the late afternoon several years after the tomb was defaced by vandals. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sign at the cave indicates that it was in use from the first century B.C. until the Bar Kochba revolt (about A.D. 135).

The large rolling stone now at the entrance to the cave is a remnant of the grand burial cave once located here.

Beyond the entrance, two chambers were discovered, containing burial niches 1.80 meters [almost 6 feet] long. The inner chamber contains decorated arches, arcosolia, in which ossuaries were placed, containing the bones of the deceased in secondary burial.

The sherds discovered in the cave indicate that it was in use from the end of the first century CE [AD] until the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE).

Browsing through my photos I rediscovered the next photo from a visit to the site in 2011. It shows a more natural look except for the destroyed area above the rolling stone.

This photo shows the setting of the tomb with a rolling stone after it was defaced by vandals and then reconstructed. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

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. FerrellJenkins.blog.

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: ferrelljenkins.blog.

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.

Rolling stone tombs #2 – the Herodian family tomb

Our photos today show the traditional family tomb of Herod the Great (37 – 4 B.C.) which is located on the west side of the Old City, behind the famous King David Hotel. We know from Josephus that Herod buried certain family members in Jerusalem (Wars 1:581). Herod was buried at the Herodium near Bethlehem.

This first photo shows the general area of the tomb which is cut from solid rock.

Herodian Family Tomb, located in a park behind the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. You can see the top of the rolling stone to the left of center. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The photo below shows a closeup of the entry and the rolling stone. In more recent time a door has been places at the opening of the tomb. Murphy-O’Connor says the tomb was found empty because robbers got there before the archaeologists (The Holy Land).

Herodian Family Tomb, Jerusalem.

Herodian Family Tomb in the small park behind the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Rolling stone tombs #1 – the Tomb of the Kings

During this week many will have their mind on the events leading to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. With this post I propose to begin a short series of blogs in which I will post pictures of some of the rock-cut tombs from Israel and Jordan that have rolling stones.

Why is it important to notice rock-cut tombs with rolling stones? It is because these illustrate the type of tomb in which Jesus was buried.

And Joseph [from Arimathea] took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Matthew 27:59-60 ESV)

Here is the entrance to the rock-cut tomb at what we call the Tomb of the Kings. Notice that the rolling stone is set in a grove that more or less holds it in place. Perhaps tourist of past centuries have chiseled a souvenir to take back home with them.

Rolling stone at the Tomb of the Kings, Jerusalem. Photo: ferrelljenkins.blog.

The rolling stone at the tomb of the kings. Treasure hunters have chiseled off pieces in centuries past. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

J. A. Thompson describes the large tombs where several people might be buried as well as the smaller tombs like the one where Jesus was buried.

These larger tombs provided for the burial of a number of people. They were entered by a comparatively small opening which could be closed by rolling a stone in a groove across the entrance. After each burial the large stone was rolled across the door and the tomb sealed up until the next burial. Some of these stones, which are still to be seen in parts of Palestine, were so big as to require the effort of more than one man to move them. Such a discovery explains the concern of the women who came to the sepulcher where our Lord was buried. Joseph of Arimathaea “rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre” (Matt. 27:60), and later the angel came and “rolled back the stone from the door” (Matt. 28:2). Other passages in the Gospels which refer to the rolling of the great stone from the door are Mark 15:46; 16:3f.; Luke 24:2; John 11:38, 39, 41; 20:1. Even comparatively small tombs had this rolling stone, but angle graves were normally carved out in the rocky hillside and the body interred there. (Thompson, J. A. The Bible and Archaeology. 3rdrd ed., W. B. Eerdmans, 1982, p. 334.)