If the resurrection appearances of Jesus were not simply subjective experiences of the disciples but somehow entered into space and time, then the settings of these appearances should reflect real places. What, then, do history and archaeology have to say about the physical locations of the resurrection appearances? And will the results of such an inquiry converge with the conclusions we arrived at in Chapter 1?
The Locations of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus
The first resurrection appearance of Jesus took place at his tomb, but since John’s Gospel tells us that the tomb was near the place of the crucifixion we will examine both places.
We can extract from Mark’s Gospel a number of points that bear on the location where Jesus was crucified. Jesus was led out to be crucified. A passerby, coming in from the country named Simon of Cyrene, helped Jesus carry his cross. Jesus was brought to a place called Golgotha, or the place of the skull. The inscription describing his crime read: “The King of the Jews.” Two people were crucified with him, one on each side. Passersby jeered at him. There were some women watching from a distance.
Matthew follows Mark closely except for giving a slightly different inscription which he tells us was placed above Jesus’ head.
Luke alters this story, telling us that a large number of people followed Jesus on his way to be crucified. They watched his crucifixion while the leaders jeered at him. All his friends stood at a distance, as well as the women.
John goes his own way, as we are accustomed to, but his story is essentially the same. He tells us that Jesus carried his own cross and went out of the city to a place called in Hebrew Golgotha. The sign above Jesus read: “Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews” and was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. Near the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary of Clopas and Mary of Magdala.
Thus, we learn that Jesus was crucified outside the city, indeed, the Letter to the Hebrews tells us Jesus suffered “outside the gate” (13:12), and we can easily imagine Simon of Cyrene on his way into the city being waylaid near the gate. The place where Jesus was crucified was Golgotha, or the place of the skull, and passersby jeered at him so that we can surmise that the place was near a road, perhaps near enough to a road that the inscription above Jesus’ head could be read. The actual site of the crucifixion had to have enough room for three crosses, as well as space for the soldiers to do their work. Some people were nearby, and others watched from a distance. The fact that the place was named the place of the skull makes it sound like it was a known place of execution. All this fits in with what historians tell us about Roman executions: crucifixions took place outside of the towns and were meant to serve as deterrents so they would have been in a highly visible place, likely not far from the gate of the city and one of the roads leading from it.
The Tomb of Jesus
We have already looked at the burial of Jesus in considerable detail, but now we need to review what we saw from the point of view of the location of the tomb and its physical characteristics. The tomb was a new one hewn out of rock and closed with a large stone. Mary of Magdala and the other Mary saw where the body was laid (Mark) or during the burial were sitting facing the tomb (Matthew). John tells us the tomb was in a garden, and supplies the critical bit of information that it was near the place of crucifixion.
The activities that took place at the empty tomb tell us something of the structure of the tomb, itself. When on Sunday morning, as Mark tells us, Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome entered the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side. This indicates that the interior of the tomb had room for at least four people (5 in Luke’s story), and seems to indicate that the right side was where the body of Jesus had been placed. For Matthew an angel removes the stone and sits on it. Peter ran to the tomb, stooped down and saw the burial cloths (Luke). In John’s Gospel the beloved disciple bent down, and without going in saw the burial cloths, and then Peter goes in and sees the burial clothes and the cloth that covered Jesus’ head in a separate place. Mary of Magdala goes back to the tomb, bends down and sees two angels sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the place of his head, and the other at the place of his feet. While our first inclination might be to discount the value of any scenes in which angels appear, even if the women were imagining these heavenly visitors, they would imagine them against the background of the actual tomb, so these visions can still serve as clues.
Let’s turn now to what the Israeli archaeologist, Amos Kloner, can tell us about the tombs of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time. 98% of them had square stones closing their entrances, and only 4 of the more than 900 tombs of this era had rolling stones. Typical tombs had rectangular, almost square low entrances with steps that led down to a rectangular standing pit lined on three sides with benches. There were two ways to place the body in these tombs. The first was in the form of long, narrow recesses called loculi, or kochim, that were cut vertically into the rock some 6½ feet deep, 1½ feet wide and 1½ feet high so that only the head or the feet would be visible. The second form of burial came in the form of a niche carved horizontally into the wall. These niches had either carved tops (arcosolia) or rectangular ones (quadrosolia), the ceilings of which were about 2 feet high, or were simply unrecessed benches whose ceilings were formed by the roof of the tomb, itself.
Did the tomb of Jesus have a circular stone that blocked its entrance, as is so often imagined? The odds are against it. Kloner thinks that the Greek word kulio used in Mark, Matthew and Luke and usually translated as “rolled,” can be also translated simply as “moved,” bringing it in line with John’s Gospel that says the stone was taken away.1 If the stone was round and rolled back between two walls, as is found in a few tombs of that age, then we can hardly imagine how the angel in Matthew’s Gospel could sit upon it. “Of course,” Kloner writes, “with angels anything can happen, but it seems like the human author would have described the angel sitting on a square stone.”2
Nor is it likely that the tomb as it had been depicted in the past had an entrance corridor with burial benches, for such benches were found in the second temple period only in elaborate complexes. If we credit the angels sitting at the head and feet of where the body of Jesus had been laid, that would rule out a loculus, or even a recessed bench with a low curved or rectangular ceiling. “Most likely,” Kloner conclusions, “Jesus’ tomb was a standard small burial room, with a standing pit and burial benches around three sides.”3 This would fit Mark’s Gospel in which we are told the young man was sitting on the right side, implying that there was at least one other bench. Someone standing at the entrance who stooped down could peer through the low entranceway into the burial chamber and see if the burial benches were occupied. When Peter went into the tomb perhaps he saw the burial cloths on the floor of the tomb and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head on the burial bench on the right side.
Therefore, there is nothing in the Gospel descriptions of the tomb that appears to seriously clash with what modern archaeology has discovered about Jerusalem tombs at the time of Jesus. But can we go farther? Did the first Christians preserve the memory of the places of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb until the building of Constantine’s church in the fourth century? Are the sites of the crucifixion and the tomb in the present-day church of the Holy Sepulchre authentic? It is not unreasonable, as we saw, to imagine that the first Christians venerated the tomb and the site of the crucifixion. This veneration may have taken a liturgical form, traces of which are reflected in the Gospel accounts. Unfortunately we have no proof that the early Christian community did, in fact, pass on such knowledge. The Christian community lived in Jerusalem up until the time of the first Jewish war when, the church historians Eusebius and Epiphanius tell us, they fled to Pella in present-day Jordan, but they returned to the city after the war. It was not until the second century that keeping track of these holy places would have become more problematical. The Roman emperor Hadrian, traveling in the Middle East in 130 AD, decided to rebuild Jerusalem, which he renamed Aelia Capitolina, and appears to have set off the Bar Kochba revolt by building a temple dedicated to Jupiter on the site of the ruins of the Jewish temple which had been destroyed during the first war in 70 AD. But he also chose the sites of the tomb and the crucifixion to build another temple, variously ascribed to Venus/Aphrodite or Jupiter or, according to some modern research, the goddess Tyche. Scholars debate whether he did this by accident or design, but it is rather hard to imagine he was unaware of the importance of the site to Christians, just like he was surely not unaware of what he was doing when he created the temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount. He built a temenos, or surrounding wall, and filled in the area to create a level site on which to build his temple which may well have been circular in form like the Parthenon in Rome which had been completed under his auspices.4
Thus, the tomb disappeared from sight, although a spur of rock associated with the site of the crucifixion may have remained visible. Therefore, from about 135 AD to 326 AD when Constantine began his church, Christians had no way of knowing the fate of the tomb. Did they forget where it was? It appears that they did not. Melito of Sardis in a sermon, Peri Pascha, written around 170 AD to 180 AD, preached that Jesus had been killed in the middle of the street in Jerusalem. Why would Melito who would have surely known the description in the Gospels that the crucifixion had taken place outside the city have described it as taking place inside? If the Christian community had lost track of the tomb, and then wanted to point out a place where it was, they would have chosen a location somewhere outside the city, and Melito who visited Jerusalem would have followed their lead, but instead he states that it is inside, which coincides nicely with modern archaeological discoveries about the traditional sites of the tomb and crucifixion.
At the time of Jesus they were outside the city walls to the north and west, and were located in an abandoned quarry area that dated from the eighth century B.C. or so, which by the time of Jesus had either been cultivated or at least had vegetation that had grown up in it. This area was accessed by the Gennath, or Gardens Gate. Between 41 and 44 AD Herod Agrippa had built a wall that brought the tomb and crucifixion sites within the city. The general description of the site today as discovered by archaeology is in harmony with what we read in the Gospels, that is, a place outside the walls near a city gate in an area with tombs and vegetation, tombs that had been cut either into the faces of the quarry, itself, or the rocky slopes that ascended to the west. Once the site was incorporated in the city the graves would have been emptied, but the garden-like appearance would have remained, for modern excavations found no trace of first century dwellings from the time of Jesus.5 Indeed, if we give credence to the noncanonical Gospel of Peter, the place was called Joseph’s Garden and we can imagine the early Christians gathering there. The destruction of the city in 70 AD destroyed its buildings, but there is no reason to think that the Romans would have gone out of their way to destroy empty graves, as well, and so the Christians could have had access to the tomb and the place of the crucifixion until they were buried under Hadrian’s temple. But it appears that even after that they still knew where they were. Therefore, when Constantine wanted to build a church to honor these places, Marcarius, the bishop of Jerusalem, didn’t point to some place outside the walls, or even to some convenient empty place to build like Hadrian’s forum just south of the temple site, but right to the temple area, itself. This was a very inconvenient choice if it were not overridden by some firm conviction that this, indeed, was the place of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Eusebius of Caesarea, the church historian who was involved in these events, described the moment when the fill was removed and tells us there appeared “immediately and contrary to all expectation the venerable and hallowed monument of our Savior’s Resurrection...”6 Did “contrary to all expectation” mean that Eusebius and the Christian community along with him didn’t have any idea where the tomb was, and therefore were surprised when a tomb appeared? More probable is the interpretation that they had been going on the basis of an almost 200-year-old memory and were apprehensive whether the tomb would be found and what shape it would be in. But what Eusebius doesn’t say is more interesting than what he does. How could he be sure that this tomb was, indeed, the tomb of Christ, especially since there were other tombs in the area? Was it simply because it matched the expectations that came from reading the Gospel accounts and was in the right spot, or was it a convenient find given Constantine’s building plans, and so it was arbitrarily selected and the other tombs cut away? The fact that Marcarius selected this particular and inconvenient spot not only suggests that a certain location had been passed down, perhaps in relationship to the spur of rock, but it is even conceivable that along with it went some idea of what the tomb was like. Having insisted that the tomb was under Hadrian’s temple, would the Christian community have lost its nerve and settled for any tomb, or selected one that fit in with Constantine’s architectural plans? Martin Biddle, the English archaeologist and historian whose work on the tomb we will examine in a moment, suggests that like other Christian burial places, for example St. Peter’s in Rome, the tomb of Christ could well have been marked with the graffiti of pilgrims, making it immediately clear as soon as it was uncovered that it was the tomb of Christ. Those graffiti would have had a century to accumulate before the tomb had been buried. The most notable graffito, if one would call it that, is a picture of a boat that was discovered on a stone in one of the foundation walls of the present-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and its controversial inscription. Shimon Gibson and Joan Taylor in Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre argue that it is situated in a wall from the time of Hadrian and should be dated to the second century, and we will look at this discovery in a moment.
Constantine’s workmen did not incorporate the tomb into the new basilica, but cut away the hillside it was imbedded in so the tomb stood alone in the middle of a courtyard.7 Then they created what was likely a circular building around it. This edicule, or little house, was to undergo many trials and tribulations which Biddle attempts to track through historical sources and artistic representations of it. The Constantinian church lasted to 1009 AD when the henchmen of the demented Caliph, al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, destroyed the church of the Holy Sepulchre and attacked the tomb with hammers and fire. Despite this it is likely, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses who saw the tomb shortly after this dire event, that substantial parts of the tomb survived, as we see from the description of Raoul of Couhé, bishop of Périgueux in 1010 AD, written right after the attack: “When they were unable by any other means to reduce the tomb, they also tried a great fire, but it remained like adamant, immovable and intact.”8 Biddle suggests that while the roof of the tomb and the east and west walls were destroyed, the southern wall and the burial couch, as well as part of the northern wall, may have survived.9 Then working backwards in time, Biddle and his associates carefully examined the present edicule on the principle that previous structures, and indeed, even the tomb itself, might somehow still be reflected in the present one. The results, while tentative, are fascinating. The orientation of the entranceway is slightly offset from the edicule itself. Computerized photogrammetry, that is, the computer analysis of photos to generate three-dimensional images of the edicules over the centuries, revealed that later structures were built around earlier ones, leaving the enticing prospect that remnants of the original tomb remain encased under these layers. Thermal imaging in its turn shows that the area of the edicule that is said to surround the tomb is more heat-retentive than the rest of the building, possibly indicating there is a more substantial structure, perhaps the remains of the tomb, itself, behind those walls. And endoscopic images from an optical fiber camera snaked between the walls of the edicule show voids, earlier construction, and perhaps even rock-cut sections of the original tomb.10
The examination of historical sources, artistic representations, modern archaeological evidence, and an actual examination of the edicule itself allowed Biddle to come to some conclusions about the tomb enclosed in the edicule. It had an open porch and a low entranceway enclosed with a large stone, and Biddle agrees with Kloner that the stone was not round. The tomb, itself, probably had burial benches on two or three sides while the ceiling was flat. “The Tomb Chamber was perhaps about 2.8 m square and 2 m high. The benches were probably each about 2 m long and 0.8 m wide, with their surfaces about 0.5 m or slightly less above the floor. The area excavated to floor level between the benches will have measured about 2 m from east to west and may have been no more than 1 m wide.”11 Such a reconstruction “is independent of evidence of the Gospels, but it is consistent with what they have to say about the form of the tomb.”12
What is needed is a full-fledged archaeological examination of the tomb which should be done when the present edicule, which is disintegrating, is finally rebuilt. Perhaps such an examination would reveal the signs that allowed Marcarius in the fourth century to recognize this tomb as the tomb of Christ. It is also possible, however, that these earlier signs could have been largely erased by Constantine’s workmen when they cut away the rock surrounding the tomb, by the attack on the tomb in 1009 AD, and the chipping away of the tomb by pilgrims for relics over the centuries.
It is worth looking briefly at the modern debates about the authenticity of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the most trenchant of which were advanced by Joan Taylor in her 1993 Christians and Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins. There she is responding to the rather uncritical formulations of the Franciscans Testa and Bellarmino Bagatti. In Bagatti’s The Church from the Circumcision, for example, in which he assembles literary and archaeological data to explore the existence and nature of the first generations of Judeo-Christians in the Holy Land, as well as the role they played in safeguarding the sacred Christian places, we find a rich collection of material, but in the end it is frustratingly incomplete because it is insufficiently digested from a critical point of view.13 Therefore it is not surprising that Taylor, by way of reaction, would end up leaving the impression that she is arguing against the existence of almost any pre-Constantinian Christian holy places. Simon Mimouni, trying to steer a course between her and the Testa and Bagatti school, will describe her work as “excessively polemical leading to a regrettable systemization.”14
First let’s look at Taylor’s objections to the authenticity of the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. She takes Eusebius’ words, “contrary to all expectations” to mean that the uncovering of the tomb came as a surprise. The location of Constantine’s basilica had to do not with a memory about the tomb’s location passed down within the Christian community, but with Constantine’s placement of his basilica on the site of Hadrian’s temple to symbolize the displacement of the old pagan order by the new Christian one. Further, Taylor felt it went against the theological inclinations of the first Christians to venerate the empty tomb of Christ. “The empty tomb was unimportant.”15 None of these arguments, most of which we noted before, are particularly persuasive, and Taylor, herself, in a 1998 article, “Golgotha: A Reconsideration of the Evidence for the Sites of Jesus’ Crucifixion and Burial,” softened her views and came to the conclusion that the traditional location of the tomb “may very well be authentic.”16 The Church of Jerusalem could have preserved the memory of the site, aided perhaps by a statue of Jupiter that Hadrian had placed over it, making it likely that his actions were deliberate.
While the location of the site of the crucifixion is not directly related to our examination of the physical locations of the resurrection appearances, it is worth looking at Taylor’s arguments for an alternative site to the traditional one within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, arguments she sharpened in her 1998 article. Eusebius in his Onomasticon, or gazateer of biblical places, written perhaps as early as the 290s, has an entry about Golgotha: ““Place of the Skull” where Christ was crucified which is indeed pointed out in Aelia to the north of Mt. Sion.” The “is pointed out” is further evidence for a pre-Constantinian tradition that recalled the site of the crucifixion, and no doubt the location of the tomb as well. But Taylor thinks that the Greek for “to the north of Mt. Sion” is better translated “right beside the northern parts of Mt. Sion” which would mean that the site of the crucifixion is to the south closer to Mt. Sion. Biddle disagrees, and the discussion hinges on Eusebius’ use of prepositions to indicate location.17 Biddle and Taylor disagree, as well, on how to interpret Melito of Sardis’ description of the crucifixion as taking place “in the middle of the street,” or as the Greek has it, plateia. For Taylor, a plateia is a wide street, and thus would better refer to a place south of Hadrian’s temple, while Biddle argues that in Roman usage it could mean a plaza, and therefore refer to the temple area itself.18
In a study with Shimon Gibson, Taylor argues that the actual top of the rock of Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is 1.7 meters by 3.5 meters,19 making it too small to be the actual site of the crucifixion of three people, not to mention the attendant soldiers. The rock is also so steep to make it impractical to carry out a crucifixion on its top. This is a powerful argument if it could be shown that the rock had not been altered since the time of Jesus, for example, by Constantine’s workmen.20 It still leaves open the possibility, however, that the crucifixion might have taken place right near the rock instead of on top of it. In any event, these historical and archaeological arguments, together with the physical geography of the area and the use of the term Golgotha which, she feels, describes a larger place than the actual site of the crucifixion, leads Taylor to place this site nearer to the Gennath Gate at a place which later would have been in the middle of the Decumanus, one of the main streets of the city in Hadrian’s time. Such a location would accord with Melito of Sardis’ remarks, as well as with the Gospel accounts in which passersby could easily see the crucifixion, and read the sign over Jesus’ head. Taylor’s location is some 200 meters south of the traditional one which today is “a little to the southwest of where David Street meets Habad Street, but north of St. Mark’s Street.”21 The difference of some 200 meters that separates these two sites is not critical to our inquiry.
The Boat Drawing
In 1970 the Armenian patriarchate began to excavate behind the east wall of the chapel of St. Helena which is located down a flight of stairs in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There they discovered some ancient foundation walls, and on a block on one the walls, the drawing of a boat with an inscription. Gibson and Taylor in Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre made a careful and detailed analysis of these excavations and the drawing from which we can abstract the following points which they have established with a fair degree of probability.
1. The wall in which the block of the drawing was inserted was constructed at the time Hadrian had his temple built around 135 AD.
2. The drawing is of a second century sea-going Roman merchant ship of perhaps 10-15 meters in length.
3. The Latin text of the inscription has given rise to a number of interpretations.22 The most common and likely decipherment of the text has it reading, “DOMINE IVIMUS,” or “Lord, we went.” Taylor and Gibson feel that the “Domine” in question could refer to a wide variety of authority figures, but Carston Theide sees it as a reference to the pilgrimage psalm 121-122: “I rejoice that they said to me, “Let us go up (IBIMUS) to the House of the Lord,” and sees the inscription writer saying, in effect, “Oh, Lord! We have made it, that is, we have gone up and seen the place of the Lord’s death and resurrection.”23
4. The stone on which the drawing is found is a smooth-faced block like others found in later Constantinian foundation walls which probably came from the superstructure of Hadrian’s temple.
5. This block, however, appears to have been rejected by Hadrian’s builders and placed in one of the foundation walls instead.
6. Unlike the similar stones in the Constantinian foundation walls, someone polished this stone, probably in preparation for making the drawing.
7. The ship, when first discovered, showed elaborate detail – now partially obliterated by an ill-conceived attempt at restoration by an unknown hand – indicating it was drawn by someone with a professional knowledge of the sea.
8. The stone was likely drawn upon before it was placed in the wall, for that would have been much easier to do than when it was part of the foundation wall. Its corner was chipped after the drawing was made, perhaps in moving it.
Let’s see if we can come up with a reasonable scenario to account for these facts. A literate sea-farer – perhaps even the captain of the boat and his companions, for he writes “we” went – docked his seagoing merchant ship in the port of Caesaria and went to the site where Hadrian’s temple was being constructed. But it is not likely they were going to see Hadrian’s temple which did not yet exist. It is much more probable they were going to visit the tomb of Jesus and the site of his crucifixion. They arrive and find the area in turmoil due to the construction of the temple. They see a smooth block of stone which has been rejected by the builders and set aside. They polish it and make an elaborate drawing of their boat on it, and write, “Oh, Lord, we went.” But why would they do this? Clearly the boat is an integral part of the statement they are making. One possible explanation is that they had gone to the tomb in fulfillment of a vow. Let’s imagine that they were at sea and a storm threatened to sink their boat. In the midst of the storm they made a vow, as sailors from time immemorial have done, in this case to visit the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection. They are saved, and go to fulfill their vow. They find the stone that had been set aside, polish it, draw their boat, and declare, “Oh, Lord, we went,” or “Oh, Lord, we have fulfilled our vow.”
Now let’s imagine that this scenario is reasonably accurate. That would mean that Christians went to the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection around 135 AD. This would fit in nicely with our earlier supposition in which we saw that there would be no reason why the Christian community of Jerusalem would not have known about and, indeed, visited the tomb of Jesus from the time of his death to the tomb’s burial under Hadrian’s temple. Further, such a supposition fits in with Biddle’s suggestion that the tomb could have been marked with graffiti and other signs of pilgrims’ visits. It also makes it more likely that when Melito of Sardis visited the holy sights and later wrote his homily he could say that the crucifixion took place “in the middle of the street” because there was a strong tradition as to where the crucifixion had in fact taken place and where the tomb of Jesus was.
Be all this as it may, what is of much more importance is that we have reached our minimal goal. There is nothing in the Gospel accounts that is fundamentally at odds with what history and archaeology tell us about the tomb of Jesus and the site of the crucifixion. In fact, a good case can be made, as we have seen, that the tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could very well be the tomb of Christ. These conclusions, in turn, converge with and mutually reinforce the conclusions we came to in regard to the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea and his tomb. If the stories of the tomb were invented by the author of Mark’s Gospel, sometime on the eve of the First Jewish War, then if Christians had wanted to find a place on the ground that would correspond with those stories, their search would have taken place well after the construction of Herod Agrippa’s wall in 41-44 AD, and we can easily imagine them looking outside those walls in order to find a place that corresponded to the Gospels, not inside them. The story of Joseph and his tomb that we find in Mark points back to the time of Jesus’ death and before the construction of Agrippa’s wall, reflecting the memory of the Jerusalem Christian community. The disciples of Jesus witnessed his crucifixion, knew the place of his burial, and most likely visited his tomb up until their departure from the city before the war, and then renewed these visits on their return. Not even the construction of Hadrian’s temple would have blotted out the memory of its location.
The Upper Room
Luke follows Mark closely, but makes two interesting changes. First he names the two disciples sent to make the arrangements, making it likely he had another source. And he alters slightly, but perhaps significantly, Mark’s “go into the city” to “as you go into the city,” leaving us the impression that the disciples met the man with the pitcher just as they entered the city. The potential importance of this change will become clear in a moment.
While Matthew appears to be following Mark, he condenses the story, leaving out the more interesting details. John, despite Luke’s assertion that he went with Peter to make the initial arrangements, leaves out the whole incident, simply saying “they were at supper...” (13:2)
Later Luke tells us the disciples returned from Emmaus to find the eleven assembled with their companions. Where they were assembled he does not say, but he seems to imply it is the same indoor place by having Jesus ask for food. It is John who is more explicit: “in the evening of that same day, the first day of the week, the doors were closed in the room where the disciples were...” and “eight days later the disciples were now in the house again...”
Luke in Acts comes closest to linking the room of the last supper to the room of the appearances. Perhaps the phrase, “the upper room” indicates that by the time Luke wrote, the upper room was well embedded in the minds and hearts of the early Christian community. F.F. Bruce writes: “It is possible (although naturally it cannot be proved) that this was the room where Jesus had kept the passover meal with them on the eve of his execution; it may also have been the room where he appeared to some of them on Easter Day.” He cites T. Zahn who feels that the definite article in connection with the upper room “would certainly have indicated one special room to early Christian readers.”24
But nowhere do any of the evangelists formally say that the room of the last supper, the room of the appearances, the room of the return from the ascension, and even the room of Pentecost were all one and the same place. If when we looked at the tomb of Jesus the weakest link was between its burial by Hadrian and its identification when uncovered by Constantine’s workmen, the weakest link here is the identification of the room of the last supper with the room of the appearances, but it is likely they are one and the same.25 The lack of precision we find among the evangelists in describing the identity of the upper room most probably does not reflect any doubt in the evangelists’ minds. They knew the location of the upper room where the last supper took place, and whether it was identical with the place of the resurrection appearances, but they took this knowledge for granted, as we often do in regard to places that are very familiar to us. The events of Jesus’ arrest, crucifixion and death fell upon the disciples as unexpected and cruel blows. This is not the time they would have given thought to looking for new accommodations. And it is highly unlikely that after the appearances of the risen Lord they would move out of the room in which He had come to them.
The Archaeology of the Upper Room
Do we know where this room was located? Let’s look at the work of the late Benedictine archaeologist, Bargil Pixner, who argued that the upper room was located at the place later called the Church of the Apostles, which is the present-day Cenacle and tomb of David on Mt. Zion. The second story of the building dates to crusader times, and Pixner believes that the room on the first floor is not the tomb of David, which is something that most scholars agree with. The sarcophagus found there dates from Crusader times, but the room in which it is found, Pixner contends, contains the remnants of a Jewish-Christian synagogue dating from the first century.
What archaeological facts we possess about the building come from a short report on the work of Jacob Pinkerfeld. In 1948, a mortar shell had entered its east window and exploded. Pinkerfeld was charged with overseeing the repairs, and he took this opportunity to examine the building in 1951. He was killed in an attack on an archaeological congress in Ramat Rahel in 1956, and the two-page report we have was issued posthumously. Whether more extensive notes still exist is unknown.
Pinkerfeld’s interest was aroused by a niche behind the crusader sarcophagus in the north wall, and he removed all the plaster covering it.26 “After removing the plaster,” he writes, “from the whole surface of the apse (which is 2.48 m. wide, 1.20 m. deep, and 2.44 m. high) there appeared a well-built wall of the late Roman period, constructed of ashlar stones. This is the first building period on the site and to it belong three of the outer walls of the hall on the north, south, and east. It is interesting to note that the north wall, which contains the apse, is 2.80 m. thick, which the other walls are only 1.30 m. in thickness.”
The east wall of this original building had been preserved in its entirety, as well as parts of the north and south wall, but the west wall was completely missing. This allowed the length of the building to be determined at 10.5 m., but not its width. Pinkerfeld also took advantage of the need to repair the marble floor slabs to dig two trial pits. 12 cm. beneath the present floor was a crusader floor, and 60 cm. beneath the present floor a colored mosaic from late Roman or early Byzantine times.
“70 cm. below the present floor level another floor of plaster was found, quite possibly the remains of a stone pavement. Some small fragments of smooth stones, perhaps the remains of this pavement, were found slightly above this level. It is possible, however, that their presence in the debris was purely accidental and that this lower floor was also of mosaic. At all events it is certain that this floor belonged to the original building, i.e., to the period when the northern wall and its apse were built. This is evident from a section of the wall which shows at that level a foundation ledge projecting into the hall. The threshold of the apse is 1.22 m. above the present floor level, and 1.92 m. above the original floor of the building.”27
Pinkerfeld felt that the height of the niche from the original floor was similar to the height of other niches found in the synagogues of Eshtemoa and Naveh in the Hauran that were meant to house Torah scrolls, while the niche, itself, was oriented north towards the Temple Mount. He concluded that it was a synagogue from the first century built after the destruction of the city in 70 AD.
In his own analysis Pixner went one step farther, and wondered whether it was a Judeo-Christian synagogue. Pinkerfeld, he felt, had made two mistakes. First of all he had ruled out the possibility of a Christian place of worship because he felt those places faced east, but the eastern orientation of churches began only in the second half of the fourth century. More intriguingly, the niche that Pinkerfeld believed faced north to the Temple Mount actually faced northeast in the direction of the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. Pixner reasoned that the builders could hardly have made an error in this orientation because the Temple Mount was only a few hundred yards away.
Pinkerfeld had also found some graffiti scratched in the plaster in the original wall which were ultimately published by Emmanuele Testa and Bellarmino Bagatti. They were in Greek, and one of them they interpreted as saying “Conquer, Saviour, Mercy,” and another “Oh Jesus, that I may live. Oh Lord of the Autocrat” which Pixner took as more evidence for a Judeo-Christian synagogue.
The History of the Upper Room
But Pixner’s arguments were based on much more than Pinkerfeld’s findings. The Roman army under Titus had destroyed Jerusalem, and this destruction included the area around the upper room on Mt. Zion, for Pixner had found a layer of destruction dating from that time next to the Cenacle at the Benedictine Abbey of the Dormition of Mary where he lived. The Christian community of that era had escaped annihilation by fleeing to Pella beyond the Jordan, and they returned to Jerusalem after the war and rebuilt their venerable place of gathering. To do this they took cut stones from destroyed buildings, and perhaps even from the ruins of the temple, itself. Some of these stones are still to be seen in the eastern and southern walls of the building. Individual stones as large as 3’ x 3.5’ (96 cm. x 110 cm.) are to be found there, and they show damage to their corners from being transported to the site.
Pixner also makes use of a striking passage found in Epiphanius’ Weights and Measures, written around 392. When the emperor Hadrian came to Jerusalem in the year 130, Epiphanius tells us, “he found the temple of God trodden down and the whole city devastated save for a few houses and the church of God, which was small, where the disciples, when they had returned after the Savior had ascended from the Mount of Olives, went to the upper room. For there it had been built, that is, in that portion of Zion which escaped destruction, together with blocks of houses in the neighborhood of Zion and the seven synagogues which alone remained standing in Zion, like solitary huts, one of which remained until the time of Maximona the bishop and Constantine the king, “like a booth in a vineyard,” (Isaiah 1:8) as it is written.”28
Here Epiphanius makes more precise the information that Luke gave us in Acts because he places the location of the upper room on Mt. Zion. It appears that Epiphanius is drawing on the earlier work of Hegesippus who had written to refute heresies and set down the traditions of the major churches including that of Jerusalem, and these intentions are reflected in Epiphanius’ passage. Further, since Hegesippus lived from 115 to 185 he would have been a teenager at the time of Hadrian’s visit, and later, when collecting the traditions of the Jerusalem church, would have heard about the little Church on Mt. Zion being the site of the upper room.29
And Pixner develops his historical argument in detail:30
Euthychius, patriarch of Alexandria (896-940) in his church history reports that the Christian community returned from Pella to Jerusalem in the fourth year of the emperor Vespasian (73 AD), and built their church, a church that was under the direction of Simon the son of Cleophas.
The church historian Eusebius, writing around 312 in his Demostratio Evangelica, tells us how the Gospel “poured forth from Jerusalem and Mt. Zion adjacent to it, in which our Savior and Lord had stayed many times and where he taught much doctrine.” And he wrote that “the throne of James has been kept until now, and the brothers in this place look after it in turn…”
In 333 a pilgrim from Bordeaux who may have been a Christian of Jewish origin, upon arriving in Jerusalem went first to Mt. Zion and entered the “wall of Zion” and wrote: “Inside Zion, within the wall, you can see where David had his palace. Seven synagogues were there, but only one is left – the rest have been “ploughed and sown” as was said by the prophet Isaiah (1:8).”
In 348 AD Cyril of Jerusalem gave a sermon at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in which he said that it would be more appropriate when speaking of the Holy Spirit to do so “in the upper church of the apostles.” Pixner surmises that Cyril didn’t give the sermon at the site of the upper room because Jewish Christians were in charge of the site, and at that period were at odds with Christians of Gentile origins.
Around 400 AD a mosaic in the apse of St. Pudentiana in Rome shows what Pixner felt was the first Byzantine church on Mt. Zion built in the days of the emperor Theodosius in the form of an octagon, and next to it a rectangular building which is the original Church of the Apostles. Similarly, the 6th century mosaic map in Madaba, Jordan shows the later Byzantine church of Holy Zion that replaced the one built in Theodosius’ time, and next to it again the original Church of the Apostles. It is only with the building of the crusader church of St. Mary’s of Mt. Zion that the original building was incorporated in a large church building, and the crusaders built a second story on the small church to commemorate the upper room.
Around 440 Eucherius, archbishop of Lyon, wrote that the foundations of the church of Mt. Zion “have been laid by the apostles in reverence to the place of the resurrection of the Lord.” This Pixner takes as possibly referring to the orientation of the building by way of its niche to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, but isn’t it possible that it referred to the resurrection appearance of Jesus at this site?
Mimouni adds the testimony of Alexander of Cyprus, a 6th century monk who in his Discourse on the Finding of the Cross writes: “After the taking of the city the believers, having come again to the holy Sion, chose for a second bishop of Jerusalem Simon son of Cleophas... Eyewitness, hearer and cousin of the Lord... (Hadrian) having come to the holy city, having seen it razed except for the Church of Christ still standing, ordered the rebuilding of the city except for the temple.”31
While staying at the Dormition Abbey Pixner had the chance to carry out further explorations.32 The Jewish historian Josephus had indicated the landmarks that defined the “first wall” of Jerusalem which had gone from the Hippicus tower south through a place called Bethso to the gate of the Essenes. Following the work of Frederick Bliss in the 1890s, Pixner relocated the Essene Gate, and the Essene quarter just south of the Church of the Apostles, including ritual baths and the Bethso, or Essene bathroom facilities located outside the wall. This archaeological evidence fits well with historical data that points to the existence of an Essene community in Jerusalem. The Gate of the Essenes had been destroyed with the rest of the city in 70 AD, but another gate had been built upon its ruins, one that Pixner believed could have been part of a wall built by the Jewish Christians around their area and the Cenacle in the early 3rd century and which was mentioned by the Bordeaux pilgrim. Now we can see the relevance of the identification of the man with the water pitcher. Thiede suggests that in Jesus’ time only women carried jars of water, while male slaves would have carried water skins. Thus, the man the disciples encountered might have been part of a group that had neither wives nor slaves.33 In short, he may have been an Essene from this Essene Quarter on Mt. Zion. Then it would be possible to take Luke’s, “as you go into the city” to mean precisely that, that is, having entered the Essene Gate you will encounter a man carrying a pitcher of water.
Criticisms of the Authenticity of the Upper Room
Given the fragmentary nature of the archaeological and historical evidence that Pixner draws on, it is not surprising that many of the points he makes have been disputed.34 Let’s look at some of these modern debates in order to gauge how solid Pixner’s case is. Again the most systematic criticisms have been leveled by Joan Taylor. She brushed aside the identification of the Essene quarter in the area around the site of the upper room, and preferred to emphasize the 1971 archaeological investigations of Magen Broshi who found evidence of an upper class neighborhood on Mt. Zion. She argued that since Christians were not an upper class movement, it was “very unlikely” that they had had their center there. This line of reasoning, however, was refuted by Jerome Murphy-O’Connor with a list of people among the first Christians who could have had economic resources,35 and Pixner, himself, who pointed out the discovery of humble dwellings, as well, in this area.36
Taylor also discounts Eusebius’ mention of Mt. Zion in his Demonstratio Evangelica and points out that he never mentioned Mt. Zion as the site of the first Christian church. She felt that his remarks about the movement of the episcopal chair of James indicated a lack of a permanent home for it. But Murphy-O’Connor reasons that this passage could simply mean that the succeeding bishops of Jerusalem took the throne into their own homes in turn, and Peter Walker explores in detail the theological reasons that Eusebius might have had for not speaking of the church on Mt. Zion.37
She finds nothing of importance as well in the mention by the Bordeaux pilgrim of the seven synagogues on Mt. Zion with only one remaining, for she considers it unlikely that the synagogue, surrounded as it was by ruins and fields, was used. Epiphanius is alone, she writes, in recording a tradition about a church on Mt. Zion at the time of Hadrian’s visit in the second century, but she discounts this remarkable testimony by saying that he is writing 50 years after a Byzantine church had been built around which many legends had accumulated, and she concludes: “We have no way of assessing the historical reliability of this statement.” For Murphy-O’Connor, on the other hand, this central passage of Epiphanius, a native of Palestine, about the little Church of God existing at Hadrian’s time, points to the same tradition that the Bordeaux pilgrim was drawing on. “The identical reference to Isaiah 1:8 makes it certain that Epiphanius and the pilgrim drew on the same local tradition which mentioned the survival of a single synagogue into the third decade of the fourth century.” But since Hadrian had excluded the Jews from the city, how could there be a functioning synagogue? Murphy-O’Connor resolved this paradox by finding in this passage of Epiphanius a combination of two traditions so that the church and the synagogue refer to the same building that was a Jewish-Christian place of assembly. Sometime before 348 this building was transformed “because the pilgrim Egeria would casually mention how it had been altered into a church.”38
When Taylor turns to archaeological matters she maintains her predominantly negative outlook. She ignores the potential significance of the orientation of the niche, and she doubts that the present building contains the remains of an early synagogue because the niche for the Torah scrolls is just a little too high, and it is not centered. She goes on: “The size of the blocks of stone used are inconsistent with the small size proposed for this synagogue.”39 Further, if the niche were centered the building would be rather narrow, she tells us, at 10.5 meters by 5.8 meters. While it is true that the niche is not centered since the western parts of the north and south walls are missing, there is no way to determine the actual size of the room
Taylor also notes that there is a block of stone 90 x 108 centimeters in the southeast angle of the building, and 96 x 110 centimeters in the third course of masonry, and she feels that such large blocks indicate Byzantine construction because the poor Jewish Christians would not have had the resources to move and use such blocks, and would have used field stone instead. But could the Christian rebuilders have moved a block of stone some 3 feet x 3.5 feet x 4.2 feet as found in the third course of the eastern wall? Despite Taylor’s misgivings, if we take the limestone of this block to weigh 163 pounds per cubic foot, the block, itself, would be roughly 7,000 lbs., not light, but a far cry from the 80 to 100 tons of the temple foundation stones, and intriguingly close in weight to the 3 to 5 ton ashlars, or rectangular chiseled stones from the destroyed upper reaches of the temple’s retaining wall.40
The blocks of stone are of uneven width, and the blocks in the first course are of uneven height. Some of the blocks have damaged corners, all of which facts point to their reuse. They come, with all probability, from some pre-70 building, perhaps the temple, itself, as we saw. Therefore we can imagine the first Christians deliberately using these stones to incorporate some of the virtue of the old temple into their new temple. This act, if it, indeed, took place, may be referred to, according to Pixner, in the apocryphal Fourth Ode of Solomon composed by a Judeo-Christian group who disapproved of their reuse around 100 A.D. “No man can pervert your holy place, O God, nor can he change it, and put it in another place, because (he has) no power over it. Your sanctuary you designed before you made special places.”41 Further, it does not seem likely that the well-equipped and supplied Byzantine masons would have taken these early ashlars, damaged them while moving them, and laid them up in uneven courses, as is seen in today’s wall.
Taylor also denies that the lower floor is, in fact, earlier than the Byzantine structure on the grounds that an earlier Byzantine floor of smooth stones could have been later covered by a mosaic floor. But this is a supposition that goes against Pinkerfeld’s conclusion that he drew from direct observation. Murphy-O’Connor, on the other hand, while lamenting the sketchy character of Pinkerfeld’s report, accepts the conclusion that a building existed on this site in the late Roman period, or second or third century, and he does so on the basis of the floor levels. But he is less happy about the niche, itself. He accepts that Pixner is closer than Pinkerfeld in his evaluation of the orientation of the niche, but feels Pixner has provided no parallels to demonstrate its meaning. Pixner does, however, point to the Constantine’s Martyrium and the tomb of Mary as being oriented to the tomb of Jesus. The synagogue of Eshtemoa that Pinkerfeld cites as evidence of niche orientation is from the fourth century, and the first century synagogues of Gamla and Masada have no oriented niches.
If the niche is from the Byzantine basilica of Holy Zion, what was its purpose? Here Taylor follows John Wilkinson who believed that it was more likely that the wall that contained the niche “was a short projection forming the exterior of an inscribed apse.” These kinds of wall projections, he felt, often contained an outside niche or cupboard.42
Murphy-O’Connor found it prejudicial that Pinkerfeld had carried out his study of the building with the idea in his mind that it was a synagogue oriented to the temple by the niche.43 And he follows Wilkinson in believing that the niche belongs to a later Byzantine structure.44 Yet this evaluation does not prevent him, as we saw, from concluding on the basis of the floor levels described by Pinkerfeld to the pre-Byzantine existence of a building on this site. At the same time, we need to remember that Pinkerfeld felt that the niche was structurally connected to the earliest floor level, a point that Wilkinson does not address either.
If it could be shown that first century Palestinian synagogues had niches in walls oriented to Jerusalem, then it would be more likely that early Jewish Christians could have carried on this tradition and oriented their building not to the destroyed temple, but to the tomb of Christ. But this is a question whose answer is surrounded with difficulties. Early synagogues often made use of preexisting buildings as appears to be true in the cases of Masada and the Herodian, so any orientation would belong to the original structures. In a 1st century B.C. underground room, however, in Shuafat north of Jerusalem, that was turned into a prayer room, there might have been a niche oriented to the city.45 Similarly, the early synagogue at Gamla seems to be oriented towards Jerusalem46 and the early second century niches of Nabratein.47
The association of ritual baths with first century synagogues sheds an interesting light on the Cenacle. The Essenes of Mt. Zion had their ritual baths outside the walls, but next to the Cenacle. Pixner excavated a ritual bath dating to the time before the first Jewish war which he felt might have been associated with the meeting place of the first Jewish Christians.48
Taylor objects to the conclusion that the graffiti are early because they are in Greek rather than Aramaic, and therefore should be dated to post-Constantine times. But the use of Greek among Jews in New Testament times in Palestine is well attested. Further, graffiti would be less likely to have been made by local primary Aramaic speakers than by visitors from elsewhere who would have more readily used Greek. Murphy-O’Connor finds the reading of the graffito, “Oh, Jesus that I may live, Oh, Lord of the Autocrat,” “bizarre.” But he points out that E. Peuch sees a mention of Jesus here in a Christian context.
Murphy-O’Connor, in an elegant piece of historical reconstruction, bolsters the case for an early Christian tradition pointing to a church on Mt. Zion. The fact that Christians were persecuted by Jewish rebels at the time of the second Jewish war probably led to there being allowed to stay in Hadrian’s new city. But the church on Mt. Zion was cut off from easy access to the city by the camp of the 10th Legion Fretensis which was located between Mt. Zion and the residential section of the city. This forced the Christians to go around it, and the journey either to the east or west posed significant difficulties. He concludes: “Such difficulties make it impossible that Jerusalem Christians should have invented a holy place on Mount Zion in the 2nd century. If, despite all obstacles, they maintained contact with a site there, it must have been of extreme importance to them. This means that veneration of the site must be pushed back into the 1st century and prior to the fall of Jerusalem.”49
This conclusion would be weakened, he felt, if it could be shown that the early Christian community at the time of the first Jewish war fled Jerusalem to Pella and never returned, or after the second war the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem were entirely replaced by Gentile Christians, as Eusebius indicated, attenuating the later community’s connection to earlier traditions, but he argues that a solution to these difficulties does not demand a flight to Pella, and the Christians could have left the city, as hinted in the Gospel of Mark, but have gone only 10 to 20 kilometers north of it and have been gone no more than 18 months, and despite what Eusebius said, the Jewish Christians were not completely replaced by the Gentile Christian community.
The niche, its orientation, the earliest walls and their reused blocks, as well as the floor levels, have all been subjected, as we have seen, to conflicting interpretations. It seems, however, excessive to simply set aside the conclusions of Pinkerfeld concerning the earliest floor level and its connection with the niche which were based on direct observations which cannot, as of now, be repeated. It is possible, however, to draw a more restrained conclusion from those observations, as does Murphy-O’Connor who, basing himself on the floor levels, accepts the existence of a building on the site in the second or third century, and a likelihood of a Christian attachment to the spot going back to the first century.
That being said, it is clear that there is a pressing need for a thorough archaeological examination of the building. As an interim measure the kind of physical and historical examination that Martin Biddle and his team carried out in regard to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is much to be desired, and would prepare the way for a deeper physical examination of the building and its site.
There are no grounds to set aside the mutually reinforcing testimony of Epiphaneus and the Bordeaux pilgrim, and Jerome Murphy-O’Connor’s case for a first century tradition is reasonably persuasive.
Joan Taylor had concluded her examination of the archaeological and historical data by saying: “This examination therefore finds no evidence that would prove a Jewish-Christian community existed on Mt. Zion at any time.” Placing the Byzantine basilica there might have “just” owed something to tradition, but may have been simply a matter of expediency.
This negative conclusion is unwarranted. The preponderance of the evidence points in the opposite direction. The site of the upper room, the scene of so many dramatic events in the life of Jesus, would have been indelibly burned into the minds and hearts of his first followers. They would have had every reason to rebuild on the site of the upper room after the destruction of Jerusalem.
In a centuries-long guessing game people have been trying to determine just who was Cleophas’ companion. Was it Luke, himself, or Cleophas’ son Simon who later became the second bishop of Jerusalem? There is, of course, no way of knowing. But the choice of Cleophas’ wife – perhaps Mary the wife of Clopas whose St. John’s Gospel places at the foot of the cross – makes particular sense and provides us with a way to read the story of Emmaus from a slightly different perspective. Then we can imagine that she was among the women who went to the tomb and ran to tell the apostles and her husband that it was empty, and that they had seen angels. But as Luke bluntly puts it, the apostles thought that this was nonsense, so there is a sense of tension between the men and the women. Then we can imagine Cleophas and Mary walking home that same day, and animatedly discussing what had occurred, even arguing about it, and Jesus comes and says, “What are you discussing?” Now they are provided with a fresh audience, a person who apparently has not heard about what has been going on.
Once again Jesus is difficult to recognize. Carsten Thiede who walked the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus which goes west towards Jaffa on the coast described how when one walks into the setting sun one’s eyes are naturally held in the sense of being lowered because to look up would be to be struck by its rays.50 This would have impeded Mary and Cleophas from seeing clearly a person who came up beside them. But the real lack of recognition is deeper and more mysterious. It is as if their hearts had to burn in order to be able recognize Jesus.
Along with the identity of Cleophas’ companion, the site of Emmaus has long been in dispute, as well. In Byzantine times Emmaus/Nicopolis was favored, but Luke leaves us with two clues that point elsewhere. First he tells us twice that Emmaus was a village, and then that it was some 60 stadia, or about 7 miles from Jerusalem.51 On both counts Nicopolis is ruled out, for it had long since been counted as a city, and was some 160 stadia from Jerusalem. It was hardly a place from which Cleophas and his companion could jump up in the early evening and make it back to Jerusalem. A more likely choice is another place called Emmaus by Josephus which he tells us is some 30 stadia or 3.5 miles from Jerusalem, and which was known as Motza in Jesus’ time. After the first Jewish war it was renamed Colonia because Titus turned it into a colony for 800 of his veterans. This name change would explain why when pilgrims began to flood into Judea after the time of Constantine and looked around for Emmaus, they found Emmaus/ Nicopolis and not Emmaus/Motza, and settled for that. Some later biblical manuscripts were altered to read 160 stadia probably to better match the distance to Nicopolis.
Motza was a well-watered and fertile place, perhaps containing country homes of Jerusalem’s well-to-do. In 2001 an archaeological team, codirected by Carsten Thiede and Egon Lass, began excavations at Motza and discovered fragments of a klal, a stone water jar of the sort described in John’s Gospel’s account of the wedding at Cana.52 The manufacturing of this type of stone jar had stopped with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The fact that after that time Motza was a veteran’s colony confirms the pre-70 age of the fragments, and thus the existence of a Jewish community there that could have been the home of Cleophas and his family.
This Emmaus is some 4.8 miles from Jerusalem, not Josephus’ 3.4 miles or Luke’s 6.8 miles, but enough, at an hour and a half walk or so, to give Jesus sufficient time to expound the Scriptures and for Cleophas and his companion to return quickly to Jerusalem. The old Roman road from Jerusalem to Jaffa that goes through Motza leaves Jerusalem by way of the Jaffa Gate (in the past the Western gate, or the gate of David), goes along present-day Jaffa Street, Weizman Boulevard, Giv’at Saul Street and Ketav Sofer Street, passing north of Giv’at Ram, the site of a Roman fort and military pottery, passing through today’s Jerusalem’s forest and then down the “ascent of the Romans” (ma’ale roma’im’) paralleling the present-day highway to arrive at Wadi Qaluniya (Nahel Soreq) where it used to cross the stream there by means of what was probably an old Roman bridge.53
Luke’s account is nicely detailed, and while scripture scholars passed through a stage in which it was common to disparage his knowledge of Palestinian geography, that opinion appears to be changing. Luke knew little about the geography in the north of the country, but his knowledge of Jerusalem and the coast was much better, for he probably traveled through that region himself. Coming from Caesarea to Jerusalem he may well have passed through Motza and, indeed, may have learned the story of Emmaus first-hand from Cleophas and Mary or their son Simon.54
The Sea of Galilee
John 21: 1-3: “1After this, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. 2Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. 3Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”
At least seven of the disciples are together in Galilee. They are probably in Capernaum staying at Peter’s house. They have come to Galilee to meet their Risen Lord. For some reason two of them are left unnamed. Perhaps one of them is Andrew, Peter’s brother and a fisherman, himself. Peter has an active temperament. He would rather be doing something than waiting for something to happen. He decides to go fishing. They go out and get in their boat moored in the harbor of Capernaum not far from Peter’s house. It is nighttime.55
John 21: 4-6: “4When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” 6So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.”
They fished through the night, but caught nothing. As dawn is breaking they are about 100 yards offshore and someone calls to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” Paidia or children, is probably used like the present-day “boys” or “guys.”56 The disciples answer no. Then the stranger, hard to see at a distance and in the uncertain light of dawn, says, “Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.” Would they be likely to take direction from a stranger? An observer on shore could be and was used to detect shoals of fish, so they dropped the net and caught so many fish they could not drag it into the boat.
John 21: 7-8: “7So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. 8The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish.”
Seeing the multitude of fish triggers John’s memory of an earlier remarkable catch from the beginning of their time with Jesus. (Luke 5: 1-11) And he realizes who the stranger is. It is the Lord. Peter in his usual impetuous fashion puts on his outer garment and leaps into the water.
Is it possible to delve more deeply into the background of this story? Where, for example, did it take place? The most likely location is Tabgha on the west shore of the Sea of Galilee, north of Tiberius and about two kilometers southwest of Capernaum. The name Tabgha is a corruption of the Arabic et tabigha which in turn renders the Greek heptapegon or seven springs.57 It is these warm (26 degrees centigrade) and mineralized springs that enter the lake here that allow us to understand the fishing background that the author takes for granted. In winter and spring the springs attract the warmth-loving musht, or St. Peter’s fish, making Tabgha a favorite spot for the nearby Capernaum fishermen. Indeed, the remains of an ancient harbor are still to be found there, and this may have been the place where when Jesus was walking along the shore he called Peter and Andrew who were casting their net in the sea, and a little further on, James and John, who were in their boat mending their nets, and told them they would become fishers of men. (Mark 1: 16-20) Indeed, one of the springs falling into the lake makes it an ideal place to wash nets.58
According to Mendel Nun, a member of kibbutz Ein Gev on the east side of the lake and a longtime fisherman in these waters, it is possible to discover in this account both the type of fish the disciples caught and how they did it. There were three main kinds of nets used on the Sea of Galilee. The seine net was set from a boat in an arc whose mouth faced the shore, and then dragged ashore by two groups of men. But this kind of fishing was not appropriate for Tabgha because of its rocky bottom. Then there was the circular cast net with its weighted edge which was thrown by a single fisherman, and finally the trammel net which consisted of three layers of net. The outer and inner layers were made of a wide mesh through which the fish could pass, but the middle layer was of a narrower mesh which the fish pushed through the other layers, and entangled themselves. This was a method of fishing that was used at night so that the fish could not see the net.
When fishing for musht who had the ability to leap to escape the net, a special variety of the trammel net was used. The 3-layered trammel net, itself, was dropped in the form of a barrel enclosing the fish, and then a net, the veranda net, was laid horizontally around the outside top of the barrel so that jumping fish would be ensnared in it. Finally, the fish that were not caught either in the barrel net or in the veranda, were taken with a casting net that was thrown inside the barrel, and a fisherman dove down either to pick the fish out individually, or to gather them up in the net, itself.
In our story Jesus on the shore sees a school of musht, or Tilapia Galilea, which can weigh 1.5 kilos.59 The disciples surround them with the barrel and verenda nets, and ensnare a great number of fish so that the nets and fish weigh so much they cannot be lifted back into the boat. Peter has taken off his outer garments to dive down and retrieve the cast net. The boat makes for shore and Peter puts on his outer garment to greet the Lord with more religious decorum, and then jumps into the water!
John 21: 9-14: “9When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. 10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. 13Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. 14This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.”
The scenario of trammel net fishing would explain how the disciples could not draw the heavily laden trammel nets into their boat, yet Peter could drag the net ashore, for the net in question is the cast net, even though that must have been a struggle since with 153 fish in it it probably weighed more than 300 pounds. An apparently discordant note in the story is the fact that the Gospel writers speak of one boat instead of the two that were usual in this kind of fishing. Some commentators, however, have seen the boat (ploion) of verses 3 and 6 representing the fishing boat, while the little boat (ploiarion) of verse 8 represents a dinghy.60 Thus, the disciples could get into the boat when setting out from Capernaum and have pulled the dinghy behind them and used it later to set the barrel net.
The fire may have been charcoal, or perhaps it was a wood fire that had been allowed to burn down to coals for grilling. The fresh-caught tilapia would have made a good addition to breakfast. The difficulty in recognizing Jesus had not been just from the uncertain light of early dawn, but continues the theme we have seen elsewhere, both in John’s Gospel and in Luke, pointing to the fact that these two different resurrection traditions agree about this fundamental phenomenon. The disciples did not have to ask who this was. They wanted to question him but did not dare. The bread and fish, themselves, could have evoked in their minds the multiplication of the loaves and fish, as well as further eucharistic resonances, for Tabgha is the traditional place of the first multiplication of the loaves.
There is no textural evidence that John’s Gospel circulated without chapter 21.61 If a later editor added chapter 21, would he be adding some ancient material about the first appearance to Peter, as Brown surmises?62 Why wouldn’t the author of John’s Gospel have included it if it was such a central event, and if we argue that he didn’t know about it, then how would someone so intimately connected with his circle have learned of it? Could it be that the original appearance of Jesus to the twelve took place in Jerusalem, and the author of John’s Gospel did not include the later Galilean appearances, but those stories were passed on orally and then were written down as an epilogue to the Gospels later?
Verse 11 has been translated to mean that Peter went back onboard the boat, but it is possible to read it in the sense that Peter went up or came up,63 and so see it perhaps as describing Peter as going back into the water and dragging the net full of fish ashore. This difficulty in the text, among other anomalies, has led scholars to suppose that the story is a composite, but again they differ in how this was done, and the reasons they advance are not particularly convincing, nor is it obvious that this appearance is to be identified with the first appearance to Peter, as we saw before. Would Peter, for example, have gone back to fishing as a profession after the discovery of the empty tomb? Were Thomas and Nathaniel from Cana fishermen before, and therefore likely to have been back in the boat with him? And if they had seen Jesus before in Jerusalem, does that rule out that they would have difficulty in recognizing him in Galilee?
The theory is also advanced that this first appearance to Peter after the resurrection was taken by Luke who didn’t want to have any Galilean appearances, and placed at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 5:1-11) where there is another remarkable catch of fish. Why wouldn’t Peter react to the remarkable catch of fish, as Luke recounts, for he realized he was in the presence of the holy, and understood his own unworthiness? And why would Luke not have simply dropped the resurrection story or reduced it to his terse “the Lord has risen indeed and he has appeared to Simon”?
Mendel Nun thinks that the fishing scene in Luke 5 is also an example of fishing for musht with trammel nets, for trammel nets were the kind of nets washed in the morning, and musht were the only large type of fish that gathered in schools. This kind of fishing was traditionally done at night because during the day the fish could see and attempt to avoid the nets. Nun, however, seems to indicate that the schools of musht also gathered during the morning hours in winter.64 Simon’s boat sets out, lowers the trammel nets, and then signals the other boat to come and help with the abundant catch.
Is this the event that John is describing?
There are certainly similarities between the two scenes. Simon and his companions have fished all night and caught nothing, and both scenes indicate trammel net fishing, and both likely took place at Tabgha, but are they two versions of the same scene? The differences are more extensive than the similarities. In Luke the fishing takes place in the morning because it was late enough for the crowds to have gathered to hear Jesus. Interestingly, there is a bay near Tabgha which has excellent acoustics and could, in fact, be the place where Jesus taught. In John, the day is just dawning when the disciples see Jesus, although they don’t recognize him. Even under the apparent similarities, differences abound. Jesus in Luke is standing on the shore, but the fishermen are on the shore, as well. Not so in John. There are two boats in Luke, but they start off close to the shore empty. The fishermen are washing their nets, as they were accustomed to do at the spring at Tabgha. The actual catch of fish, while it is the same kind of fish caught by the same kind of nets, in Luke takes place in deep water, while in John takes place close to shore. In Luke they signal for the other boat to help them with the catch, and they fill the boats with the nets and the fish entangled with them, but in John they tow the nets to shore. While it is true that while Luke is probably describing the use of a trammel net, according to Nun, John is likely talking about a trammel net with a veranda net, which uses two boats in contrast to Luke’s one boat. Were there, in fact, two boats in John’s account? Nun thinks it likely because there would be no need for seven people in one boat, and if James and John were part of this fishing party, they would have had access to another boat. Thus, “boat” and “small boat” in John’s text might, in fact, refer to two different vessels, as we saw. The evidence that these two stories stem from the same event is not convincing. It is likely that Peter and his companions habitually fished at Tabgha, and so there is no reason why only one Gospel story could taken place there.
John’s story has the feel and texture of an eye-witness account. Fishing, of course, is not the focus of the story, but it resonates with what is known about the fish and the traditional methods of catching them on the Sea of Galilee in those days. Most likely this story originates with someone who was a fisherman, himself.
Next He Appeared to the 500
About the appearance of Jesus to more than 500 people the New Testament tells us nothing except for Paul’s rather off-hand remark that most of those who were present were still alive, although some had died. This remark leaves us with the impression that he was reporting in what to his mind was a well-attested event. But where could it have taken place? Let’s allow our imagination some freedom. After Jesus appeared to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee when they returned to Capernaum in their boat, news of this appearance would have spread rapidly. Since Capernaum was at the heart of Jesus’ Galilean ministry, many of the followers of Jesus would have set out for Tabgha with the hope of seeing him. Having looked for him on the shore, they would have sought him next on the hillside above the springs where he was accustomed to withdraw into solitude to pray. It is that hillside that is a likely location for Jesus’ appearance to them.
Why didn’t the evangelists mention this remarkable appearance? Mark, as we have him now, reports no appearances, and Luke confines his to Jerusalem. But John and Matthew tell of appearances that took place in Galilee. In John’s case we might imagine if the appearance of Jesus on the shore took place right before the appearance to the 500, then he was allowing the most important part to stand for the whole. Matthew, on the other hand, tells us that Jesus had arranged to meet the eleven on a mountain in Galilee. What if this mountain was, in fact, the mountain that overlooked Tabgha? Then we could see Matthew’s account as a reflection and condensation of the Sea of Galilee/500 appearances of Jesus. 65
When Paul writes that Jesus next appeared to the 500, and then goes on to say, then to James, and then to the apostles, this, too, might be a stylized and traditional account of the Galilean appearances with the “next” distinguishing these appearances from those in Jerusalem, and the “thens” indicating that they took place in a chronological group. It is certainly not unreasonable to imagine Jesus appearing to James in Galilee where they had grown up.
In Chapters 1 and 2 we have immersed ourselves in the resurrection appearances, especially from the perspective of how reasonable it is to believe that they happened. We have seen that there is no reason to suppose that they were fabricated at a later date, and many reasons to accept that their origins are to be found close to the event of the resurrection, itself, as attempts to faithfully portray it. Next we have to ask in Chapters 3 and 4 just what it means to speak of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
(1) Kloner’s suggestion that the blocking stone was rectangular has received support from Martin Biddle, p. 110, and Gibson and Taylor, p. 62.
(2) Kloner, p. 29.
(4) Hadrian appears to have imitated the architecture of Herod’s enclosure wall of the temple when building his own enclosure wall for his temple on the site of the burial of Jesus. (Bahat, p. 32-3) But if this is so, then it makes it more likely that his placement of the temple in this spot was deliberate rather than accidental, for he seems to be making a statement, which says that the religion of Rome ought to replace the religion of the Christians. Incidentally, the back wall of Hadrian’s temple was constructed almost on top of the traditional tomb of Jesus, as can be seen in Corbo, II, plate 68.
(5) Corbo, I, p.29; but some of the first Christians might have moved there: Pixner, Wege, p. 310.
(6) Walker, p. 240.
(7) It has been suggested that the kochim style tomb found in the Syrian chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre may have formed one complex with the tomb of Christ (Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, p. 53) similar to tombs of Beni Hezir in the Kidron Valley (p. 116) which has rooms with burial benches directly connected to kochim graves. But the distance between the tomb of Christ and these burial benches in the Holy Sepulchre is some 10 meters (see Corbo, II, plate 3) and thus could be a separate grave site.
(8) As cited in Biddle, p. 72.
(9) Ibid., p. 73.
(11) Biddle, p. 118.
(13) Mimouni, p. 341. Similar criticisms have been leveled against their fellow Franciscan Virgilio Corbo and his work on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. See Bahat.
(14) Mimouni, p. 345.
(15) Taylor, Christians and Holy Places, p. 137.
(16) Taylor, “Golgotha,” p. 182.
(17) See Biddle, Taylor, Christians and Holy Places, Taylor “Golgotha”, and Taylor, Onomasticon.
(18) Biddle, p. 61.
(19) Gibson and Taylor, p. 57.
(20) Walker p. 253.
(21) Taylor, “Golgotha,” p. 203.
(22) Murphy-O’Connor, The Holy Land, reads it as D D M NOMINUS, and interprets that to mean “Marcus Nominus gave it” (p. 55) but we can ask, “gave what?”
(23) Thiede, The True Cross, p.120.
(24) Bruce, p. 40, and p. 40, note 44. The “where they were staying” has been taken to mean a permanent residence, and Blue shows that such a gathering place, whether rented or owned by a believer, is in accord with what history tells us of these kinds of arrangements. (Blue, pp. 130-5, especially p. 130 note 43). Also Pixner, Wege, p. 327-8.
(25) Reisner, p.207, note 167.
(26) Pinkerfeld, p. 41. Wikipedia defines an apse as “a semicircular recess covered with a hemispherical vault.”
(27) Ibid., p. 43.
(28) Epiphanius, Weights and Measures, p. 30.
(29) Capper, p. 347. Capper points out that Epiphanius’ reference to the little Church of God is incidental to his purpose in writing, which was to talk about Aquila, a translator of the scriptures, who had accompanied Hadrian and this argues for its authenticity.
(30) Pixner, “Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion.”
(31) Mimouni, p. 376.
(32) Pixner, “Jerusalem’s Essene Gateway.”
(33) Thiede, The Earliest Gospel Manuscript?, p. 57.
(34) For a negative view of whether a Judeo-Christian community could have existed on Mt. Zion see the Israeli archaeologist Hillel Geva and the response of Pixner in BAR March/April 1998, p. 14-16.
(35) Taylor, Christians and Holy Places, p.208. Murphy-O’Connor, “The Cenacle,” p. 320. (36) Pixner, himself, has pointed out the discovery of humble dwellings, as well, in this area. Wege, p. 350.
(37) Murphy-O’Connor, The Cenacle,” p. 312. Walker, p. 290.
(38) Murphy-O’Connor, “The Cenacle” p. 308-9.
(39) Taylor, Christians and Holy Places, p. 215.
(40) Geva, “Searching for Roman Jerusalem” BAR Nov-Dec 1997, p. 37, picture and caption.
(41) Pixner, “Church of the Apostles Found on Mt. Zion,” p. 28.
(42) Wilkinson, p. 170 and p. 168 figure # 115.
(43) Murphy-O’Connor, “ The Cenacle,” p. 305.
(44) Murphy-O’Connor, Holy Land, p. 106.
(45) Reisner, p. 192.
(46) Ibid., p. 185.
(47) Ibid., p. 2. Measurements by Michael Germano, however, indicate that the wall with the niche was pointing 51 degrees clockwise away from the temple, 11 degrees counterclockwise away from the site of the crucifixion, and 8 degrees counterclockwise from the tomb of Christ, leading him to conclude that the orientation of the building was due to the practical matter of insuring sufficient natural light would come through its windows.
(48) Pixner, Wege, p. 350. Could Peter and John have run to the tomb of Jesus from the upper room on Mt. Zion? And would such a run have been a conspicuous one, passing through the city, and therefore out of character with the seclusion they were in for fear of the Jews? They could, perhaps, have exited through the Essene Gate and run to the tomb outside the walls of the city, a distance of roughly 1500 meters, or somewhat more than a mile.
(49) Murphy-O’Connor,” The Cenacle,” p. 315.
(50) Thiede, The Emmaus Mystery, p. 97.
(51) Fitzmyer, 1561: Estadion = 607 English feet; 60 stadia = 6.8 miles; 160 stadia = 18.4 miles.
(52) Thiede, The Emmaus Mystery, p. 168.
(53) Thiede, p. 97, Roman Roads, p. 95-97, 222ff., and JMO, The Holy Land, p. 398ff.
(54) For Luke’s geographical knowledge see Hengel.
(55) A fishing boat from the time of Jesus discovered on the Sea of Galilee was 9 meters long, 2.5 meters wide, and 1.25 meters high, which is very close to the dimensions of seine net boats on the lake today. (Nun, The Sea of Galilee, p. 62) The boat some take to mean the boat habitually used for fishing. (Brown, p. 1069)
(56) Morris, p. 761, n. 11.
(57) Pixner, Wege, p. 84.
(58) Ibid., p. 85.
(59) Nun, The Sea of Galilee.
(60) Morris, p. 763, note 21. Brown, John, p. 1069.
(61) Brown, John, p. 1077.
(62) Brown John, p. 1081.
(63) Brown, John, 1073.
(64) Nun, The Sea of Galilee, p. 55.
(65) Pixner connects the appearance of Jesus on the mountain to the appearance to the 500, both taking place on the hillside above Tabgha. With Jesus, p. 130. Wege, p. 98.
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