Around the World: Jesus’ Crucifixion, Dressing and Burial at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

You best believe that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is absolutely one of the coolest and craziest places on the planet. When I lived in Jerusalem I used to go there all the time, and it was one of my favorite place to take people when they visited me.

The Building

This building, constructed in multiple stages (Byzantine period, Crusader period and repairs until the 1800s – but not since due to a treaty that forbids modifications not agreed upon by all six Christian denominations there) is a series of twists and turns with bizarre, dark outlets, rooms and altars, and the neatest parts of the church can only be discovered if you know what you’re doing in there.

Another time I will include pictures of old tombs in the back, rock quarries in the bottom and all sorts of weird other places, and for now I’ll settle for telling you about the three pictures I’ve attached above.

The Three Stages

The three pictures represent the final three stages in the Stations of the Cross, Jesus’ bearing of his cross from his condemnation to his burial. The first site is on a small mountain, known as Golgotha (and bear in mind that this would have all been outside the first century walls of the city though it is now right inside the Arab quarter). Allegedly, this is where Jesus’ cross was erected (and I’ll tell you why this is exceedingly unlikely below). There is a tasteful statue of Jesus on a cross there now just so you can really get the full idea.

The second picture is where his body was laid when it was taken down from the cross – on that slab with the lamp-like incense-holder looking things above it. Though people come and kiss this slab and rub things on it for good luck, they fail to realize that due to damages and wear, the previous slab was replaced in the 19th century – and it’s unclear how long that one had been there anyway.

The final picture is the structure that houses the tomb (carved out of what was once a rock face) where Jesus’ body was supposedly laid for the three days before his resurrection. The line to go inside is often pretty long but once you get in and look up through the ante-chamber, you see right up to the top of the dome beneath you. The silver picture of the Virgin Mary inside actually looks just like T-1000 from Terminator 2.

The History

In fact, it is exceedingly unlikely – nay, near impossible – that Jesus had anything to do with this spot. That’s not to say that he wasn’t crucified and buried – I’m not here to speak about that at all – but only that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is not where any of these things would have happened.

To keep a few points brief, the Church wasn’t constructed until the reign of Constantine in the fourth century, three hundred years after Jesus’ death and long after anyone had seen anything; what’s more, Jerusalem had changed from a Jewish to a pagan-Roman city (and it’s name to Aelia Capitalina) with literally no Jews left inside who would have known the locations of key things.

Additionally, the actual site of the Church was erected on a pagan temple by Constantine in order to show the pagan inhabitants of Jerusalem that their time in the city was up and because people have a habit of building their holy sites on ground already considered holy (place has validity spiritually – just think the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount which was at our period a Temple of Jupiter which before was the Jewish Temple and way before that a Jebusite altar). So the place had spiritual validity but not connected to Jesus.

Finally (though this isn’t final but I thought I should toss out a few reasons), all stories about how the Church’s spot were discovered date only from the fifth century and can be seen to have been invented based on stories of Constantine’s mother coming to the Holy Land, walking around and literally saying – by the power of God, mind you – that this place is where such and such happened “so erect a church here.” And those stories materialized long after her death!

Oh yeah, and because Protestants don’t buy this as the place, they’ve picked a totally different spot in Jerusalem and say the whole thing happened there. Only Coptics, Armenians, Catholics and a few others believe this was the right place.

Why I Love This Place

Well for one thing, it’s frickin’ cool: weird, dungeony, filled with bizarre characters in crazy outfits believing all sorts of wild stuff – and most of whom hate each other and compete with each other by trying to ring their bells louder than their rivals can ring their own bells. It’s also in the heart of the Arab quarter, has tourists from all over the world in it, Jews walking around outside, Christians inside – you can hear the muezzin call, the Church bells ring and the Jews pray from elsewhere. It’s so vibrant. And historically speaking, I don’t need Jesus to have died there for it to be a fascinating place.

The spot’s history is fascinating anyway considering what it actually was before a Christian Church, the way it was conceived of as a Christian holy place, the development of its history and mythologizing and what has happened to it ever since. Crusaders sometimes didn’t call their quest a crusade but rather, The War to Free the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the Muslims. And when they arrived they’d carve crosses in the church’s walls so some places are covered in thousand year old cross carvings – one for every crusader that reached the spot and fought for it.

If you ever go to Jerusalem I highly recommend that you make it a priority and if I’m ever there at the same time, I’d be happy to show you around.

Have you ever visited? What did you think? Would you like to visit? For religious purposes or worldly curiousity? What does your religion tell you the importance of this site is?

Want to see more pictures about holy places in Jerusalem? For the Around the World Pic of the Day on the Dome of the Rock, click HERE.

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Around the World Pic of the Day: Dome of the Rock

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And here I am, in this week’s picture of the week! Where am I? The center of the world – the spot of creation. Holy crap! Now, don’t get me wrong, do I really think that the rock under the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount is the point at which God created the universe. No, of course not, but that doesn’t keep this place from having an amazing aura to it and at the very least a sensational history.

As for the lore, not only was this the place at which God supposedly began the creation of the universe, but it’s also where the Jews eventually concluded that Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Isaac (Genesis 22). This place is supposed to be the land of Moriah – the place connected to where God punished King David for taking a census of the people (does that seem like a good reason to kill 70,000 people?). After seeing the destruction he was reaping, God relented and ordered his angel to stop killing everyone. The place God stopped the angel’s hand was the same place the angel stopped Abraham’s hand from killing Isaac which was over the future site of Jerusalem – and here, on what is now the Temple Mount, was the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. David bought it, built an altar and sacrificed animals there to God.

In the exact spot of this altar, King Solomon built the first Temple to God, destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians and here the Temple was rebuilt sometime in the fifth century BCE, only to be made huge and beautiful by Herod the Great, visited by Jesus himself – who was not pleased by the money changing he saw going on but did teach some lessons (wish I could have been there) – and eventually destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE after a huge Jewish revolt (The Great Revolt).

The Romans built a temple to the god Jupiter on this very site in order to piss off the Jews and after 135, another Jewish revolt (The Bar Kochba Revolt), the Jews were forbidden from ever visiting the area. By the time the Byzantines took over from the fourth through sixth centuries, the site was turned into a garbage dump in order to demonstrate Christian thoughts about the Jewish Temple. Not until the Muslims conquered Jerusalem and still only 60 or so years after that (though Muslim histories will claim that it was Omar, the Muslim conquerer of Jerusalem who built it) was the site cleared and the Dome of the Rock constructed. Due to upkeep and repairs it has stood there ever since the end of the seventh century.

Amazing that one building has been there for over 1300 years. Jerusalem, for the Muslims, is the third holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. Jerusalem is never mentioned by name in the Koran, but a number of references are tied to it. After the 1967 War, known in Israel as the Six Day War, the Temple Mount (Har Ha Bait) as it is known to Jews, was taken and has ever since been under Jewish control, though the Dome of the Rock is still there – and rightfully so.

Now, for some opinions:

The Dome of the Rock has every right to continue standing on the Temple Mount. That beautiful building has been there for a long time, as I mentioned, and should not just be destroyed because Jews (and Christians) want a Third Temple there. Indeed, a Third Temple is a bad idea. Why?

First of all, the Temple implies that there will be a resumption of the animal sacrifice that went on there, which is ludicrous. Jews do not need to start sacrificing animals. Talk about bad additional press. Most of them don’t really understand that modern rabbinic Judaism was actually an attempt to function as a religion without sacrifice when the Temple had been destroyed. So what happens to rabbinic law once sacrifice resumes? Serious problems.

Moreover, from a security standpoint, it’s great that the Dome of the Rock is there because during Israeli-Arab wars, Arab and Muslim countries won’t fire rockets at Jerusalem for fear of their inaccuracy destroying the holy site. That’s a pretty sweet security measure.

So why do Jews and Christians want a Third Temple built? To bring the Messiah of course. Jews just think it will be some dude that can only come with the building of the Temple, and Christians obviously think that it will result in Jesus’ second coming. Supposedly the Messiah will rise over the Mount of Olives and walk through the Lions’ Gate, followed by the recently risen dead of all those buried close. Right…

This is why some of the world’s biggest advocates of bulldozing the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Temple are American conservative Christians. They’re the ones who are in the process of breeding a red cow (needed for sacrifice) so that we’ll be totally ready when the time comes and Jesus can return as soon as possible.

Frankly, though, holy, historical sites should not be destroyed and we should all try to get along better, perhaps putting the site itself under international control and allowing visitors only at certain hours so that the site can be maintained for Muslim worship throughout the day.

Interestingly, school children’s classrooms are up on the Temple Mount and they play soccer in its gardens. It’s a fascinating place and it should be left alone to the designs of history – not deliberate interference.

What do you think? Destroy it and rebuild the Temple? Bring on Jesus? Ever been there? What’d you think? Send me your pictures at JaySolomon@thezenofsouthpark.com and visit http://www.thezenofsouthpark.com for more.

South Park Tonight: the 10 pm episode, “Grey Dawn,” has a great speech by Father Maxi at the memorial service towards the beginning of the episode where he talks about God’s warped sense of humor when He has old people kill others with their cars. Great and poignant. Do we really need to make up ways of understanding God when we don’t understand why things happen?

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