Tomb of Christ

Tomb of Christ

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, according to the Bible, his body was turned over to Joseph of Arimathea and wrapped in a linen cloth. Joseph saw to its burial in a sepulcher hewn out of rock. From this spot, the most important event in the Christian faith would occur: Jesus’ resurrection.

By the time that the mother of the Emperor Constantine, Helena (c. 248-c. 329), visited the Holy Land in 326, a site in what is now the northwest quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem had already been designated as the sepulcher in which Jesus’ body was lain. Ten years later, Church leaders dedicated a new church that Constantine had ordered for the site. In the intervening years, a Pagan temple had been built over the sepulcher. The remaining part of the sepulcher that was not razed was incorporated into the church. Given that the crucifixion site was located nearby, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was designed to encompass both Jesus’ tomb and Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified and where Helena found the True Cross.

Over the next centuries, the church was destroyed and rebuilt several times. It was destroyed by the Persians in 614, and again in 1009 by the Egyptian Muslims. The crusades were launched, ostensibly, to regain control of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher from the Muslims. Once Christians recaptured Jerusalem in 1099, the crusaders rebuilt the church. It is this church that remains standing today, though it was charred by a major fire in 1808.

Through the centuries of the post-Crusade era, when Jerusalem was part of the Ottoman Empire, the various factions of the ancient church petitioned the authorities for the right to control it and the tomb. In 1852 the Ottomans decreed that six Christian communions would share the space within the church. The Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (represented by the Franciscan order), and Armenian Orthodox Churches control the main floor of the church, including the space in front of the sepulcher. Three other churches also have space at the church: the Coptic Orthodox Church (Egypt), the Syrian-Jacobite Orthodox Church, and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

The sepulcher might be thought of as a church within a church. A building called the edicule was constructed over the tomb, which is now located in the center of the main rotunda. The Franciscan chapel at the north end of the church marks the spot where Mary Magdalene encountered the post-resurrection Christ.

Most Christians look toward Jerusalem as the site of Christ’s burial and resurrection. Muslims offer a very different perspective, though. Most Muslims believe that Jesus did not die on the cross but was instead raised by Allah into heaven, where He continues to live, and that He will return during the end times. That view has been challenged in the modern world by groups of Pakistani and Indian Muslims known as the Ahmadiyyas. They emerged in the nineteenth century as a result of the preaching mission of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1839–1908).

In his book Jesus in India (1899), Ahmad suggested that Jesus did not die on the cross, but rather escaped his enemies. He then left Palestine for India and Afghanistan. He eventually settled in Kashmir, where He lived out a long life and then died. His tomb has been traced and found in Khanyar Street, Srinagar. This tradition, though attributed to some visions given to Ahmad, is based in no small part on the rather questionable writings of Nicholas Notovich, whose The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ (1894) claims that Jesus traveled to India and Tibet as a young man. Ahmad specifically repudiated Notovich on Jesus’ early travels to India, but claimed that Jesus did go there late in His life.

The structure identified by Ahmad as Jesus’ resting place is known locally as the Roza Bal (or Rauza Bal). It stands in front of a Muslim cemetery in the Kan Yar district of Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir. Inside is a wooden sepulcher surrounded by four recently installed glass walls. The sepulcher is empty, though, and the entombed personage lies instead in an underground crypt. A sign in front names the occupant Yuz Asaf (Leader of the Healed).

The theses articulated by Notovich and Ahmad have generated a variety of writings through the twentieth century, including one relatively famous text, the Aquarian Gospel of Jesus Christ, by Levi Dowling. The idea of the Srinagar site being the grave of Jesus has been severely hindered by antagonism toward the Ahmadiyya movement by mainstream Islam, which has declared the movement heretical. Its most recent exponent is German writer Holger Kerstan, who has collected supporting data on Jesus’ presence in Kashmir.


Ahmad, Mirza Ghulam. Jesus in India. 1899. Reprint,
London: The London Mosque, 1978.
Biddle, Martin, et al. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. New York: Rizzoli, 2000.
Duckworth, H. T. F. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1922.
Kersten, Holger. Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life before and after the Crucifixion. London: Element Books, 1994.
Pappas, Paul C. Jesus’ Tomb in India: The Debate on His Death and Resurrection. Fremont, CA: Asian Humanities Press, 1991.
The Encyclopedia of Religious Phenomena © 2008 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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