WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Scientists who helped restore a shrine above the
site believed to be the place where Christ was buried say testing of samples has
dated the tomb to at least the fourth century.
The new information
published recently by National Geographic is consistent with historical accounts
that say Constantine, the first Roman emperor to stop persecuting Christians
and who became one, began protecting the tomb around the year 326.
In the fourth century, Constantine is said
to have sent a team from Rome to the Holy Land in search of the site, and after
the group believed they had located it, they tore down a pagan temple on top of
it and protected the tomb.
Over the centuries, the structures
above the tomb have
been the victims of natural and human attacks. At some point, a marble
slab was placed on top of the tomb, perhaps to prevent eager pilgrims
from taking home pieces of it.
In October 2016, when a team
from the National Technical University of Athens was commissioned to restore the
shrine around the tomb, which was in danger of collapsing, they also placed a moisture
barrier to protect the tomb. It likely hadn't been opened in centuries, but the
opportunity allowed the team to take samples.
"Mortar sampled from between the original
limestone surface of the tomb and a marble slab that covers it has been dated
to around A.D. 345," said National Geographic in a Nov. 28 news story. Until the
results were revealed to National Geographic in late November by scientist and
professor Antonia Moropoulou, who directed the restoration project, there was
no scientific evidence to support that the tomb was older than 1,000 years, the story says.
What's harder to pin down scientifically is
evidence to prove that the person who was placed on the tomb's limestone
shelf and buried there was Jesus of Nazareth. However, a documentary set
to air Dec. 3 on National Geographic's cable channel shows interviews
scholars who say oral history strongly supports the possibility that the
of the shrine is the place where Jesus is believed to have been buried, a
where Christians believe he returned to life.
"Why would people remember for several
generations that this is the spot?" asked National Geographic
archaeologist-in-residence Fred Hiebert in a Nov. 9 interview with Catholic
In the absence of scientific data, you have
to take into account people's traditions, village traditions, that pointed to the
site, 300 or so years after the actual event of Christ's crucifixion, as the
place where many believe he was buried, Hiebert said.
"In the television documentary, you
will see a very good case for the historical accuracy of (the site) because we
know from the scientific data that this is the same spot, the exact same spot, where
the Emperor Constantine said, 'X marks the spot,'" Hiebert said, meaning that's
where Christ was buried.
If you are a student of oral history and anthropology, it makes
sense, said Hiebert, and it makes sense from a scholarly point of view.
"From an archaeological point of view, there's no conclusive
proof. There's no DNA. There's no sign that says it, there's no artifact that
says 'this is it' as opposed to over here," he said. "But I do believe the
scholars in the film who say oral tradition is very strong, and if the unified
oral tradition in this area was 'this is the spot,' then it certainly ranks
pretty high. Can we prove it? No."
But Hiebert, who witnessed the restoration of the shrine from
2016-2017 and was present for the opening of the tomb, said he remembered what a Greek church official said to him when he
asked a question about the likelihood of the site's accuracy as Christ's tomb: Each person
has to make the decision about what to believe.
"From an archaeological point of view, from a historical
point of view, I can promise you that I can document that was pretty much
the place that was identified in the fourth century A.D. (as the tomb of Christ),
and for me that's as much personal satisfaction as I need," he said.