Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, September/October 1999

Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?

By Amos Kloner

We should have a very good idea what Jesus’ tomb looked like, with the references in the Gospels and our knowledge of contemporaneous tombs found in and around Jerusalem. Yet until now, most of the reconstructions of this most famous of tombs have, I believe, been wrong.

The most surprising of my findings is that the blocking stone in front of the tomb was square, not round. So it could not, as many New Testament translations have it, be “rolled away”; it could only be pulled back or away.

As we shall see, the archaeological evidence for my new reconstruction is clear enough. The gospel texts, however, will need some explaining.

Let’s begin at the entrance to the tomb. It is true that the massive blocking stones (in Hebrew, golalim; singular, golel or golal) used to protect the entrances to tombs in Jesus’ day came in two shapes: round and square. But more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones. Of the more than 900 burial caves from the Second Temple period found in and around Jerusalem, only four are known to have used round (disk-shaped) blocking stones.

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