I was privileged to get the chance to visit Israel on a Holy Land Tour in 1979 and I visited both the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb, the so-called Catholic and Protestant versions of the tomb of Christ. I have to say I felt no moving of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic church there but quite the opposite at the Garden Tomb. There was a flood of the Holy Spirit in that place which in my subjective opinion validates it as the genuine tomb.
The Israeli Declaration of Independence, adopted in 1948, declares Israel to be a Jewish state, but further declares that the nation "will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants, irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions." It's a promise bereft of Jeffersonian eloquence, but it's plain and to the point.
In that long-ago day, in a burst of naive enthusiasm, certain idealists imagined that this example would spread to other places where religious freedom is understood to mean that you have the freedom to keep your head so long as you believe what the imams in the government tell you to believe. Israel has since enacted comprehensive legal codes to protect the hundreds of Christian, Muslim and Jewish monuments and markers and to guarantee universal access to them. Jordan, before the Six-Day War in 1967, controlled Jerusalem, and Jews were forbidden entry. Many Jewish holy sites were routinely vandalized.
Moshe Dayan, the defense minister who led the Israelis to victory in the Six-Day War, was clear about religious tolerance and protection in a radio broadcast the morning Jerusalem was captured. "This morning," he said, "the Israel Defense Force liberated Jerusalem. We have united Jerusalem, the divided capital of Israel. We have returned the holiest of our holy places, never to part from it again. To our Arab neighbors we extend, also at this hour - and with added emphasis 'at this hour' - our hand in peace. And to our Christian and Muslim fellow citizens, we solemnly promise full religious freedom and rights."
This clearly includes the right to disagree. Not every Christian regards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the site of Christ's burial. A tomb in a garden below Calvary was discovered in 1867 and, popularized by Gen. Charles George "Chinese" Gordon, an eccentric Bible scholar once assigned to the British military in Palestine, became known as "the Protestant tomb." The Anglican church once recognized it as the authentic tomb. Scholars are divided today on whether this is so.
The tomb fits the description in Matthew 27:58, when Joseph of Arimathea begged Pilate for the body of Jesus: "Then Pilate commanded the body to be delivered. And when Joseph had taken the body, he wrapped it in a clean linen cloth. And laid it in his own, new tomb, which he had hewn out of a rock; and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher, and departed."
The stone is there today, and the track on which it was rolled away is visible in the rock. The tomb and the garden lie beneath a large stone outcropping, vaguely resembling a skull, marked by two gaping holes, as if eye sockets. Hence the name "Golgotha," or "skull," given to the site of the crucifixion.
The argument continues, as with so much about the meaning of the Scripture. But Christians agree on the Resurrection as the story of Easter, the central fact that gives the Gospel meaning. The pilgrims continue to make their way in peace to Jerusalem, scene of the holiest and most horrific events of history, watched over now with respect and reverence by Jews.
So I agree with General Charles "Chinese" Gordon, photo above, who we were told discovered the Garden Tomb while strolling on top of the city wall one morning in his daily prayer walk.
Gordon had the Garden Tomb site cleared and sponsored its development as the holy site it is today, we were told. But I'm not trying to pick a fight with my Catholic brothers and sisters. The important thing is, wherever Jesus was buried, He didn't stay there long. He is risen!