Jesus's Death, Burial and Tomb

Home | Category: Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus


Michelangelo's Pieta
Although a big deal is made about Christmas and the virgin birth it is what happens after Jesus died that lies at the heart of Christianity. This event is remembered with the religious day of Good Friday. "The soldier plaited a crown of thorns, and put it on His head, and arrayed him in a purple garment and they came unto Him, and said, Hail King of the Jews!...They took Jesus thereof and He went out bearing the cross himself.” Some scholars think that the “crown” he wore was probably not a crown of thorns but a wreath of acanthus leaves.

Jesus suffered a painful death by crucifixion and was placed in a tomb. Three days later it was discovered that the heavy stone that sealed the entrance to his tomb was moved and that his body was gone. According to the Bible Jesus later appeared to his disciples. He had risen from the dead. It was word of this miracle, known as the Resurrection, that the disciples spread. In his death and Resurrection, Jesus proved to be an even more powerful figure than in life. Soon Jesus became known by a title coming from the Greek word christos, or "anointed one," a meaning similar to "messiah." The form was shortened to Jesus Christ, and common use turned this title into his last name. [Source:]

According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified on the cross which he was forced to carry at Golgotha ("the skull place" in Hebrew), or Calvary, at around three o'clock in the afternoon at the time of Passover, just before the Sabbath. There is no firm evidence that Jesus was buried at the site occupied by Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where his reputed tomb is located, but modern studies have shown there is strong likelihood the church could cover the sites. See Church of the Holy Sepulcher Below.

Websites and Resources: Jesus and the Historical Jesus Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; PBS Frontline From Jesus to Christ ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ; Christianity BBC on Christianity ; Sacred Texts website ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers ; Bible: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible Biblical History: Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society

When Did Jesus Die and How Old Was He

Jesus is believed to have died sometime between A.D. 29 and A.D. 33. But his age at death is still a contentious issue among scholars, according to "Dating the Death of Jesus" by Helen Bond and published online by Cambridge University Press in 2013. Jesus was born around 4 B.C. and was crucified in A.D. 30, according to the PBS Frontline show "From Jesus to Christ." Britannica cites his birth year as ranging from 6 to 4 B.C. and has the same death year as Frontline. Depending on which calendars or accounts of Jesus’ final days people use, it is difficult to find one specific answer on when Jesus died and as a result, how old he was. Some cite Jesus’ death as happening on 14th of Nisan, which would be “Friday April 7th A.D. 30 or April 3rd 33,” based on a scholar's timeline preference. But Bond does not accept these dates. Bond argues that Jesus died around Passover, between A.D. 29 and 34. Considering Jesus’ varying chronology, he was 33 to 40 years old at his time of death. [Source: Daryl Perry, USA TODAY August 7, 2022]

Jesus is said to have been crucified and died after the Passover meal on what then was Passover day (Nisan 15). Candida Moss wrote in The Daily Beast: According to a broad swathe of ancient thinking, a person who lived a perfect life would die on the same day as their birth. Christians, who were more focused on the date of Jesus’s conception than his Nativity and clearly believed that Jesus was perfect, started with the death of Jesus and worked their way backwards. Here they had better evidence.According to the Gospels, it seemed to have taken place on the 14th of Nissan, the day before Passover.[Source: Candida Moss, The Daily Beast December 25, 2022]

Getting the Jewish lunisolar calendar to correspond to the Julian solar calendar involved some number crunching, but in the mid-third century Hippolytus of Rome calculated the date of Jesus’s death to March 25. This, according to some Roman writers was the date of the Spring Equinox. In an academic article published in 2015, Dr. Thomas Schmidt an assistant professor of religious studies at Fairfield University, compellingly argues that Hippolytus selected March 25 because it also corresponded (in his calculations) to the date of Creation. Thus, March 25 was the date of Creation, the date of Jesus’ conception, the day of his death, and the Spring Equinox. Very tidy and, more importantly, very auspicious.

How Jesus Died

Jesus most likely died from loss of blood after a Roman centurion plunged a sword into the side of Jesus while his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene and his disciple John watched silently. His last words, according to the Bible, were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Afterwards, according to Mark, “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last...The centurion, who was standing in front of him. Had seen how he died, and said, “In truth, this man was the Son Of God." According to John 19:32-33: “Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs."

The following are some examples of how the New Testament explains the death of Jesus: 1) 'For the Son of Man himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many'. — Words attributed to Jesus in Mark 10:45 2) 'Drink all of you from this', he said. 'For this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, which is to be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.' — Words attributed to Jesus in Matthew 26:28 3) “Well then, in the first place, I taught you what I had been taught myself, namely that Christ died for our sins, in accordance with the scriptures... — Written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:3

Mark's gospel is the only one that really describes the passion story in much detail. Professor L. Michael White told PBS: “The way Mark tells the tells the story of the death of Jesus... is to see him as a lonely figure who goes to his death abandoned by all of his followers and supporters and even abandoned by his God. Jesus from the cross says ..., "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me"? The Jesus of Mark's gospel is a lonely figure, at times, waiting for the vindication of God. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Crucifixion of Jesus

Many people were crucified in Jesus's time. Christ himself was crucified with two other convicted criminals. According to Luke: "When they reached the place called The Skull, there they crucified him and two criminals, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father forgive them for they do know what they are doing.”

Garments divided by cast lots

According to John: "The soldiers therein when they had crucified Jesus took His garments and made them in four part, to every soldier a part...After this, Jesus, knowing that all thing are now finished, that the Scripture might be accomplished, saith, I thirst. Thee was set there a vessel full of vinegar; so they put a sponge full of vinegar upon hyssop, and brought it to His mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar. He said, 'It is finished': and He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit."

Jesus was likely nailed to the cross with a nails hammered through his wrists and ankles not through wrists and ankles rather feet and hands. Based on how other crucifixions were carried out, Jesus likely carried the crossbeam of his cross, not the whole thing to Golgotha.

In 1968, archaeologists found the remains of a crucified man in a burial box outside Jerusalem whose wounds were remarkable similar to those described in the Bible as possessed by Jesus. His open arms had been nailed to a crossbar, his knees had been doubled and turned sideways, his legs were nailed on either side of the cross (not together as is often depicted in paintings) with a large iron spike driven horizontally through both heels. The anklebones had broken in a way that called to mind the passages in John. Although it was known that the Romans crucified thousands of alleged criminals and traitors, his was the first crucifixion victim ever found.

Book: “The Death of the Messiah” by Father Raymond E. Brown (Doubleday, 1994)

Between the Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus

So as not violate the laws of the Sabbath, which began at sundown on the day Jesus was crucified, Jesus's body was taken off the cross a few hours after he was nailed there and quickly placed in a tomb provided by a sympathetic Jewish Sandhedrin named Joseph Arimathea, who was present at his trial. This was unusual; the bodies of most executed criminals were left to rot where they hung or thrown into nearby pits where they were often eaten by animals. According to Mark 15:44-46: "Pilate, astonished he should die so soon summoned the centurion and enquired if he had been dead some time. Having been assured by this by the centurion, he granted the corpse to Joseph who bought a shroud, took Jesus down from the cross, wrapped him in the shroud and laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb."

Three days passed before anyone opened the tomb to begin the formal burial. No work could be done on burial on the Sabbath (Saturday) so Jesus's followers had to wait until Sunday. Some Roman guards were stationed at the tomb because Jesus had said he would rise from the dead and Pilate was worried that Jesus’s disciples would steal the body and tell the people a miracle has occurred.

Burial of Jesus

20120507-burial Hungarianpraymanuscript1192-1195.jpg
Burial of Jesus from
a Hungarian pray manuscript 1192-1195
The Gospels say that after the crucifixion, Jesus’s body was brought down from the cross and placed in a tomb. Matthew 27:57-61 reads: 57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb. [Source: New International Version (NIV). Bible Gateway]

Luke 23:50-24:12 reads: 50 Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, 51 who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea, and he himself was waiting for the kingdom of God. 52 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid. 54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin. 55 The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment. [Ibid]

Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post: “If that were true, it would have been because of an extremely unusual, perhaps unprecedented, act of benevolence on the part of the Romans. Crucifixion was not just a form of capital punishment for Rome. In fact, some criminals were first executed and then nailed to a cross. The primary purpose of crucifixion was to deter rebellion; that’s why it was always carried out in public. It was also why the criminal was always left hanging long after he died; the crucified were almost never buried. Because the point of crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten witnesses, the corpse would be left to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a trash heap, which is how Golgotha, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion, earned its name: the place of skulls. It is possible that, unlike practically every other criminal crucified by Rome, Jesus was brought down from the cross and placed in an extravagant rock-hewn tomb fit for the wealthiest men in Judea. But it is not very likely. [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013]

Followers of Jesus After His Death

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote for the BBC: “If Jesus' miracles were signs or clues to his identity, then his followers must have had a growing sense of excited anticipation as his teaching, preaching and healing hit its climax. In his final months and weeks, which culminated in his arrival in Jerusalem and a showdown with the Jewish and Roman authorities, they must have felt that those signs were finally being fulfilled. [Source: Michael Symmons Roberts, BBC, September 18, 2009. |::|]

20120507-christ and mary magdalene Rembrandt.jpg
Christ and Mary Magdalene by Rembrandt
“Here, at last, was the prophetic voice with the timbre of Elijah's voice, speaking hard truths to those in political and religious power. Here, at last, was the leader who would take up the mantle of Moses and Joshua, who would foment revolution, overthrow Roman tyranny and liberate the people of Israel. All those signs were there in his miracles; all those identities, all those hopes. What then must those followers have thought, as he hung from a bare wooden cross with nails through his hands and his feet, defeated and dying? In those desperate hours, he must have looked more like another deluded rebel who had got it badly wrong; just another young man with big ideas who had underestimated Roman power. Even his closest disciples must have agonized. Who exactly had Jesus been? And what was his life about? |::|

Professor John Dominic Crossan told PBS: “If I could dare to put myself in the mind of those disciples on the day after [the crucifixion], I would think the primary thing in their mind is not, "Are the Romans going to come after us?" but, "Is God going to come after us? Does this mean a divine judgment on Jesus? That he has not spoken for God? That all of this about the Kingdom of God is all wrong... We're lost." I think what they have to do, first of all, is not try and find out information about what happened. That's not the first thing on their mind. Survival, not information, is what's on their mind. [Source: John Dominic Crossan, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies, DePaul University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“The only place they can go, eventually, is into the Hebrew Scriptures, into their tradition, and find out, "Is it possible that the elect one, the Messiah, the righteous one, the Holy One,... is it possible that such a one could be oppressed, persecuted and executed?" They go into the Hebrew Scriptures, and of course, what they find is that it's almost like a job description of being God's righteous one, to be persecuted and even executed. And slowly then, the searching of the Scriptures convinces them that Jesus is still held, as he has always been, in the hands of God....

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher lies on the traditional site of Christ's crucifixion, burial and resurrection — Golgotha or Cavalry. All the historical and archaeological evidence seems to indicate it is in the right place. In Jesus’s time executions were carried out on a hill outside the city walls. The site was on a hill outside the walls in Jesus’s time. Furthermore, the niche style grave is consistent with that of Jesus’s time and there are written statements to its authenticity that date back to the A.D. 2nd century.

Holy Sepulchre Tomb in 1887

The site was discovered underneath a Temple of Aphrodite by Saint Helena, the mother of Byzantine Emperor Constantine, along with — tradition says — the True Cross, the Crown of Thorns and the lance used by a Roman Soldier to pierce Christ on his way to Calvary. Considering it was her first pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she didn't make out so bad. Upon her return, Constantine, the man who christianized Rome, ordered a building to "surpass the most magnificent monuments any city possesses." Ten years later in A.D. 335 the first Church of the Holy Sepulcher was finished.

Throughout its 1650 year history the church has been destroyed and rebuilt many times and has been altered and subdivided countless times by the various Christian sects that lay claim to it. In 613 Constantine’s church was destroyed by Persians. It was rebuilt and razed again in 1009, this time by Saracen Muslims. The church was rebuilt again and greatly expanded by the Crusaders, who gave it its present Romanesque cross-like shape. Much of what you see today dates back to the Crusaders.

At the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is Christ’s marble tomb. Reminiscent of an outdoor mausoleum, it can accommodate a half dozen or so people inside it. Visitors enter and exit a few at a time through a small opening that requires them to hunch over. Inside most people pray for a few moments and then leave.

Near the entrance to the church is the Stone of Unction, where Christ’s body was cleaned, anointed and dressed before it was buried. It is often surrounded by weeping women dressed in black, bowing and kissing and rubbing oil into the stone. Some splash the stone with rose water and collect as much water as they can with sponges, squeezing the water into bottles to bring back home.

A room in the south-east corner of the church has been placed on top of Golgotha, or Calvary, where Christ according to tradition Christ was crucified. The gray rock mass of Golgotha is protected by a plexiglass case. Here, a narrow half circle of stairs leads to a chapel — with a Greek Orthodox side and a Roman Catholic side “placed over the spot where Christ was nailed to the cross.

Tomb of Jesus Christ

Kristin Romey wrote in National Geographic: “The traditional location of that tomb, in what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, is considered the holiest site in Christianity. It’s also the place that sparked my quest for the real Jesus. In 2016 I made several trips to the church to document the historic restoration of the Edicule, the shrine that houses the reputed tomb of Jesus. Now, during Easter week, I return to see it in all its soot-scrubbed, reinforced glory. [Source: Kristin Romey, National Geographic, November 28, 2017 ^|^]

Tomb of Christ in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

“Standing shoulder to shoulder with holiday pilgrims waiting to enter the tiny shrine, I recall the nights spent inside the empty church with the conservation team, coming upon darkened nooks etched with centuries of graffiti and burials of crusader kings. I marvel at the many archaeological discoveries made in Jerusalem and elsewhere over the years that lend credibility to the Scriptures and traditions surrounding the death of Jesus, including an ornate ossuary that may contain the bones of Caiaphas, an inscription attesting to the rule of Pontius Pilate, and a heel bone driven through with an iron crucifixion nail, found in the Jerusalem burial of a Jewish man named Yehohanan. ^|^

“I’m also struck by the many lines of evidence that converge on this ancient church. Just yards from the tomb of Christ are other rock-hewn tombs of the period, affirming that this church, destroyed and rebuilt twice, was indeed constructed over a Jewish burial ground. I recall being alone inside the tomb after its marble cladding was briefly removed, overwhelmed that I was looking at one of the world’s most important monuments—a simple limestone shelf that people have revered for millennia, a sight that hadn’t been seen for possibly a thousand years. I was overwhelmed by all the questions of history I hoped this brief and spectacular moment of exposure would eventually answer. ^|^

“Today, on my Easter visit, I find myself inside the tomb again, squeezed alongside three kerchiefed Russian women. The marble is back in place, protecting the burial bed from their kisses and all the rosaries and prayer cards rubbed endlessly on its time-polished surface. The youngest woman whispers entreaties for Jesus to heal her son Yevgeni, who has leukaemia. ^|^

“A priest standing outside the entrance loudly reminds us that our time is up, that other pilgrims are waiting. Reluctantly, the women stand up and file out, and I follow. At this moment I realise that to sincere believers, the scholars’ quest for the historical, non-supernatural Jesus is of little consequence. That quest will be endless, full of shifting theories, unanswerable questions, irreconcilable facts. But for true believers, their faith in the life, death, and Resurrection of the Son of God will be evidence enough. ^|^

Location of Jesus’s Tomb

Candida Moss wrote in the Daily Beast, The original site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was identified in a moment of inspiration by Helena, mother to the Roman emperor Constantine, on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the fourth century. But there is a problem with its location. The Bible clearly specifies that Jesus was executed outside the city walls; the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inside the walls. Even in the medieval era this disparity made Christians uncomfortable. As a result, Protestant Biblical archeologists identified a second site, known today as the Garden Tomb, as the actual place of Jesus’s death and burial. The historical accuracy of this second site is also hotly contested, but it remains a popular pilgrimage site for Protestants to this day. [Source: Candida Moss, Daily Beast, January 6, 2015]

Even if we could settle on a location, just the idea that Jesus was buried close to Golgotha is up for debate. It is based on a detail found only in the Gospel of John. None of the other, much earlier gospels have Jesus buried so close by. Matthew, Mark and Luke all agree that Jesus was buried in the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, and it’s highly unlikely that prominent members of Jewish society had family tombs next to places of crucifixion. Even if we could match the Bible stories with the archeology we couldn’t be sure that we had the right story.

As Mark Goodacre, Professor of New Testament at Duke University, told the Daily Beast, “The Gospel writers have little interest in the precise location of Jesus’ trials. Writing a generation or more after the events they are describing, and at some geographical distance, it is unlikely that they provide us with the kinds of clues that we would like to see. So while this discovery is exciting, we should be cautious about over-stating its importance for studying the historical Jesus.” Tradition has the beginning of the Via Dolorosa wrong, and probably the end too; it’s safe to say that the stuff in between probably doesn’t pan out either. In short, we don’t know the route that Jesus walked or the location of Jesus’ tomb.

Discovery of Jesus’s Tomb?

The fate of Jesus’s body is unclear. The faithful believe it ascended to heaven. Many scholars think it was devoured by dogs. In 2007, the Discovery Channel, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici and James Cameron, director of “Titanic” and “Avatar” produced a documentary called “The Last Tomb of Jesus” in which they claim to have found the tombs of Jesus and his family.

The claim is based on the discovery of 10 bone boxes, or ossuaries, in a crypt that was unearthed by a construction crew in the Talpiot neighborhood in southern Jerusalem in 1980. Although they were dated to around the A.D. 1st century the boxes were largely ignored and sat in storeroom of the Israel Antiquities Authority until six names on the ossuaries were revealed. In addition to “Jesus Son of Joseph? there were there two Marys (Maria and Mariamene), a Matthew (a possible relative of Jesus’s mother), a Yose (the name by Jesus’s brother Joseph in the Gospel of Mark) and “Judah son of Jesus.” One historian calculated that the odds of so many names being associated with Jesus found in one place were 600 to 1.

Talpiot Tomb of Jesus

Many scholars challenge the interpretations based on the fact that all the names involved where very common names at the time when Jesus lived and that 1st century ossuaries are so common in Jerusalem they are used in gardens as planters. A report by archaeologist Amos Kloner of 900 burial caves in the Talpiot (also spelled Talpiyot) area found the name Jesus 71 times, including one that said “Jesus son of Joseph.” The report also said in A.D. 1st century Jerusalem about 25 percent of women had some variation of the name Mary. Question were also riased about how the inscriptions were read, and in one case, if it could even be read.

The discovery also raised theological questions. If Jesus was resurrected why would he be buried with his family? And could this mean that Jesus had a wife and children, calling into question whether he was the Messiah as claimed. One of the inscriptions is written in Greek as “Mariamene e Mara,” which can be translated as “Mary, called the master.” According to some old Christian sources, including the second-century theologian Onigen and the fourth-century non-canonical Acts of Philip, Mary Magdalene is referred to a “Mariamene.”

Mitochndrial DNA collected from the boxes indicates that Jesus and Mariamene were not related, which the makers of the documentary take a huge leap and say suggest that Jesus and Mariame were married. On that and other findings the skeptical Christian scholar R. Joseph Hoffman told U.S. News and World Report, “Amazing, how everything falls into place when you begin was the conclusion — and a hammer.”

The same angle had been pursued before. In 1996, researchers for a BBC religious program found three A.D. first century caskets in Jerusalem with the names Joseph, Mary and Jesus, son of Joseph. Most archaeologists dismissed the finding as just a coincidence, for Joseph, Mary and Yehoshua (Hebrew for Jesus) were very common names in the A.D. first century. Moreover, scholars believe that Joseph probably died and was buried in Galilee. The caskets were small and contained only bones. They were excavated in 1980 from an ossuary and were stored in a warehouse, where the researchers found them.

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) , Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, 1994); Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Live Science,, Archaeology magazine, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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