The Tomb – an excerpt from 1GOD Contributor, Joanna Kujawa’s Jerusalem Dairy: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus
It has become a habit: we knock on each other’s doors in the morning and come down for breakfast together. I like surrendering each day to Steve and Martin’s plans and going along with them as the chronicler of an adventure. Sometimes I feel like a child guided and sustained by these two men. But most of the time I am a lost soul, clueless, searching for a new direction in life, with an enormous cloud of confusion over my head and nothing but an excruciating longing for something I cannot name. Whatever is meant to happen every day is entirely up to them and we discuss it over breakfast.
This gives me a sense of absolute spiritual splendour mixed with insanity. Martin has his plate topped with a mountain of scrambled eggs and sausages in front of him alongside a glass of orange juice. Steve and I have a cup of coffee each plus croissants with strawberry jam. Steve is half-listening to Martin’s recollection of the trip from 2003, lost in his own thoughts, his face turned towards the magnificent view of the Old City. Steve reluctantly loves it too and keeps coming back year after year, as if pulled by some invisible string.
‘So you see, Joanna,’ Martin talks to me from behind of the mountain of scrambled eggs, ‘in November 2003 I came to Jerusalem for the first time. Like you, I got room 301 with the full view of Old Jerusalem, pulled a chair up to the window and thought, “That’s it, I’m in paradise. I’m not moving away from this window for my entire stay in Jerusalem. Steve can run around making his discoveries. I’ll stay here”. I was dreaming of a lazy heaven when Steve walked into the room and proceeded to take me along on an unforgettable spiritual adventure. As we were walking out of the Seven Arches Hotel, I decided I would assist Steve in his search, “just in case it was God’s will”.’
Steve and Martin’s discovery is a challenge to the Holy Sepulchre where it is officially believed the tomb of Yeshua is located. But is it? We retrace their experience from two years earlier. I allow them to lead me there, step by step, as they tell the story of their tomb. I have been waiting for this moment since we met in that cafe in Richmond, where they showed me the photos of the rock ledge in the middle of Jerusalem and told me it could be Yeshua’s tomb.
Back in 2003, Martin and Steve arrived in Jerusalem very early in the morning and went to visit the Garden Tomb. There were already two possible tombs in Jerusalem then: the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb. Steve’s idea was to make measurements as outlined in The Urantia Book and check which of the tombs accorded better with the measurements. They left their luggage in the foyer of the Seven Arches Hotel at about five o’clock in the morning and walked down the Mount of Olives across the Kidron Valley, then up to St Steven’s Gate and along the Via Dolorosa. Near the Damascus Gate a small group of women ran past them. No one else was around.
‘How strange’, Steve thought, as it reminded him of descriptions of the Easter event when the women who went to anoint Yeshua’s body ran away from the tomb when they saw a man standing there and took him for a ghost. According to The Urantia Book, the women then ran towards the city through the Damascus Gate. This recollection encouraged Steve to move forward and investigate the possibility of the tomb on the other side of the Damascus Gate as he read in the book.
Steve and Martin decided to follow the measurements from the book and see where the tomb might be. They sat on a bench near a newsagent’s shop with a map and reflected on the exact descriptions of the tomb in the book: the tomb faced east, covered approximately one hundred square feet, was hewn out of rock, and lay along the Damascus Road. Steve was determined to find it. Based on the information in The Urantia Book, he estimated that the tomb should be about five hundred to a thousand metres north of the Damascus Gate. He said to Martin, ‘The way the topography is and the way we are going, I think the tomb should be around eight hundred metres north of the Damascus Gate and, in order for it to face east, according to the layout of the land it would have to be that way’. As they moved down the street jumping over fences, they came across an Eastern Baptist church where a small group of people were conducting a service. They invited Steve and Martin over for a cup of tea. One of the men, who had lived in that area for over thirty years, began chatting with them.
Steve asked him, ‘Do you know of any solid rock around here, somewhere near where the land slopes down?’
The man said, ‘Yes, you’re almost there’, and gave them directions on how to get there. They looked at the map, looked at the compass, and followed the man’s directions. They then walked around and around but couldn’t see it. Steve calculated that from that point it had to be within two hundred metres. Then they saw a small footpath leading to a plot of barren land. This island of empty land right in the middle of Jerusalem had not been developed by anyone and was being used temporarily as an unauthorised garbage dump! Only a short walk away from the American Colony Hotel and a major intersection. Martin took the low footpath, while Steve walked across the rocky area with his compass pointing east. He soon came to a ledge. Within minutes Steve was standing on top of the ledge while Martin was standing next to the ridge, pointing. Steve looked down only to realise he was standing on top of rock about a foot thick. He peered over, cleared all the garbage from the top of the rock and saw an opening, almost completely buried, running in a straight horizontal line across the rock. This was too precise and straight to be a natural opening; it had definitely been constructed. All they knew at that stage was they had found something like a cave and that it was not natural — it had been carved out of the rock. They could see chisel marks matching descriptions from The Urantia Book. Steve crawled in on his belly. When he reached the rear of the cave and tried to feel the corners he found that the edges were perfectly rounded; all the lines of the cutting met in a beautifully rounded form.
He came out and said to Martin, ‘This might be it!’
It would be a year before they returned. During that time they tried to find out how to excavate the area without causing an upheaval, who owned the land, and whether it was possible to excavate there or even buy the plot. Before this could be done they would have to clear the rubbish and have a closer look at the site. On their second trip in 2004 they brought a shovel with them. I loved the story: two Aussies travelling to Israel with a shovel! But their naive idea didn’t work as the debris inside the site was too compacted and it would have taken a team of people to extract. Soon after, Steve and Martin derived another clue from the description in the book about the area of the tomb itself. According to The Urantia Book, the tomb was supposed to be about one hundred square feet in size. Steve crawled inside the site with a tape measure. From corner to corner the tomb measured 99.5 square feet. Near the tomb they noticed a cistern, which suggested the area around it used to be a garden. This made perfect sense to them — the area was called the wadi, or valley, and water naturally runs through the centre of a valley. A perfect place for a garden.
Martin tells me the story as we walk towards the site, but I can’t concentrate on the details. I try to imagine it as we walk through a densely populated Palestinian area, with small shops and a number of Christian churches that have been here for centuries. When we turn to the left and go down the street all we see is a large empty stretch of land covered with nothing but dry grass growing there and small piles of garbage. ‘Now it’s my turn to see it’, I keep thinking, as Steve points at a small ridge in the middle of a garbage pile: ‘Here!’
I am too overwhelmed to know what I feel. I can’t think of this as anything other than a site. To think of it as a tomb is too much right at this moment. I want to protect my sanity; I want to obey the sceptical voice within which will allow me to feel doubtful and superior.
‘Isn’t it concrete?’ I ask with doubt, pointing at the edge of the claimed tomb. A part of me desperately wants to participate in this, but the intellectual in me is looking for reasons to discredit the validity of this desire.
‘No’, Steve replies. ‘We checked it. It’s solid rock.’
We examine the site thoroughly. The Department of Antiquities hasn’t claimed it as yet, but the area has definitely been cleared up a bit and is probably being used as shelter or storage for a homeless person. The ledge is uncovered and someone has clearly dug deeper into a niche-like space inside and made themselves a temporary door from a dark brown rusted roll of metal. On the other side of the road we can see police cars and the police questioning several Palestinian men. Steve cautiously takes a few pictures of the site while Martin and I sit on the ledge surveying the ancient panorama of the city.
I jump off the ridge and look inside the cave-like site. It is filled with rubbish. I go down on my knees and carefully crawl deep inside.
‘Can you see an arch there?’ Steve yells.
I look at the back wall of the cave. The lack of light and the rubbish are obstructing my view, but I can discern an arch at the side of the wall. I check again.
‘Yes, I can see it!’ I yell back. I look around the place again to contemplate what it might be — to study the essence, the motive of our spiritual adventure. I slowly crawl back to the surface; Steve and Martin are crouching at the entrance.
We walk in silence, or perhaps we talk — I don’t know. We might be babbling in excited voices. I only know that I can feel my heartbeat in my throat. Steve and Martin are probably discussing different options for action, but I am dealing with feelings which have completely overwhelmed me. ‘It could be his tomb and I have just entered it’, I keep repeating silently in my mind.
Just as they did in 2003, we too go to the American Colony Hotel for a drink in the bar. Martin turns to me with his glass of wine and says, ‘If you pinned me down and asked me, “Do you think we’ve found the tomb of Jesus?” my answer would be yes, qualified by the fact that there is a little bit of archaeology which could disprove it’.
‘For example?’ I ask.
‘First, it needs to have a groove near the entrance on which the stone closing the tomb would rest. It was a large stone which was a sort of door at the opening of the tomb. To get in or out someone strong would have to push the stone and roll it along the groove. The groove was there to facilitate the moving of the stone. That will be a definitive marker as it is described in most sources.’
I listen to him, thinking, ‘Why would you even think of looking for the tomb in a different place than the one established by tradition?’ You’d have to be an Aussie to think like that, and I’m not Aussie enough. The traditional tomb is supposed to be in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Imagine what people will think: ‘Oh yeah? Two Aussies came along and rearranged all the Christians’ pilgrimage sites that had been venerated in the same places for nearly two thousand years, huh!’ Yet the body of archaeologists generally doesn’t agree about the Holy Sepulchre. Some think it is the site of Yeshua’s tomb, some don’t. A mass of doubt exists. The case for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is almost entirely based on tradition. When Steve said to Martin, ‘Let’s look for the tomb as indicated in The Urantia Book; let’s see if we can find the site matching the clues’, they didn’t intend to look for the ‘true’ tomb, but for a tomb matching descriptions from the New Testament and The Urantia Book. As far as Steve and Martin’s site is concerned, it corresponds to a great number of clues in the book. But there are still other indicators to check. The most critical one being the groove at the bottom for a large rolling stone door.
In the evening back in my hotel room I think about what Steve and Martin have told me about their sources and I begin my own search through sources. First I look through the four gospels in the Bible — the official version of events. I sit on my bed taking notes in my journal as I read. In the Bible, the story is told in four different ways in the Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All the gospels, both the canonical and Gnostic ones, were written long after Yeshua’s crucifixion — most likely by the next generation of followers of the disciples who knew Yeshua in person. Estimates differ, but the time gap between Yeshua’s crucifixion and the gospels was roughly forty to seventy years. This is not unusual. Yeshua didn’t write anything himself. His disciples did — the best they could — and sometimes with their own agendas in mind, their own memories or the recollections of others, to preserve the teachings. In the case of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, it is almost undisputed that their gospels were not written by them personally but by disciples. Each of these gospels carries the flavour of a person retelling a story as it was passed on to them. In each version of the story it is Mary Magdalene (in some versions accompanied by other women) who sees the resurrected Yeshua first. And in all the gospels, neither Mary Magdalene nor the disciples recognise him initially.
The Gnostic Gospels often talk about the meeting of the risen Yeshua in a different form, stressing that he was not of the same body. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is one of the most abstruse on the matter. As the male disciples despaired after their Teacher’s crucifixion, Mary Magdalene spoke to them and asked them to relinquish doubt and allow Yeshua’s grace to guide them. Peter turned to her and said, ‘Sister, we know that the Teacher loved you differently from other women. Tell us whatever you remember of any words he told you’. Mary Magdalene then explained how she saw Yeshua in a vision and asked him what the nature of this apparition of him was. Yeshua responded that he was neither in the spirit nor in the soul but between these two states (page 10, lines 23 and 24). The Urantia Book gives a slightly less enigmatic interpretation, claiming that after the resurrection Yeshua was in an intermediate state between bodily flesh and the spirit. Hence, his disciples did not recognise him until he spoke.
I fall asleep. In my dream, I see a group of women rushing through the city before dawn. They pass the Damascus Gate and go into a garden containing a family tomb belonging to their friend. It is still dark when they arrive in the garden. They are a little scared, looking at each other, trying to find the courage to do their duty and anoint the Teacher’s body. They feel that something is wrong, that this visit to their Teacher’s tomb is different from other times when they have gone to visit deceased relatives and parents. Perhaps they believe the strange prophecy that their Teacher will be resurrected. Perhaps they are afraid to face the tomb in case he isn’t resurrected. Secretly they hope he will be there in body. That his body will be there so they can take loving care of him. Their beloved Teacher. One of them, Mary Magdalene, approaches the tomb. She walks up very close then turns her face to the women standing a few steps away and says very quietly, ‘The stone has been moved’.
The women cry in disbelief: ‘They’ve stolen his body! They stole the Teacher’s body!’
Mary Magdalene walks into the tomb. It is empty. She stands there for what seems like an eternity and returns to the panicked women.
‘He is gone’, she says, again very quietly.
With her eyes, I see the women run towards the city gate. They run through the Damascus Gate as the sun is slowly rising above the sky. They run as if propelled by a great power. Wings on their arms. Flying through the Damascus Gate.
Mary Magdalene sees it all, standing alone in the garden, transfixed by love. She turns her head as she sees the shadow of a man standing to her left.
‘He must be a gardener’, passes through her mind. Like a ghost herself, she moves in the direction of the man until she faces his back. ‘A strange gardener’, she thinks. ‘Not doing anything, just standing there.’
Another thought enters her mind almost involuntarily, ‘He is waiting for me.’
‘Gardener,’ she asks, ‘Have you seen what happened to my Teacher?’
The man turns to her and says very softly, in a voice she can never forget, ‘Mary, do you not recognise me?’
I wake up before dawn in the darkness of my tormented, confused soul. I lie in bed until the sun rising above the city elevates me. The sublime in me rises with the sun — or is it that the city at that moment is revealing its entrancing divinity? A wonderful peace settles in my heart with the sweetest joy, before the new passions, new pain, new jealousies and confusion will besiege me during the day. Yet at the moment the sun rises above the Old City sublimity pervades, despite all the guilt, misunderstandings, competitiveness and confusion of the old religions.
Upon our return to Melbourne, Steve held many teleconferences with the lawyers in Tel Aviv. He offered to build a garden free of charge on the property, A place of beauty so people might hesitate before tearing it down. It would give the tomb some protection.
Jacob thought this was a good idea. He knew the Lord Mayor of Jerusalem. The Mayor believed the council could approach the waqf on Steve’s behalf and say, ‘There’s a generous donor who would like to build a garden on that land, obligation free’.
Jacob advised Steve that the Trust had to be prepared to appoint a landscape architecture company, preferably one well known in Jerusalem, so he could go to the council with a plan of the garden.
On Steve’s next trip to Jerusalem in 2006, we would learn that twenty years earlier, the city council had actually acquired the land with the intention of building a park. This was an extraordinary turn of events. The paperwork had been sitting in the council chambers and everybody, more or less, had forgotten about it. Everyone assumed it was still waqf land, even though it had already been declared parkland after the 1967 war. Suddenly there was a whole new plan on the table. The council didn’t have to present this concept to the waqf and, because the council was interested in beautifying the city anyway for the benefit of the local people, it was decided that the garden was a fantastic idea. Steve thought that a garden was a simple solution to a complex problem and a gift to the people of Jerusalem. Symbolically it was a beautiful thing to do. Jerusalem is a dry place. To build a garden there was symbolic of life, of growth, of beauty, of nature — a mini-garden of Eden. And what a place to build it on! Steve said he had a strong wish to visit the waqf trustees and ask them to join us in this venture of building a Peace Garden in the centre of Jerusalem. A garden for all religions. Everybody would be welcome and be able to relate to the idea. It would nurture innocence and good will in people. An act of good will that came from the heart unqualified — like an act of universal friendship.
In the meeting with the council Steve said, ‘Everyone on the planet can share this. One way of knowing God is by doing good. The garden project is open to all people to visit and contribute. I hope it will remain a garden in perpetuity. This park is about friendship with God for all people, irrespective of their beliefs or religions. It’s about the practice of friendship and good will’.
The council agreed that the plan was magnificent and in alignment with their wishes. The papers were prepared by our lawyers who, since our first mad trip to their office in Tel Aviv, had become our best supporters and friends. Tomb or no tomb, Jesus or no Jesus, the idea of a Peace Garden in the middle of Jerusalem meant to uplift people, to reconnect people of all faiths, appealed to Jacob.
When, early in 2011, I met Steve at the Orange Cafe on Chapel Street, he told me that in June 2010, the new Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, had signed an agreement enabling the garden project to proceed.
I jumped off my seat when he very seriously said, ‘Calm down. This isn’t the whole story’.
I looked at him, alarmed by the seriousness in his voice.
‘A few weeks later, an unknown person, maybe a rogue land developer, decided to claim the land for himself. He started clearing the land, bulldozing the tomb in the process. The landscape architect that we’d hired for the garden went to survey the site and saw what was happening. He confronted the man and told him to stop as it was a municipal land designated for a garden. The landscape architect immediately informed the City Council. The developer, or whoever he was, disappeared and was never identified. I was devastated. For me, it was an act of mindless sacrilege. But nothing could be done. The tomb is gone, nothing’s left to be excavated, but the Garden is approved and in the process of being designed.’
Steve was perched on the edge of his seat, as if ready to get up and fly to Jerusalem. He still had the same commitment and faith in the Garden — despite the destruction of the tomb. He found that many Jewish businessmen in Melbourne as well as Palestinian activists were interested in supporting the project. I had never known anyone who had the ability to uplift himself and people around him from their everyday states of mind. You just believed him, wanted to follow him in his adventures, if you had the inclination or courage. At the very least you wanted to hear about it and feel the thrill of something supernatural, bigger than the life you were living. Someone once called me ‘single-minded’ and I wanted to use the same description about Steve — but he wasn’t single-minded. He was single-hearted. All his personality, the fullness of his heart, was dedicated to this project; there was no space for anything else in his life.
‘When people want to do good’, he said, ‘they have to have total faith, total trust. And if we’re presented with obstacles, we have to become masters at making good decisions’.
‘Maybe’, I added, ‘it’s for us to understand that it’s all an integral part of the Grand Design. A privileged part that needs to retrace its steps to its Source and take responsibility for our presence here. In Peace. Without wasting energy on looking for the villains’.
I wanted to meet with Martin again and ask him what he thought about all that had happened since 2005, but he was away in Perth visiting his grandchildren.
I asked Steve, ‘What drives you?’
He looked at me, and after a brief pause, responded, ‘Desire for Oneness and Peace in the great madness of life. The tomb is gone but the Garden lives on’.
Our fervent desire is that this Garden will, in perpetuity, be a gesture of goodwill from this generation to future generations.
Join us on this adventure as we transform this land.
or buy and read the whole exciting story ‘Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus’ by Dr Joanna Kujawa