Was the stone sealing Jesus's tomb square-shaped?

  • Introduction

    In AD 30 Palestine, corpses that were not buried in the ground were buried in rock-hewn tombs, often in the side of hills and mountains. These tombs of course had entrances, and those entrances would need to be sealed off in some way when not in use. We mean to ask here what the sealing stone looked like in the rock-hewn tomb Jesus was reportedly buried in. Was it a disc-shaped sealing stone ("golel") as often depicted in movies and pictures, or was it more of a squarish or block-shaped stone?

“Yes, after all…
  • Square-shaped stones were the norm

    In AD 30, most all blocking-stones were square/rectangular.1 The presumption then is that Jesus's blocking stone was as well.2

    1. Amos Kloner (Archaeologist, professor at Bar Ilan University): “…massive blocking stones …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.” [“Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” Biblical Archaeology Review 25:05 (Sep/Oct 1999).]
      Dale Allison (NT professor at Princeton): “Rounded stones, which became popular only in the late Roman and Byzantine periods, were rare, being found only with elaborate tombs for the rich.” [Resurrecting Jesus (Continuum Int., 2005), 363.]
    2. Granted, round stones were reserved for the fanciest of burials, but this does not mean most fancy tombs used rounded stones―most did not. Consequently, it helps only a little to argue that Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy[Forthcoming], that he provided his family tomb to hold Jesus's body[Forthcoming], and ultimately gave Jesus a loving burial[Forthcoming]
  • An angel reportedly sat on it

    An angel reportedly sat on the blocking stone. This is relevant because wheel-shaped stones typically rolled back in a way that left little room for sitting.1

    1. Raymond Brown (NT professor at New York): “Apparently Matt 28:2 supposes a boulder, since the angel who rolls away the stone sits on it - a wheel-shaped stone would most likely have been rolled back into a rock recess or flat along the outside of the tomb and thus not available for sitting.” [Death of the Messiah ([Yale] Anchor Bible, 1999), 1248.]
      Amos Kloner (Archaeologist, professor at Bar Ilan University): “In Matthew 28 an angel sits on the stone after 'rolling' it back. If the stone had been rolled back between two walls, as was the case with Second Temple period round stones, it would have been impossible to sit on it. Indeed, it would be difficult to sit on the edge of a disk-shaped stone even if it had been pulled back from the tomb entrance. A square blocking stone would make a much better perch [from the author's perspective].” ["Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?" Biblical Archaeology Review 25:05 (Sep/Oct 1999).]
“No, after all…
  • The blocking-stone was “rolled”

    The stone sealing Jesus's tomb was “rolled” out of the way.1 This is relevant because only a disc-shaped blocking stone could be “rolled.”

    But so what? Square blocking stones were rolled as well.2

    1. This should allegedly be granted for the following reason: The Greek verb kyliein was used to describe the movement of the stone. (See Mt 27:60 [προσκυλίσας], Mt 28:2 [ἀπεκύλισεν], Mk 15:46, Mk 16:3, Mk 16:4, Lk 24:2) and, allegedly, kyliein can only mean “rolled.” By way of response, however, “‘rolled’ is a translation of the Greek word kulio, which can also mean ‘dislodge,’ ‘move back’ or simply 'move.’” [Amos Kloner, “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” Biblical Archaeology Review 25:05 (Sep/Oct 1999).] BDAG and Louw-Nida both present cases where the term is translated into things such as “roll over” (intuitively consistent with a square tomb stone), and “to move” (consistent with any shape). For example, in Mark 9:20, a convulsing man began “rolling (ἐκυλίετο)” on the ground.
    2. Shimon Gibson (Leading Archaeologist; prof., 20+yrs excavating): “However, I think this unlikely, and from my own (back-breaking) experience in archaeological excavations with the opening of stone doors of tombs, it is clear to me that even a rectangular or square stone had to be “rolled” in and out of position when a tomb was being closed or opened. There are hundreds of examples of tombs from this period in the Jerusalem area, with small entrances sealed with rectangular or square doors.” [The Final Days of Jesus (Harper Collins, 2009), 157.]
      Dale Allison (NT & Early Chr. prof.): “Kloner suggests that προσxυλίω and äποκυλίω could refer to rolling or moving an unrounded object. This seems plausible; cf. Josh 10:18 LXX; 2 Kgs 9:33 LXX; Diodorus Siculus 17.68.2.” [Resurrecting Jesus (Continuum Int., 2005), 363.]