The Gospel writers tell us that after his death, Jesus’ body was taken to a garden and laid in a newly hewn tomb (Matt. 27:60; Luke 23:53; John 19:41). This is important archaeological information. Tombs from this period usually consisted of several burial chambers, which had loculi (burial niches) cut in the side walls in which to place the body of the deceased, and also arcosolia (arched niches) where ossuaries (chests for bones) were placed.
The fact that some women saw where the body of Jesus was laid (Mark 15:47) and that also, after the resurrection of Jesus, the disciple John could see the grave clothes lying and the face cloth folded (John 20:5–6), indicates that the body of Jesus was laid on a bench opposite the tomb opening.
The truth of this information can be confirmed by archaeology, in particular by tomb architecture. Newly hewn tombs usually consisted of a simple chamber which had three benches around an excavated pit. This pit allowed the workmen to stand upright while working.
Additional chambers with loculi and arcosolia were added later after the initial benches were removed. A newly hewn tomb could be used for the “primary burial,” which is the first part of the ritual of ossilegium. (This simply means that the body of the deceased, after having been wrapped in linen grave clothes, was placed on a shelf, a bench, or in a niche. About a year later, after the soft tissues had decomposed, the bones were placed in an ossuary. This is called the “secondary burial.”) It would appear, therefore, that the body of Jesus was indeed laid in a tomb that was newly hewn out of the rock.
The entrance to the tomb would have been low, causing the disciples to stoop down in order to look inside and enter it (cf. Luke 24:12; John 20:5). Only very few of the almost 1,000 excavated tombs of this period in and around Jerusalem had rolling stones to close off the entrance to the tomb. This luxury was restricted to the wealthy. Usually, tomb entrances had square or rectangular closing stones. These stones fit like a cork in a bottle in the tomb opening. The narrow part fit exactly in the inner opening, while the wider part closed off the outer opening.
However, the biblical record does say that the stone was rolled away (Matt. 27:60; Mark 15:46; Luke 24:2), and therefore a massive rolling stone (4.5 feet/1.4 m in diameter) is shown in this reconstruction drawing. The rare rolling stone entrance would be consistent with the idea that Joseph of Arimathea was “a rich man” (cf. Matt. 27:57).