The Valley of the Shadow of Death
When Does A Day Begin?
(All associated pictures have been hidden from the Mobil Version of this article.)
Let me begin with full disclosure; I am a Full Moon Lunar Sabbath believer in Messiah Yeshua and I understand the day to begin at sunrise. It is from that perspective that I write this article.
"Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb." (John 20:1)
This verse will be the mainstay of our focus but the problem it brings to bear is compounded by verse 19 below.
"On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”" (John 20:19)
Clearly in verse 1 it is early on the 1st Day of the week when Mary arrives at the tomb of Messiah Yeshua and yet according to every translation I've read so far it's still dark! From the sunrise beginning of the day perspective we're already running into problems, if it's early on the 1st Day then the sun has to have risen so how could it also be dark? From the two perspectives of when a day begins you simply can't claim verse 1 is talking about an event that takes place before sunrise and then have an event documented in verse 19 as taking place the following evening after sunset which is 'that same day'! It is this conundrum which could cause some to get confused.
These two verses cannot support a pre-sunrise visit to the tomb by Mary and a post-sunset visitation by Yeshua with His followers on the same day.
Verse 1 can be explained away from the sunset to sunset perspective as taking place before sunrise while it is still dark (even though Mark 16:2 says 'after sunrise') and yet early in the daylight portion of the 1st day which began earlier at sundown the night before. Verse 19 can then easily be understood as taking place before sundown and therefore 'that same day'. How can a sunrise proponent argue with that? At least as long as you ignore Mark 16:2 which says Mary arrived at the tomb after sunrise. For over two months after being confronted with this I still had no answer but continued to cling to the many verses which do support the sunrise perspective. So where do I as a sunrise proponent go from here?
This is the day of First Fruits and is the first time Yeshua reveals Himself after being resurrected. As a sunrise to sunrise proponent I have no cares as to when the appearance of Yeshua occurs, it matters not to me if He showed up either before or after sundown, it's all evening to me and all the same day. It is only the sundown to sundown proponent who must explain this event as happening before sundown. Evening can mean anything from high noon to darkness. What I need to prove beyond a shadow of doubt is that Mary arrived at the tomb early on the 1st Day after sunrise and it was still 'dark'!
We probably need to look into a particular word which throws things into chaos, at least from the sunrise perspective. In verse 1 we find this, "while it was still dark". There is no "dark" in a sunriser's early morning! So let's take a quick look at this word translated as 'dark' in every translation I looked at.
Here is the Greek word #4653 Skotia
From skotos; dimness, obscurity (literally or figuratively) -- dark(-ness).
From Thayers Greek Lexicon
John 20:1; ἐν τῇ σκοτία (λαλεῖν τί), unseen, in secret
I don't see anything earth shattering in those definitions but there does appear to be a little wiggle room so let's consider the text of the verse itself.
From John 20:1 we can certainly understand that we are not talking about a darkness that is pitch black since Mary can 'see' that the stone had been rolled away and that the body of Messiah was not there. So... It is dark but not so dark that Mary couldn't make her way to the tomb or see that the stone had been rolled away. Would it have been a better idea to translate the Greek word 'skotia' as 'dim'? The definition above would certainly allow it.
I began to read commentaries on the chapter and I stumbled across a thought that triggered a few memories of my own which I now believe come into play here. I don't remember which commentary I was reading but it mentioned 'location' as a possible factor in explaining the seeming contradiction of it being both early in the day and dark. I don't think the commentator had a clue where Yeshua was buried but he was still setting off exciting thoughts in my head!
In 2007 during Sukkot I took a lecture tour of Israel hosted by Avi Ben Morechai. One of the subjects presented on the tour was the idea of a Red Line or Sacred Line which began at the Holy of Holies in the Temple and extended through the Eastern Gate of the Temple Mount Wall across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives where the Altar of the Red Heifer existed. The significance being that Yeshua was crucified and buried on this Sacred Line. It is fairly well established that Yeshua was sacrificed by His Father as a sin offering and as a sin offering He would have been offered up outside the camp, outside the gate on the Mount of Olives near or on the Altar of the Red Heifer. From the crucifixion site Yeshua was then taken to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man who followed and believed in Yeshua as the Messiah. The tomb had never been used before and it was near the crucifixion site. There is a cave on this Sacred Line that stretches across the Kidron Valley which we were taken too. The cave is known as The Cave of the Apostles, The Cave of Betrayal and The Cave of Agony.
Picture of the Cave of the Apostles entrance.
Picture of the Cave of the Apostles interior (right side).
Picture of the Cave of the Apostles interior.
Picture of the Cave of the Apostles interior.
Picture of the Cave of the Apostles interior.
The Cave of the Apostles is located South and slightly uphill of the Church of Mary Magdalene, constructed and maintained by the Russian Orthodox Church, which is the very prominent looking structure with the gold onions on it's towers situated about a third of the way up the Eastern wall of the Kidron Valley.
Picture of the Church of Mary Magdalene looking down from the Mount of Olives
Picture of the Church of Mary Magdalene from the Northwest. From this angle the Cave of the Apostles would be located to the right and slightly uphill of the foundation of the church building.
Picture of the Western slope of the Mount of Olives taken from across the Kidron Valley.
Picture of the Western slope of the Mount of Olives taken from the Northwest, notice the thousands of above ground tombs to the distant right.
The photos above document the area where Yeshua spent a great deal of His time with His disciples when He was near Jerusalem, it is known as the Garden of Gethsemane situated on the Western slope of the Mount of Olives. The Western slope of the Mount of Olives and the Eastern wall of the Kidron Valley being the same thing; both running North and South just East of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.
This cave is not well known by the tourists visiting Jerusalem and yet it is becoming the consensus view of most Messianic leaders to be the burial tomb of Messiah Yeshua according to one Messianic leader I've spoken to about this. I'm not going to go that far but it is as good a candidate as there is in my opinion. Let's examine why I might think that.
First off would be that the cave takes on the look of a rich man's cave. This look could easily be discounted by the fact that it has been meticulously maintained by the Russian Orthodox Church but that doesn't get to the heart of the matter. I say the cave has the look of a rich man's tomb because it doesn't have multiple niches to place multiple bodies from different families as is the case with tombs just up the Mount of Olives near the church known as Dominus Flevit.
Picture of Dominus Flevit in relationship to the Church of Mary Magdalene.
Picture of Dominus Flevit.
Picture of a tomb located on the grounds of Dominus Flevit (1).
Picture of a tomb located on the grounds of Dominus Flevit (2).
As can be seen there is a huge difference between the Cave of the Apostles and the tomb just up the hill a few meters. The tomb near Dominus Flevit has 11 separate niches that can each receive a corpse. Once the body has been placed inside the niche the niche is then sealed up for nature to run its course. Once the bones are picked clean the niche is opened and the bones are gathered and placed in an ossuary. The niche is then free to receive the next corpse. This is not the case with the Cave of the Apostles, there are no niches, it has a raised platform to lay a body on, it is either a rich man's tomb or not a tomb at all. If that is the case one is left with the question, Why was the cave hewn from the mountain in this location which is clearly seen as a place of tombs? And that question brings me to the main reason why I think the Cave of the Apostles is a good candidate to be the burial tomb of Messiah Yeshua and why I'm spending so much time defining its location.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION, it's the main reason to believe the Cave of the Apostles is the tomb of Messiah Yeshua! Depending on where the Holy of Holies was located on the Temple Mount, depending on where the Eastern Gate is located in the original Eastern Wall, and, depending on where the Altar of the Red Heifer was located on the Mount of Olives, the Cave of the Apostles is located on or near this Sacred Line which also extends all the way out to Mount Nebo in the plains of Moab, where I believe The New Covenant was given and recorded for us in the book of Deuteronomy. Huge portions of the Western slope of the Mount of Olives are dedicated to the burial of the dead, there are reasons for that and there are articles out there which address this issue which you can search for and read. Here are a few examples of articles discussing some of these issues.
The point is, the Cave of the Apostles is right where it should be if it is a rich man's tomb and the tomb of Messiah Yeshua. The 'traditional sites' of the Holy Sepulcher, the Garden Tomb and Golgotha/Calvary are wildly out of place for them to fulfill the Scriptures.
Speaking of 'location' there are a few verses in the Gospels that allude to, even though in a quiet way, this Cave of the Apostles or a tomb located in a similar situation. Let's take a look at these verses.
"When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large." (Mark 16:1-4)
There are two things to take note of in these verses. The first thing I notice is that the women went to the tomb "early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen". The first question that comes to mind here is how can it be "early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen" if the beginning of the day was at sunset? If the day began at sunset the day would have been 12 hours old (4 watches of the night) by the time the sun had risen! This clearly supports a sunrise beginning to the day! The second thing I notice is that the women, before they have a visual of the tomb, wonder how they will roll away the stone which blocks the tomb's entrance. As they approach from a distance they 'look up' to see the stone already removed from the entrance. What is interesting here is that the only way to naturally approach the Cave of the Apostles is to do so from the floor of the Kidron Valley. To see the tomb from a short distance a person has to 'look up'!
"But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened." (Luke 24:12)
In this verse please note when Peter came to the entrance of the tomb he had to 'stoop' in order to look inside. If you look at the picture of the Cave of the Apostles notice how low the top of the entrance is, don't be fooled by the iron screen which protects the entrance, the rock header is much lower. The reason for this low entry is that there are two or three steps down to the threshold of the cave. Without a doubt a person would have to 'stoop' to look in without entering!
"And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in." (John 20:5)
Here again we're told Peter had to 'stoop' to look into the tomb just as a person would have to do if they were to look into the Cave of the Apostles.
"Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen cloths lying there, and the face cloth, which had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen cloths but folded up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed;" (John 20:6-8)
This is a very interesting set of verses! Here we have at least one of the disciples if not two in the tomb at the same time! Go back to the pictures and judge for yourself, which of the tombs better fits this scenario? The Cave of the Apostles is spacious enough to receive both of the disciples without the grave clothes being disturbed! In the tomb with many niches near the church of Dominus Flevit just up the hill the bodies are placed head long into the niche, I am assuming on some kind of stretcher.
"But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb..." (John 20:11)
Even Mary had to 'stoop' to look into the tomb without entering! Go back to the pictures and look at the entrance of the Cave of the Apostles, it sure seems to fit the verse above!
"And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet." (John 20:12)
In this verse Mary stands outside the tomb (verse 11) and stooping to look into the tomb she sees two angels sitting where Yeshua's body had lain. Does this sound like she is looking into a tomb with multiple niches? I don't think so! Once again, the tomb with the niches would not lend itself to anyone stooping at the entrance and having a view of where the body laid, i.e. the head and foot, if the body was in one of these niches.
I have gone to some length to establish the reasonable belief that the Cave of the Apostles fits the evidence of Scripture to be the burial tomb of Messiah Yeshua. But why? It has everything to do with John 20:1 claiming that Mary had come to the tomb early on the 1st Day (after sunrise Mark 16:2) and yet it was dark! How can that be?
As I researched for this article I ran across this;
Kidron Valley (Valley of the Shadow of Death)
During the Feast of Tabernacles at night, four enormous oil lamps burned in the Temple courtyard. Each lamp had four large bowls of oil on tall stands, with wicks made from worn-out garments of the priests. It is written that “there was not a courtyard in Jerusalem that did not reflect the light” (Mishnah, Sukkoth 5:3). The lights could be seen throughout Jerusalem; however due to the depth and angle, the Kidron Valley remained in shadow. The Kidron Valley has many burial sites, since many believe that the resurrection will begin there. For these reasons, it is said that the Kidron Valley was called the “Valley of the Shadow of Death,” as in Psalm 23:4. David likely wrote Psalm 23 when fleeing from his son, Absalom (a type of the False Messiah), across the Kidron Valley - 2 Samuel 15. Psalm 23 is likely a a prophetic reference to the Messiah, Yeshua, who was arrested at the Garden of Gethsemane, then brought to Jerusalem across the Kidron Valley. Yeshua likely prayed Psalm 23 at that moment.
When I stumbled across this I thought to myself, "Oh wow!" I've never thought of the Kidron Valley as the Valley of the Shadow of Death! But just look at the pictures! I can easily see Yeshua praying the 23rd Psalm the night of His betrayal when He and His disciples went to the Garden of Gethsemane after having eaten The Master's Table in the Upper Room.
"Yeah, though I walk through the 'Valley of the Shadow of Death' I will fear no evil."
Truly the Kidron Valley is loaded with death! But what really caught my eye is the part about the 'Shadow'. The Kidron Valley is the 'Valley of the Shadow'! It was the lamps lit on the Temple Mount that left the Kidron Valley cast in shadow which evidently becomes the source of the name Valley of the Shadow of Death. This of course is all a result of the Western wall of the Kidron Valley but the Western wall of the Kidron Valley is nowhere near as tall as it's Eastern wall formed by the Western slope of the Mount of Olives. This is clearly seen in the picture of the gold onions of the towers of the Church of Mary Magdalene being below the location of the camera position which was on the Mount of Olives.
Here is the point and I believe... the answer... to the problem John 20:1 presents to those who believe the day begins at sunrise. Once again, the verse tells us it was early the 1st Day and it was dark, but not so dark that Mary couldn't see. The burial tomb I've described and personally visited in 2007 is DEEP in the 'Valley of the SHADOW of Death'. When Mary visited the tomb the sun had indeed risen and yet on the Western slope of the Mount of Olives the site of Yeshua's tomb is still cast in dark shadow! It is not 'the day' that is dark; it is the location of the tomb which is dark! It is cast in shadow by the mountain and let's remember the entire slope is covered with olive trees. The present day number of trees on the Western slope is not reflective of what it would have been 2000 years ago. The slope had been deforested somewhere along the way and is presently being reforested by Israel. Back then the much greater number of olive trees would have shrouded the slope further darkening the shadow cast by the mountain itself. There will not be direct light from the sun hitting this tomb for at least an hour after sunrise. The pictures I've posted do not do justice either to the degree of the slope or the number of trees that would have populated the slope 2000 years ago. I have personally walked from the top of the Mount of Olives to the Cave of the Apostles and it is extremely steep, there is no doubt in my mind it is possible for Mary to arrive at the tomb of Yeshua shortly after sunrise and yet the location of the tomb will still be cloaked in the shadow of darkness. But how dark is the shadow of darkness? Dim... Plenty dim!
The day begins at sunrise and John 20:1 is answered with LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!
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