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Archeologist Amos Kloner claims that it isn't historically probable that Jesus' tomb had a circle shaped rock blocking it.

Kloner argues that we don't find many circle shaped rocks blocking tombs during the Second Temple Period (first century BCE to 70 CE), actually, the opposite is true, we find a lot (98% of all the findings) of rectangular rocks blocking tombs.

This doesn't make a lot of sense if you look at modern translations, as they translate the word "ἀποκυλίσει" as "to roll away". John is the only gospel who says the stone had been removed from the tomb (John 20:1).

However, it helps to explain how the angel sat on the stone after rolling (or moving) it. (Matthew 28:2)

According to Kloner, out of the 900 burial caves from the Second Temple period found in and around Jerusalem, only four are known to have used round blocking stones. Some people may argue that Joseph of Arimathea's tomb was different, because he was a member of the Sanhedrin and very likely a rich man. But those kinds of tombs were destinated to really, really importante people, Kloner even cites some famous examples, like the Tomb of Herod's Family and the tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene. They seem to be in another level of wealth and importance.

Skeptical amateur historian Tim O'Neil (author of History for Atheists blog) argues in an older Quora post that this is evidence that the gospels after the 70 CE and that they were trying to fit Jesus' story with the social context of that time. (I don't agreee with this theory because it sounds kinda of speculatory and, according, again, to Kloner, we find many round stones from the late Roman to Byzantine periods (second to seventh century CE), after all the gospels were written.

Anyway, for more information this is the original article: https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/25/5/1

My main questions with this post are:

1 - Can "ἀποκυλίσει" be translated as "moved away"?

2 - Even if "ἀποκυλίσει" can't be translated as "moved away", could the stone blocking Jesus' tomb be square shaped?

3 - Any thoughts on O'Neil's assertion? Does it make sense?

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  • 1) Verb ἀπεκύλιον appears in Gen. 29:3, 8, 10; Jdt. 13:9; Matt. 28:2; Mk. 16:3, 4 and Lk. 24:2. The related form in Hebrew in Gen. 29:3,8 [ וְגָלֲל֤וּ] and Gen. 29:10 [ וַיָּ֤גֶל ] Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up. NET Amos 5:24 The one who digs a pit will fall into it; the one who rolls a stone– it will come back on him. NET Proverbs 26:27 κυλίων also appears in Jos. 10:18; Jda. 7:13; 1 Sam. 14:33; 2 Ki. 9:33; Prov. 26:27; Sir. 27:27; Amos 2:13; 5:24; Zech. 9:16; Mk. 9:20.
    – Betho's
    Commented Feb 11, 2023 at 18:09
  • Rolling Stones Archaeology certainly has records of the existence of rolling stones in front of tombs. Pictures of them are readily available. Remember that an earthquake occurred at the Resurrection and could easily lifted the stone out of its rolling track, so the angel would have a seat on the fallen stone to sit on! The Alaskan earthquake in the 60s picked up a bull-dozer and threw it 'over' a fence!
    – ray grant
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 22:45

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There are two matters here:

1. Archeology

The evidence presented by the OP does NOT exclude a round stone and actually suggests that a round stone was likely more probable for a wealthy person's tomb. The same evidence also suggests that in the absence of wealth, a square or more randomly shaped stone is more probable. However, a round stone is NOT excluded.

2. Semantics

The operative verb here is ἀποκυλίω (apokulió) meaning (Thayer), "I roll away" and occurs in Matt 28:2, Mark 16:3, 4, Luke 24:2 and always in relation to rolling away the stone closing Jesus/Joseph's tomb. In the LXX it also occurs (with the same meaning) in Gen 29:3, 8, 10, etc.

This word comes from two Greek words, ἀπο + κυλίω; the latter means (Thayer) "to be rolled, to wallow", or " I roll, roll along, wallow" (Strongs) as per Mark 9:20. It also occurs in Josh 10:18, 1 Sam 14:33, 2 Kings 9:33, Zech 9:16, Amos 2:13, 5:24, etc, with the same meaning.

Lastly, the fact that the large stone was round does not preclude an angel sitting on it as has been depicted by many artists.

Conclusion

Thus, it appears that ἀποκυλίω (apokulió) definitely means "roll away". This and the available historical evidence suggests that the stone was rolled away. Now, whether it was perfectly round, or round with a flat on one side, or sat in a nitch to hold it in place, are details that we are not told.

Lastly, a cube can be "rolled"; therefore, the fact that the gospel writers used a verb often but not exclusively associated with round things, does not necessarily preclude the possibility that the stone may have been rectangular. Thus, all that can be said is that, according to meagre records that we have, there is a higher probability that the stone was round or near round, but this cannot be finally settled.

APPENDIX: John's Verb

In his gospel account (John 11:39, 20:1), John uses the verb αἴρω (airo) which simply means to take away or remove [the stone] that does not specify how it was removed. Thus, this verb does not exclude the possibility that the stone was round or near round.