(Continued after a long delay from my previous post)
Good and Bad Standards of Evidence
As to what I mean by good standards of evidence, I gave a few examples: written or oral traditions that preserve the location of the tomb from the first century or an inscription identifying the site. Such things would not necessarily prove the authenticity of the tomb, because they could be wrong, but at least they provide a plausible route by which fourth century Christians could have received accurate information about the tomb. The problem is our fourth to sixth century sources do not actually say that there were such things identifying the site of the tomb, at least not in any clear or straightforward fashion. Modern scholars hypothesize there may have been such things. But that seems to be working backward from the conclusion that, since they found the actual tomb of Jesus, they must have had some form of reliable evidence.
Bad standards of evidence, as in the example from Sozomen would be things like divine signs, visions, and dreams, as well as arguments from authority based on people of high status who accepted the identification as correct, such as bishops and the emperor. There's also the anti-Semitic trope briefly suggested in Sozomen but developed some later form of the story of St. Helena's finding of the True Cross at Golgotha that the Jews knew where the cross was but had kept this knowledge hidden from the Christians.
I hesitate to call these modern as opposed to ancient standards of evidence as there are many modern people who accept what I have called bad standards of evidence (see Yoram Bilu, “The Role of Charismatic Dreams in the Creation of Sacred Sites in Present-Day Israel” in Sacred Space: Shrine, City and Land, B. Kedar & Z. Werblowsky, eds., 1998, 295-315, which discusses how the Jewish community relocated from Morocco to Israel received new holy places through dream visions of their saints).
Lucian as an Example of Bad Standards of Evidence
There's a fascinating first hand account by a priest named Lucian in the early fifth century of how Gamaliel (the Gamaliel of Acts 5) appeared to him three times to reveal where to find the tomb in which he had buried St. Stephen (the Stephen of Acts 7), though Gamaliel evidently had to appear again to the monk Migetius with a corrected location (for Avitus Latin translation of Lucian's Letter, see Migne, PL 41 cols. 807-818; S. Vanderlinden's critical edition is online at: https://www.persee.fr/doc/rebyz_0766-55 ... um_4_1_939
As far as I know, there's no full direct English translation of the Epistula Luciani, but the account in Butler's Lives of the Saints sticks close to it:
Lucian relies on visions, miracles, and the claimed testimony of three bishops as witnesses. It may be difficult to us to see Lucian's account as anything other than utterly fantastic, but it was nonetheless believed by contemporaries, and, in fact, by some as late as the 19th century (see Brewer's Dictionary of Miracles from 1884), and probably is still believed by at least a few today.
Gelasius of Caesarea and the Story of St. Helena's Finding of the Cross
There are no surviving accounts that give the location of the tomb that date from between the gospels (which are pretty vague on the location) and Eusebius in the early fourth century. Most of the later, post-Eusebian sources on the origin of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are not actually concerned with the finding of the tomb, but with with St. Helena's discovery of the True Cross at the site of Golgotha. Eusebius, who gives the earliest account, does not associate Helena with the site nor mention the discovery of the cross, though he does associate her with the sites of the churches at Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives (VC 3.41). This presents a problem. Most scholars dealing with the issue think Helena is a later addition to the story (Borgehammar is a notable exception), but several think the cross was discovered in Constantine's time (i.e., they think there was a piece of wood there which was identified as the cross of Jesus, not that it actually was).
The earliest surviving source source to mention Helena's discovery of the True Cross is Ambrose's Oration on the Death of Theodosius in 395 CE. On a source-critical basis, most scholars think that most or all of our later accounts, and particularly those found in Ecclesiastical Histories (Rufinus, Socrates, Sozomen) are based on the lost account of Gelasius of Caesarea from c. 390. The most recent critical edition of Gelasius of Caesarea (Martin Wallraff, 2018) gives the following translation (based on Rufninus Latin and Gelasius of Cyzicus Greek texts):
During the same time Helen, the mother of Constantine—a woman of incomparable faith, inner devotion, and singular magnificence, whose son Constantine truly was and was believed to be—being advised by divine visions, sought out Jerusalem and there inquired diligently of the local inhabitants after the place in which the sacred body of Christ had hung nailed on the cross. It was difficult to find, because a statue of Venus had been set up there by the ancient persecutors, so that if any of the Christians should wish to worship Christ in that place, he would seem to be worshipping Venus. And because of this the place was unfrequented and nearly consigned to oblivion. But when, as we said above, the devout woman had hastened to the place indicated to her by a divine sign, tearing down all the profane and polluted structures, after the rubble had been cleared away, deep down she found three crosses jumbled together. But the gladness of having found the object was disturbed by the uncertain identity of each of the crosses. To be sure, that inscription was also there which had been drawn up by Pilate in Greek and Latin and Hebrew letters, but even it did not reveal clearly enough the signs of the dominical cross. At this point the uncertainty of human ambiguity called for divine testimony.
But that most wise and truly divine Macarius, the president of that church, solved the perplexity by the following means. He saw to it that the pieces of wood were brought near to a woman of the highest nobility of that city, who was oppressed by a long illness and facing death, and he made known the efficacy of the salvific cross, making a prayer of this sort to God: bending his knees next to the woman’s bed he cried out in a loud voice, while the God-beloved Helen and a crowd of many people were also present with him. “Do you, master God almighty, who through your only-begotten child Jesus Christ wrought salvation for humankind on the tree of the cross, who also now at the end of times have inspired your maidservant along with her child, your manservant, to search for the blessed tree, on which the savior of all people (especially the faithful), Christ, was nailed in the flesh: show to us, Lord, which of these three trees is the cross of Christ, the one that, through its being pressed by us on this ill and half-dead woman, leads her by the hand to health and resurrection.”
So when he had finished praying, he carried forward the first piece of wood and placed it on the patient, but it did not profit her at all. Then he brought forward the second one too, but it also was shown to be ineffective. Now when he reached out his hand to the third one in turn, the wood approached the ill woman by its shadow and a great wonder occurred. For the half-dead woman suddenly opened her eyes and then, when he placed the precious and dominical cross upon her, she immediately jumped up, stood on her feet, and sent up glory to God. Having become so much better than she had previously been and running around her entire house and rejoicing, with a loud voice she declared the good tidings of the power of the divine cross together with all her household. Thus the most pious empress, the mother of the most praiseworthy and most God-beloved emperor Constantine, having wholly fixed her mind on the matter and proven the identity of the salvific tomb and the precious cross of Christ, immediately erected a house of prayer in that place according to the orders of her most pious child Constantine. And having designated it a martyrium, she advanced thenceforth more and more in faith. (Gelasius of Caesarea, Wallraff, 121-125).
My point in quoting this the reasons the text gives for the identification of the site are not the ones that modern scholars hypothesize. Helena was first advised by divine visions to go to Jerusalem, where the place was indicated to her by a divine sign, and then the cross was confirmed by a miracle.
The text also says she asked the local inhabitants where the crucifixion occurred, but the fact that the place was indicated to her by a divine sign implies that they were unable to tell her. The text does say the place was nearly consigned to oblivion, which one could, in a pinch, take to mean that it was not completely consigned to oblivion (i.e., it was remembered by someone). Reading the text that way requires a confidence in the accuracy of a small detail in a narrative in which we have very little confidence overall.
The claim that a statue of Venus had been set up over the site so that, if a Christian were to worship there, he would appear to be worshipping Venus, has also been taken to mean that Christians knew where tomb was and had worshipped there. (The later accounts of Socrates and Sozomen, dependent on Gelasius, literally say this). This does not follow. The Christians who are writing these accounts are writing in a period in which Christians had been worshipping in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for some time (about 65 years for Gelasius, two centuries for Sozomen and Socrates). Fourth, fifth and sixth century Christian texts are not usually taken to record accurately first century Christian practices, and there is very little reason to assume they do so in this case, because, again, the narrative in which the detail is found is clearly late and legendary.
Caveat: Gelasius text does, in fact, say that there was an identifying inscription found at the site of Golgotha - the original titulus Pilate had written. Modern scholars, quite rightly, do not accept this story, but then go onto hypothesize that the may been some sort of identifying description. This is typical. Some of the later sources suggest that location of the site was preserved among the Jews, who kept it secret. Modern scholars rightly reject this as a later anti-Judaic legend, but then go on to hypothesize that there was an unrecorded local oral tradition that preserved the location of the site among the Christians of Jerusalem.