Golgotha: the Place of the Skull (No. 217)
(Edition 1.0 19971027-19971027)
The location of the site of the crucifixion is an important story in its own right. Where is it and what was the significance of the events that transpired there? What do the names of the places mean?
Christian Churches of God
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(Copyright ã 1997 Wade Cox)
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Golgotha: the Place of the Skull
Geography of the site
In the paper Messiah and the Red Heifer (No. 216) we examined the significance of the site of the sacrifice of the red heifer. The Mount of Olives was seen to be important as a place of sacrifice and also of other areas in relation to the period of the crucifixion such as the Garden of Gethsemane. It is important to establish the significance of the site.
The Mount of Olives had significance as the site of the sacrifice for the purification of the priesthood. But where was the site for the sanctification of the elect through the crucifixion?
The area of the Mount of Olives that was used for the sacrifice of the red heifer looked directly to the Temple and the sprinkling here of the prepared high priest was directly towards the Holy of Holies. This area was outside the camp of Jerusalem and was the appointed place of sacrifice.
The Mount of Olives was also used for burial. It is a mountain east of Jerusalem across the Kidron. It is mentioned in 2Samuel 15:30. It is part of the range that runs north/south through the spine of Palestine. The first of three summits lies north-east of Jerusalem with an altitude of 903 metres (2,963 feet) above Mediterranean Sea level. This is often called Mt Scopus and this name appears in Josephus (War, II.xix.4,7; V.iv.1) but properly applies to the north-west extremity of the entire range, the Ras el-Mesharif, which the Nablus road negotiates 2.4 kilomrtres (1.5 miles) from the Damascus Gate. The second summit is immediately opposite the Temple area or Haram-esh-sherif which it overlooks and is separated from Scopus by a slight depression. It is called Jebel-et-tur by the Arabs and is partly occupied by the village known as Kafr-et-Tur. These names are derived from the Syriac Turo Quedisha or The Holy Mountain which is named for the many churches built there. The modern high road from Jerusalem to Jericho cuts the crest of the mountain between the second summit and the third summit called Jebel Batn-el-Hawa. The Kidron winds from the foot of this summit to the Dead Sea in the south-east. This third summit is the lowest and overlooks the ancient Canaanite and Davidic sites of Jerusalem south of the Temple area. This is probably the Mount of Corruption used for the worship of the idols of Solomonís foreign wives (2Kings 23:13).
A road went over the summit in ancient times and David crossed the summit on his flight to Transjordan. There was a place of worship there according to 2Samuel 15:32. This has been identified with the sanctuary of Nob (see The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 3, p. 597).
Another road crosses Scopus further north leading to Anathoth. The road leading to Jericho crosses the summit south of this point.
The second summit was used for the burning of the red heifer directly east of the east gate of the Temple. A bridge and a path connected the Temple with the mountain (Interp. Dict., ibid.).
The second summit was used for the lighting of the signal beacons for the New Moon. The second site on the Alexandrium, 43 kilometres (27 miles) to the north-northeast, observed them and then lit its beacon.
This mount shall be the place of descent of Messiah (Zech. 14:4).
It also appears to have been central to the activities of Messiah in the last week of his earthly life and also the site of the last meeting prior to the final ascension.
In the last week, the disciples accompanying Messiah proceeded from Bethany which is a village on the east side of the mount (located presumably to the west of the modern village near el Azariyeh; meaning that which God has helped).
Bethphage is a hamlet whose exact location is not known with absolute certainty but is thought to be in the location of the summit at Kafr-et-Tur (cf. Mat. 21:1; Mk. 11:1). Luke tells us that Jesus, when coming in sight of Jerusalem on the path, saw the city and wept over it (Lk. 19:41). Thus, the road is from Bethany to Bethphage at the summit and then down to Gethsemane.
Maps such as map 236 in The Macmillan Bible Atlas show the area in question and the location of the city in relation to the topographical features. This brings us then to the next question, namely, determining the place of the crucifixion.
Golgotha: the place of the skull
Golgotha is a transliteration of the Aramaic word golgoltha from the Hebrew golgolth. It is also translated kranion (cf. Lk. 23:33; Judges 9:53; 2Kings 9:35 LXX). The Latin is calvaria. It is held as the site at Jerusalem where Christ and the others put to death with him were crucified. The term appears in the Old Testament twice; once in relation to Sisera (Judges 9:53) and the other in relation to Jezebel (2Kings 9:35). The term appears in the New Testament only in relation to the crucifixion (Mat. 27:33; Mk. 15:22; Jn. 19:17). In all these places, the proper equivalent is the Greek kranion which in Luke 23:33 is given as the name of the site without mention of the Semitic form golgotha. From the Latin calvaria and these forms we get in English the variant forms Calvary, Skull, Golgotha or Cranium.
Modern Christianity does not actually know why it was called this and there has been conjecture over the years as to why it was so called. It is postulated (Interp. Dict., Vol. 2, p. 439) that the skull symbolised death as meted out in the place of execution. Jerome in his commentary on Matthew 27:33 suggested that skulls lay about unburied there. However, this was not the custom in Jerusalem. Origen in his commentary on Matthew 27:33 suggested that the skull of Adam was buried beneath the place of the crucifixion (ibid.). In the nineteenth century, another explanation was offered that a certain hill in Jerusalem when viewed from a certain angle had the form of a skull. The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible says that such belated recognition of a profile demands imagination and an easy credulity (ibid.). Where, then, was Golgotha? The experts say that all that can be said is that it was outside the city walls (Jn. 19:20; Heb. 13:12) and on a hill because it could be observed from a distance (Mk. 15:40 and parallels). However, this might also be true of a depression. It was near a road because there were passers-by (Mk. 15:29). John 19:41 states that the tomb was nearby in a garden. Christ was buried there because it was on the preparation day of the Jews for the feast of the Passover. Thus, it was the day before the holy day which began at sundown.
We know, therefore, that Golgotha was near a garden and they buried the dead in that vicinity. It could not be within the city limits.
Eusebius (Onom., cf. Interp. Dict., ibid.) places Golgotha north of Mount Zion and this is a direction in accord with two sites presently pointed out to travellers. These sites are "Calvary" within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is actually north-west and the other is termed "Gordonís Calvary" which is the only one actually to the north.
It is considered that, prior to the fourth century, Christians showed no interest in identifying the place of the crucifixion and this is perhaps attested to by the absence of references in the literature. Eusebius records that circa 325 CE Constantine directed bishop Marcarius to locate the sites of the crucifixion, the entombment and the resurrection which were presumed to lie together. A century later, it was explained that the bishop was guided to the site through a vision of the Queen Mother Helena. This location was on the site of the temple of Aphrodite erected by order of Hadrian. On this site, Constantine erected the two churches Golgotha and Anastasis where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre stands today, inside the present walls (ibid.).
The church here was destroyed and rebuilt many times over the centuries but the two places within, identified under Constantine as Golgotha and Anastasis, have been consistent in this identification. The earliest record we have of the edifice is from the Bordeaux pilgrim (333) and Eusebius (335) who attended its dedication.
Another problem in the identification is that the site of the second north wall of the city of the first century has not been identified. According to The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible, Golgotha was supposed to lie outside of this wall according to Josephus (War, V.iv.2). However, an examination of this reference shows that the writer is interpreting the text in Josephus which refers to the monuments of Helena queen of Adiabene, the daughter of Azates. Perhaps these are confused with the activities later attributed to the mother of Constantine three centuries later.
Josephus shows that the monument of John Hyrcanus the high priest was at the north wall and the "new city" or Bezetha which was encompassed by this new wall was extended to the monuments of Helena and the cavern of the kings where the kings of Israel and Judah were allegedly buried. When Titus sacked Jerusalem, he at first proposed to breach the walls at the weakness in the fortifications at the new city, near the tomb of John Hyrcanus the high priest. The reason was because the first wall was lower there and the second was not joined to it. This hill of the new city probably extends to the hill on which the church was built on the orders of Constantine.
It is important to note here that Josephus, in the Wars of the Jews, notes that the city was in fact in the midst of a civil war when attacked in 70 CE and they suffered more misery at the hands of the sedition than they did by the hands of the Romans. The tyrant Simon had seized the upper and lower city with fifteen thousand armed men, five thousand of whom were Idumeans (Edomites). The other party under the tyrant John seized the Temple with six thousand of his men and two thousand four hundred of the zealots. The people were plundered on both sides by these factions.
Even while the Romans had them under siege, they continued their internecine warfare. They stopped for a while at first and then returned to fighting each other with the Romans at the walls. Josephus said "they never suffered any thing that was worse from the Romans than they made each other suffer" (Jos. War, V.vi.1). That shows the end result of the madness that overtook Judah at the final stages of the seventy weeks of years (see the paper The Sign of Jonah and the History of the Reconstruction of the Temple (No. 13)).
From the evidence so far, the area we know as Golgotha may or may not be the correct location. It was within the city, or at the wall, at the time of the fall in 70 CE and may well have been so at the crucifixion if the site of the church ordered by Constantine was that built on the tomb of John Hyrcanus the high priest.
Moreover, we see that the location of Golgotha north of the city cannot be supported from Josephus in the text as quoted by The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible.
In 1842, Otto Thenius of Dresden proposed that a rocky hill 228 metres (250 yards) north-east of the Damascus Gate was Golgotha (ibid.). He argued that this was the place of stoning which lay outside of the city and had the form of a skull. General (Chinese) Gordon also identified this in 1885 stating that it was the head of a long skeletal rock formation, and Colonel Condor agrees with this identification. It is thus known as "Gordonís Calvary". There is a nearby "garden tomb" which lies in an area of Byzantine burial caves. The tomb was discovered and exploited in the last century. These are the only two likely sites accepted by modern scholarship according to K W Clark (ibid.). This place is thus to the north of the city and not east. At this area, the Kidron depression comes up to higher ground.
What do we know of the place from the Bible?
The place of Christís burial is located in a garden (Jn. 19:40-41; 20:15). Gethsemane is to the east of the Temple on the Mount of Olives. He would not have been buried in the cavern of the kings for a number of reasons.
The traditional mainstream view is that the crucifixion took place on the north-west of the Temple on the place where now stands the Chapel of the Resurrection. The garden tomb is placed some 500 metres (547 yards) further north. This requires the wall of the city to come within the Chapel of the Resurrection. However, we know the new city had a second north wall beyond the first and Golgotha could not have been within that site if the area was occupied at the time of Christ.
Caesar had given John Hyrcanus permission to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 47 BCE. It is assumed from this that the tomb of John Hyrcanus would have been outside of the walls built by him in 47 BCE and then within the walls of the new city built on the orders of Agrippa I who ordered the walls reconstructed from 41-43 CE. These go beyond the site identified as Golgotha. The view that Golgotha is the Church of the Resurrection requires the assumption that there were no town limits outside of the north-west wall. This may not be so, given the level nature of the land. The later building might well have taken place between 30 CE and 41 CE to justify the extended walls we know to have been constructed by order of Agrippa from 41 CE and in existence in 70 CE.
The "Old City" or "City of David" was on the southern side of the Temple Mount on the south-eastern spur towards Shiloh (Neh. 3:15). Schurer says that it was on a separate elevation of the eastern chain of hills and not on the west where the main body of the city lies today. Zion is not the western hills as is claimed today but the eastern hill of the Temple (Schurer History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Vol. 1, p. 154, n. 39).
What we see from archaeology is that there was no habitation on the east of the Temple.
Thus, in summary, it is thought by some that Christ was crucified:
to the north-west of Jerusalem;
to the north-east of the Damascus Gate and, hence, north of Jerusalem; and
to the east on the Mount of Olives (as has also been suggested).
We need to examine the alternatives. Some light is thrown on the subject from the reconstruction under Hadrian.
The rebuilding of the city
When Hadrian had destroyed Jerusalem in the Jewish revolt under Bar Kochba and prohibited the Jews from entering Jerusalem in 135 CE, he built a city which was officially named Colonia Aelia Capitolina (from the coins). The main cult of the city was Jupiter Capitolinus to which a temple was erected on the actual site of the Temple. It is held to have contained the statue of Hadrian (see Schurer, ibid., p. 554, cf. Jerome in Essaiam i,2,9). Other deities of the city were Bacchus, Serapis, Astarte and the Dioscuri. Eusebius holds that a shrine to Aphrodite (Astarte) stood on the traditional site of Jesusí tomb. Jerome holds that a statue of Jupiter stood on the resurrection (or grave) and a marble statue (or sanctuary) to Venus on the place of the crucifixion (Epist. 58 To Paulinus, 3, NPNF, 2nd series, Vol. VI, pp. 119 ff; cf. Schurer, ibid., p. 555). Schurer holds that Jeromeís divergence from Eusebius has its basis in the legend of the discovery of the Cross (ibid., n. 189). Jerome says that the paganisation of the sites and of Jerusalem was done to exterminate the religion (NPNF, ibid.).
These activities achieved that program which was undertaken by Antiochus Epiphanes in the time of the Maccabees, some centuries before. The religion of the Bible and the law itself was eliminated from Jerusalem and the Jews themselves faced with religious extermination, as circumcision was outlawed on pain of death. It was understood to also entail that it was a capital offence to maintain the Sabbath and study the law. The prohibition against circumcision was maintained until the reign of Antoninus Pius (Schurer, ibid.).
These prohibitions were aimed at both Jewish-Christians and Jews alike, as well as the Arabs who also maintained circumcision. The Itureans and the Idumeans did not circumcise until forcibly converted by John Hyrcanus and Aristobulus I. The Egyptians, the Colchians and the Ethiopians practiced circumcision from ancient times, as did the Phoenicians (see Schurer, Vol. 1, pp. 555,538). This prohibition of the Romans on circumcision was done in conjunction with the ban on castration, both of which were punished by death as barbaric customs. During Roman times, only the Egyptian priesthood practiced circumcision, whereas it was general among the Arabs (Schurer, ibid.). Only the Jews were later allowed to resume circumcision on religious grounds by Antoninus Pius. The appeal to reason and culture against circumcision is made even today.
Thus, the activities against Jerusalem appear to be to destroy the Hebrew and Semitic culture in favour of the Greco-Roman system.
The question arises: Did the temple come to be on the place of the tomb or was the tomb identified with the place of the temple? The answer is not clear.
It is not known with any certainty where the place of Golgotha was. However, the identification with the Mount of Olives is made on a number of grounds, some of which are possible and some of which are false or impossible.
One is that the place of the sacrifice of the heifer was on the Mount of Olives. Another is that the garden of Gethsemane was there and, so, as there was a garden nearby, the site of the crucifixion and burial was permitted in that area, then Christ is thought to have been crucified there. Burial was also permitted in the north of the city and we have the evidence of the tomb of John Hyrcanus and the tombs of the kings. The monument to Helena is probably the stelai known as the tombs of the kings which were placed within the north wall of the city from Agrippa I at least. These were the tombs of the house of Adiabene. The kingdom of Adiabene was on the frontier of the Roman and Parthian empires. The ruling family of Izates their king converted to Judaism in the time of Claudius. This included his mother Helena and, later, his elder brother Monobazus and all his relatives. As a result of this, a strong connection was formed with Jerusalem and five of his sons were educated there. Helena travelled there on pilgrimage and distributed food among the poor during the famine under Claudius (A of J, xx 2,5; cf. Schurer, ibid., Vol. 3.1, p. 163). This famine was the famine foretold by Agabus in Acts 11:28 (see also Whiston, p. 416, n. to xx 2,5). Helena was held to have been a Nazarite for fourteen years according to one tradition and for twenty one years according to another (ibid.). She and Monobazus had palaces in Jerusalem (ibid.). Their people supported the Jews against the Romans in the wars. When Izates and Helena died, Monobazus had them buried in Jerusalem in the tombs built by Helena herself (A of J, xx 4,3; cf. Schurer, ibid.). Eusebius says they were stelai seen in the suburbs of Jerusalem (Hist. Eccl., ii, 12.3). When Josephus wrote, they were three stades (591 metres or 646.5 yards) to the north of the city (ibid.). Jerome says (Ep. 108, 6) they lay to the left or eastwards of the road as approached from the north. They were a famous ancient monument of Jerusalem. This is probably the sarcophagus of the Queen of the house of Zaddan or Zadda found there by de Saulcy.
From this identification, Schurer says it seems these are identical with the tombs of the kings. However, Josephus shows they cannot be identical with the ancient kings of Israel, as the tomb of Helena was up against the third wall in the north (Wars, V.iv.2). This wall passed by at some length and then passed by the caverns of the kings and then bent again at the tower which is called the monument of the Fuller and joined to the old wall at the valley of Kidron (ibid., Whiston, p. 553). It seems to be that the caverns of the kings and the tombs of the kings are two different objects near one another. The caverns of the kings seem to be the so-called quarries of Solomon under the present north wall (cf. Interp. Dict., art. Jerusalem, Vol. 2, p. 864). The tombs of Helena and her son king Izates and a third stela were three pyramids which were very famous in the first century. What we see from the accounts of Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews is that the three pyramids of the kings of Adiabene were three furlongs or stadia from the walls of Jerusalem at the time of their construction in the reign of Claudius (41-54 CE) and they were within the third wall at the siege by Titus in 70 CE. Thus, the northern walls were 600 metres (656 yards) further south at the time of Christ. It is possible that the crucifixion could have taken place at any place up to the monuments and the cavern of the kings prior to 41 CE.
Thus, we see from the history that the connection with Helena is established but it is not Helena mother of Constantine; it is Helena mother of Izates and queen of Adiabene. She is perhaps identified with the house of Zaddan. This connection with the area north of Syria towards the Crimea may be the source of the earliest connections with the Askenazim leading up to their conversion in 740 CE. The location of the tombs are not, however, near the site of the present chapel in the north-west of the city. This seems to explain the strange legends surrounding the selection of the site of the crucifixion.
The location east of the Jerusalem road places the area at the head of the Kidron on the high ground at the north-west.
The area north of Jerusalem referred to as the suburbs of Bezetha is probably the area of the pool of Bethzatha or Bethesda which is said to have been near the Sheep Gate. The Greek New Testament uses the same adjective as the LXX. There is an old reservoir under the building owned by the White Fathers and this is commonly identified as the pool of Bethsaida. Bethsaida or Bethzatha is derived from two Hebrew words (SHD 1004 and SHD 6720). It means the house of the victuals or meat or venison. Hence, there were a number of places with these names in Galilee (Mk. 6:45 Ė here it probably means the fishing house; The Fishermanís Co-op in modern terms). In Mark 8:22 and Luke 9:10 it is a place east of Lake Gennesareth. Philip, Andrew and Peter were all from Bethsaida in Galilee (Jn. 1:44; 12:21). The pool near Jerusalem is rendered Bethesda and means the house of kindness (formed from SHD 1004 and SHD 2617). They are thus not the same words but may be different terms for the same place outside of the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem and for which the new city was named.
There was also another gate in the east wall south of the Temple where Christ crossed the Kidron and entered Jerusalem (Mk. 11:11).
The locations of the crucifixion north-east of the Damascus Gate would be beside the road to Nablus. There were also roads over the Mount of Olives to Bethany and further south to Jericho.
Gethsemane is on the road to Bethany. It is also probable that there were gardens to the north-east and we know that a garden with a burial chamber was there in Byzantine times.
Thus, the two places on the north and east can both qualify as the place of crucifixion.
Unsound reasons advanced for the Mount of Olives as the place of crucifixion
One of the reasons advanced in support of the Mount of Olives is that it faces directly towards the Temple. The crucifixion thus looked directly towards the Holy of Holies and the reason the onlookers stood in awe was that they saw directly into the Holy of Holies and saw the temple veil split in two. That is advanced as the reason that the soldiers there said: "truly this was the son of God".
This cannot be correct for a number of reasons. The text itself explains why they were so amazed and said what they did say.
Matthew 27:50-5450 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; 52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, 53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many. 54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God. (KJV)
The assumption that they saw the temple veil rent in two requires a number of things to have happened for this to have been visible to the centurion and the soldiers. We will now examine the Temple and surrounds.
The Third or Herodís Temple
The Temple built by Herod was the Third Temple and not the Second Temple. It completely replaced the Second Temple, but systematically so there was continuous worship in the area. He also re-built the tower or fortress Akra and re-named it Antonia in honour of Mark Antony. This is the fortress mentioned in Daniel 11:39 where he will use the people of an alien god to defend the fortress. The priestís vestments were lodged there during the entire period of Herodís reign and afterwards with the Romans, until the visit of Vitellius president of Syria in the reign of Tiberius Caesar (36 CE). The vestments were returned to the custody of the Jews until the reign of Agrippa when they were placed in the tower Antonia and released into the custody of Agrippa II on appeal to Claudius. From 6 CE, they were brought out only four times a year. That was on the three feasts and on the Day of Atonement (Schurer, Vol. I, p. 379). They are not mentioned for Trumpets. Thus, during the ministry of Christ, the high priestís garments were in the custody of the Roman guard at the tower Antonia next to the Temple. This was fortified and had tunnels to the Temple. A Roman tagma was permanently stationed here according to Josephus. The tagma, here, could only have been a cohort and not a legion (which has ten cohorts and 5,000 to 6,000 men; cf. Schurer, Vol. 1, p. 366). The tribune of the cohort is the chiliarchos or commander of the thousand referred to in the New Testament (Jn. 18:12; Acts 21:31). Paul addressed the people once more from the steps of Antonia with the permission of the chiliarch of this cohort. Acts 23:32 also shows that a detachment of cavalry (alia) also accompanied the cohort in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was the secondary residence of the Judean governors. The principle residence was in Caesarea in the palace built by Herod called the praetorium (cf. Acts 23:35). Schurer lists Antonia under the index. However, he refers to the praetorium in Jerusalem as being Herodís palace in the west of the city and most certainly the place that Pilate stayed during the period of the crucifixion (referred to in Mk. 15:16; Mat. 26:27; Jn. 18:28,33; 19:9; cf. Vol. 1, p. 361). This was also a citadel (used during the rebellions of 4 BCE and 66 CE). During the feasts when masses flocked to Jerusalem, the Roman governor moved to the city for security and crowd control reasons. The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible refers to the tradition that the praetorium was the palace in the west but says it is now accepted that Antonia was the place Pilate stayed and the place of his trial of Christ (ibid., Vol. 2, p. 861). When Pilate could not satisfy the mob, he brought Christ out and sat down to try him. The trial of Christ took place under Pilate at the Pavement or Gabbatha.
John 19:1313 When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. (KJV)
In front of the Antonia there is a large stone pavement more than 45 metres (150 feet) square; under the convent of Notre Dame de Sion across the street from the first station of the cross and a little to the west. There is a second century arch which rests on this stone but it is obviously later (Interp. Dict., Vol. 2, p. 862). Scratched in it are the diagrams of a Roman game and this is undoubtedly the courtyard of the Antonia and probably the pavement on which Pilate sat in judgment. The soldiers who mocked Christ would have been here (Mat. 27:27-31; Mk. 15:16-20; Jn. 19:1-3).
The stations of the cross follow from here. John 19:17 says that Jesus went out bearing his own cross or stake.
John 19:1717 And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: (KJV)
From here, the routes are different and the way now follows the via Dolorosa to the west. The incidents of the third and fourth stations are not recorded in the gospels Ė they appear to be embellishment. There is a broken column at the corner of the street which comes down from the Damascus Gate which marks the third station where Jesus is thought to have fallen under the weight of the stake or cross (see the paper The Cross: Its Origin and Significance (No. 39)). At the fourth station where the via Dolorosa turns the corner to the south, Jesus is alleged to have met his mother. The via Dolorosa turns west again at the first corner to the right and this is allegedly the fifth station of the cross where Simon of Cyrene is supposed to have taken up the cross. However, the Synoptic Gospels do not support this tradition (see Mat. 27:32; Mk. 15:21; Lk. 23:26).
Matthew 27:3232 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. (KJV)
Mark 15:2121 And they compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross. (KJV)
Luke 23:25-2625 And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will.
26 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. (KJV)
The traditions are, thus, without foundation and Simon of Cyrene bore the stake from the beginning. This could not have simply been a cross bar and the main stake left in situ or in fact a tree. It required a fit man to carry and Jesus had been scourged and could not do so.
The next station is where Veronica is alleged to have wiped his face. The street running south from the Damascus Gate allegedly in the first century had a gate called the Gate of Judgment on which the proclamation of Christís death was posted. A chapel at this corner marks the seventh station where the traditions again allege Christ fell while passing through the gate. Nothing of this is recorded by the disciples. The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible says that it is unlikely that there was a gate here although there may have been one further south depending upon the city walls (ibid., p. 862). From here, the route moves up the hill to the west. The eighth station is marked by a cross carved on the wall of a Greek monastery. This is believed to be where Christ spoke to the woman of Jerusalem in Luke 23:27-31. However, again the text shows that occurred at the beginning if we look at the full text.
Luke 23:25-3125 And he released unto them him that for sedition and murder was cast into prison, whom they had desired; but he delivered Jesus to their will. 26 And as they led him away, they laid hold upon one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, and on him they laid the cross, that he might bear it after Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. 28 But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. 29 For, behold, the days are coming, in the which they shall say, Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bare, and the paps which never gave suck. 30 Then shall they begin to say to the mountains, Fall on us; and to the hills, Cover us. 31 For if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? (KJV)
The stations then follow an impossible route and end up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Four of the last five stations are in the church itself and the fifth is at what is allegedly the tomb. The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible admits the tales surrounding the place are childish and the decoration barbarous but holds that the arguments for the place called Gordonís Calvary in the north have no historical value (ibid.). The arguments for the traditional site are not conclusive Ė the arguments against it are not cogent (ibid.).
We do know however that the place of the crucifixion was near the city (Jn. 19:20).
John 19:2020 This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. (KJV)
Hebrews 13:12 says it was outside the gate.
Hebrews 13:1212 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. (KJV)
This text does not limit the distance but it seems beyond doubt that it was not all that far away. The straightest route appears to be to the Damascus Gate and then outside. The arguments against both sites are similar. The arguments for the traditions seem weak and without support from the gospels entirely, other than the supposition of the pavement of Antonia which itself adjoins the Temple.
The location of the second wall is important to the rejection of the site under the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The second wall is described by Josephus as beginning at the gate called Gennath or the Garden Gate. This tells us that there was a garden at that site. The location of the gate in the centre of the old wall not far from the Tyropoeon valley allows the wall to run northward well to the east of the hill on which stand the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. If it started further to the west end of the old wall, the wall may have turned to the east either north or south of the traditional Calvary. The traditional site is known to have some ancient Jewish tombs and, thus, the site is held to be used for burial but so did the other areas. Moreover, the tombs are not dated and the location of the wall is important to the inclusion or exclusion of the traditional site. Even if the site is outside of the city, it is not conclusive. The simplest and closest site is in the north if Antonia is the point of departure which The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible itself advances as the case but admits that is not determined. If the praetorium was Herodís palace then the traditional site is closer. However, the sites of the stations of the cross have been changed many times in the past as admitted by The Interpreterís Dictionary of the Bible and the streets were far below their present levels in most cases as it also admits (ibid., p. 863).
Structure of Herodís Temple
The Temple built by Herod had an elevated section for the inner temple building in which was also the Holy Of Holies. The Templeís foundations, walls and cloisters were built by Herod in eight years but the priests themselves completed the actual Temple in one and a half years. Herod had assembled all materials for them before the start of any work (see A of J, xv.11). The inner building or Temple was quite higher than the front section of courts and gates. The outer building had been set on fire by the Romans under Sabinus during the revolt on Herodís death in 4 BCE.
The temple building was some 100 cubits in height. It was still overlooked by the citadel Antonia, however. The area to the east was secluded by a wall and the great Corinthian Gate of fifty cubits high and forty cubits wide. (see Josephus Wars, V.v.2,3,4). The inner area was not visible to the outside and the Jews were most careful that it was not visible in accordance with Godís commands and plan. There was not just the veil in front of the Holy of Holies. There were a set of doors in front of that and then another great veil over those doors and then the great set of brass doors or Corinthian Doors on the outer area. The entry into the Temple itself was open and seventy cubits high. The building was ninety cubits high and one could look into the first section of the Temple through these open gates which represented the universal visibility of the heavens (ibid., V.v.4). However, the inner part was lower than the appearance of the outer gates and were covered by two doors twenty five cubits in height and sixteen cubits in breadth. But before these doors was the first veil of the Temple which was of the same dimensions. This curtain had the symbols of scarlet and blue and purple and flax and symbolised the mysteries of the universe with the exception of the twelve signs of the living creatures (i.e. the zodiac as they understood it).
This inner area of the Temple was sixty cubits in height, sixty in length and twenty in breadth. The sixty in length was divided into the first section of forty cubits which contained the candlestick or Menorah, the table of Shewbread and the altar of incense. The calendar and the zodiac were held to have been symbolised by the twelve loaves on the table. There were thirteen types of sweet smelling spices which were held to represent God as possessor of all things in the world which are to be dedicated to His use.
Josephus records that the Temple was, at the Holy of Holies, some twenty cubits square and the superior part of the Temple was narrower than the lower part and some forty cubits higher and, thus, the area was one hundred cubits in height. It was not visible however from the outside and the way in was via the golden doors twenty five cubits high (ibid., 4,5).
For the way into the Holy of Holies to have been visible from the Mount of Olives, the Great Doors would have to have been thrown open and then both veils rent and the other set of doors would also have to have been opened.
The height of the crucifixion would also have to have been high up on the mount away from Gethsemane and perhaps near the pool for the immersion of the high priest. It is unlikely that the high priest would have accepted the profaning of the site by the ritual execution of common thieves and Gentiles.
This view aside, it is possible that such may have happened but there is no specific requirement for it to have happened. Moreover, the distance is against it. The likelihood of being able to see into the Holy of Holies, even given that both veils rent and the doors were swung open by the earthquake, is not at all great. Moreover, the angle from the Mount of Olives would have to be so precise and so high that it is unlikely that the Romans would have gone that far to execute the criminals. It was their practice to execute criminals on the roads leading into the city for maximum visual effect and, hence, deterrence.
The variation in locality between the northern and the eastern sites does not involve great distances. There is little more than a kilometre (0.6 mile) from one site to the other and so anywhere on the head of the Kidron, between the site of the tomb of Helena and the garden of Gethsemane is possible. The north-west site, although the traditional site, seems less likely as the true site.
In religious symbolism, the Mount of Olives is the most significant. It is however quite some distance further. In the unlikely event that the Holy of Holies could be viewed from the scene, a reconstruction of the model of Herodís Temple will give the exact location of the site of the crucifixion by geometrical calculation. If the doors were flung open, then a direct line from the centre of the Temple to the Mount of Olives will give you the line of the crucifixion. It merely serves then to decide the height. The outer walls are also a limitation to the view and, thus, the place on the Mount of Olives had to be quite high towards and even above the summit. If the doors were shut then it is simply impossible for the veil to have been seen.
The important thing is that the site of the crucifixion was deliberately not set aside and venerated because of the dangers of idolatry as we see happening with the relics of the bodies in the later Ca
The modern identification of the stations of the cross are physically impossible to have been the correct places as the city generally is much higher now than it was then and the streets lay in different patterns. There is virtually nothing of the churches and shrines today that is possibly correct in its identification with the activities at the time of Christ. All of the traditions we have of the places now identified come from highly questionable tradition no earlier than the fourth century (see Interp. Dict., ibid., p. 861).
Another example is the stoning of Stephen. The stoning of Stephen is held to have taken place outside of the city (Acts 7:58). The Dominican chapel is built on an earlier Byzantine structure identified and built by the empress Eudoxia to house the relics of Stephen and as her own mausoleum. It was on the north side on the Nablus road out from the Damascus Gate. The synagogue of the Freedmen, some of whom instigated Stephenís arrest (Acts 6:9), may be identified with the complex in the south-east of the city. A recently discovered Greek inscription says that the complex built there was a synagogue, a guesthouse for strangers and a bath complex. It was built by Theodotus son of Vettemus. The fatherís name being Latin is held to mean that he was an emancipated Jewish slave and that this is the synagogue of the Freedmen. The Greeks erected a chapel to Stephen beside the Jericho road near the bottom of the Kidron valley and near what is referred to as St Stephenís Gate. The Greek site is however attested as being only slightly older than the Dominican.
Map 236 in The Macmillan Bible Atlas shows the layout of first century Jerusalem and the supposed route of the movements of Christ at the final Passover period. Some are known with some surety, others are sheer guesswork. Many are simply wrong but the map gives a good idea of the geography and the known locations of places mentioned in the gospels.
This paper is designed to give a feel for the localities and background to the other papers on the subject such as Timing of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (No. 159). It also demonstrates that much of what we are told about Jerusalem by Christian tradition is incorrect and much we are told from the Bible can be identified correctly and shows that the account is true and accurate.
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