DISCLAIMER: This post reflects my own views, which of course will never be proven or disproven. But at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter where Jesus was crucified. What really matters is that He DID die for us.
St Helena erected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to mark the spot of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. She based her assumptions on the oral tradition of an elderly man by the name of Judah. He told her of how Hadrian had Calvary levelled the holy spot and built a temple to the Roman goddess Venus.
Helena and her travelling companion, the historian Eusebius, ordered the temple to be torn down, and tradition says that she found three crosses buried in the rubble beneath it. Although crosses were reused as soon as the bodies were removed from them, it is very likely that the cross of Jesus was removed and buried to prevent his followers from claiming it. Credibility is given to the discovery, since Helena also found the sign that was nailed to the top of the cross, and mentioned in the Gospels: “Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek” (John 19:20)
Helena also found the evidence of the land being levelled to build the temple, and she found a tomb nearby. There is much to lend credibility to this being the location of the crucifixion and burial, as the location of the city walls during that day were further south than today, so it was indeed outside the city, as according to customs and mentioned in the Gospels: “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood (Hebrews 13:12). In addition, the tomb dates back to the time of Jesus.
This was to be the consensus for over 1000 years…
We will never know for sure, but I join many others in believing that she may have misidentified the location.
The name “Golgotha” is derived from the Aramaic word gulgulta. Matthew 27:33 and Mark 15:22 give its meaning as “place of the skull.” When Saint Jerome translated these verses into Latin, he used the Latin word for skull, calvaria, which was later converted into the English word Calvary. There is no foundation for the common belief that the crucifixion took place on top of a hill. All four Gospels say they took Jesus “to a place.”
Two hundred meters from the Damascus Gate, literally just across the street, there is a cliff containing caves that very clearly show the face of a skull. It is commonly referred to as the “Gordon’s Calvary,” after the British general Charles Gordon who visited Jerusalem in 1882 and was intrigued by it.
This spot is located on the northernmost part of the mount called Moriah in the Bible. This was where Abraham brought Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22), a symbolic prophecy of the sacrifice of Christ to come. The site was later purchased by David and used by Solomon to construct his temple at the midpoint on the north-south line of the hill. Significantly, sacrificial animals, whose deaths also symbolized that of Christ, were slain to the north of the temple altar, as in Leviticus 1:11. This location would place the crucifixion on the northernmost part of the hill where that altar was situated.
Golgotha is separated from the main body of Mount Moriah by a chasm created by an ancient rock quarry. The skull face on the cliff was cut away by the quarry, so it is a crucial fact that the quarry predates Christ.
Immediately to the west of the southern cliff stands Damascus Gate, where Herodian stonework is found, along with remnants of a gateway and towers. This proves that Golgotha was—as the Gospels state—not far outside the city walls near the gate. It was also situated beside the main northern road—an ideal place for a public execution because of the numerous passersby, who, in the New Testament story, mocked Christ as he hung on the cross (Mathew 27:39)
Nearby, again in accordance to the Gospels, is a garden and a tomb, that shall be the topic of my next post…