When they came to a place called The Skull, they crucified Him there. And the criminals were also crucified—one on His right and one on His left. Luke 23:33
In the context of Luke’s sentence above “there” is referring back to a place called the Skull. Notice in the text from the four Gospels below, Luke does not use the term Golgotha which the other three writers do. Rather he just refers to the place by the word [kranion] from which we get the English word cranium. Luke the Gentile doesn’t use the Hebrew term Golgotha.
- Mark 15:22: And they brought him to the place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).
- Matthew 27:33: And when they came to a place called Gol’gotha (which means the place of a skull).
- Luke 23:33: And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left.
- John 19:17: So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which is called in Hebrew Gol’gotha.
Calvary, or Golgotha was the place outside the walls of Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. Golgotha is the Greek transcription of an Aramaic term that has traditionally been presumed to be [Gulgalta]. The “place of a skull” (Aramaic: gûlgaltâ גולגלתא) the etymology is based on the Hebrew verbal root גלל g-l-l, from which the Hebrew word for skull, גֻּלְגֹּלֶת (gulgōleṯ), is derived. The Bible translates the term to mean place of [the] skull, which in Greek is Κρανίου Τόπος (Kraníou Tópos). In Latin the place is called Calvariæ Locus, from which the English word Calvary is derived. Golgotha referred to a hill which resembled the shape of a skull, located near to one of the gates into Jerusalem.
A number of alternative explanations have been given for the name. It has been suggested that the Aramaic name is actually Gol Goatha, meaning mount of execution, possibly the same location as the Goatha referred to in Jeremiah 31:39. An alternative explanation is that the location was a place of public execution, the name referring to abandoned skulls that were to be found there, or that the location was near a cemetery, and the name refers to the bones buried there. In my humble opinion that is only conjecture. It is not likely to have been the case that bones were left lying around. That would have been extremely offensive to Jews living there at the time given their sensitivities to touching dead bodies. The traditional location of Golgotha derives from its identification by Helena, the mother of Constantine 1, in 325. A few yards nearby, Helena also identified the location of the Tomb of Jesus and claimed to have discovered the True Cross. Constantine, then built the Church of the Holy Sepulchre around the supposed site of Calvary.
There is also debate over exactly where Golgotha or Calvary was located. See the two maps I have added to this Gem.
The New Testament describes the crucifixion site, Golgotha, as being “near the city” (John 19:20), and “outside the city wall” (Heb. 13:12). The traditionally identified location is in the heart of Hadrian’s city, well within Jerusalem Old City walls. Therefore a number have questioned the legitimacy of the traditional identification on these grounds. Some defenders of this tradition have responded by citing Jewish history of the wall, that the city had been much narrower in Jesus’ time, with the site then having been outside the walls. Herod Agrippa extended the city to the north (beyond the present northern walls), the required repositioning of the western wall is traditionally attributed to him as well.
In 2003, Professor Sir Henry Chadwick argued that when Hadrian’s builders replanned the old city, they “incidentally confirm[ed] the bringing of Golgotha inside a new town wall.” In another viewpoint, in 2007 Dan Bahat, the former City Archaeologist of Jerusalem and Professor at Bar-Ilan University stated “Six graves from the first century were found on the area of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. That means, this place [was] outside of the city, without any doubt…”. Based on the late 20th century excavations of the site, there have been a number of attempted reconstructions of the profile of the cliff face. These often attempt to show the site as it would have appeared to Constantine. However, as the ground level in Roman times was about 4–5 feet (1.2–1.5 m) lower and the site housed Hadrian’s temple to Aphrodite, much of the surrounding rocky slope must have been removed long before Constantine built the church on the site.
Eusebius comments that Golgotha was in his day (the 4th century) north of Mount Zion. Although the hill currently referred to as Mount Zion is indeed south of the traditional site for Golgotha, it has only had that name since the Middle Ages, and previously ‘Mount Zion’ referred to the Temple Mount itself. The Garden Tomb is north of both. In 1882–83, Major-General Charles George Gordon proposed a different location. The location, which some Protestants call the Garden Tomb, is beneath a cliff which contains two large sunken holes, which Gordon regarded as resembling the eyes of a skull; he and a few others before him believed that the skull-like appearance would have caused the location to be known as Golgotha. Another alternate location has been proposed by Rodger Dusatko, a missionary in Germany. He claims that the location of Golgotha is just outside the Lion’s Gate, a hill which has the appearance of the skull-pan of a head.
There is a huge amount debate and description as to the significance of all the details connected with the Crucifixion of Christ on Calvary. Some have even claimed to have found the lost Ark of the Covenant hidden under the escarpment close to Gordon’s location for Calvary near the Garden Tomb. But none of it can be substantiated. As a result there is huge speculation and theory. I don’t wish to get bogged down with all of the claims and counter claims. Nor to enter into the debate on the meanings of Golgotha as outlined above.
However I would like to expand our view beyond the mere location of Golgotha. Note “there” has a number of levels to its geographic reference point. There is the exact location as debated above. But something else may well be in focus. Golgotha is a real location, that is indisputable. It lay outside of the city of Jerusalem at the time Christ was crucified, despite what debate there may be as to the expansion of the city and the site’s later incorporation into the city limits of Jerusalem. Irrespective of Golgotha’s actual location and meaning, we must realise there are other levels of significance of the Bible text to be considered. Luke has taken pains to tell us from the mid point of his Gospel that Jesus had set His face toward Jerusalem. I wonder why. I suspect Jerusalem was the focus because it was the centre of religious and political activity in the nation. He was to be sentenced there because those who held the authority in earthly realms were located there. But also Jesus focus is the centre of the Promised Land and the capital of all human activity. Could it be it was important for Him to be crucified there because of the symbolism involved of what He accomplished in saving the Lost.
It was also important for Jesus to be crucified “outside the camp” or outside the walls of the city. Simply because He was both the sin offering and the scapegoat. Any one cursed was taken outside the camp or the city to be stoned (or crucified). The idea was linked to the separation of the people from sin. Hence when Jesus was punished for our sin, He was removed from the city in fulfilment of Old Testament practices. Not only was He our sin offering but He was also the scapegoat for us. Our sin was place on Him. In the Old Testament there were two goats / sheep: one was the sin offering and was sacrificed. The other was the scapegoat on which was symbolically placed the sins or wrong doing of the people and it was sent outside the camp or the city to die. Both aspects of this symbolism appear to be in focus here.
We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.Hebrews 13:10-13
There is one more level I wish to comment on then I will stop to ensure I don’t “go on too long”. I am reminded of what we used to do as kids – see the address below.
Golgotha Jerusalem Israel (The Promised Land) Middle East The World Earth
Do you remember doing something like that? Well in this case it is not so silly. In this case we have the Messiah, YHWH Himself come down to the people He created. As Brian Kendrick wrote in the same song – “Entered our world, His glory veiled.” Wow! Not only is “there” significant because it’s on the edge of the city of Jerusalem, outside the city walls, but also it significant because it’s on EARTH. This Messiah came down and tabernacled among us. “There” is significant on all levels and now it is time to leave it there.
When all of earth turns against you, all of heaven turns toward you.Max Lucado
There are 100 billion galaxies. Why so much space for so few earth dwellers? The heavens are telling the glory of God not man.John Piper
Life on earth is just the first letter of the first sentence in the first chapter of the great story God is writing with your life.Max Lucado
Aim at heaven & you get earth thrown in. Aim at earth & you get neither.C.S. Lewis
God is scanning the earth right now looking for those whose hearts will beat with His.Ian Vail