Where is Golgatha? Matthew 27:33

Soldiers led Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to crucify him just outside the city. Matthew 27:33 says, “And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).” Where is Golgotha? What does that word mean?

Gordon's Calvary

The traditional location for Golgotha (is inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and is likely to be the correct location). The Greek (Γολγοθᾶ) is a transliteration of the Aramaic word for skull (גֻּלְגֻּלְתָּא, Hebrew גֻּלְגֹּלֶת). The name Calvary comes from the Latin calvarius, “skull.” Since Golgotha was near the city, outside the walls, on a main road, and near unused tombs. The Holy Sepulcher is the best candidate since it would have been outside the walls in the early first century and there is evidence of a quarry that was used for tombs near the church (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 133).

Although the tomb inside the church is covered and difficult to see, there are two tombs in the Syrian chapel that illustrate the kinds of tombs that were carved into the quarry.

The site of the crucifixion is now completely inside the church but was examined in 1988 when the Greek Orthodox Church removed a marble covering. There is a depression at the top of the rock which could be a socket for a cross (Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 134).

There are several competing explanations for the name, “Place of the Skull,” although none are completely convincing. Since the place was used for executions and Romans did not normally allow crucified men to be properly buried, there may have been human bones among the garbage surrounding the cross. Perhaps the Romans marked the place of execution with a skull, like a street sign (Quaryles, Matthew, 723). The name may suggest uncleanliness, a warning to Jewish people to stay clear of the area to avoid corpse uncleanliness.

A common suggestion is the rocky area near the place of execution looked like a skull. First suggested in 1842 by Otto Thenius, the Garden Tomb has a view of the rocks on the escarpment that look vaguely like a skull. But the modern view of the cliff would look considerably different after 2000 years of erosion.  After the recent cold and snow in Jerusalem, the “nose” no longer looks quite right.

If Golgotha is at the Holy Sepulcher, then it would have been visible from Herod’s palace (just inside the modern Jaffa Gate).

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