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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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GOLGOTHA (Γολγοθᾶ, Aram. [Note: Aramaic.] נ֖לְנָּלְתָּא, Heb. נּ֖לְנֹּלֶח [2 Kings 9:35], ‘skull’).—The name of the place where Jesus was crucified. This name is mentioned by three of the Evangelists (Matthew 27:33 ‘a place called Golgotha, that is to say, The place of a skull’; Mark 15:22 ‘the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull’; John 19:17 ‘the place called The place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha’). The Greek equivalent (Κρανίον) is used by St. Luke (Luke 23:33 ‘the place which is called The skull,’ Revised Version NT 1881, OT 1885). Vulgate uses here the Latin equivalent Calvaria, whence ‘Calvary’ in Authorized Version.

Three explanations of this name have been suggested: (1) Jerome (Com. in Ephesians 5:14) mentions a tradition that Adam was buried at Golgotha, and that at the Crucifixion the drops of Christ’s blood fell on his skull and restored him to life. The skull often seen in early pictures of the Crucifixion refers to this. (2) It is supposed by some to have been the place of public execution, where bodies were left unburied (Jerome, Com. in Matthew 27:33), but (a) it is most unlikely that dead men’s bones would have been left lying about so near the city, when, according to the Mosaic law, they made any one unclean who touched them; (b) there was no reason why the place should have been named from the skulls rather than from any other parts of skeletons; (c) the expression is κρανίου τόπος, not κρανίων τόπος, as we should expect it to be if this derivation were correct. (3) The most probable view of the origin of the name is suggested by the form of the expression in St. Luke, ‘the place which is called The skull.’ It was probably so called because of its skull-like contour. The use of the article by the Evangelists seems to indicate that the place was well known, but they never call it a mountain. The Bordeaux Pilgrim (a.d. 333) speaks of it as monticulus Golgotha, and the expression ‘Mount Calvary’ appears to have come into use after the 5th century.

The site cannot be identified with certainty. All that we know from the Bible is that it was outside the walls of the city (Hebrews 13:12, Matthew 27:31-32, John 19:16-17), that it was nigh to the city (John 19:20), that it was in a conspicuous position (Mark 15:40, Luke 23:49), that it was close to some thoroughfare leading from the country (Matthew 27:39, Mark 15:21; Mark 15:29, Luke 23:28), and that it was near a garden and a new tomb hewn out of the rock, belonging to Joseph, a rich man of Arimathaea (John 19:41, Matthew 27:57; Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:43; Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53). These particulars are not sufficient to justify a positive decision in favour of any one of the proposed identifications of Golgotha, but they seem to be decisive against the first of the four conjectures mentioned below, to bear against the second slightly, but against the third more heavily, and to be most nearly satisfied by the fourth.

1. The peculiar theory of Fergusson (Essay on the Anc. Topog. of Jerus. [Note: Jerusalem.] , and art. ‘Jerusalem’ in Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ), that Golgotha was on Mount Moriah, and that the mosque of Omar is the church erected by Constantine over the Holy Sepulchre, was quickly shown to be untenable (e.g. by Bonar, art. ‘Jerusalem’ in Fairbairn’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] ).

2. Barclay (City of the Great King, p. 79) and Porter (Kitto’s Cycl. of Bib. Lit. art ‘Golgotha’) maintained that the site of the Crucifixion was east of the city, between the then existing wall and the Kidron Valley. This place could have been quickly and easily reached from the palace of Pilate and the judgment-hall, which probably stood at the N.W. corner of the Haram area. According to this view, the soldiers, instead of taking their prisoner across the city towards the west, or out in the direction of the Roman road, hurried Him through the nearest gate and crucified Him near the road leading to Bethany. Two objections are urged against this: (a) that the Gospel narratives imply that the road passing Golgotha was a more frequented thoroughfare than this road to Bethany, and that the great highways of Jerusalem are all on the north and west of the city; and (b) that there is no skull-shaped site in this region.

3. That Golgotha was where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands, seems to have been almost universally believed from the age of Constantine down to the 18th century. It is now agreed on all hands that the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre occupies the site of the one erected by Constantine in a.d. 335. On what grounds did he select this as the true site of the Crucifixion? Those who still believe it to be the true site generally assume not only that the early Christians at Jerusalem had a knowledge of the places where the Lord was crucified and buried, but also that this knowledge was handed down as a reliable tradition through three hundred years, notwithstanding the utter demolition of Jerusalem by Titus and again by Hadrian, and the altering of the whole aspect of the city by the latter when he rebuilt it as a Roman colony and changed its name to Aelia Capitolina. But Eusebius, in describing the discovery of the site by Constantine, says it had been ‘given over to forgetfulness and oblivion,’ and that the Emperor, ‘not without a Divine intimation, but moved in spirit by the Saviour Himself,’ ordered it to be purified and adorned with splendid buildings.

‘Such language, certainly, would hardly he appropriate in speaking of a spot well known and definitely marked by long tradition. The Emperor, too, in his letter to Macarius, regards the discovery of “the token of the Saviour’s most sacred passion, which for so long a time had been hidden under ground,” as “a miracle beyond the capacity of man sufficiently to celebrate or even to comprehend.” The mere removal of obstructions from a well-known spot could hardly have been described as a miracle so stupendous. Indeed, the whole tenor of the language both of Eusebius and Constantine goes to show that the discovery of the Holy Sepulchre was held to be the result, not of a previous knowledge derived from tradition, but of a supernatural interposition and revelation’ (Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] , Boston, 1841, ii. 75).

The same impression is made by the accounts of the writers of the 5th century, who, however, unanimously attribute the discovery not to Constantine, but to his mother Helena. Their story is that, guided by a ‘Divine intimation’ as to the place, she came to Jerusalem, inquired diligently of the inhabitants, and, after a difficult search, found the sepulchre and beside it three crosses, and also the tablet bearing the inscription of Pilate. At the suggestion of Bishop Macarius, the cross to which the inscription belonged was ascertained by a miracle of healing. The three crosses were presented in succession to a noble lady of Jerusalem who lay sick of an incurable disease. Two of them produced no effect, but the third worked an immediate and perfect cure. Eusebius, though contemporary with the alleged events, makes no mention of the discovery of the cross nor of the agency of Helena. But whether we accept the account of Eusebius or that of the writers of the 5th century, the traditional site of Calvary rests on a miracle, and, in the case of the latter, on a double miracle.

Those who now favour this site (e.g. Sanday, Sac. Sites of the Gospels, pp. 72–77) labour to show that there was a previous tradition which determined Constantine’s selection of the spot, but the only proofs they adduce are: (a) vague allusions to visits made by early pilgrims to the ‘Holy Places’ of Palestine, an expression which is used of the Holy Land at large, and not of the Holy City only; and (b) the alleged regular succession of bishops from the Apostle James to the time of Hadrian, through whom a knowledge of the place might have been handed down. This regular succession of bishops is more than doubtful. The only authority on the subject is Eusebius, who lived two centuries afterwards, and he says expressly that he had been able to find no document respecting them, and wrote only from hearsay. Moreover, even if it were possible to prove the existence of an earlier tradition, its value would be open to serious question, as is shown by the falsity of other traditions which did actually exist in the age of Constantine. For instance, Eusebius in a.d. 315 speaks of pilgrims coming from all parts of the world to behold the fulfilment of prophecy and to pay their adorations on the summit of the Mount of Olives, where Jesus gave His last charge to His disciples and then ascended into heaven. This is hardly consistent with the explicit statement of St. Luke (Luke 24:50-51) that ‘he led them out until they were over against Bethany, and … he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.’ Other sites shown to pilgrims in that uncritical age were impossible, such as that of Rephidim in Moab. The Bordeaux Pilgrim places the Transfiguration on Olivet, and the combat of David and Goliath near Jezreel. The fact that no pilgrimages were made to the site of the Holy Sepulchre before the visit of Helena, though they were made in plenty to the summit of Olivet, goes to show that there was no tradition concerning the Holy Sepulchre.

In the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre are shown not only the site of the Sepulchre and the rock of the Crucifixion, with the cleft made by the earthquake and the three holes, five feet apart, in which the three crosses were inserted, but also a great number of other traditional sites. Almost every incident of the Passion and Resurrection is definitely located. The very spots are pointed out where Christ was bound, where He was scourged, where His friends stood afar off during the Crucifixion, where His garments were parted, where His body was anointed, where He appeared to His mother after the Resurrection, and to Mary Magdalene; the rock tombs also of Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathaea; the place where Helena’s throne stood during the ‘Invention of the Cross,’—and many others. The number of these identifications, all under one roof, does not increase our confidence in ecclesiastical tradition.

Not less damaging to the claims of the traditional site is the topographical evidence. Our Lord suffered ‘without the gate’ (Hebrews 13:12). The Church of the Holy Sepulchre lies far within the walls of the present city, and, as Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion was much larger than it is now, the fair presumption is that it included the site of that church rather than excluded it. If we place Golgotha at the traditional site, we make Jerusalem at the time of its greatest prosperity no larger than the poverty-stricken town of the present day, ‘containing not far from 200 acres, from which 36 acres must be deducted for the Haram area’ (Merrill). This difficulty arising from the present location in the heart of the city seems to have been felt as early as the 8th cent., and also in the 12th and 14th, but the first to reject the tradition openly was Korte, who visited Jerusalem in 1738, and who urged that the traditional site could not have been outside the ancient city, because of its nearness to the former area of the Jewish temple. The argument against this site has been greatly strengthened by the determination of the rock levels of Jerusalem and the probable course of the ‘second wall’ of the three mentioned by Josephus. The first wall, that of David and Solomon, encompassed the Upper City (Zion), and its north line ran eastward from the tower of Hippicus to the wall bounding the temple area. ‘The second wall had its beginning from the gate called Gennath, which belonged to the first wall, and, encircling only the northern quarter of the city, it extended as far as the Tower Antonia’ (BJ v. iv. 2). This wall, which was probably built by Hezekiah, running in a circle or curve, seems to have had no angles like the first and third, and therefore to have required no extended description. If this curve included the Pool of Hezekiah (which must surely have been within the walls), it would naturally have included also the traditional site of the Sepulchre. If, in spite of the statement of Josephus, the wall be drawn with a re-entering angle so as to exclude the traditional site, there still remain apparently insuperable difficulties in the nature of the ground, since in this case the wall must have been built in a deep valley (Tyropœon), and must have been dominated from without by the adjacent knoll on which the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands (Acra). But ‘fortresses stand on hills, not in deep ravines,’ ‘the wall must have stood on the high ground’ (Conder). Immediately east of the Tower of David (at or near which Hippicus must have stood) a narrow ridge runs north and south, connecting the two hills Zion and Acra and separating the head of the Tyropœon Valley from the valley west of the Jaffa gate. As this is the only place where the wall could have protected the valley on the east and commanded the valley on the west, the natural course for the engineers would have been to build the wall along this ridge. Exactly along this ridge the remains of an ancient wall were found in 1885 by Dr. Merrill. One hundred and twenty feet of it were exposed in a line running north-west and south-east, at a depth of 10 or 12 ft. below the present surface of the ground. At some points but one course of stone remained, at others two, at others three. The stones correspond in size and work to those in the base of the Tower of David, a few yards farther south. This is probably a portion of the second wall. Later, another section, 26 ft. long, of similar work, was found farther north, besides traces at several other points. In explanation of the fact that entire sections are found towards the south and only debris of walls towards the north, Dr. Merrill cites the statement of Josephus, that Titus ‘threw down the entire northern portion,’ but left the southern standing and placed garrisons in its towers. From the statement that Titus made his attack ‘against the central tower of the north wall’ he argues further, that if the wall ran from near Hippicus to Antonia in such a way as to exclude the traditional site of the Sepulchre, the two parts of the wall after it was broken in the middle should have been designated the ‘eastern’ and ‘western’; but Josephus calls them the ‘northern’ and ‘southern,’ a description which is obviously more appropriate to a wall which ran well to the west and north of the traditional site (Presb. and Ref. Rev. iii. p. 646).

Parts of an ancient ditch and remains of walls have been recently discovered east of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and Schick regards these as remains of the second wall and of the city moat. But, as Benzinger says (Hilprecht’s Explorations in Bible Lands in the 19th Cent.), his explanation ‘is not convincing in itself, and there stand opposed to it important considerations of a general nature,’ such as have been cited above, e.g. the military objection to locating a wall in a valley dominated from without by higher ground, and the fact that, had this been the course of the wall, Jerusalem could not have accommodated its great population at the time of Christ.

The existence of an undoubted Jewish tomb at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the one now called the Tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea, has been cited as evidence that the place was outside the old city wall, ‘but we know from the Talmud that ancient half-forgotten tombs were allowed by the Jews to exist within Jerusalem, and any writer will admit that, in the time of Agrippa at least, this particular tomb was within the circuit of the town.’ The third wall, which ran far to the north-west and north of the present city wall, was built by Agrippa only ten or eleven years after the Crucifixion, to enclose a large suburb that had gradually extended beyond the second wall. So that, even if it could be shown that the Sepulchre was outside the second wall, it certainly lay far within the line of the third, and in the midst of this new town which at the time of the Crucifixion must have been already growing north of the second wall. The words ‘without the gate’ and ‘nigh to the city’ could scarcely mean ‘within the suburbs’ (Schaff).

The genuineness of the traditional site has been defended by Chateaubriand (Itinéraire de Paris à Jerusalem), Williams (The Holy City), Krafft (Die Topographie Jerusalems), Tischendorf (Reise in den Orient), de Vogué (Les Églises de la Terre-Sainte), Sepp (Jerusalem), Clermont-Ganneau (L’Authenticite du Saint-Sepulcre), Sanday (Sacred Sites of the Gospels), and others. It has been attacked by Korte (Reise nach dem gelobten Lande), Robinson (BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] , and Bibliotheca Sacra for August and November 1847), Tobler (Golgotha), Wilson (The Lands of the Bible), Barclay (The City of the Great King), Schaff (Through Bible Lands), Conder (Tent Work in Palestine), and others.

4. The theory that Golgotha is the skull-shaped knoll above Jeremiah’s grotto, outside the present north wall, near the Damascus gate, was first suggested by Otto Thenius in 1849. A similar view was put forward independently by Fisher Howe (The True Site of Calvary) in 1871. Since that time the theory has come rapidly into favour, and has been accepted by Gen. [Note: Geneva NT 1557, Bible 1560.] C. E. Gordon, Sir J. W. Dawson, Dr. Merrill, Dr. Schaff, Col. Conder, and others. It answers all the requirements of the Gospel narratives, being outside the walls, nigh to the city, in a conspicuous position, near a frequented thoroughfare—the main north road, and near to ancient Jewish rock-hewn tombs, one of which was discovered by Conder about 700 ft. west of the knoll. The so-called ‘Gordon’s Tomb,’ about 230 ft. from the summit of the knoll, is thought by Conder to be a Christian tomb of the Byzantine age; but Schick says it ‘was originally a rather small rock-cut Jewish tomb, but became afterwards a Christian tomb.’ The great cemetery of Jewish times lay north of the city.

Moreover, Jewish tradition regards this hill as the place of public execution, and the Jews still call it ‘the Place of Stoning.’ Christian tradition also, as old as the 5th cent., fixes this as the place of the stoning of Stephen. The fact that Christ was put to death by the Roman method of crucifixion and not by the Jewish method of stoning does not break the force of this argument, for there is no reason to suppose that Jerusalem had two places of public execution. No other place would have been so convenient to the Romans for this purpose, starting, as they probably did, from Antonia. The castle seems to have been itself a part of the outer ramparts on the north-east, with the north wall of the temple area stretching from it to the east and the second city wall to the north-west. There must have been some feasible route for the soldiers of the garrison, who were constantly going back and forth between this fortress and Caesarea. There was no such route to the east or south. To go west would have taken them through the heart of the crowded city, with its narrow streets and its perils from the mob. What more natural than that there should have been a road leading directly from Antonia to the open country northwards? Here, accordingly, only a short distance north of the city, we find the remains of a Roman road.

‘If executions were to take place near the city, I think they must have been carried out on the line of such a road, where the soldiers would have free ground to act upon in case of an emergency, without being hampered by crowded streets, and where only one gate would be between them and their stronghold, and that one entirely under their own control’ (Merrill).

Literature.—Artt. ‘Golgotha’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible and Encyc. Bibl., ‘Sepulchre, The Holy,’ in Encyc. Brit.9 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] , ‘Grab, das heilige,’ in PRE [Note: RE Real-Encyklopädie fur protest. Theologic und Kirche.] 3 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ; Conder, Tent Work in Palestine, i. 372 ff.; SWP [Note: WP Memoirs of the Survey of W. Palestine.] ‘Jerusalem,’ 429 ff.; Merrill in Andover Rev., 1885, p. 483 ff.; PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1892, pp. 120 ff., 177, 188, 205; Wilson, Golgotha and the Holy Sepulchre, 1906; and works cited in the article.

W. W. Moore.

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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Golgotha'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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