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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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Gol´gotha. The original word signifies 'a skull,' as does its Latin representative, Calvaria, Calvary. Different opinions have prevailed as to why the place was so termed. Many have held that Golgotha was the place of public execution, the Tyburn of Jerusalem; and that hence it was termed the 'place of a skull.' Another opinion is that the place took its name from its shape, being a hillock of a form like a human skull. The last is the opinion to which the writer of these remarks inclines. That the place was of some such shape seems to be generally agreed, and the traditional term mount, applied to Calvary, appears to confirm this idea. And such a shape, it must be allowed, is in entire agreement with the name—that is, 'skull.' To these considerations there are added certain difficulties which arise from the second explanation. So far as we know there is no historical evidence to show that there was a place of public execution where Golgotha is commonly fixed, nor that any such place, in or near Jerusalem, bore the name Golgotha. In truth, the context seems to show that the Roman guard hurried Jesus away and put him to death at the first convenient spot; and that the rather because there was no small fear of a popular insurrection, especially as He was attended by a crowd of people. But where was the place? Not far, we may suppose from what has been said, from the judgment-hall, which was doubtless near the spot (Fort Antonia) where the Roman forces in Jerusalem were concentrated. From our plan of Jerusalem it will be seen that Fort Antonia lay on the north-west angle of the temple. Was it likely, then, that in the highly excited state of the public mind the soldiers should take Jesus southward, that is, through the whole breadth of the city? Somewhere in the north, it is clear, they would execute him, as thus they would most easily effect their object. But if they chose the north, then the road to Joppa or Damascus would be most convenient; and no spot in the vicinity would probably be so suitable as the slight rounded elevation which bore the name of Calvary. That some hillock would be preferred, it is easy to see, as thus the exposure of the criminal and the alleged cause of his crucifixion would be most effectually secured. But the particulars detailed by the sacred historians show that our Lord was not crucified on the spot, or very near the spot, where he was condemned, but was conducted some distance through the city. If so, this, as appears from our plan, must have been towards the west. Two points seem thus determined: the crucifixion was at the north-west of the city.

The account, as given in the Evangelists, touching the place of the crucifixion and burial of our Lord, is as follows:—Having been delivered by Pilate to be crucified, Jesus was led away, followed by a great company of people and women, who bewailed His fate. On the way the soldiers met one Simon, a Cyrenian, coming out of the country, who is compelled to bear Jesus' cross. When they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him. This place was nigh to the city; and, sitting down, they watched Him there. They that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads and scoffing. Likewise also the chief priests mocked Him, with the scribes and elders; and the people stood beholding. The soldiers too mocked Him. There stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother's sister, and Mary Magdalene. And all His acquaintance and the women that followed Him from Galilee stood afar off, beholding these things. In the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new sepulcher, hewn out in the rock; there laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher. The writer of the epistle to the Hebrews adds, that Jesus suffered without the gate, subjoining, 'let us, therefore, go forth to Him without the camp (or the city) bearing His reproach' (; Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19).

We thus learn, as a positive fact, that the crucifixion and burial took place out of the city, and yet nigh to the city; and the statement of the writer to the Hebrews is confirmed by the incidental remark (), that the soldiers seized Simon, as he was 'coming out of the country.' It now appears, then, that Calvary lay at the north-west, and at the outside, of the city. The reader, on perusing the abstract just given of the evangelical narrators, combined with previous remarks, will find reason to think that Calvary was only just on the outer side of the second wall. It is also clear that the place was one around which many persons could assemble, near which wayfarers were passing, and the sufferers in which could be seen or addressed by persons who were both near and remote: all which concurs in showing that the spot was one of some elevation, and equally proves that 'this thing was not done in a corner,' but at a place and under circumstances likely to make Calvary well known and well remembered alike by the foes and the friends of our Lord. Other events which took place immediately after, in connection with the resurrection, would aid (if aid were needed) in fixing the recollection of the spot deep and ineffaceably in the minds of the primitive disciples.

Was it likely that this recollection would perish? Surely of all spots Calvary would become the most sacred, the most endearing, in the primitive church. The spot where Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose again, must have been bound to the heart of every disciple in the strongest and most grateful bonds. Perhaps no one spot on earth had ever so many to remember it and know its precise locality, as the place where Jesus died and rose again. First in Jerusalem, and soon in all parts of the earth, were there hearts that held the recollection among their most valued treasures.

The traditionary recollection of this remarkable spot must have been greatly strengthened by the erection of the Temple of Venus on the place, after the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans. The temple thus takes up the tradition and transmits it in stone and marble to coming ages. This continuation of the tradition is the more important, because it begins to operate at a time when the Christians were driven from Jerusalem. But the absence of the Christians from the holy city was not of long duration, and even early in the third century we find pilgrimages from distant places to the Holy Land had already begun, for the express purpose of viewing the spots which the presence and sufferings of the Savior had rendered sacred and memorable. A century later, Eusebius (A.D. 315) informs us that Christians visited Jerusalem from all regions of the earth for the same object. So early and so decided a current towards the holy city presupposes a strong, wide-spread, and long pre-eminent feeling—an established tradition in the church touching the most remarkable spots; a tradition of that nature which readily links itself with the actual record in Hebrews.

Early in the fourth century Eusebius and Jerome write down the tradition and fix the locality of Calvary in their writings. Pilgrims now streamed to Jerusalem from all parts of the world, and that site was fixed for Golgotha which has remained to the present hour. This was done not merely by the testimony of these two learned fathers, but by the acts of the Emperor Constantine and his mother Helena. This empress, when very far advanced in life, visited Jerusalem for the express purpose of erecting a church on the spot where the Lord Jesus had been crucified. 'On her arrival at Jerusalem she inquired diligently of the inhabitants. Yet the search was uncertain and difficult, in consequence of the obstructions by which the heathen had sought to render the spot unknown. These being all removed, the sacred sepulcher was discovered, and by its side three crosses, with the tablet bearing the inscription written by Pilate.' On the site thus ascertained was erected, whether by Constantine or Helena, certainly by Roman influence and treasure, a splendid and extensive Christian temple. This church was completed and dedicated A.D. 335. It was a great occasion for the Christian world. In order to give it importance and add to its splendor, a council of bishops was convened, by order of the emperor, from all the provinces of the empire, which assembled first at Tyre, and then at Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was burnt by the Persians in A.D. 614. It was shortly after rebuilt by Modestus with resources supplied by John Eleemor, patriarch of Alexandria. The Basilica or Martyrion erected under Constantine remained as before. The Mohammedans next became masters of Jerusalem. At length Haruner Rashid made over to Charlemagne the jurisdiction of the holy sepulcher. Palestine again became the scene of battles ane bloodshed. Muez, of the race of the Fatimites transferred the seat of his empire to Cairo, when Jerusalem fell into the hands of new masters, and the holy sepulcher is said to have been again set on fire. It was fully destroyed at the command of the third of the Fatimite caliphs in Egypt, the building being razed to the foundations. In the reign of his successor it was rebuilt, being completed A.D. 1048; but instead of the former magnificent Basilica over the place of Golgotha, a small chapel only now graced the spot. The crusades soon began. The crusaders regarded the edifices connected with the sepulcher as too contracted, and erected a stately temple, the walls and general form of which are admitted to remain to the present day. So recently, however, as A.D. 1808 the church of the holy sepulcher was partly consumed by fire; but being rebuilt by the Greeks, it now offers no traces of its recent desolation.

We have thus traced down to the present day the history, traditional and recorded, of the buildings erected on Golgotha, and connected these edifices with the original events by which they are rendered memorable. To affirm that the evidence is irresistible may be going too far; but few antiquarian questions rest on an equally solid basis, and few points of history would remain settled were they subject to the same skeptical, not to say unfair, scrutiny which Robinson has here applied.

The sole evidence of any weight in the opposite balance is that urged by Robinson, that the place of the crucifixion and the sepulcher are now found in the midst of the modern city. But to render this argument decisive it should be proved that the city occupies now the same ground that it occupied in the days of Christ. It is, at least, as likely that the city should have undergone changes as that the site of the crucifixion should have been mistaken. The identity of such a spot is more likely to be preserved than the site and relative proportions of a city which has undergone more violent changes than probably any other place on earth. The present walls of Jerusalem were erected so late as A.D. 1542; and Robinson himself remarks, en passant, that a part of Zion is now left out (p. 67). If then, the city has been contracted on the south, and if, also, it was after the death of Christ expanded on the north, what should we expect but to find Golgotha in the midst of the modern city?

Two or three additional facts in confirmation of the identity of the present place may, finally, be adduced. Buckingham says, 'the present rock called Calvary, and enclosed within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, bears marks in every part that is naked, of its having been a round nodule of rock standing above the common level of the surface.' Scholz states that he traced the remains of a wall, which ran as the second wall on the plan runs, excluding Golgotha and taking in the pool of Hezekiah. At most, a very few hundred yards only can the original Golgotha have lain from the present site; and the evidence in favor of its identity, if not decisive, is far stronger than any that has been adduced against it.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Golgotha'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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