Easton's Bible Dictionary
The common name of the spot where Jesus was crucified.
It is interpreted by the evangelists as meaning "the place of a skull" ( Matthew
27:33 ; Mark
15:22 ; John
19:17 ). This name represents in Greek letters the Aramaic word Gulgaltha,
which is the Hebrew Gulgoleth ( Numbers
1:2 ; 1
Chronicles 23:3 , 23:24
Kings 9:35 ), meaning "a skull." It is identical with the word Calvary (q.v.).
It was a little knoll rounded like a bare skull. It is obvious from the evangelists
that it was some well-known spot outside the gate (Compare Hebrews
13:12 ), and near the city ( Luke
23:26 ), containing a "garden" ( John
19:41 ), and on a thoroughfare leading into the country. Hence it is an untenable
idea that it is embraced within the present "Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The
hillock above Jeremiah's Grotto, to the north of the city, is in all probability
the true site of Calvary. The skull-like appearance of the rock in the southern
precipice of the hillock is very remarkable.
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
a heap of skulls; something skull-shaped
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(skull) The Hebrew name of the spot at which our Lord
was crucified. ( Matthew
27:33 ; Mark
15:22 ; John
19:17 ) By these three evangelists it is interpreted to mean the "place of
a skull." Two explanations of the name are given: (1) that it was a spot where
executions ordinarily took place, and therefore abounded in skulls; or (2) it
may come from the look or form of the spot itself, bald, round and skull-like,
and therefore a mound or hillock, in accordance with the common phrase --for which
there is no direct authority-- "Mount Calvary." Whichever of these is the correct
explanation, Golgotha seems to have been a known spot.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
gol'-go-tha (Golgotha, from "a skull"):
In three references (Matthew 27:33 ; Mark 15:22 ; John 19:17) it is interpreted
to mean kraniou topos, "the place of a skull." In Luke 23:33 the King James Version
it is called "Calvary," but in the Revised Version (British and American) simply
"The skull." From the New Testament we may gather that it was outside the city
(Hebrews 13:12), but close to it (John 19:20), apparently near some public thoroughfare
(Matthew 27:39), coming from the country (Mark 15:21) was a spot visible, from
some points, from afar (Mark 15:40 ; Luke 23:49).
1. The Name:
Four reasons have been suggested for the name Golgotha or "skull":
|(1) That it was a spot where skulls were to be found lying
about and probably, therefore, a public place of execution. This tradition apparently
originates with Jerome (346-420 AD), who refers to (3), to condemn it, and says
that "outside the city and without the gate there are places wherein the heads
of condemned criminals are cut off and which have obtained the name of Calvary--that
is, of the beheaded." This view has been adopted by several later writers. Against
it may be urged that there is no shadow of evidence that there was any special
place for Jewish executions in the 1st century, and that, if there were, the corpses
could have been allowed burial (Matthew 27:58 ; John 19:38), in conformity with
Jewish law (Deuteronomy 21:23) and with normal custom (Josephus, BJ, IV, v, 2).
(2) That the name was due to the skull-like shape of the hill--a modern popular
view. No early or Greek writer suggests such an idea, and there is no evidence
from the Gospels that the Crucifixion occurred on a raised place at all. Indeed
Epiphanius (4th century) expressly says: "There is nothing to be seen on the place
resembling this name; for it is not situated upon a height that it should be called
(the place) of a skull, answering to the place of the head in the human body."
It is true that the tradition embodied in the name Mons Calvary appears as early
as the 4th century, and is materialized in the traditional site of the Crucifixion
in the church of the Holy Sepulcher, but that the hill was skull-like in form
is quite a modern idea. Guthe combines (2) and (3) and considers that a natural
skull-like elevation came to be considered, by some folklore ideas, to be the
skull of the first man. One of the strangest ideas is that of the late General
Gordon, who thought that the resemblance to a skull lay in the contours of the
ground as laid down in the ordinance survey map of Jerusalem.
(3) That the name is due to an ancient pre-Christian tradition that the skull
of Adam was found there. The first mention of this is by Origen (185-253 AD),
who himself lived in Jerusalem 20 years. He writes: "I have received a tradition
to the effect that the body of Adam, the first man, was buried upon the spot where
Christ was crucified," etc. This tradition was afterward referred to by Athanasius,
Epiphanius, Basil of Caesarea, Chrysostom and other later writers. The tomb and
skull of Adam, still pointed out in an excavated chamber below the traditional
Calvary, marks the survival of this tradition on the spot. This is by far the
most ancient explanation of the name Golgotha and, in spite of the absurdity of
the original tradition about Adam, is probably the true one.
(4) The highly improbable theory that the Capitolium of AElia Capitolina (the
name given by Hadrian to his new Jerusalem) stood where the Church of the Holy
Sepulcher now is, and gave rise to the name Golgotha, is one which involves the
idea that the site first received the name Golgotha in the 2nd century, and that
all the references in the Gospels were inserted then. This is only mentioned to
be dismissed as incompatible with history and common sense.
2. The Site:
With regard to the position of the site of the Crucifixion (with
which is bound up the site of the Tomb) the New Testament gives us no indication
whatever; indeed, by those who abandon tradition, sites have been suggested on
all sides of the city--and West Two views hold the field today: (1) that the site
of the Crucifixion, or at any rate that of the Tomb itself, is included within
the precincts of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; and (2) that a prominent, rounded,
grassy hill above the so-called "Grotto of Jeremiah," Northeast of the Modern
Damascus Gate, has at least a very high probability of being the true site. It
is impossible here to go into the whole question, which requires minute and long
elaboration, but excellent review of the whole evidence may be consulted in "Golgotha
and the Holy Sepulcher," by the late Sir Charles W. Wilson, of PEF. Here only
a few points can be touched upon.
|(1) For the traditional view it may be said that it seems
highly improbable that so sacred a spot as this, particularly the empty tomb,
could have been entirely forgotten. Although it is true that Jews and Christians
were driven out of Jerusalem after the second great revolt (130-33 AD), yet Gentile
Christians were free to return, and there was no break long enough to account
for a site like this being entirely lost. Indeed there are traditions that this
site was deliberately defiled by pagan buildings to annoy the Christians. Eusebius,
at the time of Constantine, writes as if it were well known that a Temple of Aphrodite
lay over the tomb.
He gives an account of the discovery of the spots still venerated as the Golgotha
and the Tomb, and of the erection of churches in connection with them (Life of
Constantine, III, 25-40). From the time of Constantine there has been no break
in the reverence paid to these places. Of the earlier evidence Sir C. Wilson admits
(loc. cit.) that "the tradition is so precarious and the evidence is undoubtedly
so unsatisfactory as to raise serious doubts."
The topographical difficulties are dealt with in the JERUSALEM.
It is difficult for the visitor to Jerusalem sufficiently to realize that the
center of gravity of the city has much changed; once it was on the Hill Ophel,
and the southern slopes, now bare, were in Christ's time crammed with houses;
in later times, from the 4th century, it was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
round which the city tended to center. There is no insurmountable difficulty in
believing that the site of the Crucifixion may be where tradition points out.
As Sir C. Wilson says at the end of his book, "No objection urged against the
sites (i.e. Golgotha and the Tomb) is of such a convincing nature that it need
disturb the minds of those who accept, in all good faith, the authenticity of
the places which are hallowed by the prayers of countless pilgrims since the days
of Constantine" (loc. cit.).
(2) The so-called "Skull Hill" or "Green Hill" appears to have appealed first
to Otto Thenius (1842), but has received its greatest support through the advocacy
of the late Col. Conder and of the late Dr. Selah Merrill, U.S.A. consul at Jerusalem.
The arguments for this site are mainly:
|(a) its conspicuous and elevated position--a position which
must impress every reverent pilgrim as strikingly suitable for an imaginary reconstruction
of the scene. The very greenness of the hill--it is the first green spot in the
neighborhood of the city--may influence the subconsciousness of those who have
been brought up from childhood to think of the "green hill far away," as the popular
hymn puts it. When, however, we consider the question historically, there is not
the slightest reason to expect that the crucifixion of Jesus, one of many hundreds,
should have been dramatically located in a setting so consonant with the importance
with which the world has since learned to regard the event. There is no evidence
whatever that the crucifixion was on a hill, much less on such a conspicuous place.
(b) The supposed resemblance to a human skull strikes many people, but it may
be stated without hesitation that the most arresting points of the resemblance,
the "eyeholes" and the rounded top, are not ancient; the former are due to artificial
excavations going back perhaps a couple of centuries. Probably the whole formation
of the hill, the sharp scarp to the South and the 10 or more feet of earth accumulated
on the summit are both entirely new conditions since New Testament times.
(c) The nearness of the city walls and the great North road which make the site
so appropriate today are quite different conditions from those in New Testament
times. It is only if the present North wall can be proved to be on the line of
the second wall that the argument holds good. On this see JERUSALEM.
(d) An argument has been based upon a supposed tradition that this spot was the
Jewish place of stoning. This so-called tradition is worthless, and not a trace
of it can be found outside interested circles, and even if it were the "place
of stoning," it would be no argument for its being "Golgotha." To the Oriental,
with his great respect for traditional sites, the church of the Holy Sepulcher,
covering at once the Tomb, the Calvary, and other sacred spots, will probably
always appeal as the appropriate spot: to the western tourist who wishes to visualize
in the environs of Jerusalem in an appropriate setting the great world's tragedy,
such a site as this "Skull Hill" must always make the greater appeal to his imagination,
and both may find religious satisfaction in their ideas; but cold reason, reviewing
the pro's and con's, is obliged to say "not proven" to both, with perhaps an admission
of the stronger case for the traditional spot.
E. W. G. Masterman
bible commentary, bible history, bible reference, bible study, calvary, christ, crucifixion, define, golgotha, gulgaltha, gulgoleth, jesus, skull