Jerusalem: The Two Golgothas

According to the Gospels, Jesus Christ was crucified at a site notorious for its name – Golgotha, which is the Hebrew word for “skull”. In Latin, the word is “Calva” or “cranium”. Its ancient Greek word, “Kraniou” confirms the same meaning. Three verses of the Gospels confirm the name of the site: Mathew 27:33, Mark 15:22, and John 19:17. But where is it located?

One problem in locating the true site is that the Bible contains a little description. John also names the place as Golgotha-the place of the Skull, but he adds a detail, “the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city,” thus visible to passersby (John 19:20).

Since the 4th century AD, the tradition location of Golgotha was reportedly discovered when Helena, mother of the first Christian Roman Emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage from Rome to Jerusalem to find the true site of the crucifixion and collect artifacts connected to it. According to legend, she was directed to a location beneath a pagan temple to Venus, previously built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and found the cross on which Jesus was crucified as well as those of the criminals who suffered next to Him. She also found the nails that pinned Jesus to the cross, a part of the “titulus” above Jesus’ head which read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” and the tunic He wore while carrying His cross to Golgotha.

Believing that the site of Christ’s execution had been discovered, Constantine ordered the temple to be demolished, so a large church could be built over it. This church became known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It included a small outcropping where Christ’s cross stood and the tomb where Jesus’ body was laid. Since then, faithful Christians have been coming to visit this most sacred place, especially from the Greek, Roman, Armenian, and Coptic churches. However, since the mid-19th century, pilgrims have been visiting another location where they believe Jesus was crucified and buried.

A rocky hill outside Jerusalem became the focus of attention of Christians. It is known as “Skull Hill” because the front side resembles the features of a skull, with two deep holes for eyes and one for a nose. These key features cinched the place as the true “Golgotha” among mostly Protestant Christians. Plus, according to early Christians, criminals’ skulls and bones lay scattered in front of the outcropping. Close by, a tomb was uncovered as well as a winepress. Archeologists concluded that the area must have been an “agricultural garden” owned by a wealthy person. Today many pilgrims regard this place as the true location of Christ’s execution and burial. If Christians are not convinced this is the real site, the gospels read that “at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no-one had ever been laid” (John 19:41).

Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower of Christ, claimed His body from Pontius Pilate, the local governor, and laid it in a new tomb which he owned. In front of the foot of the tomb, a long thin block which was meant to hold back a large round stone could be rolled over the entrance to seal it. Isaiah 53: 9, refers to a prophecy related to Christ’s burial: “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death… “.

Although archeological and geological evidence reveal two possible sites where Jesus was crucified and buried, many visitors who come to either site generally feel blessed as they are spiritually soaked in what the Savior went through to take away the sins of the world. Does it really matter to the believer on which location Jesus suffered? No, as long as their hearts are moved by many as the most powerful spiritual experience.

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