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Golgotha: A Reconsideration of the Evidence for the Sites of Jesus' Crucifixion and Burial

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 February 2009

Joan E. Taylor
Dept of Religious Studies, University of Waikato, P.B. 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand


In this study Golgotha is defined as the area of a disused quarry, west of first-century Jerusalem. The site of the crucifixion of Jesus and the. site of his entombment are distinguished as separate localities within this region. It is proposed that while Jesus was executed close to Gennath Gate and two main roads, he was buried some 200 m. further north in a more isolated area. Addressing archaeological and historical evidence, the author reconsiders her previous scepticism regarding the traditional tomb of Jesus, and proposes instead that it may well be authentic, though she renews her argument for the localisation of the crucifixion further south.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1998

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1 The Garden Tomb has been shown to date from the Iron Age, and therefore cannot be genuine as the tomb of Jesus, see Barkay, Gabriel, ‘The Garden Tomb?’, BAR 12/2 (03/04 1986) 1617Google Scholar.

2 Taylor, Joan E., Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993) 113–2.Google Scholar

3 See Jastrow, Marcus, A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature (New York: Pardes, 1950) 221.Google Scholar ‘Οplace of, is the construct form, which is followed by the nominal emphatic form ‘ (the) skull’. See also Gibson, Shimon and Taylor, Joan E., Beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulchre: The Archaeology and Early History of Traditional Golgotha (London: Palestine Exploration Fund, 1994) 56–7Google Scholar and Brown, F., Driver, S. R. and Briggs, C. A., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament with an Appendix containing the Biblical Aramaic [BDB] (Oxford: Clarendon, 1966) 166.Google Scholar From the Gospels‘ transliteration it may be that Jerusalem people vocalised the vowels as i and dropped the second lamed, which therefore made the tawsoft, th.

4 For the difficulty of determining the Aramaic of the time of Jesus, see Chilton, Bruce, A Feast of Meanings (Leiden: Brill, 1994) 177–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Strictly speaking, the root is meaning ‘roll, roll away‘, BDB, 164.

6 BDB, 165; Jastrow, , Dictionary, 244–5.Google Scholar

7 BDB, 166.

8 I have previously suggested that we may look to this comment for the original explanation of the name (Taylor, , Christians, 130;Google ScholarGibson, and Taylor, , Church, 59).Google Scholar But if at the time of Jesus the term was just a general one for ‘place of beheading’ or ‘execution place’, then we really have no reason for the Gospel writers to record it so assiduously as a specific, identifiable area. Rather, it may be that the local usage changed dramatically during the centuries. The Jewish population of the city had been killed or expelled by Hadrian following the Bar Kochba war of 132–5 (so Eusebius, Hist. Eccles. 4.4), and the genocide and desolation in Judaea as a whole was so horrific as to be commented upon by Cassius Dio (Hist. Rom. 69. 12– 14). With such a case of ‘ethnic cleansing1, it would not be surprising if there were some linguistic modifications, brought about when new population groups came to settle the area.

9 In Arabic ras, can be used for a hill, rising up or sticking out of the ground, and in Hebrew can mean a ‘summit‘ (2 Sam 15.32), but if can mean , in some sense, and can mean ‘summit‘, in another sense, it does not mean that can mean ‘summit‘, or, by an Arabic analogy, a hill in general.

10 Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 55.Google Scholar

11 Taylor, , Christians, 131–2.Google Scholar

12 See Pilgrim, Bordeaux of 333, Itin. Burd. 593–1.Google Scholar Cyril of Jerusalem, c. 348, refers to Golgotha in the same way (.Cat. 1.1; 4.10,14; 5.10–11; 10.19; 12.39; 13.4, 22, 23, 26, 28, 32, 39; 16.4) as does Egeria (Itin. 25.1–6, 8–10; 27.3; 30.1; 37.1; 41.1), Theodosius, De Situ 7.Google Scholar See Taylor, , Christians, 120–1;Google ScholarGibson, and Taylor, , Church, 59.Google Scholar

13 Egeria Itin. 24.7; 25.9, 11; 27.3, 6; 30.1, 2; 31.4; 35.2; 36.4, 5; 37.1, 4, 5, 8; 39.2; Jerome, Ep. 58.3.Google Scholar

14 See Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 5163Google Scholar for a detailed analysis of the quarry. The area itself is on a slope, but it had been substantially cut away by the quarrying.

15 Jastrow, 244.

16 I should note that I am reading the New Testament as providing simple information in this case. Since there seems no good reason why anyone would alter this information for rhetorical reasons, I am assuming its reliability.

17 For the identification of Gennath Gate as such, see Avigad, Nahman, Discovering Jerusalem (Nashville: Nelson, 1983) 69, 111. 38.Google Scholar See also Wightman, Gregory, The Walls of Jerusalem: From the Canaanites to the Mamluks (Mediterranean Archaeology suppl. 4; Sydney: Meditarch, 1993) 128–9.Google Scholar

18 See for example, the maps presented in Bahat, Dan, The Illustrated Atlas of Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Carta, 1989)Google Scholar and Wightman, Walls.

19 This presentation of the second wall follows the minimalist view of the second and third walls proposed most recently in Wightman, Walls, but is not exactly as Wightman presents it.

20 No remains of any dwellings from the 1st century have been found in soundings in the area of the old quarry or its environs, which means it is very likely that this area was outside Jerusalem, and that the second wall proceeded further east. How far east is of course debated, but it would have been further east than Schick's excavation of a cave (V in Figure 3) underneath present-day Khan ez-Zeit (Bet Habad) and Suq el-Atarin streets, see Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 55–7.Google Scholar

21 See Hall, Stuart G., Melito of Sardis: On Pascha and Fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1979).Google Scholar

22 See Taylor, , Christians, 116;Google ScholarGibson, and Taylor, , Church, 65.Google Scholar

23 The Syriac (S2), Coptic and Georgian versions have the plural: ‘in the middle of the streets’, which seems to reflect an awareness of Constantine's basilica being built in the middle of the streets of Jerusalem, and is probably then an amendment to the original singular. See Hall, , Melito, 52.Google Scholar

24 Taylor, , Christians, 121–2.Google Scholar

25 Ibid., 117–18; Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 59.Google Scholar

26 Stern, Ephraim, ed., The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land [NEAEHL] (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society/Carta, 1993) 2, 762.Google Scholar

27 Martin Biddle argues that φλατεῖα can mean a ‘square’ of the city (and so, by implication, that it may mean both the forum and the area of the Temple of Venus together) since πλατεῖα translates Nehemiah 8.16 (LXX), and may be translated as ‘square’; see his ‘The Tomb of Christ: Sources, Methods and a New Approach’, in ‘Churches Built in Ancient Times’: Recent Studies in Early Christian Archaeology (ed. Painter, Kenneth; London: Society of Antiquaries/Accordia Research Centre, University of London, 1994) 73147, 98–9.Google Scholar The root of the word means ‘wide, broad, extended‘ () (BDB, 931) and in its ancient usage (masc.) is a wide street, not a square; it refers to the broad, open area just inside a city gate which is the convergence of several streets, as in today's Old City, inside Damascus or Jaffa Gates.

28 The definitive edition is that of Klostermann, Erich, Das Onomastikon der biblischen Ortsnamen, in Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 2, 1 [Eusebius III, 1] (Leipzig, 1904.Google Scholar repr. Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1966).

29 Biddle, , Tomb, 100.Google Scholar Eusebius himself is careful to distinguish between sites that were in Jerusalem of old but not necessarily in the smaller area of Aelia, so Mount Zion is ‘a hill in Jerusalem‘ but not in Aelia (162.12). The one slip he makes is in the case of Akeldama (38.20– 1) though I will argue in a separate article that here he mistakenly refers once more to Golgotha, since he otherwise sites Akeldama elsewhere.

30 Eucherius makes clear here that the ground begins to rise towards the north again, though not as high as Mount Zion.

31 Ep. 3, transl. by Wilkinson, John, Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1977) 53.Google Scholar In 333, the Bordeaux Pilgrim wrote that s/he had to leave Jerusalem to go up Mount Zion (Jtin. 592–3).

32 Biddle, , Tomb, 99100.Google Scholar

33 Liddell, H. G., Scott, R. and Jones, H. S., A Greek–English Lexicon, 9th ed. with rev. suppl. with assistance of McKenzie, R. [LSJ] (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996) 1497b.Google Scholar

34 Biddle, , Tomb, 100Google Scholar suggests that the site of Golgotha had to be visible in some way, because it was ‘pointed out’. This seems doubtful. Eusebius describes various sites as being ‘pointed out’ to visitors. It rather indicates the use of a guide.

35 Corbo, , ‘Golgotha’, 1072.Google Scholar

36 Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 61.Google Scholar

37 Taylor, , Christians, 135.Google Scholar

38 See Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 67–9.Google Scholar

39 Biddle, , Tomb, 102,Google Scholar wonders if graffiti on the walls might have identified it.

40 For further details of the form of this tomb, see Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 61–3;Google ScholarBiddle, , Tomb, 114–21.Google Scholar

41 For the legends of the finding of the cross, see Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 83–5;Google ScholarDrijvers, Jan Willem, Helena Augusta: The Mother of Constantine the Great and the Legend of Her Finding of the True Cross (Leiden: Brill, 1992);Google ScholarBorgehammar, Stephan, How the Holy Cross was Found: From Event to Medieval Legend (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International, 1991).Google Scholar

42 For the definitive discussion of the reasons why Christians were persecuted, see Sherwin-White, A. N., ‘Early Persecutions and Roman Law Again’, JTS 3 (1952) 199213;CrossRefGoogle Scholar id., ‘Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?’, Past and Present 27 (1964) 23–7.Google Scholar See also: Croix, G. E. M. Ste., ‘Why were the Early Christians Persecuted?’, Past and Present 26 (1963) 638;CrossRefGoogle Scholar id., ‘Why were the Early Christians Persecuted? – A Rejoinder’, Past and Present 27 (1964) 2833.Google Scholar

43 Ferguson, John, The Religions of the Roman Empire (London: Thames and Hudson, 1970) 40–1;Google ScholarTaylor, , Christians, 54.Google Scholar

44 Ferguson, Religions, 41, goes on to note that Hadrian's successor in 138, Antoninus Pius, also especially honoured Jupiter.

45 Gibson, and Taylor, , Church, 6970.Google Scholar Cassius Dio called it only a Temple of Jupiter (Hist. Rom. 69.12). On the site of the destroyed Jewish Temple, Hadrian placed an equestrian statue of himself (Jerome, , Comm. in Matt. 24.15).Google Scholar

46 Taylor, , Christians, 295332.Google Scholar

47 For this work, see Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, ed., New Testament Apocrypha [henceforth NTA](Engl transl. ed. by Wilson, R. McL.; Cambridge: James Clark & Co., 1991) 1, 249–84.Google Scholar

48 The Akhmim fragment was discovered in the grave of a monk in Akhmim, Upper Egypt, in the winter of 1886–7. It contains part of the Gospel of Peter, the Greek Apocalypse of Peter and the Greek Enoch. The Gospel of Peter was recognised as an authoritative writing in some parts of the early Church but later expunged from the recognised canon (see Eusebius, , Eccles. Hist. 3.3.2; 3.25.6),Google Scholar see for further information: ATA 1, 216–17.

49 NTA 1,501–38.

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