Select Page


April 7, 2012 by William H. Scarle, Jr.

This will be the last in the series of articles I have been writing concerning the geography of Jesus’ last week prior to his crucifixion.  We will look briefly at the location of Golgotha, or Calvary as it is rendered in Luke 23:33.  “Golgotha” is an Aramaic word meaning “skull.”  “Calvary” is the Latin word which is used to translate the Greek “kranion,” in the Vulgate which is the equivalent of “Golgotha.”  The place where Jesus was crucified was known as “the place of the skull.”

The place of crucifixion was clearly outside the city walls of Jerusalem, and since the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is inside the present city walls there has been in the past some confusion among scholars as to the actual location of the crucifixion, and of the tomb of Jesus which was nearby.  General Charles Gorden identified another tomb north of the present city walls as the tomb of Jesus in 1883, and although the Garden Tomb is a lovely Christian enclave for meditation and worship, we now know through archaeological analysis in could not be the tomb of Jesus.

In the first century the walls of Jerusalem extended due east from the palace of Herod the Great which was used by Pilate when he was in Jerusalem.  In that wall was a gate which Josephus identifies as the “Gennath Gate.”  Nathan Avigad, renowned Israeli archaeologist, found remains of this gate.  It led out of the city to an area which was a worked out limestone quarry, but which was turned into a garden area.  It was also used as a cemetery with tombs cut into the remaining rock scarps.  The word “Gennath” in Hebrew means a garden spot.  This entire area is today enclosed by the modern walls which were built by Suleiman in 1517.

One feature of this garden area outside the walls was an outcropping of inferior limestone which had been rejected by the stone cutters when the area was a quarry.  It appeared as a skullcap rising from the ground, and the Romans used it as a place of crucifixion, near a gate where the population would pass by.  Thus the name “Golgotha.”

Today, when one enters the Church of the Holy Sepulcher there is little sense that one is standing in a garden cemetery.  However, if you know where to look, there are the remains of several first century tombs called “loculi” or “kokhim.”    They are located behind the walls of the rotunda which houses what remains of the tomb of Jesus.   Jesus’ tomb was more elaborate than the simpler graves in the area.  It was a new family tomb belonging to a member of the Jewish high court named Joseph of Arimathea.  Close to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem is another tomb which likely resembles the tomb of Joseph.  It is cut into the rock with a rolling stone entrance which is fully intact.  It was used by the family of Herod the Great.  Because the tomb of Joseph was the tomb of a wealthy and well known citizen of Jerusalem, there is little likelihood that anyone would be confused about its location.

Today the Church of the Holy Sepulcher houses both Golgotha and the remains of Jesus’ tomb.  It was originally built by the emperor Constantine in 325 AD.  It has a fascinating history, and Joan and I have spent many hours exploring within it on rainy days in Jerusalem.  It is only a few blocks from the Temple Mount where the Apostle Peter first proclaimed the Gospel at Pentecost.

(Bill Scarle can be contacted at