why is golgotha called the place of the skull

Golgotha is the biblical name for the place where Jesus was crucified. It was probably a small hill just outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. According to Christian tradition, it was within the area now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But some biblical scholars doubt that this is the correct location. The name "Golgotha" is derived from the Aramaic word gulgulta. Matthew 27:33 and Mark 15:22 give its meaning as "place of the skull. " When Saint Jerome translated these verses into Latin, he used the Latin word for skull,
calvaria, which was later converted into the English word Calvary. The gospels don't say why Golgotha was called the "place of the skull". One common suggestion is that the site was on a hill or near a rock that had the shape of a skull. Another suggestion, first made by the third-century scholar Origen, is that the name referred to the burial place of Adam's skull, traditionally believed to have been interred at Jerusalem. But these are just suggestions, and no one really knows how the site got its name. The bible also doesn't say where Golgotha was located. But it does give three specific clues: Clue 1. John 19:41-42 says that Jesus' body was carried only a short distance before it was placed in the tomb. This indicates that the site was probably near a cemetery. Clue 2. Hebrews 13:12 says that the site was "outside the city gate", but unfortunately doesn't say which gate. Clue 3. Matthew 27:39 indicates that the location was near a road which carried a lot of foot traffic. The second clue is consistent with a traditional Jewish religious requirement that all executions had to take place outside the city, a requirement which the Romans appear to have generally honored.


And the third clue is consistent with the fact that the Romans often crucified people on elevated spots near major roads, to serve as a warning of the probable fate of anyone who challenged their authority. Some scholars have suggested that Golgotha was probably near the northern section of the city, because this would put it close to the administrative area, where the main public buildings were located. At the time of the crucifixion, the northern section of the city was bounded by the so-called Second Wall. Unfortunately Jerusalem was destroyed twice by the Roman army during Jewish revolts in the first and second centuries, and this makes it difficult to determine the exact boundaries of the ancient city. However, the approximate location of the Second Wall is known. During the first destruction of Jerusalem, most Christians fled the city, and the second destruction dispersed almost the entire population. Because of these upheavals, and because Christian writers rarely mentioned Golgotha during the next two centuries, some scholars think that knowledge of its location was probably lost. But other scholars argue that local traditions could have been strong enough to preserve the knowledge despite the upheavals. The scarcity of reliable information from these early centuries makes it impossible to know for sure. Better information is available in writings from the fourth century onward, starting from the time of Constantine the Great. During his reign he and his mother, Empress Helena, became interested in building a church near the locations of Golgotha and the tomb in which Jesus was placed.


The idea was especially appealing to the Empress, and in 326 AD she made a trip to Jerusalem to explore the possibilities. "So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. " John 19:16b-17 Golgotha is one of the few locations I remember clearly from my visit to the Holy Land as an 8-year-old. For one thing, to see the hill, you stand in a beautiful garden, which itself leaves an impression. For another, in the midst of the flowers, the rock of Golgotha really does look an awful lot like a skull (see the picture below). I recall being simultaneously repulsed by and attracted to the strangeness of the place. Perhaps this post is a bit late, since we're into Easter now, but my dad's Good Friday sermon taught me something about Golgotha that I didn't know, something that I found fascinating and meaningful. He began by talking about the story of David and Goliath. We all know how the narrative goes, but there's a small detail that we often miss at the end: "David took the head of the Philistine and brought it to Jerusalem" (1 Samuel 17:54a). This is odd in and of itself because Jerusalem was not an Israelite city at the time. I won't get into that, since I'm not an Old Testament scholar, but there's something else at work here. What my dad pointed out that I had never thought of is that it is no accident that the beginning of the Hebrew name for "place of the skull" is an abbreviated version of Goliath's name. gotha. Goliath's head had been brought to Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified at the place of the skull. Goliath's skull. Now that revelation is enough fun as an interesting play on words, but there are a million directions you could take that.


I've already got a sermon formulating in my head for whenever I may be called upon to preach on 1 Samuel 17 or John 19. When my dad drew the connection between Christ's crucifixion and young David's victory over Goliath, I immediately thought of 2 Corinthians 12:9: "My grace is sufficient for you, for. " God turns the world's paradigms of strength and weakness on end. "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" (1 Corinthians 1:27b). This theme can be seen throughout Scripture. An inarticulate Hebrew leads the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. Barren women conceive and bear the rulers of the people (just take Sarah and Hannah as two examples, though there are plenty more). A shepherd boy fells a giant with a slingshot. A young girl is visited by an angel and told that she is to bear the Son of God. A carpenter's son from Nazareth is not simply used by God he God. How wonderful, then, that at the moment of Christ's crucifixion, as he is led to Calvary, when all seems to be hopelessness and darkness, there is a subtle reminder of God's promise that what the world sees as weakness may in fact be strength beyond all imagining. Golgotha, which invoked fear in me as a child, carries in it a reminder of David's victory over Goliath perhaps a hint of what is to come, a gentle rebuke for those of us who may see the cross and despair. It was precisely Christ's seeming weakness that allowed him to save us. God meets us in our weakness in Christ and transforms us by the power of his Holy Spirit so that we might be strengthened in him and him alone.

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