🔼The name Golgotha: Summary
- Skull, Head
- From the noun גלגלת (gulgoleth), skull or head, which in turn derives from the verb גלל (galal), to roll.
🔼The name Golgotha in the Bible
Golgotha is the name of the place where Jesus was crucified. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and John mention the name Golgotha, but add that this name means κρανιον τοπος (kranion topos; meaning: place of a skull, Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22, John 19:17). Luke merely mentions that the place was called Skull, using the same wording (Luke 23:33; by some translations interpreted as Calvary). It's obviously very important that the reader realizes that the death of Jesus occurred on The Skull, but what's with that? Every detail of the gospels was carefully chosen and nostalgia was certainly not a concern. It must mean something.
Driven by nostalgia and super-hero worship, early Christian relic-hunters scoured Jerusalem's immediate environs in search for a place that looked like a skull, and Jerusalem's lands being quite cavernous, it didn't take them long to find one. Quite conveniently, the place they identified as the Skull happened to already be enclosed by a Venusian temple from the time of emperor Hadrian. True to form they re-declared it holy, put a fence around it and began to charge admission.
Others believed that the place called Skull was in fact a place of execution or burial, assuming that there would be skulls all over the place. But a place like that would first of all violate Jewish law and would not exist (Numbers 19:16, Deuteronomy 21:23, also see Ezekiel 39:15 and Josephus, Apion.ii-29-30, "not to let anyone lie unburied"), secondly be known by a plural epithet (skulls), and thirdly more likely be known as a place of bones rather than just of skulls. Still, the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was buried, was close to where he was crucified (John 19:41), and tombs usually existed in clusters or necropoleis (Matthew 8:28, 27:52). The second century document called Epistula Apostolorum explicitly states that not the place of Jesus' crucifixion but rather the place where he was buried was called Kranion, or Skull (verse 9). But still, there seems to be very little reason to refer to an entire graveyard as Place of the Skull, then or now.
Slightly more critical Bible critics realized that the ratio between the importance of Golgotha in the gospels and the importance of Golgotha in the rest of ancient writings was thoroughly askew. Why would the evangelists emphasize a place that no one else ever mentions? They surely were not tour guides pitching an important landmark for us to visit, because if they had been, they would certainly have also told us where that place precisely was. They don't.
🔼Why Jesus was buried at The Skull
One possible (though usually rejected) explanation is that the gospel writers paid homage to an old Jewish legend that had to do with the skull of Adam, buried by Shem at Golgotha, "at the center of the earth" (in the words of the Book of the Cave of Treasures; 4th to 6th century AD). The famous church father Origin mentioned this legend in his commentary on Matthew (246 AD), and the link between Adam and Christ obviously also plays a role in the canonized New Testament (Romans 5:14, 1 Corinthians 15:22, 15:45).
Another hint why the evangelists may have located Jesus' crucifixion at the Skull comes from the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, who submits that Christ suffered outside Jerusalem, because the cadavers remaining from sin-offerings were to be burned outside the camp (Hebrews 13:11-12, Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:12, 4:21; also see our article on the place of refuse outside the camp, and our article on the verb חרם (haram), which explains a connection between Christ and digestive refuse). That would mean that the Skull referred to animal skulls, although the last two objections against the place-of-execution theory go for this theory as well.
Here at Abarim Publications we have our own ideas about the meaning of Golgotha, and we obviously disagree with all of the above, or rather: we're guessing that Jesus was indeed crucified at a place which was called Skull, perhaps because it might have looked like one, but that's not the reason why the evangelists are so adamant about mentioning it.
It seems to us that the name Golgotha does not reflect a geographical location but rather a theological one. The validity of the death of Jesus Christ lies not in its historical verifiability, and it's entirely unimportant where it actually happened back then. The importance of the death of Christ lies in the here and now. Folks of all kind of plume call themselves (or others) Christians, but in fact the one and only quality that sets a Christian light-years apart from any other human being is that a Christian PARTAKES in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:24, Romans 6:3-11, 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, Galatians 2:20 and 5:24, Philippians 3:10-11).
Partaking in some event obviously requires getting there first, and although there are many fine and well organized Golgotha tours available for all kinds of special prices, we'd be two millennia late. The show is already over.
Golgotha is not a physical place. It, like the very Kingdom, is within us (Luke 17:21). The clue lies in the Hebrew word for skull:
🔼Etymology of the name Golgotha
The name Golgotha comes from the Hebrew word גלגלת (gulgoleth), meaning skull. But to the Hebrews, a skull was not what a skull is to us:
The verb גלל (galal) primarily expresses rolling, whirling or heaping and may also denote a broad sweep (of land or time). Noun גל (gal) means heap or pile; גיל (gel), a heap specifically of dung; גלל (galal), dung; גלול (gillul), idols. Noun גלה (gulla) means bowl, basin or spring; noun גלילה (gelila), circuit, boundary or territory. Noun גליל (galil) denotes a supporting cylinder or rod; adjective גליל (galil), probably describes a cylindrical hinge column, noun מגלה (megilla) means scroll. Noun גלגל (gilgal) means wheel; noun גלגל (galgal), wheel or whirlwind. Noun גלגלת (gulgoleth) means skull or head. In cognate languages verb גלל (galal) extends to also describe the nobility of someone who rules a region.
The parallel verb גיל (gil) expresses a circular motion as is mostly associated with expressions of joy and celebration (dance). Nouns גיל (gil) and גילה (gila) mean a rejoicing. Noun גיל (gil) describes a circle or time: an age.
The name Golgotha literally means Skull, but it should rather be translated with Individuality. Christ dies everywhere where a person dies to him or herself (Luke 9:23, John 12:24). It's everywhere where people lay down their lives for others (John 15:13), and where folks are of one mind (Acts 1:14 and 2:44-46, Romans 15:1-6, 2 Corinthians 13:11, Ephesians 2:14 and 4:3, Philippians 1:17 and 2:2, Hebrews 12:14).