Where Did Jesus Die?
- Hope Bolinger Crosswalk.com Editor
- 2021 13 Jan
Some call it “the place of the skull,” others, “Calvary,” and others “Golgotha.” These three titles mark the place where Jesus died on the cross on Good Friday, over two millennia go. This place has a far greater historical significance throughout the Bible and was not chosen at random. We’ll explore the meaning of the name Golgotha, what the Bible says about this place, and we’ll dive into some historical and other facts you may not know about the death place of Jesus Christ. Where did Jesus die? Golgotha, the place of the skull. And you may be able to visit this very same place today.
What Does Golgotha Mean?
Golgotha means “the place of the skull.” This hill, located outside the gates of Jerusalem, had an apt name, where criminals would receive an execution (Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22, John 19:17). According to Bible Study Tools, “It was a little knoll rounded like a bare skull. It is obvious from the evangelists that it was some well-known spot outside the gate (Compare Hebrews 13:12), and near the city (Luke 23:26 ), containing a "garden" (John 19:41), and on a thoroughfare leading into the country. Hence it is an untenable idea that it is embraced within the present "Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The hillock above Jeremiah's Grotto, to the north of the city, is in all probability the true site of Calvary. The skull-like appearance of the rock in the southern precipice of the hillock is very remarkable.”
In other words, the rock not only took on the appearance of a skull, but most likely bodies of the victims of crucifixion rotted near there. Thankfully, Jesus received a tomb and proper burial, but we probably can’t say the same for the two thieves who flanked Jesus on the cross.
What Does the Bible Say about Golgotha?
Golgotha’s name appears in three of the Gospel accounts. Let’s take a look at what each has to say about this deadly place.
Matthew 27:33: “They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).”
Once again, the name skull appears. If archeologists have guessed right, the rock formation of this knoll resembled a skull. Also, one cannot ignore the clear death connotations of this place, where literal skulls rotted and decomposed.
Mark 15:22: “They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”).”
Most likely, this place had also gained notoriety. If it had received a nickname from nearby Jerusalem inhabitants, it had fame, or in this case, infamy.
John 19:17: “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).”
We get an interesting nuance here that Golgotha comes from Aramaic, not Greek. The Israelite people spoke Aramaic as a common language. They also spoke other languages, but Aramaic would’ve essentially been the street language or common vernacular amongst them. We can also reap some encouragement that all three Gospels confirm the same death place of Jesus.
This passage mentions Jesus carrying his own cross. At one point, due to his torture wounds, he can no longer heave it. The Roman officials make someone else carry the cross up the hill, the rest of the way.
Where Is Golgotha?
Although we don’t have an exact location, archeologists have a pretty strong guess, apart from the vague “outside the gates of Jerusalem.”
According to Grace Communion International, they’ve narrowed it down to two contenders:
“But in recent times, only two have been deemed worthy of serious consideration. The traditional site lies within the area now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (at right), in the Christian Quarter of the Old City (see map below). The huge church embraces within its walls a hill called Latin Calvary, and nearby, the traditional tomb of Christ. The other contending location is a rocky hill— commonly called Gordon’s Calvary—just north of Jerusalem’s Old City.”
Supposedly the former, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, contains the anointing stone where they prepared Jesus’ body for burial. And Gordon’s Calvary forms the shape of a skull in its rocky formation.
During non-pandemic times, visitors can stop by both sites where Jesus may have set foot and even died for the sins of humanity. We shouldn’t be alarmed that we don’t have an exact location for Jesus’ death or even burial. Christianity focuses on the Resurrection of Jesus, rather than his death. After all, the angel declares, at Jesus’ burial site, “He is not here. He is risen!”
When Did Jesus Die?
At Calvary, Jesus died at 3 p.m. (or 15:00). He’d spent the night before on trial for crimes he did not commit, received no sleep, had sweat blood even prior to the torture, and he died very quickly on the cross, due to his severe wounds. Even Pilate expresses surprise at how quickly Jesus died in Mark 15.
Usually, to make the deaths go quicker (especially on a holiday like Passover), Roman guards would break the legs of those on the cross. That way, they could not push themselves up on their legs to get oxygen.
But Jesus fulfills the prophecy that his bones would not break when he perishes early on (
3 Facts You May Not Know about Where Jesus Died
Now that we’ve established some of the information about Golgotha, let’s dive into some facts that many people might not know about Calvary.
First, some theologians have equated Golgotha with Mt. Moriah, the place in which Abraham almost sacrifices his son.
Although not much archeological evidence supports this, Christians cannot help but get excited about the possible story parallels. After all, God asks Abraham to sacrifice his only son (Genesis 22). At the last minute, he sends a ram to take Isaac’s place. We contrast this with the crucifixion, where God does not send a scapegoat for his only Son, Jesus. Instead, Jesus carries out the sacrifice and pays the penalty for our sins.
Secondly, the word Calvary also means skull, this time in Latin. We don’t have much in terms of the etymology of the word in Latin, whether Romans also called the place “skull hill,” or if the Israelites just passed the name amongst themselves. But the word first appears in English around the 1700s.
Finally, there was a road right by Golgotha, where a lot of foot traffic passed by. The Romans had a habit of executing criminals, often zealots and insurrectionists, to remind the Israelites not to mess with them or try to stage any uprisings. Plenty of people would have passed by during Jesus’ death, hence why the crowd hurls insults and jeers at him on the cross. Not only did those crucified have to suffer a painful death, but they had to face humiliating accusations from those who passed by.
We may not know the exact location of Jesus’ death, but we have two very strong guesses. Thankfully, Jesus does not stay in Golgotha, nor in the vicinity. Even though they bury him nearby, on Easter Sunday, he conquers death and leaves the tomb. After the 40 days of Epiphany, he ascends into Heaven. Although Jesus died for our sins, he doesn’t leave the story there. He gives us hope past Golgotha. That not only did he arise and conquer death, but that one day, we will experience a resurrection as well.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/azerberber
Hope Bolinger is an editor at Crosswalk.com, literary agent at C.Y.L.E., and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,000 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in October of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.
This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!