Moriah, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Chapter 3. Golgotha, the Place of the Skull - Part B

From Golgotha you can look down upon the Temple Mount in the south, further down Mt. Moriah where the sacrifices were made.

Photographs of this hill taken 150 years ago show that the Face of the Skull is identical with its appearance today. No further erosion has taken place, due to the hardness of the rock! Thus it is reasonable to suppose it also had a skull-like appearance in the time of Christ.

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If the skull appearance was there in the first century, as the natural formation of the rock indicates, then it would have been natural for people to have called it “the Place of the Skull.” Perhaps it resembled a skull even more in the first century than today! 

Recently Professor Hatsor looked at this Rock Face to test its stability and reckoned that it has hardly changed over the years. This rocky precipice is about 50 feet high and 500 feet from the City Wall.


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One of the things clearly in this site’s favour was that it is clearly outside the City Wall, but also near the City, as required by the Bible. 

Mark 15:20,22: “They led Him OUT (of the City) to crucify Him....they brought Him to the Place called Golgotha.” John 19:20: “the Place where Jesus was crucified was NEAR the City.

Jesus was crucified outside the City Wall. This is also confirmed in
Matthew 28:11 where the guards go from the Tomb INTO the City.

Hebrews 13:11-13: “The bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned OUTSIDE the Camp (of God’s people). Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own Blood, suffered OUTSIDE the GATE. Therefore let us go forth to Him, OUTSIDE the Camp, bearing His reproach.”

In contrast, it is very debatable whether the traditional site, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was outside the City Walls.

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Another reason we know it had to be outside the City Walls is that He was buried nearby, even in the same Place (John 19:41,42), and Jewish burials were always located OUTSIDE the City-Walls.

Hebrews 13:12: “Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own Blood, suffered OUTSIDE THE GATE.” 

Notice that this says Jesus was crucified: “outside THE GATE”, implying that He died just outside a major City-Gate, even the most important Gate, which was the Damascus Gate on the north side of Jerusalem. This perfectly fits the location of Skull Hill, which is located a short distance outside this ancient major Gate.

 

Although the present Wall and Damascus Gate was built in 1542 by the Ottoman Ruler, Suleiman the Magnificent, it was built above the original Roman Gate, part of which can still be seen, below it and to its left. Originally it consisted of a large central Gate with 2 small gates on either side. What is seen today is one of the 2 smaller gates. 

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The Damascus Gate was the main Ceremonial Gate of Jerusalem. It is the largest and most beautiful Gate in the Old City. Today it marks the northern boundary of the Old City, and likewise it marked Jerusalem’s northern boundary in the time of Jesus’ Crucifixion. Jesus could well have walked through the Gate at this place (see below), carrying His Cross on the way to Golgotha! He was dismissed from Pilate's Presence at the Antonia Fortress at the northern end of the Temple Mount and the only direct route out of Jerusalem was through the Damascus Gate. Skull Hill is then just a short distance (250 yards to the north-east) outside this Gate.

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6 months later, Stephen was also dragged through here, to be stoned at the very same place where Jesus was crucified. Soon after, Saul of Tarsus (Paul) rode through this Gate on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians, before the Lord met him en route. 

From the walls above the Damascus Gate, we can see the hill that is the top of Mt.Moriah, called ‘Skull Hill’, because it has the shape of a human Skull on its Rock Face (see the photo below). 

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This Rock Face is the result of quarrying, for the whole area between the Walls and Skull Hill was part of an ancient stone quarry. Geologically, Skull Hill (which is 110 feet higher than the rock in the Temple area) is the continuation of the seam of rock which starts with the Temple and continues right up to the present Turkish wall. (It has been separated from that seam, however, by quarrying). This place is all part of Mount Moriah, but this may not be immediately obvious, because the whole area of the Mount between the Northern Wall and Skull Hill has been removed to supply the stone to build Jerusalem and the Temple. In order to have enough stone, a large slice of Mount Moriah was removed north of the City and even under the City. In the Old Testament period, starting from the time of Solomon, then the Maccabees, and finally Herod the Great (40 BC - 1 BC) quarrymen came here; hewers, cutters and carriers of stone. They cut away the stone from here, and used it to build ancient Jerusalem. Much construction was done by Herod. He greatly expanded the Temple Platform, built himself a new Palace, as well as a Theatre and Hippodrome. All this required a huge amount of stone. This area to the north of the Temple was the best place to quarry.

By the time of the Crucifixion the area in front of Skull Hill had been substantially quarried out, and had become a disused Quarry. As Jeremiah's Grotto (on the eastern side, see map on page 89) gives way to the rest of the hill toward the west, the strata suddenly becomes fragmented. There are layers of hard and of soft stone, none at all of any use for construction stones. Therefore the quarrying stopped at the Place of the Skull, and did not proceed further to the north, because the rock strata of Skull Hill became fractured and unsuitable for quarry stones. The Skull shape then appeared as erosion washed out the soft sandy pockets in the rock, leaving the harder portions intact and protruding. This gave the scarp of the hill its skull-like appearance, which has remained until today. As a disused Quarry, it was a fairly useless patch of ground under a cliff, ominously overlooked by a Skull, an ideal place for an execution site. There certainly is no more suitable place in Jerusalem for an execution site. Today it is occupied by a modern bus-station. 

The SKULL Since the Skull Face is on a cliff formed by quarrying, it is important to know when the Quarry was in operation. If it post-dated Christ, then the Skull Shape could not have been present in His time, and so did not lend the name Golgotha to the site. However, there is no evidence the valley and road which naturally goes along the Wall from the Damascus Gate eastward, were not there in the time of Christ. The Quarry certainly predates Christ. So when the cutting stopped due to the poor quality rock, the Rock Face was left as a Scarp, which weathered into a Skull-like appearance by the time of the Crucifixion. When the Gospel writers describe the place of the Crucifixion as ‘the Place of the Skull’, or as the Revised Version has it: “The Place which is called The Skull”, they are clearly referring to a well-known location that was visibly marked and identified by a Skull, and that would seem to describe an established execution site. Our site is unique in perfectly fitting and explaining this name. No other or better explanation has been given for it.

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The name ‘Place of the Skull’ perfectly fits our site. No other site fits this name. No one can fail to see that a skull face is there in the solid rock and we have good reason to believe this skull-like face has not been changed much by man or nature in 1900 years. The remarkable hardness of the rock and the abundance of nearby quarry marks which are clearly identified as surviving unchanged since the time of Herod or even earlier, testify to this. It certainly has not changed over the last 150 years, as the early photographs prove. 

SOLOMON’S QUARRIES The Quarry also went under the Old City of Jerusalem. The southern cliff of the Quarry runs underneath the northern wall of the City. Cut into this cliff is a large Cave formed by quarrying. It has long been called: Solomon's Quarries, based on the tradition that this is where Solomon obtained stone for building his Temple. It has also been termed Zedekiah's Cave, from a tradition that King Zedekiah hid here from Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 587 BC. Near the Damascus Gate, is an entrance in the northern Wall, where you can enter this fascinating Cave and see the scale of the quarrying that took place before the time of Christ. These tunnels go all the way under Mt.Moriah, perhaps even to the Temple. These stories confirm that the Quarry and the resultant skull-shaped Cliff must predate Christ. Moreover, French scholar Charles Clermont-Ganneau discovered in the cave, a drawing of a winged cherubim in the Assyrian style. This would date it to 600 BC, and would imply that the Quarry dates back at least to that time, showing that they were formed before the time of Christ. The stone for Solomon's Temple is said to have come from this area. The Western Wall stone is more or less identical to the stone from this vast quarry. This Quarrying in Mount Moriah set the scene for the Crucifixion of Christ on Mount Moriah.

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Thus the small hill now known as ‘Golgotha’, ‘Gordon's Calvary’, or ‘Skull Hill’ is the northernmost and highest part of the Mount called Moriah in the Bible. It is where Abraham offered up Isaac. It is separated from the main body of Mount Moriah by a chasm created by an ancient rock quarry. This quarrying created a Moat or Trench cutting Moriah into 2 Sections. The Place of the Skull, where Christ was crucified, lies within the remains of this ancient Rock Quarry, which was there from before the time of Christ. Christ was crucified against the northern Rock Face of this Trench, which was the traditional site for executions in Jerusalem. 

Jerusalem was easy to defend on the south, east and western sides due to the valleys there. But it was open to attacks from the north, and whenever it fell, it was from an attack from the north. One beneficial spin-off from this Quarry was that it created a defensive rock face at this vulnerable north-side of the City, upon which was the natural place to erect the Northern Wall of the City. Thus building the Northern City Wall at the southern end of this Trench made the City easier to defend. Thus this was the only logical place for the Northern Wall to be in the time of Christ. Since the Quarry Cliffs stood in the days of Herod the Great, then it is inconceivable that Herod would not have made use of their defensive posture to build his northern City Wall on top of them. Indeed, there are some Herodian stones between the Cliff and the so-called "Herod's Gate" to the east, and parts of the Cliff Bedrock appear to have been sculpted to look like Herodian stones with their drafted edges.

This means that the Damascus Gate would also have been there in the time of Christ. Thus it is certain that the present northern Wall and Gate were built upon the foundations of the ancient Herodian Wall and Gate. So if Christ died at Skull Hill, He died near the City, just outside the main Gate as required by John 19:20, Hebrews 13:12.

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The rocky scarp of the north wall, east of the Damascus Gate.

 

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