Probably, most folks who study the Bible believe the place where Jesus was crucified is one of two locations. The first is the traditional place inside Jerusalem’s city walls, which had been identified as the place where Jesus was crucified by Helena, Constantine’s mother, in 333 AD. The second location was proposed by German theologian, Otto Thenius, in 1842, and it can be found just outside and north of the Damascus Gate along the western city wall. The latter was proposed because of two cavities in the rocks of the hill, which cause it to resemble the eyes of a skull to some people. However, I hesitate to believe folks would see the resemblance, if they didn’t know Jesus was crucified at a place called the “skull”. The immediate problem with both of the locations is that they were identified as such through subjective reasoning, the first by premonition and the second by appearance. Nevertheless, there is absolutely no objective evidence from the Biblical record to support either point of view.
Three of the four Gospel records identify the place of Jesus’ crucifixion as Golgotha (G1115). Mark and John tell us it is taken from the Hebrew meaning the place of the “skull” (G2898). Luke identifies the site as Calvary (G2898), which is actually the Anglicized Latin translation of the Greek (G2898), the same word the other Gospel writers use for the “skull” (Luke 23:33; cf. Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17)! It is interesting that, when we get into the Hebrew word itself, we find that the reason the place is called “the skull” has little to do with the hill’s appearance. Rather, it has to do with census taking. Notice:
Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls;(Numbers 1:2 – emphasis mine)
The Hebrew word translated “polls” is gulgoleth (H1538), from which we get the transliteration in the Greek Golgotha. The polling place had to be outside the city walls, so that everyone, including those who were ceremonially unclean and couldn’t enter the city could be registered. The Hebrew meaning of the word is “head, poll, skull” and is nearly always associated with census taking.
The Hebrew word translated “sum” in the verse quoted above is roshe (H7218). It seems that whenever Israel went to war and returned home, before they could enter the camp or the city, they had to cleanse themselves and were ceremonially unclean for seven days (Numbers 31:24). During this time a census or a sum (H7218) of the men of war was taken (Numbers 31:49). The cleansing was done with the water of separation, which included the ashes of the red heifer, which lay in a “clean place” just east of the Tabernacle/Temple (Numbers 19:1-9).
An interesting scripture which alludes to this point is found in 2Samuel 15:32. There, David was fleeing Jerusalem from Absalom, his son who had betrayed him. He escaped death by way of the Mount of Olives, and, when he reached the summit, he bowed in worship before God. The Hebrew for “summit” or “top” of the mountain is rosh (H7218), but this doesn’t really explain where David worshiped. I think the Septuagint translators do a better job here. While the Septuagint is a Greek translation of the Hebrew, they kept the Hebrew at this point or transliterated it into the Greek. Notice:
And David came as far as Ros, where he worshipped God: and behold, Chusi the chief friend of David came out to meet him, having rent his garment, and earth was upon his head. (2 Samuel 15:32 – Septuagint; emphasis mine)
According to the ancient Jewish understanding of the Hebrew text, it wasn’t merely the summit of Mount Olivet where David worshiped, but a particular place on the summit—the place of the census or poll—Golgotha!