The Aramaic word “Golgotha” means simply “skull” and the three writers add the phrase the “Place of a Skull” to specifically describe the spot.
33 And when they came to a place called Golgotha, which means Place of a Skull, (Matthew 27:44 NASV)
For years, many were uncertain what Golgotha referred to. Jerome, an early Latin priest (347 AD – 420 AD), said the place received its name from the skulls that littered the execution area after crucifixion. Others today believe it refers to an unusual weathering of limestone rocks that created a skull-like appearance in the rock, still visible today.
The traditional site, as far back as 4th century AD, is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was popularized by the mother of Roman Emperor Constantine (306 – 337 AD) who legalized Christianity. This led to numerous religious monuments/buildings being constructed at the spot over the centuries.
During restoration work of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the 1970s, they discovered a large limestone rock that once may have looked like a skull.
The major problem with this site is that it is found within the city walls.
The Bible says Golgotha was near the city, but outside its walls (John 19:12; Hebrews 13:12). John also notes that people passing by were able to read the inscription on the cross “Jesus the Nazarene the King of the Jews” suggesting it was near a gate.
20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. (John 19: 20 NASV)
Those holding to this location say the city borders had changed and it was outside the city walls at the time of the crucifixion. There are some historical references that may support this claim.
The alternate Golgotha, probably the true one
However, in 1842 a German theologian by the name of Otto Thesnius said a rocky limestone knoll north of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate bore an uncanny resemblance to a skull. He suggested this was the “Place of the Skull” referred to in the Gospels.
The weathered features of the limestone rock (seen above) eerily resemble the hollow eyes and nose of a skull.
In 1883, famed British Major-General Charles George Gordon endorsed the site as Golgotha and it has gained popularity since then. It is now better known as “Gordon’s Calvary.”
The stone outcropping has weathered over time, and supporters argue that 2,000 years ago, it may have had an even stronger skull-like appearance than it does today.
Though designated the alternate crucifixion site, many suspect this is the true “Place of a skull” referred to in the Gospels.
The erosion is continuing and Bibleplaces.com — a website run by Bible professor Todd Bolen from The Master’s College based in California — is reporting recent rains caused the nose of Golgotha to fall off on February 20, 2015.