Palestine Calling
by
W. M. Christie

Chapter XXIII

Golgotha


In Luke 23:33, we read, "When they came to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him." In discussing the site, we have often said, "There is no Mount Calvary in the Bible." We might almost add, "Neither is there a Calvary," for the original reading is that given in the margin, "the place of a skull," and Calvary is just the Latin translation of the Greek word "kranion," which would naturally be "cranium" in Latin. But the translation "Calvary" is sufficiently accurate, and as it has made a place for itself in our hymns and in our affections, we need not cavil over it. These notes, however, lead us to what we meant to say--that the name in the original speech of the people was Golgotha; that it had come into existence as a place name when Aramaic, and not Hebrew, was being spoken, and consequently in the not distant pre-advent days.

Now the name has been accounted for in various ways. We are told of an early Christian tradition (embodied in pictures), which said that at the foot of the cross, on the day of the Crucifixion, there lay the skull of the first Adam, and that drops of the Saviour's blood fell upon it on that great day as a token of the undoing of Adam's first great sin as the first federal head of the race--a thought of some beauty, but a most unlikely coincidence.

A second explanation is that it was a "place of skulls," and confirmation of this thought is sought from the fact that outside the Damascus Gate there was "The House of Stoning," or place of public execution, and skulls of the executed criminals might at times have lain about there. But this idea violates every Jewish view of sanitation, decency, and propriety, and must be rejected. Besides, Golgotha means not "skulls," but "a skull."

Thirdly, we are told that Golgotha was named from the skull-shaped hill, above the caves that are popularly known as "Jeremiah's Grotto," and supposed wailing place of the weeping prophet, and there is much to be said for this, if we accept as genuine "The Garden Tomb" of the adjoining enclosure; but we have never ventured to go further in assertion concerning it than to say, "It must have been like that." It is well worthy of a visit, and it appealed, to even Roman Catholic soldier boys, more than did the so-called Church of the Holy Sepulchre, now discredited even more through the discovery of Agrippa's Wall. The thought, too, of Jeremiah singing his Lamentations under the very site of the Redemption of six hundred years later, merits our regard and meditation.

But recently, when meditating on the word "Golgotha," we came across another association that seemed to us suggestive, and which probably leads to the genuine origin of the name. We find in the Talmud (Bab. Bath. 8a; Nedar. 62b), and elsewhere in rabbinical literature, the expression, "the silver of your golgotha," which means "your capitation tax." Now we know very well that the Jews were "under tribute" to alien kings. Their subjection was, and is to this day, regarded as the penalty of sin. Thinking Jews have often said to us, "We are in captivity or bondage for our sins."

Now the badge of this subjection, the capitation tax, was collected throughout the land (Jos. Bell. Jud. II. xvii. 1) under the supervision of rulers and men of power, and especially at places where evasion might be expected and shirkers caught (Nedar. 27b-28a), as avoidance of tax payment was considered lawful. And there could be no more convenient place in the land for a kind of "capitation station" than just outside the northern gate of the Holy City. It had been the place of entrance of even conquering armies. It was there that the princes in the army of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 39:3) set their seats for judgment. It was outside the Damascus Gate, too, that after the return from Captivity (Neh. 13:15 seq.) the Tyrians had established a Fish Market, and the Sabbath was being profaned, and this led to Jerusalem's being judged there. All visitors from the north found entrance by this gateway. The Wise Men from the East must have passed this way when seeking guidance to the new-born King. It was a suitable place for world judgment. And not less so for the solving of the "capitation penalty," be it in relationship to the Roman Empire or to the King of kings, for individual men. Here, then, we believe we have one more of these beautiful coincidences so often met with in the Holy Land. Where men were met and had to pay the capitation tax in virtue of earthly slavery, Christ met and on Golgotha paid the price of our redemption, and sealed us with His own blood unto the day of redemption. Jesus paid it all--on Golgotha--all to Him I owe. Full redemption, Gospel liberty.

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