Calvary (Golgotha)

Calvary, also known as Golgotha, was, according to the Gospels, a site immediately outside Jerusalem’s walls where Jesus was crucified.

The word comes from the Greek transcription in the New Testament of an Aramaic term that’s traditionally been presumed to be Gûlgaltâ.

The Bible translates the term to mean “place of the skull,” which in Greek is pronounced Kranou Tópos and in Latin is pronounced Calvari Locus, from which the English word Calvary is derived.

Golgotha is referred to in early writings as a hill resembling a skullcap, located very near a gate into Jerusalem. Since the 6th century, it has been referred to as the location of a mountain and as a small hill since 333 A.D.

The Gospels describe it as a place near enough to the city that those coming in and out could read the inscription, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

When the King James Version was written, the translators used an English version of the Latin gloss from the Vulgate, “Calvari” (Calvary), to refer to Golgotha in the Gospel of Luke, rather than translate it; subsequent uses of Calvary stem from this single translation decision.

The location of the word “Golgotha” is mentioned in the Gospels, except in Luke, where it is translated as “Calvary”: Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22, Luke 23:33, and John 19:17.

Several alternative explanations have been given for the name. It has been suggested that the Aramaic name is actually Gol Goatha, meaning “Mount of execution,” possibly the same location as the Goatha mentioned in a Book of Jeremiah passage describing the geography of Jerusalem.

Another possibility is that the location was a public execution site, and the name refers to abandoned skulls found there, or that the location was near a cemetery, and the name refers to the bones buried there.

In some Christian and Jewish traditions, the name Golgotha refers to the location of the skull of Adam.

According to one popular version, Shem and Melchizedek travelled to the resting place of Noah’s Ark, retrieved Adam’s body from it, and were led by angels to Golgotha, described as a skull-shaped hill at the centre of the earth, where the serpent’s head had also been crushed following man’s fall.

It is also suggested that the location’s landscape resembled the shape of a skull and gained its name for that reason.

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