Does the Church of the Redeemer hold the answer?
According to the New Testament, Golgotha was the name of the site where Jesus was crucified. Where is Golgotha located in Jerusalem? In their Archaeological Views column “Golgotha: Is the Holy Sepulchre Church Authentic?” in the May/June 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, Marcel Serr and Dieter Vieweger discuss past and current investigations into the site where Jesus was crucified.
Where is Golgotha today? The exact location where Jesus was crucified is disputed. In the fourth century C.E., the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built at the site of Golgotha as identified by Roman emperor Constantine’s mother, Helena. However, scholars began to question this identification in the 19th century, since the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is inside the city walls of the present-day Old City of Jerusalem. Golgotha would have to have been located outside the city in accordance with Roman and Jewish customs of the time. The Gospels, too, seem to suggest that Jesus was crucified outside of the city (Mark 15:20; Matthew 27:31ff; John 19:17ff). So where is Golgotha located?
It’s important to note that the current Old City walls are not the ones from Jesus’ time. As Serr and Vieweger note in their Archaeological Views column, “Efforts to find a so-called Second Wall south of the Holy Sepulchre Church that had served as the northern wall of Jerusalem in Jesus’ time (and would have moved the site of the church outside the city in Jesus’ time) proved elusive—although Josephus, the knowledgeable first-century Jewish historian, does refer to such a wall (The Jewish War 5.146).”
Eminent scholars Conrad Schick and Louis-Hugues Vincent thought they had found the Second Wall in 1893 when a wall was uncovered during the construction of the Church of the Redeemer just south of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. For almost a century this seemed to solve the problem of authenticity—the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was located at Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified!
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But in the 1970s, German archaeologist Ute Wagner-Lux of the German Protestant Institute of Archaeology in Jerusalem excavated under the Church of the Redeemer and determined that this wall could not have been the Second Wall. Why? “This wall was only five feet thick—far too narrow to be a city wall,” say Serr and Vieweger. So the search began anew.
All was not lost, though. The excavations at the Church of the Redeemer do reveal clues that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located outside the elusive Second Wall.
To learn what evidence leads Serr and Vieweger to believe the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could be the authentic location of Golgotha, read their full Archaeological Views column “Golgotha: Is the Holy Sepulchre Church Authentic?” in the May/June 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on May 23, 2016.—Ed.
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