Doctrine Article
Expanded Internet Edition - April 1, 1992 

Updated Information
on the Crucifixion of Jesus

by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1992

Since the publication of my book "Secrets of Golgotha" in the Spring of 1988, there has been a steady flow of new information which shows that the crucifixion of Jesus took place on the Mount of Olives. Some of the evidence has come from other scholars who have seen the fact that Jesus was executed somewhere near the summit of Olivet. A great deal has also been arrived at by further research of my own. What is emerging is real evidence that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb located in Jerusalem are nowhere near the proper spot where the actual crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus took place. This fact has revolutionary consequences associated with it. This is because the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Armenian Orthodox churches for the past 1660 years have generally accepted the area associated with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the crucifixion site. Even classical historians have thought the site has most of the historical credentials to justify its acceptance by the scholarly world. But this new evidence shows that the Constantinian Church is thoroughly wrong. The Bible and history plainly establish that the Mount of Olives is the real place of the crucifixion. This new Historical Report has further evidence to prove this conclusion.

Just over 118 years ago in the Palestine Exploration Quarterly (1873, 115; also 1870, 379-381) Dr. Hutchinson suggested that the crucifixion of Jesus must have taken place east of the Temple Mount -- which placed it on the Mount of Olives. Until the publication of my book "Secrets of Golgotha," that is the last scholarly indication I have found which suggests that the crucifixion happened on Olivet. Since A.D. 1873, the only candidates for the site have been the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was built west of the second wall of Jerusalem or at the Garden Tomb region north and east of the Damascus Gate. But my book shows from the New Testament and early Jewish records that the southern summit of the Mount of Olives near the altar "without the sanctuary" where the Red Heifer was burnt to ashes (Ezekiel 43:21) has far greater credentials for being the site.

The first point to notice is that the burning of the Red Heifer and Jesus’ crucifixion were symbolically connected in a precise way by Christians who lived during the period of Herod’s Temple. The author of the Book of Hebrews (about AD. 61) stated that Jesus was a ‘sin offering" for the world and that his sin-atoning death epitomized the symbolic role of all the sin offerings sacrificed at the Temple (Hebrews 10:8-14). The major sin offerings were burnt to ashes at an altar region east of the Temple near the top of the Mount of Olives. Besides that, all of the ashes of the other sacrifices offered at the Altar of Burnt Offering in the Temple itself were deposited at the same altar east of the Temple on Olivet (Leviticus 4:12:6:11). The author of Hebrews also connected the ashes of the Red Heifer (which were mixed with pure spring water) with the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus which occurred at the precise time of his crucifixion (9:13,14). And particularly note this point. In the Letter of Barnabas (written by a person from Jerusalem about A.D.90), the author stated that the Red Heifer in Christian circles was reckoned as Jesus. "The calf is Jesus: the sinful men offering it are those who led him to the slaughter (8:2)." Remarkably, very few Christian historians have asked: "Where was this Red Heifer altar?"

As explained in my book "Secrets of Golgotha," the early Jewish records found in the Mishnah plainly state that the Red Heifer altar was located directly east of the Temple that existed in Jesus’ time and that it was just shy of the summit of the Mount of Olives (Middoth 1:3; 2:4; Yoma 7:2; along with the Talmud in Yoma 68a and Zebahim 105b). And here we find the author of the Letter of Barnabas directly stating that "the calf (heifer] is Jesus" and that "the sinful men offering it are those who led him [Jesusl to the slaughter" (8:2). It is well known in Jewish circles that the priests did indeed lead the heifer from the Temple on Mount Moriah eastward across a double tiered arched bridge (called the Bridge of the Red Heifer) to an altar just outside the camp near the summit of Olivet. This is where they sacrificed and burnt to ashes the Red Heifer. This first century identification of Jesus with the Red Heifer is clear proof that early Jewish Christians connected the sacrifice of the heifer on the summit of Olivet with the death of Jesus which took place in the same vicinity. But no sacrifices of the Temple were ever connected with the western area of the "Holy Sepulchre."

The following Is a review by Prof. W. H. C. Frend (one of the top ecclesiastical historians In the world) in the Journal of Ecclesiastical History, Cambridge University, England, Vol.40, No.3, July 1989, p.449.

Secrets of Golgotha The forgotten history of Christ’s crucifixiom By Ernest L. Martin, Pp.280, incl.10 ills. Alhambra. Ca: ASK Publications, 1988, 0 945657 77 3. "Where was Golgotha? Critical opinion has decided to hesitate between two loci in Jerusalem, one the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the other a small hill north-east of Damascus Gate. The author points out the unsatisfactory nature of the evidence favouring the Holy Sepulchre site. It was arrived at by Constantine through dreams and visions and happened to coincide with the area of the Temple of Venus erected by the Emperor Hadrian after AD 135, a cult which he abominated. Even Eusebius thought it was a choice ‘contrary to expectation’ (Life of Constantine iii.28), but Helena’s successful archaeology on the site stilled criticism, and the great memorial Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built 329-35, was the result.

The author examines in detail the New Testament narrative. If some may think that the rending or the temple veil and other accompaniments of the crucifixion (Matt. xxvii. 50-1) are taken too literally, other evidence supports an alternative site. If the huge veil described as 55 cubits high and 16 cubits wide was rent, this could be seen only from the east side or Jerusalem. Then, Johns vivid description of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion mentions the latter as being ‘near the Place (topos) of the City’ (John xix. 19-20) and topos was in this context synonymous with the temple. The writer of Hebrews indicates that the punishment was inflicted ’outside the camp’ (Hebr. xiii. 11) as required in Num. xix. 1-22, relating to sin offerings. A malefactor condemned to death was his own sin offering. Altogether, evidence points cumulatively to a hillock near the southern summit of the Mount of Olives as the place of execution, a place held in veneration by Christians until Constantine’s massive building programme in the city. For once, Jewish and Roman requirements had coincided, for Roman justice demanded the execution of criminals near the scene of their crime, and Jesus was believed to have based himself on the Mount of Olives during his ministry in Jerusalem.

It is all neatly tied up, with other interesting speculations, such as the possible priestly status of Judas Iscariot, and the reconstruction reads more convincingly than Constantine’s visions. However, though not ‘straining at a gnat’, one may feel that this concentrated and ably conducted single-issue inquiry could have been best pursued in an article. In a full-length book repetition of argument becomes tedious. A useful piece of scholarly research need not be prolix to be effective." 

W. H. C. Frend

 

While we moderns have wondered if we should use geographical features associated with the sin offerings as having literal geographical relationships to actual events in the life of Jesus, such usage were commonly applied by biblical writers. Matthew symbolically associated a prophecy about Israel coming out of Egypt with Jesus and his stay in Egypt. While "Israel" of the prophecy could only symbolically refer to Jesus, Jesus still had to have been literally in Egypt for the symbol to be applied in any sensible way. Also, the symbolic teaching of Rachel weeping in Ramah could only be applied to those in Bethlehem because that is where Rachel’s cenotaph was located. Also, Isaiah’s reference to the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali could only apply to Jesus because these lands were in Galilee where Jesus taught. Thus, the geography associated with the symbols must be literal even if the symbols are not.

As an example, note a further geographical reference in the Book of Hebrews associating the sin offerings of the Temple with the crucifixion of Jesus. The author stated that Jesus carried his reproach (the cross-piece for his crucifixion) to an altar located "outside the gate," even "outside the camp" (Hebrews 13:10-14). There was the literal altar on Olivet that matches the author’s illustration, Indeed, in this case the author used the Tabernacle of Moses as his standard of reference (the Jewish authorities did the same thing in the Mishnah about a century later). It is important to note that the Tabernacle only had eastern gates. By using the Tabernacle as a standard, this points to the "gate" through which Jesus went to his crucifixion as being the east gate in the outer wall surrounding the Temple. Interestingly, this eastern gate was the same gate through which the major sin offerings and the Red Heifer were taken to Olivet. The roadway through that eastern gate was designed specifically by the Jewish authorities to lead directly to the altar "outside the camp" where the Red Heifer was burnt to ashes. Early Jewish Christians were keenly aware of these ritualistic connections of the sin offerings with the death of Jesus. Geographically, these historical and biblical texts about his crucifixion direct us to Olivet.

Furthermore, this Red Heifer altar was located just "outside the camp" which was at least 2000 cubits east of the Hall of the Sanhedrin then situated at the Chamber of Hewn Stones in the Temple, located on the left side of the Altar of Burnt Offering (Middoth 5:4; Sanhedrin 11:2; Yoma 25a). Indeed, just before Jesus was crucified, he was actually condemned to be executed while he stood before the Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stones on the Temple Mount (see Shabbath l5a and Rosh ha-Shanah 31a,b). Since it was then the Passover season, the chief priest (the president of the Sanhedrin who was Caiaphas) and his deputy (Annas, the Sagan) were required to be resident in their quarters within the precincts of the Temple. They were then living in their official "houses" which were located in the Temple compound itself (Middoth 5:4; Encyclopaedia Judaica iii.991). This is when the top priestly authorities left their own private houses (no doubt located on the aristocratic southwest hill of Jerusalem) and they took up residence within the Temple itself.

There were special times in the Jewish ecclesiastical year when residence within the Temple was essential for the High Priest and his deputy. For the seven days prior to offering the Red Heifer, the High Priest had to stay in his Temple "house" called the "House of Stone" (Parah 3:1). For the seven days prior to the Day of Atonement the High Priest had to reside within his "house" on the Temple Mount (Yoma 1:1). Though Josephus did not mention the Temple residency of the priests, he did state that such attendance at the Temple was a requirement for weekly Sabbaths, new moons and annual festivals (War V.230). Since Jesus was judged by the Jewish authorities at the Passover season, Caiaphas and Annas were not at their private homes during Jesus’ interrogation. Jesus was judged by the chief priests and condemned by the Sanhedrin while all parties were within the Temple enclosure. From the Christian point of view, this meant that Jesus was judged to die in his own Father’s House. He was sentenced to die "in the presence of God" who symbolically dwelt in the Holy of Holies.

After his judgment by the Sanhedrin on the Temple Mount, Jesus was then taken a short distance to the northwest part of the Temple courtyard where there was a stairway that led to Fort Antonia where Pilate was amongst his troops. Being at Antonia during Passover provided Pilate with a personal command over his resident army in order to properly control the festival crowds in Jerusalem, and especially those within the Temple precincts. After interrogating Jesus, Pilate washed his hands of the matter. Jesus was then led out of Fort Antonia and through the east gate of the Temple (which was also the east gate of Jerusalem) and taken over the two tiered arched bridge of the Kidron Valley to the summit of Olivet near where the Red Heifer was sacrificed -- a prominent area in Jerusalem.

This eastern area where Jesus was executed was famous for another reason. Jesus was actually crucified in the official area of Jerusalem that was designed for the execution of criminals and in the region that the Jewish authorities believed was the symbolic place where the whole world would one day be judged by God. This was the area directly east of the Temple but located "outside the camp" of Israel (Numbers 15:35). The limits of the camp were determined in the time of Jesus to be a radius of 2000 cubits (near 3000 feet) from the Court of the Sanhedrin in the Temple (Rosh ha-Shanah 2:5, see also Sanhedrin 1:5 and Shebuoth 2:2 for the authority of the Jewish Supreme Court to set the limits of the camp). This factor alone disqualifies the present sites of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb from being the place of Jesus’ crucifixion (even though outside the walls) because both sites were within the official region of the "camp."

The authorized place of execution for criminals in the time of Jesus had to be at least the Temple Mount, but it had to be in a place where the condemned could see the entrances to the Temple located in a westward direction. The biblical examples for judicial sentencing of people for their criminal acts in the time of Moses show they took place on the east side of the Sanctuary. Women accused of adultery were brought for judgment "before the Lord", that is, to the east entrance of the Sanctuary (Numbers 5:16-31). The two sons of Aaron were judged "before the Lord" on the east side of the Sanctuary (Leviticus 10:1-7). Korah and his Levites were also punished east of the Tabernacle (Numbers 16:41-50).

It was important for official judgments to be rendered and executed east of the Temple. This allowed the judgments to be made "in the presence of God," who figuratively faced east from his Sanctuary. Because of this, both the Sanhedrin and the lesser courts at Jerusalem in the time of Jesus were located in the Temple to the east of the Holy Place (Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, 299). It was reckoned that while God was symbolically sitting in the Holy of Holies, he could watch the proceedings going on in the law courts. God supposedly faced east while sitting on his Temple throne. Thus God in a figurative way had a panoramic view of all the ritualistic and judicial duties of his people which were being conducted east of the Sanctuary. This allowed all ceremonies (both religious and secular) to be done "in the presence of God." It is remarkable that many textbooks written by Christian theologians fail to mention the importance of this eastern area in this regard nor do they show the location of the altar "without the Sanctuary" (Ezekiel 43:2 1) where the Red Heifer was sacrificed and where the Day of Atonement sin offerings were burnt.

This eastern location was also significant in judicial matters involving capital crimes. Moses demanded that the place of executions had to be "outside the camp" (Numbers 15:35,36). All ritual sacrifices were offered east of the Sanctuary and in full view of God who figuratively dwelt in the Holy of Holies, and the prime sin offerings were burnt "outside the camp" at the summit of Olivet. And in Jewish practice, heinous criminals were required to be their own "sin offerings" in paying for their sins (without having the benefit of an animal sacrifice as a substitute) (Cohen, ibid., 317).

Since the major sin offerings were sacrificed near the summit of the Mount of Olives, this is why criminals were "sacrificed" as being their own sin offerings in the same vicinity. This is precisely the area where the later Jerusalem church believed Stephen was officially executed by the Sanhedrin (Wilkinson, Egeria’s Travels, 185n.1). This was known by the Jews as "the Place of Stoning" (Sanhedrin 6:1,2,3,4). It was just "outside the camp" but in full view of the eastern entrances of the Temple. The Temple curtain in front of the Holy Place could easily be seen from this prospect and the New Testament shows that when the Temple curtain tore in two at the moment of Jesus’ death that the centurion and the others around the crucifixion site viewed that phenomenon taking place (see especially Luke 23:44-47 and Matthew 27:54). From outside the wails of Jerusalem the curtain could only be seen from an elevated site east of the Temple. The area of the "Holy Sepulchre" is disqualified because from there only the back parts of the Temple could be seen. Besides, Josephus shows that the site of the "Holy Sepulchre" was the spot of the Tomb of John Hyrcanus (a respected Jewish king of the Hasmoneans) and such a shrine would never have been selected by the Jewish authorities as a place to execute criminals. But the summit of Olivet is different. Everything fits perfectly.

The Bordeaux Pilgrim in AD. 333 said that at the southern summit of Olivet there was a small knoll or hillock (called in Latin a monticulus). In the time of David this region was known as "the Rosh" (that is, "the head") (II Samuel 15:30) and remarkably the Hebrew word "Golgotha" also means "head" or "skull." Such a usage shows that "Golgotha" (or "the Rosh") was a well known place at the summit of Olivet.

Golgotha was even reckoned among the Jews as being on a mountain. Professor James Tabor in his review of my research in "Secrets of Golgotha" (in the Society of Biblical Literature’s Critical Review of Books in Religion, vol.IV, 1991, pp.213-215) gives new information to sustain my thesis for Olivet: "An interesting support of Martin’s thesis, which he does note, is that the Hebrew text of Matthew known as Even Bohan refers to the place of crucifixion as Mount (har) of the Skull (see G. Howard, The Gospel of Matthew according to a Primitive Hebrew Text [Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1988])." For Golgotha to have been reckoned as a mountain (har) in the Jerusalem area gives the Mount of Olives considerable credentials as being the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. Dr. Tabor, of the University of North Carolina, concludes his favorable review of my research by stating: "All in all Martin’s work is valuable, fascinating, and certainly pioneering. His hypothesis deserves attention from historians, New Testament scholars, and archaeologists."

There are numerous historical reasons for selecting Olivet as the place of Jesus’ crucifixion. In the recently translated Temple Scroll, Yadin pointed out that all people bearing religious defilements which prevented them from entering the holy city or the Temple were directed to stay east of the ideal Sanctuary region mentioned in the scroll (Yadin 177). Evil and defiled people (sinners) were kept east of Jerusalem in order to prevent any "winds of evil" from flowing over the holy city from the west. This is one of the reasons the sin offering of the Red Heifer and those of the Day of Atonement (which were to atone for sins) were burnt to ashes in this eastern area "outside the camp" (Leviticus 4:21; 16:27). Yadin suggested that a part of this eastern region which had been put aside for defiled persons was even referred to in the New Testament (e.g. Mark 14:3).

Since all sin offerings were sacrificed (or "executed") east of the Holy Place of the Temple, and the most important ones were sacrificed further east at the Red Heifer altar on Olivet, this easterly region of the Temple became known as the place where God dealt with sin -- where all the sins of the world will be judged. This is one reason why the Kidron Valley separating the Temple from the Mount of Olives became known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat (the valley where "God judges"). Even to this day Jews, Muslims and Christians consider the summit and western slope of Olivet as the ordained place where God will judge all people m the world for their sins. Charles Warren in Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible listed over fourteen Christina authorities (from the deaux Pilgrim onward) who attested to this belief (II.562). This is why it was important, from the Christian point of view, that Jesus died in this eastern region which was reckoned the judgment place for all mankind. For Jesus to be judged as dying for the sins of all mankind, Christians thought he had to be judged in the place where all mankind were designed to be judged for their sins.

Even Muslims (who inherited many traditional beliefs from the Jews and Christians) firmly believe that the summit and the western slope of the Mount of Olives is the judgment area for mankind. The Encyclopaedia Judaica has an interesting excerpt about this. "All the dead will congregate on the Mount of Olives and the angel Gabriel will move paradise to the right of Allah’s Throne and hell to its left. All mankind will cross a long bridge suspended from the Mount of Olives to the Temple Mount, which will be narrower than a hair, sharper than a sword, and darker than night. Along this bridge there will be seven arches and at each arch man will be asked to account for his actions" (IX col.1576). This is the Muslim account.

It is easy to see that this traditional Muslim belief is based on the geography of the Temple and the Red Heifer arched bridge over the Kidron Valley that existed in Jesus’ time. Indeed, the Hebrew word for the altar where the Red Heifer was burnt to ashes is miphkad (see Ezekiel 43:21).This word means "muster" or the place where people "congregate" or "gather together." And in traditional teaching, it was at or near this site on Olivet where all mankind would "congregate" to be judged. This teaching can be seen in the New Testament itself. When the Son of Man returns with all his angels, he shall sit on his glorious throne and he will then "gather together" before him for judgment all the nations of the world. Those selected to be on his right hand will go into the Kingdom of God while those on his left will go into the fire of perdition (Matthew 25:31-46). The geographical features of this teaching of Jesus (from the Jewish point of view in the first century) shows Jesus sitting on his glorious throne (which was in the Sanctuary of the Temple) and all the nations were then depicted as gathering to western slope of the Mount of Olives to face him for judgment. This allowed them to be judged "in the presence of Jesus." The Book of Revelation also spoke of the wicked being tormented in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb (Revelation 14:10). To be judged "in the presence of God" while he sits on his throne locates these individuals at the summit or on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. Again, this is why, even to Christians, the region of the Kidron Valley became known as the Valley of Jehoshaphat -- the place for God’s judgment.

Conversely, the present Church of the Holy Sepulchre as well as the Garden Tomb are located west and north of the Temple. These sites were in no way areas of judgment, as was Olivet and its western slopes. These sites are further disqualified, though they were outside the western and northern walls of Jerusalem, because they were still located within the 2000 cubits’ zone of the "camp of Israel" as measured from the Sanhedrin located in the Temple.

In conclusion, Christians in Jerusalem as late as the early fourth century knew that Jesus was crucified and buried on the Mount of Olives. In fact, Eusebius (the first Christian historian) stated that the only area to which pre-Constantinian Christians paid any attention in the environs of Jerusalem was the Mount of Olives, and specifically to a cave near its summit (Proof of the Gospel, VI.18). The Acts of John also mentioned the importance of this cave a hundred years before Eusebius (Charlesworth 1.30 1). In another work (The Acts of Pilate), we find that it was described as both a cave and as a tomb in the same context (bk. XII,XIII). Even the tomb of Lazarus had been a cave before it was a tomb (John 11:38).

When one views the evidence carefully, it can be seen that pre-Constantinian Christians reckoned this cave on Olivet to be the ruins of the tomb of Jesus. Prior to Constantine, there is no evidence (either orthodox or heretical) that the later site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the western part of Jerusalem was in any way significant to Christians nor was the southwest hill important that came to be called "Sion" after the time of Constantine. Indeed, when Eusebius first heard in A.D. 326 that Constantine and his mother were selecting a Venus Shrine as the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, he stated that such was "contrary to all expectation" (Life of Constantine 111.28). At the dedication of the "Holy Sepulchre" in A.D.335, Eusebius requested Constantine to inform the assembled bishops his reasons for building that church, The reasons were "SECRET to us [Eusebius and the bishops], but known TO YOU ALONE. . .which caused YOU to RAISE UP this sacred edifice" (Oration of Eusebius, XVIII, emphasis mine). There were no historical documents or traditions which were retained by Christians at Jerusalem to support its legitimacy. It was selected because of the dreams, visions and supposed miraculous signs associated with Constantine and his advisors. The early church historian Sozomen felt that historical records were not necessary when visions and dreams presented the "real facts" to the Christian world (History 11.1).

Eusebius showed in his works written before A.D.326 that Jesus was actually crucified on what he called the symbolic "Mount Sion" for Christians. Three times in his Proof of the Gospel (I.4; VI.13; IX.14) he identified the Christian "Mount Sion" as being where Jesus spent most of his time when he was in the area of Jerusalem and that spot was on the Mount of Olives (Mark 11:1; Luke 21:37; 22:39; John 18:2). Eusebius also said the Shekinah left Mount Moriah and went eastward to abide on this Christian "Mount Sion" that was located "adjacent to" or "opposite" Jerusalem and the Temple Mount -- an apt geographical description of the Mount of Olives (Proof of the Gospel, I.4; VI.18). To Eusebius, Olivet was where the New Covenant began when the Temple veil tore in two (VIII.2). Eusebius even stated that the Christian church was founded on Olivet (VI.18) and Jerome reiterated the same belief (Letter CVIII.12). And in his commentary on Isaiah (written before A.D.326), Eusebius made the plain statement that this new "Mount Sion" (Olivet) was actually the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus (Isaiah 2:1-4; see Walker, Holy City, Holy Places?, pp.302,305), This makes the top of Olivet to be Calvary. For more details see my book "Secrets of Golgotha."

Ernest L. Martin

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