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Holman Bible Dictionary

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(cal' vuh rih) Place name meaning, “a bare skull.” The place where Jesus was crucified. Our English word “Calvary” comes from the Latin calvaria. This word is a translation of the Greek kranion, meaning “skull.” The Greek is a translation of the Aramaic golgotha, also meaning “skull.” The word is used twice in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Judges 9:53; 2 Kings 9:35) to designate the skulls of Abimelech and Jezebel.

“Calvary” appears in the New Testament, only in the story of the crucifixion (Matthew 27:33; Mark 15:22; John 19:17). The gospel writers name it as the place where Christ was led to be executed.

Exactly why the place was called this is not known. The logical explanation would be because the skull symbolized death. A place of execution would see its share of skulls.

Archeologists are uncertain where Calvary was located. John 19:20 and Hebrews 13:12 say that Jesus was taken outside the city to be crucified. Mark 15:29 suggests that a road may have been nearby.

Two sites are held today as Calvary. The older, more traditional Church of the Holy Sepulchre is a complex of religious shrines venerated as the place of Christ's cross and tomb.

In the 4th century A.D., Queen Helena, mother of Constantine, had the site revealed to her in a vision. A pagan temple on the site was razed and a shrine built in its place. Several destructions and rebuildings have taken place over the centuries.

Since 1842, a rocky hill outside the Damascus Gate has vied for veneration as Calvary. Discovered by Otto Thenius, the site gained fame when Charles Gordon wrote in 1885 that this was indeed Calvary. A garden tomb nearby, discovered in 1849, had drawn little attention until Gordon made his assertion.

Executions during the first century were conducted outside the city walls. This might tend to make Gordon's Calvary the logical site. However, at the time of Jesus' crucifixion the outer wall of Jerusalem was much closer to the center of the city. This would make the traditional site more plausible.

Perhaps the most telling fact between these places is the type of tombs they represent. Jewish tombs appear to have had small niches carved out of the walls in which bodies were placed. Later Byzantine tombs used trough-like slabs. This places the weight of authenticity with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Mike Mitchell

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor.. "Entry for 'CALVARY'". "Holman Bible Dictionary".
<>. 1991.


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