Moriah, Golgotha and the Garden Tomb

Appendix 8: The Mount of Olives?

Appendix 8: The Mount of Olives?


A novel suggestion has been made recently for the location of Christ’s Death and Resurrection by Ernest Martin, in his bookSecrets of Golgotha, that it all took place on the summit of the Mount of Olives (marked by the Muslim building on the traditional site of the Ascension). Joseph's tomb would have been a little way to the south (in the area of the cave underneath the Paternoster Church). 

His arguments are as follows:
1. Martin claims that the declaration of the Roman centurion when Christ died: 'This man was God's son' (Mark 15:39), was inspired by his being able to see the rending of the Temple veil (15:38). This Temple curtain could only be seen from the east - from the Mount of Olives. However, this is just a speculation. The Gospels do not say the rending of the curtain was visible to those standing round the Cross. It is linked to the moment of His Death, because it made a vital point about what Christ achieved at that moment - the new way of entering God's Presence through His Blood (see Hebrews 10:19ff). Anyway, it is doubtful that anyone on the Mount of Olives could actually have seen what was happening to this inner curtain within the Temple precincts!

2. Hebrews 13:10-13: “We have an ALTAR from which those who officiate in the Tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the Sanctuary by the High Priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned OUTSIDE the CAMP. Therefore Jesus also suffered OUTSIDE the CITY GATE in order to sanctify the people by His own Blood. Therefore let us go forth to Him, OUTSIDE the CAMP, bearing His reproach.” Martin claims this cultic burning of animals took place at an altar on the Mount of Olives, which he associates with that of the Red Heifer (Numbers 19, Hebrews 9:12-14). He argues that in order to fulfil the typology, Jesus had to die at this altar on the Mount of Olives. (Note however that the Mishnah says the Red Heifer was not burnt on an altar, but in a pit - Parah 3-4). 

One has to be very careful with arguments from Typology. Although Jewish tradition says the Red Heifer was sacrificed on the Mt. Olives, all the other sacrifices, which also are types of Christ’s Sacrifice were made within the Temple precincts (just north of the Temple altar), but this does not mean that Christ had to be sacrificed at these exact spots (in fact He clearly was not sacrificed at the Temple altar). The Fulfilment of Types does not necessarily require that the fulfilment must happen at the same precise geographical spot. It is the theological parallel that is paramount. We have already seen the clear geographical requirement for Christ’s Sacrifice was it had to be on Mt. Moriah.

The 'altar' of Hebrew 13:10 indeed represents the Cross, and the requirement that some of the sin-offerings (including the Red Heifer) are burnt outside the Camp is seen as being fulfilled by Christ’s Suffering of God’s Wrath outside the City-Walls. Leviticus 4:11,12,21, 6:10,11, 8:17, 9:11 16:27, Exodus 29:14, Ezekiel 43:21 speak of a place outside the Temple or Camp where the ashes from the altar were taken, where also certain parts of the sin-offering were burnt. But nowhere does it say that this had to be upon the Mount of Olives. Indeed, it is more likely the sacrifices were burnt outside the City Gate on the north-side of the City, rather than the east. In other words the typology of Hebrews 13:10-12 is perfectly fulfilled by Christ’s Death at Gordon’s Calvary on the Northern Peak of Mount Moriah. In fact, those in the 19th century, who looked at this argument from typology pointed instead to some ash-heaps to the north of the City (not far from the present-day St George's). They reckoned these ash-heaps were from the Temple sacrifices. If so, this argument points us towards the North of the City, not the East. 

Even if the place of burning was practised on the Mount of Olives this is not a requirement stated in the Bible, and thus certainly not a requirement for the Fulfilment of the Type. What is explicitly stated is that sacrifices were generally killed(1) North of the Temple Altar (Leviticus 1:10,11), (2) on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22:8,14). These are therefore the more reliable guides to the location of the site of Christ’s Death. This additional typology for sin-offerings in Numbers 19 and Leviticus only adds 

the Biblical requirement that (3) the final Sacrifice be made ‘outside the City or Camp.’ This is confirmed by the typology of the removal of the curse of sin through capital punishment (Deuteronomy 21:22,23, Galatians 3:13,14). According to the Law, executions must be done: “outside the camp” (Leviticus 24:14,23, Numbers 15:35,36). Thus Hebrews 13:10-13 points to Christ’s fulfilment of the typology of the sin-offering, pictured by the animal burnt ‘outside the camp’, and the death of the accursed man ‘outside the camp’, but it cannot be used as an argument for saying it had to be on the Mt of Olives, and there’s no evidence of it being a Jewish execution site.

These 3 Biblical requirements are actually uniquely fulfilled by Gordon’s Calvary at the northern peak of Moriah, outside the City. The holiness of Mt Moriah made it a clean, suitable place for the burning of the sin-offering. If in Jewish practice, criminals were required to be their own "sin offerings" in paying for their sins by capital punishment (without having the benefit of an animal sacrifice as a substitute), then it is appropriate if the Place of Burning was also close to the Jewish execution site, and we have already noted the evidence that this was outside the City Wall, to the North (not East) of the Temple. Notice that Ezekiel 43:21 does not say that this Place of Burning was an Altar-Site: “You shall also take the bull of the sin offering, and BURN it in the appointed PLACE of the TEMPLE, outside the SANCTUARY.” Moreover, although it is described as ‘outside the Sanctuary’, it is also at the appointed ‘Place of the Temple.’ Surely this locates it outside the Temple area, yet on the Temple Mount, that is on Mount Moriah, which had been appointed by God for all sacrifices (Genesis 22:14, 2Chronicles 3:1). This implies the Place of Burning of the Sin-Offerings (including the Red Heifer) was originally meant to be at the northern peak of Moriah, outside the Sanctuary area and outside the City-Gate. In this case, Hebrews 13:10-12 actually points towards Christ fulfilling the Type of the Sin-Offering on the north-side at Golgotha (Gordon’s Calvary). 

3. Martin claims special significance was given to the area east of the Temple. The Holy of Holies, where the Divine Presence dwelt, faced east; so this area was 'before the Lord', and was the place of His Judgement. However, the biblical texts he 

cites (Numbers 5:16; 16:41-50; Leviticus 10:1-7; Psalm 96:13) do not explicitly make this point at all!

Moreover, there is no positive evidence of a Jewish execution-site on the Mount of Olives. In any case, the Romans would not have used the Jewish execution site, unless it also conformed to their requirements. Whereas the site north of the Damascus Gate did conform to their needs, the top of Mt. Olives certainly does not. It is too far away. They would have wanted it to be done as quickly as possible, and they would have made use of a location much nearer to hand. Since the Romans required it to be a deterrent to as many people as possible, they would have crucified Jesus near (visible from) the City Walls, and also it had to be by a main road, so that many passers-by would see it. This clearly disqualifies the peak of the Mount of Olives as a candidate for the Crucifixion site. 

4. Martin claims the City of Jerusalem and its surroundings were understood in cultic terms as the continuation of the wilderness 'camp', and that executions and burials had to take place 'outside' this camp area. He points to later Jewish writings that defined this perimeter to be a distance of 3,000 feet from the Temple. Both the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb are within that distance, but not the summit of the Mount of Olives. However, this distance is not a Biblical stipulation, and for the time of Jesus it is better to assume the simple literal definition of ‘outside the camp’ applied. That is, Jesus naturally was crucified outside the encampment of Israelites around Jerusalem, who had come up for the Festival. We saw in Chapter 3 how the area immediately north of the City Wall (unlike on the other sides) was indeed uniquely ‘outside the Camp’ of Israel, as well as being outside the City, for at Passover time, all Israel was camping out around Jerusalem, except to the north, since this was reserved for the Samaritans who never attended.

5. Since the word 'place' (topos) was sometimes used as a shorthand for Temple (Acts 6:13; 21:28; John 4:20; 11:48), the text of John 19:20 should more properly be translated, 'Nearby where Jesus was crucified was the Place (Temple) of the City.' But this translation of John 19:20 is very strained. ‘Topos’ is the general word 

for ‘Place’ and so the context is needed to tell us more. In the other verses he cites, the context makes it clear the Temple is being referred to, but not so here in John 19. 

6. Martin also appeals to early Christian tradition, but these arguments are similarly of little weight. In particular, contrary to Martin's claim, Eusebius of Caesarea never refers to the Mount of Olives as 'Mount Zion. Instead he consistently uses that term either to describe the Temple Mount or the Western Hill (now called Mount Zion). Thus when he says: 'Christ was crucified near Mount Zion', he is certainly not referring to the Mount of Olives. He was actually speaking of the recently uncovered Holy Sepulchre. His other writings make it clear that in his day there was no Christian tradition of Jesus' death on the Mount of Olives. Christians went there instead to remember the Ascension and Jesus' Olivet Discourse. Not everything Eusebius said is correct, but his writings certainly can’t be used to support the idea that Jesus was crucified on the Mount of Olives.

In Summary, the various arguments of Martin for the Mount of olives lack any Biblical substance. It seems certain that the site of the Crucifixion is to be found much nearer to the City Walls of Jerusalem than the Summit of Mount Moriah. The Evangelists often refer to the Mount of Olives by name (Luke 19:37; 21:37; 22:39). Surely they would have made it clear that Golgotha was located somewhere on its slopes - if it was. They mark the Mount of Olives as the scene of the Triumphal Entry, the Olivet Discourse and the Ascension. Why did they not indicate that it was also the scene of the most important event of all? Instead they simply say, 'they led him out to crucify Him... and brought him to the place called Golgotha (the Place of the Skull)” (Mark 15:21-2).

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