THE PASSION OF OUR LORD:
DETAILING THE EVENTS OF OUR LORD’S SUFFERING AND DEATH
Session #19 (Most quotes are NIV)
FRIDAY MORNING, APRIL 7, 30 A.D.
John 19:14 “When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).” Here we have some little details from an eye witness: Pilate sits down on the bema to pronounce judgment. This is done at the place known locally as “Gabbatha” but in the Greek Λιθόστρωτος—“Lithostrotos” which is the Greek word for “Stone (lithos) Pavement (strotos).
The place of Christ’s condemnation is known formally as The Lithostrotos or Gabbatha, and there is a church where it supposedly was located (it wasn’t!) This was undoubtedly at a place within the Fortress Antonia, but the exact spot is unknown to this day. They are still looking, of course. If you go, don’t waste your money on a tour guide who will tell you where it is!
THE VIA DOLOROSA—roughly 9:00 A.M.
The Via Dolorosa is an actual street in Jerusalem, purported by some to be the actual route which Jesus was forced to take from the Fortress Antonia to Golgotha—the Place of the Skull. Roman Catholics use the route as locations for the penitential “Stations of the Cross”—the events which happened to Jesus on the way to His crucifixion.
There are just a few problems here: there are several Roman Catholic groups which advocate different routes, although Pope Clement VI (1348-1350) supposedly settled the issue by decree (he also, by the way, granted automatic forgiveness for everyone who died of the “Black Death” plague in those years! Hmmm….); wherever the actual route is located, it would be difficult to “walk it” because the first century street is probably 40 feet below where you are told to walk; and finally there is no definite location for Golgotha, since all the geographical locations have long since stopped looking like a skull (but naturally there is a church where it’s supposed to be!).
Be that as it may, the route serves as an opportunity for reflection, sorrow and prayer in contemplation of what Jesus went through that Friday morning.
Matthew 27:27 is definitive here: “Then the governor’s soldiers (οἱ στρατιῶται τοῦ ἡγεμόνος—loosely, “The Strategoi of the Hegemon,”—we can see English words here “strategy” and “hegemony”) took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him.” Jesus is no longer dealing with the Temple Guards. These are Roman Legionnaires who take him inside the Fortress, dress him up, put a crown of thorns on him and mock him. They are having a little fun at Christ’s “kingly” expense.
John 19:14 presents a problem and the NIV is clearly wrong here: “It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.” It cannot be noon. The Greek text says “It was about the sixth hour.” The Gospel of John always uses Roman time. Since the Roman day began at midnight, the sixth hour would be 6:00 a.m. That’s way too early to include all that has happened since “first light.” IF John was using Jewish time (their day beginning at 6:00 p.m.), then the “sixth hour” would make this noon—way too late. Is there a manuscript error here on the time of day? We don’t have the answer, but we can make some assertions: 1) they didn’t have watches so don’t think in terms of precision; 2) from John’s Gospel and the other three Gospels, we can pretty well affirm the hour is around 9:00 a.m. 3) this small error, whatever it is, doesn’t change the story or the meaning 4) NO, they didn’t have a 3-hour Daylight Savings Time!
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tells us that Simon of Cyrene “volunteered” to carry the cross for Jesus. (Matt. 27:32 “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.”) This would not have been the entire cross, but probably only the cross-piece. Nonetheless, this piece of lumber would have been 6”x6”x6’. Let us assume it is a piece of cedar from Lebanon (perfect wood for crucifixion—termite resistant and fairly hard. Planning on some crucifixions, the Roman soldiers might have brought a wagonload of lumber to Jerusalem for these purposes—there wasn’t much in the way of forest near Jerusalem. Why not choose something durable?) Something that size would weigh 54 pounds.
We are not done with Matt. 27:32—not by a long shot! “As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross.”) Firstly, notice the words “as they were going out.” Here is an accurate detail about Roman Crucifixion: this was always done just outside the city gates, in order to get the most “visibility” for the crucified. Romans wanted the population to SEE those who were crucified, and the highest traffic spot convenient for crucifixion was just outside the city gates. The Romans actually detested the practice of crucifixion because they thought it was “BARBARIC!” But they felt it was necessary in order to keep the Empire’s large slave population in line (remember the movie “Spartacus?” That was based on history! That particular slave revolt was in the first century B.C.)
Then notice that Matt. 27:32 (as well as Mark 15:21 and Luke 23:26) tells us that Simon was from Cyrene. Cyrene was a province and a city in northern Africa—modern day Libya. It had a fairly large Jewish population (which, by the way, revolted in 73 A.D. because of poor treatment). So, what was this north African Jew doing in Jerusalem? Odds are pretty good that he was there for the Passover. Since he was a visitor to the city, our Bible verse tells us something else: Simon was probably staying in the tent city north of town where most of the visitors stayed during Passover (Jerusalem’s population had multiplied by 5 or 6 times!) They “met” him while he was headed in. That would indicate that the crucifixion procession was probably headed out of town to the north. This makes good sense: The Fortress Antonia was on the north edge of the Old City, so why not crucify Jesus and his two companions near the closest city gate?
THE LOCATION OF THE CRUCIFIXION
We call it “Calvary” (not Cavalry—those are troops on horseback!). Why is it called Calvary when the Bible calls it “Golgotha” or “The Place of the Skull?” “Calvary” comes from the Latin translation of “The Place of the Skull”: Calvaria Locus(kal-VAIR-ee-uh LO-kus). Since Latin was the official language of the Roman Catholic Church (it still is!), all of Western Christendom learned to call it Calvary.
All four of our Gospels call it “The Place of the Skull” (that is rare for all four to add a single detail like this), but only Luke doesn’t mention “Golgotha” because he is writing to a Gentile for whom an Aramaic name would mean nothing.
Where is it? The Church of the Holy Sepulchre says “right here!” That spot was picked out of the air by Empress Helena, Constantine’s mom, and magic interpreter of all spots Christian in the Jerusalem area. This was done 300 years later, and Helena was as qualified to pick out the correct location as my pet Labrador (Shelley says he would be more qualified—he has a better nose!). There are two more reasonably legitimate claims to the exact spot of Christ’s crucifixion and burial, and about 47 more unreasonable arguments for different locations. Do you get the idea that we don’t know where? And certainly, there is no reason to assume that Jesus was buried within 6 feet of his crucifixion and death!
Called “The Place of the Skull” in all four Gospels, it has been assumed that there was an outcropping of rock or a hill which resembled a skull. But other guesses of various sincerity have been made. In the 3rd Century, Origen said it referred to Adam and Eve’s burial place (that’s just stupid—but he said it!). If “Golgotha” was a skull-shaped hill, it doesn’t exist anymore. Remember that General Titus conquered Jerusalem in 70 A.D. and utterly destroyed the city. The Arch of Titus (near the Forum) in Rome commemorates the victorious siege and sacking of Jerusalem. Many of the captured Jews were enslaved and forced to help build the Roman Coliseum.
We will need to settle on this fact: Golgotha was very near the city walls and a major gate in and out of Jerusalem, and probably the north gate because it was very close to the trial site. This guess would agree with the information we have about Roman crucifixion procedure.