The Red Heifer
and the Crucifixion1
Doug Jacoby, Washington DC
If you have an appetite for something "meaty," 2 I believe you will enjoy the following study, which investigates the Red Heifer sacrifice – a relatively "obscure" feature of the Mosaic Law – and its astounding significance for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ nearly two millennia ago. In some respects this could be considered an "advanced" study. But then solid food is for the mature. As the writer of Hebrews stated,
We have much to say… but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!… [S]olid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation… And God permitting, we will do so (5:11-6:3).3
What exactly is this "solid food"? What sorts of topics does the writer tantalize us with, before deciding to stick to a simpler agenda? 4 The writer touches on such topics as angels, the elusive Melchizedek, Old Testament typology and fulfillment, the nature of sacrifice – and especially, for our purposes, the Red Heifer.
Now unless we have steeped ourselves in the Old Testament, we may be struck by the unfamiliarity of many items in this paper, which weaves together Torah, Mishnah, history, linguistics, the New Testament, and early Christian testimony to support its thesis. Please bear this in mind as you patiently consider the following pages. So let’s dig in!
I. MORIAH: THE PLACE OF SACRIFICE
Sacrifice is found in nearly every book of the Bible, and this theme binds together all the other themes and plots in Scripture. The place of sacrifice par excellence is Moriah. Often we hear mention of "Mount Moriah." In a sense, there is more than one "Mount Moriah." Just as the Ark came to rest on "one of the mountains of Ararat," rather than on the Mount Ararat (Genesis 8:4), so Abraham was bidden by God to sacrifice his son on one of the mountains in the land of Moriah (Genesis 22:2):
Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
There are conceivably a number of "Moriahs." Jesus too was sacrificed in the land of Moriah. Is there any need to remind the reader that there are at least ten amazing parallels, by way of foreshadowing, between the sacrifice of Isaac and the sacrifice of Jesus? It would come as no surprise if they were "sacrificed" and "received back" on the same mountain. The sacrifice of Christ takes on new meaning when we understand the Old Testament foreshadowing – in this case, with startling coincidence of detail. 5
The site of Jesus’ execution, like that of Isaac’s "sacrifice," is never identified with the Temple Mount, unlike the threshing floor of Araunah:
Then Solomon began to build the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to his father David. It was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, the place provided by David (2 Chronicles 3:1).
There are, in effect, two theologically significant places of sacrifice in the land of Moriah. The Mount of Olives is located on Moriah, and it is probable that here both Isaac and Jesus were offered. The threshing floor at which David stemmed the plague, indeed the very site at which Solomon erected his magnificent Temple, were not on the Mount of Olives, but on Moriah. The Mount of Olives we could call "Upper" Mt. Moriah, the Temple Mount, "Lower" Mt. Moriah.
The Four Sacrifices
Sacrifice of Isaac
Sacrifice of Jesus
Sacrifices with "resurrection"
One of the mountains in land of Moriah
Also on a mountain in Moriah6
Sacrifice to stem plague
Sacrifice of "bulls and goats"
Sacrifices without "resurrection"
Threshing floor of Araunah
You may be caught off guard by the thought that the Mount of Olives was a place of worship or sacrifice in the Bible. After all, wasn’t this a serene place of prayer? Was blood actually shed on this mountain?
According to 2 Samuel 15:32, there was already a significant place of worship on the Mount of Olives – some thousand years before Jesus was crucified:
But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up. Now David had been told, "Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom." So David prayed, "O Lord, turn Ahithophel's counsel into foolishness." When David arrived at the summit [place of the head], where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head (2 Samuel 15:30-32).
Yes, the elevated location was already a place of worship and sacrifice. At any rate, the threshing floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24, 1 Chronicles 21), located on the other side of the Kidron on what would soon become the site of the First Temple, 7 was not the only place where reconciliation between man and God took place. The place of the Head, on the Mount of Olives, near the road into the city, was also a "holy place", as 2 Samuel 15 reveals to us.
Simplified Diagram of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount,
Kidron Valley, and Mount of Olives
II. THE RED HEIFER8
The sacrifice of the Red Heifer is commanded in Numbers 19. If you are like me, you are probably unfamiliar with this sacrifice commanded by God through Moses:
The Lord said to Moses and Aaron: "This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded: Tell the Israelites to bring you a red heifer without defect or blemish and that has never been under a yoke. Give it to Eleazar the priest; it is to be taken outside the camp and slaughtered in his presence.
Then Eleazar the priest is to take some of its blood on his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the front of the Tent of Meeting. While he watches, the heifer is to be burned – its hide, flesh, blood and offal. The priest is to take some cedar wood, hyssop and scarlet wool and throw them onto the burning heifer. After that, the priest must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. He may then come into the camp, but he will be ceremonially unclean till evening. The man who burns it must also wash his clothes and bathe with water, and he too will be unclean till evening.
A man who is clean shall gather up the ashes of the heifer and put them in a ceremonially clean place outside the camp. They shall be kept by the Israelite community for use in the water of cleansing; it is for purification from sin. The man who gathers up the ashes of the heifer must also wash his clothes, and he too will be unclean till evening. This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them" (Numbers 19:1-10).
Why the extended citation of Numbers 19? Because the Red Heifer sacrifice corresponds to the sacrifice of the Messiah.9 A sanctifying paste was manufactured from the ashes of the heifer, to purify the people (pilgrims as well as those on normal sacrificial errands) so that they could approach the House of God.
Please notice that there was "a ceremonially clean place," outside the Temple precincts, yet which was, in a sense, an extension of the holy Temple. The Red Heifer sacrifice, unlike those offered on the altar of burnt offering, was carried out outside the camp. According to Jewish tradition, nine red heifers had been sacrificed since the time of Moses (Parah 3:5).10 The Hebrew writer alludes to this remarkable correspondence between the Red Heifer sacrifice and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ:
When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11-14)
The Red Heifer sacrifice is alluded to in Hebrews 13. (What other sacrifice could it be?) This was the sacrifice by whose ashes all Jews entering the Temple had to be purified. Many early Christians realized the deep symbolism of this sacrifice. Consider the Epistle of Barnabas, written around 100 AD:
Now what type do you think was intended, when he commanded Israel that the men whose sins are complete should offer a heifer, and slaughter and burn it, and then the children should take the ashes and place them in containers, and tie the scarlet wool around a tree (observe again the type of the cross and the scarlet wool), and the hyssop, and then the children should sprinkle the people one by one, in order that they may be purified from their sins? Grasp how plainly he is speaking to you: the calf is Jesus; the sinful men who offer it are those who brought him to the slaughter…(8:1-2)
Let us continue to trace the thought of the Hebrew writer:
We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat. The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore (Hebrews 13:10-13).
The implications for our evangelism of going to Jesus "outside the camp" are worth many sermons. We leave traditional religion (Temple) behind, forging out of the "comfort zone" into the dark world we are called to serve. We are called not to sit at home, quietly idling away our evenings, but to pour our time into building relationships with those who do not know Christ. However, our special concern at this point is the altar at which the sacrificial bodies were disposed of, the so-called "Miphkad Altar."
The Miphkad Altar
There is substantial evidence in the Old Testament for a location "outside the camp" devoted to the incineration of the bodies of sacrificial animals, the Miphkad Altar11 (Leviticus 4:12, 6:11).12
In Hebrews 13 the writer contrasts the holocausts at the Temple with those outside – namely, at the Miphkad Altar, mentioned in Numbers, Ezekiel13 and the Mishnah. Jesus’ death is symbolically connected with this altar14 outside the Temple. (Not to say that the crucifixion necessarily took place at this altar.) Where were the bodies of the sacrificial victims totally incinerated?
The Miphkad Altar stood 2000 cubits from the Temple on the Mount of Olives,15 and although few Christians today – or Jews, for that matter – realize its true significance, this is arguably the most important of the three altars of the Temple. The three are (1) the altar of burnt offering, (2) the incense altar, and (3) the Miphkad Altar (technically a pit, according to Parah 4:2).16
It is certainly not difficult to see how much richer the symbolism and typology of death of Jesus is if our "red heifer sacrifice" was "slaughtered" on the Mount of Olives, in roughly the same location as the original Red Heifer sacrifice.
One final comment on the third altar of the Temple. The Mishnah says clearly that the priests offering the sacrifice of the Red Heifer needed to be able to see the altar of burnt offering from their vantage point on the Mount of Olives:
All the [Temple] walls were high, save only the eastern wall, because the priest that burns the Heifer and stands on top of the Mount of Olives should be able to look directly into the entrance of the sanctuary when the blood [of the Red Heifer] is sprinkled (Middoth 2:4).
Since the Mount of Olives (Upper Mount Moriah) is taller than the Temple Mount (Lower Mount Moriah), the priests sacrificing at the third altar were able to look down on the Temple Mount and see (over the intentionally lowered wall) the altar of burnt offering. If Jesus’ sacrificial death fulfills the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, as the Hebrew writer and early Christian tradition affirm, then the Son of God was almost certainly crucified on the Mount of Olives.
But a calf?
Isn’t the heifer illustration inaccurate? Is Jesus not our paschal lamb? Yes, Christ is a "lamb," insofar as his blood, like that of the Passover animal,17 "covers" us. The parallel is noted in 1 Corinthians 5:7. Yet the Passover Lamb was not technically a sin offering. Although the people of God were saved by virtue of its blood, the lamb did not in any sense "bear sin".
There were four historic sacrifices in the region of Moriah, the fourth being the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, paralleling the "sacrifice" of Isaac. These two both took place on a mountain in the land of Moriah. On "Lower" Mount Moriah David sacrificed to stop the plague which claimed 70,000 lives, and at this exact location Solomon translated the Mosaic Tabernacle service into the Temple, along with its sacrificial institutions. The Red Heifer sacrifice, which mirrors the atoning sacrifice of Jesus,18 was performed on the Mount of Olives, the approximate site of Jesus’ death and burial.
III. THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
Somewhere on the Mount of Olives is the spot where Jesus Christ was unjustly executed. That the Mount of Olives is the authentic location is probable for three reasons: (1) This is the site of the Miphkad Altar and the Red Heifer sacrifice. (2) There are strong political reasons why Jesus would have been publicly slain on the Mount of Olives, along the Roman road into the city. (3) This site provides the visual vantage point which best facilitates the centurion’s observations, according to the gospel accounts.
(1) Miphkad Altar and Red Heifer Sacrifice
As we have seen, both Torah and Mishnah clearly declare that the "third" altar of the Temple was located on the Mount of Olives, and it was here that the Red Heifer was slain. Moreover, as we have seen, there was already a significant site halfway up the Mount of Olives a thousand years before Jesus was crucified (2 Samuel 15:32). Since the Red Heifer sacrifice represents the sacrifice of the Son of God, it is certainly a good possibility that his death took place on "Upper" Mount Moriah.
(2) The Political Reason
Had Pilate crucified Jesus on a major pilgrim route, a road into the city, this would have made a statement – and quite a loud one – to future would-be "kings". In fact, according to the Roman writer Quintillian, "Whenever we crucify the guilty, the most crowded roads are chosen, where the most people can see and be moved by this fear. For penalties relate not so much to retribution as to their exemplary effect."19
The Roman road to Jericho followed approximately the same track as the road at the time of David, and would have been the perfect location for any public execution making a political statement.
Yes, the strategic location of the Mount of Olives, especially in the middle of a major religious holiday, would have maximized the impact of Jesus’ execution. Note also that Jesus began his "triumphal entry" at "Bethphage on the Mount of Olives" (Matthew 21:1). Of course Pilate could have arranged Jesus’ execution anywhere he liked – he showed himself capable of considerable political ineptitude during his ten-year tenure as governor of Judea20 – but the strategic location of the eastern site must be taken into account.
(3) Visual suitability
Apart from the Temple Courts themselves, only from the Mount of Olives – across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount – would anyone have a clear view of the Temple curtain, which tore at Jesus’ death, and which the Gospels say the centurion saw. In one sense the site of the crucifixion depends on the sight of the Temple! In Matthew 27 we read
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" (Matthew 27:50-54)
The East-West dispute will be further addressed in the following section. Suffice it to say that there are more difficulties reconciling the gospel descriptions21 of the unusual events attending Jesus’ death with the "western" view than with the "eastern."
The significance of the Mount of Olives vis-à-vis Jesus Christ’s (1) Triumphal Entry, (2) Gethsemane prayer, (3) Arrest, (4) Crucifixion, (5) Burial, (6) Resurrection and (7) Ascension certainly must not be underestimated.
All seven of these events took place east of the city,22 on the Mount of Olives. Moreover, the Via Dolorosa, or the Sad Road, in Latin, led not westward from the Temple Mount, but eastward.
IV. WHAT ABOUT THE WESTERN SITE?
The traditional location of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, just outside the Second Wall of old Jerusalem. I maintain, however, that the correct site is on the Mount of Olives – in exactly the opposite direction from the Temple Mount.
The western site is unlikely to be authentic, or even lie in the vicinity of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, for three reasons: lack of attestation, prevailing winds, and an optical difficulty.
(1) Lack of Attestation
If the western Calvary is authentic, why is there no mention of it in records or Christian writings before the 4th century? In fact, the only site holy to Christians before the 4th century seems to have been the Mount of Olives.23 The lack of attestation presents another difficulty in accepting the traditional location.
Are we really to believe, as Eusebius relates the story of Helena, the mother of Constantine, that this woman found both the true site of the crucifixion and the "three crosses" upon her visit to Jerusalem in 326 AD? Remember, the early fourth century, after the legalization of Christianity (313), was an age of superstition, relics, sainthood, and increasing inaccuracy in both the gospel story and the claims of adherents to Christendom. 4th century Christians freely adopted and subsequently adapted many pagan holidays and sites, bringing them, under a thin sacral veneer, into the mainstream faith.
The site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, visited annually by hundreds of thousands of tourists, was actually the location of the pagan Temple of Venus, the goddess of love. This edifice was erected by the Emperor Hadrian in the late 130s. So the site was "sacred" – but not sacred as the place of Jesus’ execution, but rather sacred to the spirit of paganism! This is another reason it seems nothing more than superstition to accept the early Catholic legend of the "Holy Sepulchre." 24
In short, it would be naïve to accept the traditional site on the word of Constantine’s mother, or by virtue of the many "miracles" performed at the site.
(2) The prevailing winds
The prevailing winds in Jerusalem blow from west to east. That means that the execution of criminals, for hygienic and olfactory reasons, is more likely to have taken place east of the city. Although the traditional Golgotha lay outside the second wall of the city,25 it is still very close to the city. And, as we have seen, it does not in any way make sense of the Red Heifer sacrifice or the mysterious Miphkad Altar.
(3) The Visual Problem
This passage, like its parallels in the other gospels, implies26 that the Roman soldier had a view of the Temple. The western site, however, is improperly situated for this; it is located on the wrong side of the Temple (which faced east)! The curtain, between 82 x 24 feet in size27 and facing eastward, would not have been visible (despite its enormous dimensions) from the traditional Calvary. It should be noted that the curtain in question was not that separating the Sanctuary from the Holy of Holies, but an outer curtain. (Hebrews 9:3, referring to the Tabernacle, describes the inner curtain between Sanctuary and Holy of Holies as "the second curtain".)
In addition, the tombs are on the eastern side of the Temple Mount, not on the west. From the traditional Calvary there would have been nothing to see! Indeed, the western orientation of the traditional site does create a visual problem – unless, of course, the centurion had X-ray vision! So much for the visual aspect.28
(4) Area of Church of the Holy Sepulchre
One last reason it is unlikely that the 4th century church structure marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion is that, in the 1st century, this area of the city was rather built up, and hence less likely to have been used as a place of execution.
In short, there are serious difficulties with the traditional identification of Golgotha. For a number of reasons, it seems more probable the Crucifixion took place east of the Temple, on the Mount of Olives.29
V. ON A HILL, FAR AWAY
Some favoring the western site are quick to point out that there is a hillside in Jerusalem which (somewhat) resembles a skull. General Charles Gordon was apparently the first to recognize this, in the 19th century. The site has been dubbed "Gordon’s Calvary." No similar, "skull-like" location has been suggested for any location on the Mount of Olives. The problem with this is that, what Gordon saw in the 19th century, no one before him ever reported. Fairly detailed sketches of Jerusalem have survived from, for example, the 17th century; none knows of any skull-like hill. Apparently Gordon’s skull is the result of fairly recent weathering.
Now the image of a skull certainly preaches better than that of a head, just as the Jolly Roger is more likely to strike terror into the crew of a galleon than a "happy face". Yet the translation of the Hebrew gulgoleth and the Greek kranion ought not to be influenced by our church traditions!
The Greek word kranion (Matthew 27:33, Mark 15:22, Luke 22:33, John 19:17), meaning skull or head, comes from the Homeric Greek kara, meaning head, top, or summit. Often kranion translates the Hebrew gulgoleth, while kephale translates the Hebrew ro’sh – but not always! Ro’sh is Hebrew for head, as in Ro’sh hashanah, or Head of the Year. (Not "skull" of the year!) The point is that Golgotha can just as well signify Head as Skull. Once again, while skull is (usually) a perfectly good translation of kranion in the N.T. and in the LXX,30 the word can equally well be rendered head. This makes the identification of Golgotha with the Summit or Head of 2 Samuel 15:3231 much more convincing.
Hebrew, Greek and Latin Words for Skull and Head
the head, head
gulgoleth = skull, 33
(upper head,) skull
ro’sh = head, top, chief
kephale = head
[calvus = head]
At any rate, the real questions have nothing to do with whether the hill on which Jesus was crucified resembled a skull or not. They are (1) What is the theological significance of Jesus’ death? (2) What is God trying to teach us? (3) Where was this hill located? (4) How do these facts inform our understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion?
Well, we have gone deeper into the Word of God! We have not skirted the sorts of issues suggested by the Hebrew writer, and hopefully we have been fed with some solid food!
As we have seen, in the New Testament the crucifixion of Jesus is clearly identified with the sacrifice of the Red Heifer, which took place on the Mount of Olives. This is exciting, for several reasons:
The Word of God comes to light
The Old Testament truly opens up, as we grasp the typological significance of the crucifixion and all the surrounding details. This is precisely the "solid food" of which Hebrews speaks. This also helps us to appreciate the lines of reasoning available to great minds like Paul and Apollos, which they could have used to win the Jews to the faith. This kind of study is faith building and beneficial for all Christians as they mature in the faith.
The truth about the Crucifixion emerges
Simply stated, traditional Christianity is mistaken in its identification of the western site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The site of the Temple of Venus should be recognized for what it is. When visiting Jerusalem, by all means do see this ancient building; yet understand that no amount of sincere devotion or veneration can transform the truth.
No need to follow the crowds
In addition, there will be little need to "compete" with the "tour groups" down the traditional Via Dolorosa and inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, since we recognize that they are well over a kilometer from the true site of the crucifixion, on the Mount of Olives.
Keep me near the Cross!
Is it surprising that "traditional" Christianity has misconstrued the meaning – and even the circumstances of – the cross? So much has been lost; so much must be restored! It is my hope that this paper has called us back to the cross: the real location of Calvary and, more vitally, its position in our hearts as men and women of God.
1Special thanks are due to Professor (Emeritus) Ory Mazar of Hebrew University for introducing me to this subject and for answering my many questions and (initial) objections. Thanks also to Dr. Michael Christensen of The Theological School of Drew University for suggestions on the manuscript. Return
2Much of the Christian literature read in the I.C.C., it must be admitted, is "light" reading: it tends to be of a devotional or inspirational nature. As a movement we are not used to pushing ourselves. We prefer simple doctrines, neatly packaged, over those which engage the intellect and challenge our thinking. Return
3Incidentally, the translation of hexis ("constant use," NIV) in most English versions is doubtful. Hexis means experience, rather than "constant use." See John A. L. Lee, "Hebrews 5:14 and "A History of Misunderstanding," Novum Testamentum, vol. xxxix, Fasc. 2, April 1997. Return
4Although, ironically, no sooner does he chide us on our immaturity than he seemingly returns to the advanced agenda, at least in chapters 7-9. Many of the most interesting, enriching biblical studies concern relationships between Old and New Testament elements. Return
5Here are a few: It was the ultimate test of faith; it was the sacrifice of "a son, an only son"; it was the son "whom you love"; the son was a willing victim; he was sacrificed among the mountains of Moriah; the son bore the wood; there was a confident expectation of a return from the dead; the world was blessed spiritually through the sacrifice. Return
6The exact geographical correspondence of location between the mountain (hill) of the crucifixion and the mount on which Isaac was sacrificed is less important than the theological correspondence. Return
7Solomon built the Temple from 966 to 959 BC (see 1 Kings 6:1). Return
8A heifer is simply defined as "a young cow that has not had a calf" (Oxford). Return
9This connection is recognized by Messianic Jewish groups even today. In 1996 a Red Heifer was born in Israel, possibly the first since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 AD. In 1997 this has caught the attention of ultra-radical Jewish and Christian groups, who are convinced that this is an omen preliminary to the reestablishment of the Temple. This would, of course, mean seizing control of the Temple Mount from Muslim hands. The implications for politics and peace in the Middle East are significant. See, for example, "A Red Heifer, or Not? Rabbi Wonders" in the Kfar Hassidim Journal, The New York Times, June 14, 1997. Return
10Although Ory Mazar, Professor Emeritus of Hebrew University, believes, perhaps rightly, that this was in fact an annual sacrifice. Return
11In 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5, the census ordered by David, miphkad, has etymological reference to counting. In Nehemiah 3:31 the miphkad gate is rendered The Inspection Gate. Return
12See Exodus 29:14, Leviticus 4:12, 4:22, 6:11, 8:17, 9:11, 16:27, and Numbers 19:3, 9. Return
13Ezekiel 43:21, rounding off the discussion of the altar, reads: "You are to take the bull for the sin offering and burn it in the designated part of the temple area outside the sanctuary." Notice that part of the Temple area is said to lie outside the sanctuary. Return
14My former professor at Harvard Divinity School, Helmut Köster, contends that the Hebrew writer must be referring to a literal altar. See "Outside the Camp", Harvard Theological Review, 1962 (55), 299-315. Return
15This distance is a reasonable inference drawn from Numbers 35:5. Return
16As Ernest L. Martin put it, "The area of the Mount of Olives was an important region in New Testament times. It was where the Miphkad Altar was located. This Third Altar of the Temple was where the special sin offerings which typified the sufferings of Jesus mentioned by the author of the Book of Hebrews were burnt to ashes, and it was the same altar at which the most important of all the sin offerings as far as Jewish authorities were concerned was burnt to ashes. This sacrifice was that of the Red Heifer. This female cow which was young and never yoked or mounted by a bullock was selected within the precincts of the Temple and taken eastward across the Kidron Ravine between the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives. In fact, that very bridge was called ‘The Bridge of the Red Heifer’ (Shekalim 4:2). The heifer was led alive by the high priest and the other priests eastward through the Miphkad Gate (Nehemiah 3:31) just outside the limits of the Camp of Israel. It was then killed and burnt to ashes. This Third Altar of the Temple had a pit associated with it for burning the heifer. Details of these matters can be found in the Jewish Mishnah by reading Middoth 1:3; 2:4; Yoma 7:2; along with the Talmud in Yoma 68b and Zebahim 105b…" (Secrets of Golgotha, [Portland, Oregon: Associates for Scriptural Knowledge, 1996] 43-44). Return
In my opinion, several of the teachings of this book – for example, that Jesus was stoned to death – are far-fetched. Nevertheless, Martin has much of value to say and has surely hit upon something useful for the Christian faith.
17Technically, either a lamb or a goat could be slaughtered to fulfill the Passover requirements (Exodus 11:5). Return
18In a way unlike the "sacrifice" of Isaac, which was most emphatically not an offering for forgiveness of sins. Return
19Cited in Martin Hengel, Crucifixion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 50. Return
2026-36 AD. Return
21Matthew 27:50-54, Mark 15:38-39, Luke 22:44-49. John is silent as to the events of the earthquake, the tearing of the outer curtain of the Temple, and the resurrection of the holy men and women who later entered Jerusalem. Return
22Furthermore, whether by coincidence or divine design, the tribe of Judah, from which Jesus was descended, was ordered to camp on the east of the tabernacle in the time of Moses (Numbers 3:3). East from the presence of God (and of necessity across the Kidron Valley) is the Mount of Olives. Return
23Eusebius has quite a lot to say about it in his Proof of the Gospel. Furthermore, the church historian of Caesarea, familiar with Jerusalem and serving at the court of Constantine, expressed surprise that the "tomb" of Jesus was found at the (western) location of a pagan shrine (The Life of Constantine 3:28). Return
24Through visions and dreams, Helena’s informants were able to locate not only the authentic site of Jesus’ death and burial, but also three crosses, a sponge and reed, and the titulum on which the charges against him were written. (Give us a break!) Return
25A third wall was constructed a number of years after the Crucifixion. Return
26I realize that this is an implication, not a proof. Return
27According to Josephus, who provides eyewitness testimony, the curtain was 55 cubits long and 16 cubits wide. Josephus was serving as Governor of Galilee when the war broke out in 66 AD. He defected to the Romans and witnessed the entire Destruction of Jerusalem, about which he wrote in his Jewish War. Return
28One might counter, Wasn’t the Temple occluded by the three-hour period of darkness? How would the centurion be able to see anything? Perhaps the Temple was more difficult to make out – whether the sacrificial fires were burning or not (presumably they were). But, according to Matthew 27:48, it assuredly wasn’t so dark (à la Exodus 10:23) that the sponge could not be lifted correctly to Jesus’ mouth! Return
29For more background to the Mount of Olives, see Zechariah 14:4, which is interpreted eschatologically by many Bible believers. I see its fulfillment, however, in events of the first century A.D. Return
30The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Text, was translated in the 3rd century BC by committee for the benefit (presumably) of Jews who no longer retained a command of Hebrew. LXX is 70 (Roman numerals), the supposed number of translators. Return
31Interestingly, the LXX translated the Hebrew 2 Samuel 15:32 ro’sh by Rosh – a mere transliteration. This implies that the "Head" was in fact called by that name; and the translators did not want to confuse the reader with a "strict" translation. (It would be as though we referred to L.A. as The Angels instead of by its better known name, Los Angeles.) Return
32For example, in 2 Kings 9:35 kranion = calvaria. Return
33In Judges 9:53, gulgoleth is literally cranium. Return
34In Exodus 16:16, as in 1 Chronicles 10:10, the Greek translation of gulgoleth is kephale, not kranion. These translations are found in the LXX. And in Numbers 1:2, the phrase la-gulgoleth (Vulgate per singula capita = head by head) translates to [an omer] apiece. Return
35N.B.: Latin caput and Greek kefalhv are clearly related to the Sanskrit kapalam = skull; the fluidity of terms across languages suggests some latitude semantically. Return
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