– by Mark Barnes –
If you visit the claimed site of Jesus’ crucifixion today, it’s almost impossible to imagine what it once would have been like. To visit, you must go into the bustling Old City of Jerusalem, and then inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There, as you dodge between crowds of pilgrims and swinging Greek Orthodox oil lamps, you’ll see a white rock poking up under an altar. It’s here, the church claims, that Jesus was crucified. Surprisingly perhaps, most archaeologists agree.
Of course, Jesus didn’t go into the Old City to Golgotha. He went out of the city. All the gospel writers emphasise that Jesus was taken outside the city to be crucified. Unlike today, in 30 AD, the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was outside the city walls.
You may be wondering why that is so important. It matters because Jews associate holiness and purity with places. So it was outside the city where the unclean was dealt with (e.g. Leviticus 14:33-45).
A holy city and a holy God
The holiest place was, of course, the temple. But Jerusalem itself was considered to be a holy city (Nehemiah 11:1, Isaiah 52:1, Matthew 4:5, etc.). That meant that certain things shouldn’t take place within the city’s walls. Everything impure should be done outside or taken there. At the time of Jesus, some Jews (the Essenes) even forbade defecating within the city. They had to go 3,000 cubits outside the city, which is nearly a mile. And we think having a privy in the garden is difficult!