Our van stopped in front of a crumbling concrete wall spray painted with Islamic symbols and stained with bleeding rust. I slowly opened the car door, its hinges squeaking loudly in protest. Stepping from the vehicle, I heard the sound of broken shards of glass crunch under my descending boot along with distant shouting. The commotion seemed to be coming my way.
A nearby heap of burning trash wafted sour-smelling smoke. A sudden gust of hot wind sent smoldering haze up past second story windows where women wearing headscarves glared down at me.
A pack of teenage boys, along with a few men, suddenly appeared down a narrow road strewn with garbage and all seemed agitated, if not angry, in their advance. But they all scattered like a startled flock of birds when a large man suddenly stepped toward me from between some buildings. The man was wearing old rubber sandals, sweatpants, a grease-sullied T-shirt, and a curdled scowl that extended down to his bulging neck. I had been told he was a man not to be trifled with and who had the final say in all things pertaining to the Silwan Village.
I had paid well to meet this Palestinian man who was, by all indications, the village headman. He ponderously strode up and stopped only when he was face to face with me. He was awkwardly close as he breathed out, “Whuu you wunn?” There was no handshake, nor any pleasantries associated with the usual protocols of meeting someone new.
I had tried to get into the notorious Silwan Village a couple of times before, but was always turned away by strafing rocks from gangs of angry Muslim youths. Over the centuries, this aesthetically impoverished neighborhood has been known as an enclave of murderers, thieves, and malcontents. In the 1800s, the famed explorer Charles Warren wrote, “The people of Siloam [Silwan] are a lawless sect, credited with being the most unscrupulous ruffians in Palestine.” Today it is not all that different in the Silwan Village.
The hefty man stood expressionless in front of me. His head was cocked to one side, arms interlocked and feet planted widely. I asked, as calmly as I could, for his permission to see the cliff area which was hidden from view behind a row of nearby homes. All he offered back was a resolute stare of distrust and the same repeated English words, “Whuu you wunn?” which were hard to make out from the viscosity of a thick Arabic accent. I assumed he was trying to communicate, “what do you want?”
I had come from the old city of Jerusalem to meet this man with my Arab driver, Sammer, a local pizza shop owner named Jacob, and a Palestinian man named Achmed. Achmed was a crafty sort of guy who lived in the Silwan Village and I had paid him handsomely to bring about this prearranged meeting.
It was comforting for me to finally be inside the walls of this nefarious neighborhood under the protection of this village leader, or at least I hoped I had his safeguard. I hurriedly dug in my pocket and fumbled to remove my cell phone, which contained several pictures of the Silwan Village dating back to the 1870s. The images on the small screen showed the Silwan long before the place was choked with houses and scattered with so much refuse. The man took my phone and stared at it a long moment and to both my surprise and relief, the hint of a faint smile ripened across his heretofore dour face.
The local youths and men started to appear again, seemingly out of nowhere. Most of the crowd pressed in to see the phone’s vintage imagery, trying to identify where their homes were now located and I began to find the swelling crowd tilting in favor of my presence. A few boys chuckled in delight and one man even patted me on the back as he pointed proudly at the historical imagery of his neighborhood on the luminescent face of my phone.
I was both pleased and relieved when the village leader shrugged his broad shoulders with a slight dip of his head and gestured me to follow him. It was a gesture I took as granting me permission to see the cliff area. I felt sure that even if I tried to tell him why this particular cliff was so important to me, he would never believe me. If my heart was not racing enough, it now shifted to a different gear, but that is exactly what I did not want to happen. I needed to stay focused as this would probably be a one-time visit, and a short one at that.
I walked closely behind the man, going east down a fence line as we maneuvered through the gap between houses. Off to my left, we startled a pit bull who lunged at me, straining against his stout chain and thick, leather collar. The dog was shaped like an engine block covered in brown fur and displayed a set of slobber-glistened teeth. I walked on and noticed off to our right a pair of mangy ribbed-thin cats hissing, apparently also startled by our sudden visit.
The smoldering smoke, the barking dog, the hissing cats and the boys shouting behind us made for an otherworldly experience. However, I was not concerned with the cacophony of distractions. I was actually standing at the foot of the stone cliffs I had come so far and had spent so much time and treasure trying to see: the cliffs of the Silwan village. I gazed up at several ancient split-open tombs, which were exactly as the Bible described! My mouth went chalk dry, “Could this be the place…could these cliffs actually be evidence revealing where Christ was crucified?”
The Phone Call
I answered the phone in my office but really didn’t want to. I’d been working intensely on this book for twelve weary hours and the computer screen was becoming line after line of blurry text. I exhaled a tired “Hello” and heard a gravelly voice cut in: “Do not write this book.”
The voice belonged to a well-known scholar and longtime friend, who, frankly, didn’t know much about what I had researched, written, or discovered. But, he did know the subject matter was volatile.
I already knew suggesting an altogether new site for Christ’s crucifixion would be controversial. But, to warn me not to even write about it out of concern of what critics would caustically say, or do, was alarming. This cautionary advice from my colleague surprised me because it came from a man well known for passing through the razor-wire gauntlet of critics who have opposed some of his own revolutionary interpretations of Scripture. Our short conversation ended bluntly with, “Bob, you’ve built an international ministry from your explorations, research, and books. Don’t risk it all now.”
After the call, I shut down my computer and stared into its uncaring face, which soon dissolved into a grey glow. I whispered uneasily, “He is probably right.”
After all, who was I to proclaim that I may have discovered new evidence showing the actual place where our Lord was executed? And to my knowledge, it is where no one has ever looked before.
Catholics have held for 1,700 years that the place of the crucifixion is under a church in Jerusalem. In the fourth century, Roman Emperor Constantine proclaimed that his mother, Helena, had discovered through visions and dreams the exact place where Jesus was killed on a cross. A magnificent church was soon built upon that very spot. It was known as the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and exists to this day.
After Constantine, and during the ensuing Middle Ages, a dark shadow of fear and superstition spread across Europe. It became an ominous place where demons were thought to be lurking around every corner and fairy tales handed down from generation to generation were believed to be real. Grey-haired sages with withered faces told horror stories around late-night fires, listeners quaking at the thought of goblins inhabiting shadows just beyond their doors. There was a palpable fear of priests, of missing Mass, and of soul-searing confessionals. Most of all, people were terrified of what they considered to be a vengeful and capricious God. If sudden lightning happened to split out of a brooding sky, whole villages would be sent into a panic, cowering under a perceived curse of God’s punishing wrath.
The Dark Ages were also a time when staid ecclesiastical directives were not to be challenged and anyone doing so was considered to be a blasphemer. Those that were accused of being a heretic were often tortured till they recanted or, in more severe cases, chained to wooden pillars with straw spread at their feet. When the fire was set, the condemned frantically yanked on sooty chains that soon slackened in morbid silence. The message had been sent for all to see: no one should ever contest directives from clergy.
It was against this backdrop of paranoid and spiritually paralyzing fear that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher became the unchallenged location for Calvary. After all, the Church and its ecclesiastical hierarchy had certified it as the actual place of the crucifixion, the passage of time sealing it into a seemingly irrevocable vault of tradition.
When the stagnated fear of the Middle Ages had run its course and alternative religious constructs emerged, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was eventually questioned as being the true Calvary. For instance, in 1883 a famed British officer named General Charles Gordon boldly challenged the rightful pedigree of the Holy Sepulcher as the place of Golgotha. His proposed place for the crucifixion of Christ was nearby the Damascus gate.
While living for a time in Jerusalem, General Gordon observed what he believed was a skull-like formation in a rock cliff near his temporary residence. To him, Scripture suggested this as the “place of the skull,” and thus, Christ’s execution location. Due to Gordon’s heroic status as a war veteran, the designation of the site steadily gained acceptance. Since Gordon was an avowed Protestant, as were the majority of his English countrymen, the notion of a different site than the Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulcher was appealing to many. A new tradition of Christ’s execution, burial, and resurrection was conveniently born, to the delight of British Protestants.
Even though Gordon’s Calvary and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher are visited with swarms of sightseers daily, they are both fraught with many geographical flaws. Simply put, they do not align with Scriptural directives. These inconsistencies with the Bible will be examined in detail later on in this book…
This excerpt is from Robert Cornuke’s new book, Golgotha, available as paperback and eBook from the K-House Resource Center. Also available in Kindle format from Amazon.
Charles Warren. Underground Jerusalem. 1876, page 149. ↩