The Life and Time of Christ

As with most other periods of ancient history, the Roman Era cannot be entirely judged with our modern sensibilities. It had its benefits as well as its horrors. Roman occupation in many cases was less of a conquest as a “reorganization”. Most in the corporate world are familiar with this phenomenon, best described as, “keep doing what you’re doing, only now you’re doing it for us, and remember...we’ll be watching”. Most were allowed to continue their own religious and cultural practices as long as they didn’t interfere or contradict the Roman authority. For this reason, quite a few cultures which fell under Roman control simply accepted the change of management and enjoyed the fruits that came with it, (i.e., the whole "What did Rome ever do for us" discussion.)

Since a large part of the crucifixion story hinges on the Roman reaction to Jesus’ teaching, I will concentrate on life in Roman occupied Israel. This was one part of the Roman Empire that was seen as a “hotbed” of potential insurrection. The case was no different here than in other parts of the empire, but the biggest difference was in the way the Hebrew people and their strict socio-religious laws reacted to the Roman mandate of supremacy. Because the main religious body of the Hebrew people, the Sanhedrin, saw survival through alliance with the Roman governors, there seemed to be a sort of schism among the people of Israel. Some followed along with whatever the Sanhedrin said, and others questioned whether bowing to the Romans was in agreement with what their laws dictated.

When Jesus declared Himself the “King of the Jews”, He put Himself and His Father above the Roman leaders. Although he clearly stated that his followers were to “....render unto Caesar what was Caesar’s....”, demonstrating his goal was not to rebel against the Romans, this demonstrated that He would not bow to either the Romans or the other power elite, the Sanhedrin. Seen as a threat to both parties, He quickly became an “enemy of the state”, and was declared political dissident. This was the reason for his arrest and trial before Pilate. His punishment also spoke to his alleged crimes in the eyes of the Romans. The Roman punishment of death was usually meted out simply by the stroke of a sword or the thrust of a spear. Crucifixion was by design to be both utterly brutal, and was intended to "make an example" of the victim. This was a punishment reserved for those who were especially troublesome for the Roman power structure.

The crucified were set on display either along a road leading into a city or on some high place where all could see. According to the Bible, Jesus was crucified at a quarry, which probably means along the top rim of a pit made by rock quarrying. Judging from what archeologists studying the area around Jerusalem and where the site of the current Church of the Holy Sepulchre sits, the consensus seems to be that grottos in the lowest levels of the Church shows signs of quarrying and that the place called the site of the crucifixion likely would have been a higher place above these at the time. All we are told in the case of Jesus's crucifixion is that it took place on a hill outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

Here is an artist's rendition of the site of the Crucifixion — outside the city walls, and near a quarry site where a new tomb stood ready.

Here is an illustration of the early Church of the Holy Sepulchre with Golgotha, the hill on which the Crucifixion took place, and the tomb marked.

This illustration shows the footprint of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as shown above overlaid on the site of the Crucifixion as it was originally, with the hill of Golgotha and the tomb marked.

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