I’m shifting from Crossan to Aslan here:
Because the point of crucifixion was to humiliate the victim and frighten witnesses, the corpse would be left to be eaten by dogs and picked clean by birds of prey. The bones would then be thrown onto a trash heap, which is how Golgotha, the place of Jesus’s crucifixion, earned its name: the place of skulls.
As I grow older I’ve come to dislike nitpicking minor details in an argument (grammatical errors, slips of the tongue, etc.) - in many cases, it tends to come off more like a cheap shot and an excuse to find more fault in the argument than there actually is. But I’ll break my rule here a bit: it is not “place of skulls” (plural), but “place of a skull” or “skull’s place” (singular) - kraniou topos. I suppose Aslan needed the plural to strengthen his argument that Golgotha earned its name for being a “trash heap” for the bodies of crucified criminals.
Aslan seems to be confident that Golgotha was a dumping ground for corpses - to the contrary, we just don’t know why it was named as it was. His idea isn’t really new, mind: a popular assumption which already existed for quite some time as to why Golgotha got its name was because the place was littered with the bones of people who were executed on the site. The ultimate origin of this idea is St. Jerome, who proposed that Golgotha meant “place of the beheading” (i.e. ‘execution site’), and that it received its name because of its function as an execution site. He even thought that the golgotha where Jesus died was only one of such designated areas in Jerusalem. And surely places of execution must be littered with the remains of the dead, right? It is a popular idea, but the problem with this scenario is that it would have been a violation of Jewish sensibilities: remember the huge emphasis on the dead receiving a proper burial?
There is an early Christian tradition - first attested by Origen - that the “Skull” refers to that of Adam, who was buried in that exact spot:
Concerning the place of the skull, it came to me that Hebrews hand down [the tradition that] the body of Adam has been buried there; in order that “as in Adam all die” both Adam would be raised and “in Christ all will be made alive.”
Note that only the Greek version makes reference to “Hebrews.” The Latin version makes reference to “a tradition,” but it is not specified that it is a Hebrew one. Out of all the literary references which place Adam’s burial at Golgotha, only St. Ambrose (Exposition of the Holy Gospel According to Saint Luke X), pseudo-Athanasius, and Basil of Seleucia (Oration XXXVIII.3) say something to the effect that it was a “Hebrew tradition.” This is a popular traditional explanation of the name among Christians: in fact, many depictions of the crucifixion make reference to this tradition by including a skull (and some bones) at the foot of the cross.
Nevertheless, it isn’t likely that the claim is historically authentic. Leaving aside the fact that this is the first man we’re talking about, there is no verifiable authentic Jewish belief that Adam was buried at Golgotha. (The traditional site - the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - functioned as a stone quarry between the 8th and the 1st centuries BC before being finally abandoned, with the land finding some use as a spot for gardening and building tombs - as well as possibly becoming an execution site.) In fact, Jerome - a former proponent of this idea himself - proposed his own explanation of what Golgotha could mean in objection to this tradition: apparently, he became familiar with one actual Jewish idea which places Adam’s tomb at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron (Talmud, Sota 13a).
Now there is one Jewish tradition which has Adam being buried beneath the bedrock, the Even ha-Shetiyah, upon which the temple of Jerusalem was built. This rock was, according to one opinion, also the place where the entire universe originated (the navel of the world). Some propose that Origen, or the ‘Hebrews’ (Jewish Christians?) who reported the tradition to him, transferred this tradition to Golgotha, either by accident (he identified the ‘temple’ as being the Roman temple that was built over the traditional site by Hadrian) or on purpose - to emphasize more the connection between Adam and Christ. This isn’t the only time Christians have appropriated Jewish beliefs about the Temple Mount and transferred it to Golgotha. Remember the mountain in “the land of Moriah” where Isaac was nearly sacrificed? 2 Chronicles 3:1 identifies the threshing-floor upon which the temple was built to be “mount Moriah” (which in turn is often identified as the same location as the one described in Genesis 22:2) but in some Christian sources, Golgotha is held to be that ‘mount’ where Abraham took Isaac - again informed by the parallels drawn between Isaac and Jesus.
God created the world as a human fetus. As a fetus begins from the navel and from there begins and expands, so the world began from its navel and from it stretched here and there.
And where is its navel? It is Jerusalem. Its navel itself is the altar.
And why did he call it Foundation Stone? Because the entire world was founded from it.
Beit ha-Midrash 5:63-70
R. Itz’hak says, “The Holy One, blessed be He, threw a stone into the sea, and therefrom a world was made. As it is written (Job 38:6), ‘Upon what are her foundation-pillars placed at rest? or who threw her corner-stone?’”
Talmud, Yoma 5:2