The Location of Jesus' Trial Before Pilate Found?
"Then they led Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover." ~ John 18:28
The Gospel of John reflects that Jesus was taken before Pilate at the Praetorium. Now, Praetorium isn't a word that we use regularly in the 21st Century, so it is a word that needs to be defined. The International Bible Encyclopedia defines Praetorium as follows:
Praetorium: pre-to'-ri-um praitorion, Mt 27:27 (the King James Version "common hall"); Mr 15:16; Joh 18:28,33; 19:9 (in all margins "palace," and in the last three the King James Version "judgment hall"); Ac 23:35, (Herod's) "palace," margin "Praetorium," the King James Version "judgment hall"; Php 1:13, "praetorian guard" (margin "Greek ‘in the whole Pretorium,' " the King James Version "palace," margin "Caesar's court"):
1. Governor's Official Residence: The Pretorium was originally the headquarters of a Roman camp, but in the provinces the name became attached to the governor's official residence. In order to provide residences for their provincial governors, the Romans were accustomed to seize and appropriate the palaces which were formerly the homes of the princes or kings in conquered countries. Such a residence might sometimes be in a royal palace, as was probably the case in Caesarea, where the procurator used Herod's palace (Ac 23:35).
2. In Gospels Herod's Palace: The Pretorium where Jesus was brought to trial has been traditionally located in the neighborhood of the present Turkish barracks where once stood the Antonia and where was stationed a large garrison (compare Ac 21:32-35), but the statements of Josephus make it almost certain that the headquarters of the procurator were at Herod's palace. This was a building whose magnificence Josephus can hardly sufficiently appraise (Wars, I, xxi, 1; V, iv, 4). It was in this palace that "Florus, the procurator took up his quarters, and having placed his tribunal in front of it, held his sessions and the chief priests, influential persons and notables of the city appeared before the tribunal" (Wars II, xiv, 8). Later on, "Florus.... brought such as were with him out of the king's palace, and would have compelled them to get as far as the citadel (Antonia); but his attempt failed" (II, xv, 5). The word translated "palace" here is aule, the same word as is translated "court" in Mr 15:16, "the soldiers led him away within the court (aule), which is the Pretorium." There is no need to suppose that Herod Antipas was in the same palace (Lu 23:4 ); it is more probable he went to the palace of the Hasmoneans which lay lower down on the eastern slope of this southwest hill, where at a later time Josephus expressly states that Herod Agrippa II and his sister Bernice were living (Wars, II, xvi, 3).
The palace of Herod occupied the highest part of the southwest hill near the northwest angle of the ancient city, now traditionally called Zion, and the actual site of the Pretorium cannot have been far removed from the Turkish barracks near the so-called "Tower of David." It is interesting to note that the two stations of the Turkish garrison of Jerusalem today occupy the same spots as did the Roman garrison of Christ's time. It is needless to point out how greatly this view of the situation of the Pretorium must modify the traditional claims of the "Via Dolorosa," the whole course of which depends on theory that the "Way of Sorrow" began at the Antonia, the Pretorium of late ecclesiastical tradition.
Since this definition relies, in part, upon the writings of Josephus, it seems appropriate to quote what Josephus said about Herod's Palace in The Jewish Wars.
The largeness also of the stones was wonderful; for they were not made of common small stones, nor of such large ones only as men could carry, but they were of white marble, cut out of the rock; each stone was twenty cubits in length, and ten in breadth, and five in depth. They were so exactly united to one another, that each tower looked like one entire rock of stone, so growing naturally, and afterward cut by the hand of the artificers into their present shape and corners; so little, or not at all, did their joints or connexion appear. low as these towers were themselves on the north side of the wall, the king had a palace inwardly thereto adjoined, which exceeds all my ability to describe it; for it was so very curious as to want no cost nor skill in its construction, but was entirely walled about to the height of thirty cubits, and was adorned with towers at equal distances, and with large bed-chambers, that would contain beds for a hundred guests a-piece, in which the variety of the stones is not to be expressed; for a large quantity of those that were rare of that kind was collected together. Their roofs were also wonderful, both for the length of the beams, and the splendor of their ornaments. The number of the rooms was also very great, and the variety of the figures that were about them was prodigious; their furniture was complete, and the greatest part of the vessels that were put in them was of silver and gold. There were besides many porticoes, one beyond another, round about, and in each of those porticoes curious pillars; yet were all the courts that were exposed to the air every where green. There were, moreover, several groves of trees, and long walks through them, with deep canals, and cisterns, that in several parts were filled with brazen statues, through which the water ran out. There were withal many dove-courts (11) of tame pigeons about the canals. But indeed it is not possible to give a complete description of these palaces; and the very remembrance of them is a torment to one, as putting one in mind what vastly rich buildings that fire which was kindled by the robbers hath consumed; for these were not burnt by the Romans, but by these internal plotters, as we have already related, in the beginning of their rebellion. That fire began at the tower of Antonia, and went on to the palaces, and consumed the upper parts of the three towers themselves.
As the International Bible Dictionary makes clear, it is very likely that Pontius Pilate, who Philo describes as a inflexible, merciless and obstinate, set up his Praetorium in Herod's Palace. (Confiscating part of the most beautiful building in the city as the Roman headquarters? Who would expect Pontius Pilate to do any less?) In fact, a later procurator, Gessius Florus (64 AD to 66 AD), is reported by Josephus as having done exactly that:
Now at this time Florus took up his quarters at the palace; and on the next day he had his tribunal set before it, and sat upon it, when the high priests, and the men of power, and those of the greatest eminence in the city, came all before that tribunal; upon which Florus commanded them to deliver up to him those that had reproached him, and told them that they should themselves partake of the vengeance to them belonging, if they did not produce the criminals; but these demonstrated that the people were peaceably disposed, and they begged forgiveness for those that had spoken amiss; for that it was no wonder at all that in so great a multitude there should be some more daring than they ought to be, and, by reason of their younger age, foolish also; and that it was impossible to distinguish those that offended from the rest, while every one was sorry for what he had done, and denied it out of fear of what would follow: that he ought, however, to provide for the peace of the nation, and to take such counsels as might preserve the city for the Romans, and rather for the sake of a great number of innocent people to forgive a few that were guilty, than for the sake of a few of the wicked to put so large and good a body of men into disorder.
Moreover, Philo, in his work A Treatise on the Virtues and on the Office of Ambassadors. Addressed to Gaius, makes reference to Pilate involving the Palace of King Herod. Paragraph 38 of this work states,
Pilate was one of the emperor's lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judaea. He, not more with the object of doing honour to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod, in the holy city; which had no form nor any other forbidden thing represented on them except some necessary inscription, which mentioned these two facts, the name of the person who had placed them there, and the person in whose honour they were so placed there.
Taken together, these external sources strongly suggest that Pontius Pilate set up his headquarters (his Praetorium) in the sprawling grounds of King Herod's Palace in Jerusalem. It is important to note that the tower that rises above these ruins has erroneously been identified as "King David's Tower" even though the tower is part of King Herod's palace and had no ties to King David's palace.
So, yesterday, there was an article published in the Washington Post entitled "Archaeologists Find Possible Site of Jesus' Trial in Jerusalem" by Ruth Eglas. According to the story, the site of King Herod's palace presently hosts a museum known as the Tower of David Museum. In the act of expanding the museum, the archaeologists began to peel away at the floor of an unused building adjacent to the presently existing museum and discovered something remarkable: "the suspected remains of the palace where one of the more famous scenes of the New Testament may have taken place — the trial of Jesus."
While the article contains little detail of why the site is believed to be the site for Jesus' trial, the article closes with the following:
For Shimon Gibson, an archaeology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, there is little doubt that the trial occurred somewhere within Herod’s palace compound. In the Gospel of John, the trial is described as taking place near a gate and on a bumpy stone pavement — details that fit with previous archaeological findings near the prison, he said. "There is, of course, no inscription stating it happened here, but everything — archaeological, historical and gospel accounts — all falls into place and makes sense," Gibson said. The Rev. David Pileggi, minister of Christ Church, an Anglican congregation whose complex includes a guesthouse and heritage center near the museum, said the discovery inside the prison confirmed "what everyone expected all along, that the trial took place near the Tower of David."
I personally would like to see more of what exactly was found that would alert the archaeologists to believe that this was the place that actually served as the location of Jesus' trial. But based upon what I know of history and archaeology of the ancient city, this does appear promising.