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Archaeologists Believe They’ve Found Site of Jesus’ Trial

Trial of Christ painting

Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

John Burger - published on 01/04/15

Museum now offering tours of place where Pilate questioned Christ.

Whether archaeologists and scholars will ever agree on the location of the actual room where Jesus was held in the final hours before his crucifixion remains to be seen, researchers may be closer than ever to the actual sites associated with his trial.

So says a Catholic University of America scripture scholar, reacting to a report that archaeologists have found a possible site of Jesus’ trial in Jerusalem.

“I would agree with most scholars that it is quite likely, though not definite, that the area they are excavating is where Jesus’ trial before Pilate would have taken place,” said Robert D. Miller, associate professor of Old Testament at Catholic University. “The place currently venerated as the first Station of the Cross — the Franciscan Convent of the Flagellation which was the Roman fortress Antonia  is most certainly not where Jesus was tried, and most scholars place the Praetorium of Pilate just where the ‘Tower of David’ is. The remains they are excavating now would be the walls and floors of the Praetorium itself, then.”

According to an article in the Washington Post today, plans to expand the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City 15 years ago got sidetracked when archaeologists started peeling away layers under the floor in an old abandoned building adjacent to the museum.

“They knew it had been used as a prison when the Ottoman Turks and then the British ruled these parts. But, as they carefully dug down, they eventually uncovered something extraordinary: 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,” wrote Ruth Eglash in the article.

Wars and a lack of funds postponed the digging, but the museum is already beginning to give tours of the find.

Reference to Scripture supported the theory that what they were finding was the site of the trial. Since the 13th Century, the starting point of the Via Dolorosa has been the Antonia Fortress, the site of a former Roman military barracks, which sits beneath a school close to the al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock. The article explains:

The debate over the site of the trial continues among Christian spiritual leaders, historians and archaeologists.

Questions about the location stem from various interpretations of the Gospels, which describe how Jesus of Nazareth was brought before Pilate in the “praetorium,” a Latin term for a general’s tent within a Roman encampment. Some say Pilate’s praetorium would have been in the military barracks, others say the Roman general would probably have been a guest in the palace built by Herod.

Today, historians and archaeologists are certain that Herod’s palace was on the city’s western side, where the Tower of David Museum and the Ottoman-era prison stand.

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.

I would say that in general we lack certainty about the site of the original trial," said Father 
Patrick J. Brady, dean of the School of Permanent Diaconate Formation at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. "
There is a lack of certainty about whether the trial would have taken place in the military barracks or at the palace of Herod. The late [Dominican scholar] Jerome Murphy O’Connor and scholars at the
 Ecole Biblique
 [in Jerusalem] always challenged the the route that was used for the way of the cross in Jerusalem (of course he liked controversy). Unfortunately, money also plays a part. people do gain and lose if they can lay claim to a tourist site. 
"Unlike scholars of the mid twentieth century," Father Brady continued, "there is a greater openness to the historicity of John’s Gospel which adds to our historical data. The description in John’s Gospel seems to support some of the claims of the new site."

John Burger is news editor for Aleteia’s English edition.

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