Rethinking the Via Dolorosa

This one’s interesting to me because it touches on something I’ve wondered about for years … the assumption that the Praetorium mentioned in the Gospels as the location of Pilate’s trial of Jesus (and, therefore, the starting point for the via Dolorosa) is to be identified with the Antonia Fortress. In a forthcoming study called The Final Days of Jesus, Shimon Gibson is suggesting otherwise. Cobbling together bits from various news reports, we begin with something from the Daily Mail:

Since medieval times, Christians have assumed that the Praetorium, the starting point of the route and the Roman headquarters mentioned in the Gospels as the scene of Jesus’s trial, was the Antonia Fortress which stood in the north of Jerusalem.

But Professor Gibson said there was ‘no historical basis whatsoever’ for this being the site where Jesus was tried and condemned to death by the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.

Little of the fortress’s structure has survived but, having surveyed the remains of its rock-cut base in intricate detail, he concludes that it could not have been more than a military observation tower.

He said archaeological excavations pointed to the site of the trial being 900 metres away at the remains of a large paved courtyard south-west of Jerusalem, south of the Jaffa Gate.

It was situated between two fortification walls with an outer gate and an inner one leading to barracks where it is most likely that Jesus was held.

The open courtyard contained a platform of around two square metres – details that ‘correspond perfectly’ with the Gospel of John’s account of Pontius Pilate sitting on a judgment-seat at an elevated place.

From the Telegraph:

“When we measured the remains of the Antonia Fortress, we found it was so small it could have been no bigger than a tower.”

He thought it more likely that Pontius Pilate’s Praetorium was elsewhere: “With Pontius Pilate being a governor used to palatial surroundings, he would have got use of the old palace of Herod the Great, which was enormous.”

CNN’s coverage (which also has a video report/interview) includes these quotes from Gibson:

“You have a courtyard and a pavement and a rocky outcrop on one side … In the Gospel of John, you have a description of the trial taking place at the Lithostratus, Greek for pavement, at a place called Gabata, which is the word for an ancient hillock or a rocky outcrop, and this is what we have here.”

Of course, changing the location of the Praetorium will have implications on the Via Dolorosa … The Daily Mail has a good graphic of same:

from the Daily Mail
from the Daily Mail

… for my part, I still find the proximity of Golgotha and the tomb a little too ‘convenient’/close.

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