Tour Showcases Remains of Herod’s Jerusalem Palace—Possible Site of the Trial of Jesus

Bible and archaeology news

This Bible History Daily article was originally published in 2015. It has been updated.—Ed.


 
herod-jerusalem-palace

Visitors can see remains of King Herod’s palace in Jerusalem, where the trial of Jesus may have occurred. Photo: Courtesy Tower of David Museum.

Visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City can explore remains of King Herod’s palace, which may be where Roman governor Pontius Pilate tried and condemned Jesus of Nazareth to death. Excavating from 1999–2000 underneath an abandoned Ottoman-period prison known as the Kishle—which is part of the so-called Tower of David complex—Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Amit Re’em uncovered the foundation walls and sewage system of Herod’s Jerusalem palace. Tours offered through the Tower of David Museum will showcase these finds.

Although the discovery of the remains of Herod’s Jerusalem palace has recently made headlines, the finds are not surprising, according to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill archaeologist Jodi Magness.

“We have other remains of the substructure of Herod’s palace, and its identification as the praetorium [the Roman governor’s residence and headquarters] is not new, either,” Magness told Bible History Daily.

Herod’s Palace in Jerusalem

Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Herod’s Jerusalem palace complex, begun in the last quarter of the first century B.C.E., comprised a palace with two wings divided by pools and gardens and was protected by three large towers on the northwestern corner of the precinct. Excavations undertaken by different archaeological teams since the 1960s uncovered various remains of the palace substructure, but almost none of the superstructure has survived. In The World of Jesus and the Early Church, edited by Craig A. Evans (Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), archaeologist Shimon Gibson, Senior Associate Fellow at the Albright Institute, summarizes the archaeological evidence of Herod’s palace complex in Jerusalem.1

If evidence of Herod’s Jerusalem palace has long been known, why is it in the news now? Media attention, which has focused on Herod’s palace as the possible location of the trial of Jesus, has coincided with the Tower of David Museum’s opening of the site for tours. The preparation of the site, The Washington Post reports, was delayed by wars and a lack of funding.
 


 
Jerusalem lies at the heart of Biblical archaeology. In the free eBook Jerusalem Archaeology: Exposing the Biblical City, learn about the latest finds in the Biblical world’s most vibrant city.
 

 

Where Was the Trial of Jesus?

tower-of-david-jerusalem

Excavations conducted under and in the vicinity of the Tower of David complex have uncovered evidence of Herod’s palace. Photo: Wayne McLean/CC BY 2.0.

Tradition dating back to the medieval period places the praetorium—where the trial of Jesus was held, according to the Gospels2—in the Antonia Fortress in the northeastern part of the Old City. The Antonia Fortress, however, would have been too small to be the residence and headquarters of the governor; its main purpose, furthermore, was to serve as a military observation tower. Scholarly consensus today associates the praetorium with Herod’s palace on the western side of the city.3

“Herod’s palace was not a building—it was a compound,” Shimon Gibson told Bible History Daily. “The compound was ideal for Roman governors.”

In The World of Jesus, Gibson explains why it’s likely the praetorium was located in Herod’s palace complex:

[T]here can be no doubt that on the occasions when [Pilate] stayed in Jerusalem, particularly during the Jewish festivities, he took up residence at Herod’s old palace situated on the west side of the city, also known as the praetorium. The word praetorium might refer to a palace or a judicial military seat, but it is likely that in Jerusalem it referred to the entire palace compound, which on the north included palatial buildings used for residential purposes and on the south, military barracks.4

For Christian pilgrims, the identification of the praetorium with Herod’s palace might throw off the route taken for centuries to retrace Jesus’ steps from his trial to his crucifixion. Called the Via Dolorosa, or “Way of Sorrows,” the road begins at the Antonia Fortress and ends at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, punctuated in between with seven other stations commemorating events that occurred on Jesus’ way to his crucifixion at Golgotha.

Although the path of the Via Dolorosa has long been venerated, Tower of David Museum director Eilat Lieber told The Washington Post that she hopes Christians will eventually make Herod’s palace complex near Jaffa Gate a standard destination.
 


 
This Bible History Daily article was originally published on January 8, 2015.
 

 

Notes:

1. Shimon Gibson, “The Trial of Jesus at the Jerusalem Praetorium: New Archaeological Evidence,” in Craig A. Evans, ed., The World of Jesus and the Early Church (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), pp. 97–118. See also Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence (New York: HarperOne, 2009).

2. Mark 15:16; Matthew 27:27; John 18:28.

3. Jodi Magness, The Archaeology of the Holy Land (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2012), pp. 158–159.

4. Gibson, “The Trial of Jesus,” p. 104.
 


 

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

On What Day Did Jesus Rise?

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible
Lawrence Mykytiuk’s full article from the January/February 2015 issue of BAR with voluminous endnotes.

That Other “King of the Jews”
James Tabor on Jesus’ Davidic Lineage and Dynasty.

Has the Childhood Home of Jesus Been Found?
The childhood home of Jesus may have been found underneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent in Nazareth, Israel, according to archaeologist Ken Dark.
 


 

Related reading in the BAS Library:

Ehud Netzer, “A New Reconstruction of Paul’s Prison: Herod’s Antonia fortress,” Biblical Archaeology Review, January/February 2009.

Stephen J. Patterson, “The Dark Side of Pilate,” Bible Review, December 2003.

Thomas Schmidt, “Jesus’ Triumphal March to Crucifixion,” Bible Review, February 1997.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, “The Geography of Faith: Tracing the Via Dolorosa,” Bible Review, December 1996.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.
 


 

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  1. Stephen says

    All that is left is a small fraction of the whole palace that Josephus described. Hundreds of thousands had seen it, no one objected to his report. A simplified model is at the Holyland Hotel in Jerusalem.
    http://www.bible-history.com/jerusalem/firstcenturyjerusalem_herod_s_palace.html
    The Wikipedia article is a good summary including the text from Josephus
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herod%27s_Palace_(Jerusalem)
    The footprint of the Palace is a close match to the Armenian Cemetery and has never been excavated. There is so much more to learn.

  2. Kurt says

    ANTONIA, TOWER OF
    According to Josephus, the fortress was built on a rocky eminence 50 cubits (c. 22 m; 73 ft) high. Above the rock, it had stone walls 40 cubits (c. 18 m; 58 ft) high and four corner towers, three of them 50 cubits (c. 22 m; 73 ft) high and the other, at the southeast corner overlooking the whole temple area, 70 cubits (c. 31 m; 102 ft) high. (The Jewish War, V, 238-247 [v, 8]) Prior to Herod’s time the fortress served primarily against incursions from the N, but thereafter it mainly served as a point of control over the Jews and a means of policing the activities in the temple area, to which there was direct access from the fortress.
    The square layout of the fortress would indicate that it had a central court. Some believe that it was in such a central court within this tower that Jesus appeared before Pilate for judgment. (Joh 19:13) They suggest that a stone pavement found in this area was the one referred to as “Gabbatha.” Others, however, believe that Jesus’ judgment by Pilate took place before Herod’s palace.

    GOVERNOR’S PALACE
    The Greek term prai·to′ri·on (from Lat., praetorium) designates the official residence of the Roman governors. In the governor’s palace at Jerusalem, Pontius Pilate questioned Christ Jesus, and in its courtyard, Roman soldiers mocked him. (Mr 15:16; Joh 18:28, 33; 19:9) Some have identified the governor’s palace with the Tower of Antonia, but others suggest that it was probably the palace built by Herod the Great. The following reasons have been presented in support of the latter view: (1) According to the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo (The Embassy to Gaius, XXXIX, 306), Herod’s palace was called “the house of the governors,” and it was there that Governor Pilate hung shields in honor of Tiberius Caesar. (2) The Jewish historian Josephus reports that the procurator Gessius Florus took up his quarters there. (The Jewish War, II, 301 [xiv, 8]) (3) Herod’s palace in Caesarea served as the governor’s palace in that city.—Ac 23:33-35.
    The palace of Herod at Jerusalem was situated in the NW corner of the upper city, that is, of the southern part of the city. According to Josephus’ description, it was surrounded by a 30-cubit-high (13 m; 44 ft) wall equipped with evenly spaced towers. Within the walls there were porticoes, courts, and groves of trees. The rooms were luxuriously furnished with gold, silver, and marble objects. There were bedchambers for a hundred guests.—Jewish Antiquities, XV, 318 (ix, 3); The Jewish War, V, 173-182 (iv, 4).
    In the Gospels and Acts, the Latinism prai·to′ri·on is used with regard to a palace or residence. The tent of an army commander had been known as praetorium, and so, in time, the term was applied to the residence of a provincial governor. Thus Pilate interrogated Jesus in the praetorium, or “governor’s palace.” (Joh 18:28, 33; 19:9) Evidently there, judgments were rendered and troops were barracked. (Mt 27:27; Mr 15:16)

    STONE PAVEMENT
    A paved place at Jerusalem where Roman Governor Pontius Pilate sat on the judgment seat when Jesus Christ was before him for trial. (Joh 19:13) The site was called, in Hebrew, “Gabbatha,” a word of uncertain derivation and possibly meaning “hill,” “height,” or “open space.” The Greek name for it, Li·tho′stro·ton (Stone Pavement), may indicate a tessellated pavement, one of ornamental mosaic work.
    “The Stone Pavement” where Jesus appeared before Pilate was in some way associated with “the governor’s palace.” (Joh 19:1-13) It may have been an open area in front of the palace of Herod the Great; some scholars favor identification with a site near or a central court within the Tower of Antonia, NW of the temple grounds. But the exact site of The Stone Pavement remains unknown.
    http://wol.jw.org/en/wol/d/r1/lp-e/1200274476

  3. Félix says

    Some scholars usually neglect the information on the New Testament itself. One strong biblical reason for Pilatos not staying on Herod’s palace was that he and Antipas – Herod’s son – were enemies until that date (see Lk 23,12). Although Pilatos had a powerful position, Antipas influence and right over the palace could not be so easily underestimate.

  4. Stephen Ray says

    I would believe that the proetorium would be located in Fort Antonia and perhaps lavish Roman tiles like the ones that they discovered on the so called temple mount were part of the lavish furnishings of the building. I believe the whole thing called the temple mount IS Fort Antonia, where Jesus was tried, perhaps, on the very rock that is enshrouded by a mosque. It is already said that such stones are found in many Herodian structures elsewhere, and it did not have to be found in the temple. Only the presupposition that the temple was in the enclosure that is now so contested would make folk think such stones were from the temple. Now I am not sure at this moment (concerning the rock) that the stones were found from excavations over the Solomon Stables and how close that is to the Dome of the Rock to say Jesus was tried while standing on the rock. But I believe the temple mount is that small rise between the Enclosure I am calling Fort Antonia (now the so called temple mount) and the old city of David, and happily so if the Jews can quickly and silently acquiesce that area, maybe even cheaply and build some future temple there to their hearts delight.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Bible Evidence | Sister Sarah linked to this post on January 9, 2015

    […] Tour Showcases Remains of Herod’s Palace: “Visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City can now explore remains of King Herod’s palace, which may be where Roman governor Pontius Pilate tried and condemned Jesus of Nazareth to death. Excavating from 1999–2000 underneath an abandoned Ottoman-period prison known as the Kishle—which is part of the so-called Tower of David complex—Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologist Amit Re’em uncovered the foundation walls and sewage system of Herod’s Jerusalem palace. Tours offered through the Tower of David Museum will showcase these finds.” READ MORE […]

  2. Paul Revere News Sunday Edition: January 11th, 2015 | paulreverenews.com linked to this post on January 11, 2015

    […] Christian Archaeology: Tour Showcases Remains Of Herod’s Jerusalem Palace, Possible Site Of The Tr… […]

  3. Pałac Heroda w Jerozolimie odnaleziony? | Porozumienie na rzecz badań nad starożytnym Izraelem, Bliskim Wschodem i jego dziedzictwem linked to this post on January 19, 2015

    […] Jakiś czas temu media obiegła informacja o odnalezieniu w Jerozolimie pałacu Heroda, w którym odbywać się mógł proces Jezusa. Nie wiemy co się tam odbyło, ale znalezisko z pewnością jest znaczące. Oto link do testu w BAR. […]


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