Possible Site of Jesus’ Trial Uncovered in Jerusalem

Archaeologists say that a recent excavation within the area once encompassed by Herod’s palace may have uncovered the site.

The Tower of David in Jerusalem
The Tower of David in Jerusalem (photo: Wikipedia)

WASHINGTON — Archeologists believe they may have discovered the place where Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate took place in Jerusalem.

In an effort to expand the Tower of David Museum, archeologists began excavating an adjacent, abandoned prison building, The Washington Post reports. As they stripped away layers of the prison floor, they realized they were likely uncovering a missing link in the puzzle of the Holy Land’s history.

Although the discovery began over a decade ago, the site is just now being opened to the public for the millions of religious pilgrims who flock to the area every year.

“For those Christians who care about accuracy in regards to historical facts, this is very forceful,” Yisca Harani, an expert on Christianity and pilgrimage to the Holy Land, told the Post. “For others, however, those who come for the general mental exercise of being in Jerusalem, they don’t care as long as [their journey] ends in Golgotha — the site of the Crucifixion.”

Most Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land walk the path of the Stations of the Cross, known as the Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Sorrows”), which currently does not include the Tower of David Museum or the trial site. Although it may not be added to the path right away, museum workers hope it becomes a standard stop for visiting Christians.

Scholars and theologians cannot say with certainty whether this site is where the trial took place, but it seems to check out in many ways. According to the Gospels, Jesus was tried before Pilate in the “praetorium,” a Latin term for a general’s tent within a Roman encampment. Some believe this praetorium instead would be on the site of the former Roman military barracks.

But others, such as archaeology professor Shimon Gibson with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, are almost certain the trial would have occurred somewhere within Herod’s palace compound, located in the western part of the city, which is where the museum and the abandoned prison are located.

The new site also fits a detail in the Gospel of John, which describes the trial as taking place on The Pavement, or in Hebrew, Gab’batha (John 19:13), as well as a description in Mark 15:16, which describes Jesus as being led away inside the palace.

“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 told The Washington Post.

The Rev. David Pileggi, minister of Christ Church, an Anglican congregation near the museum, told the publication that the discovery fits “what everyone expected all along, that the trial took place near the Tower of David.”