The exact location where Jesus Christ was sentenced to death has remained a mystery for thousands of years.
Many Christians place the trial near Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
But – with the discovery of an ancient palace near Mount Zion – some experts are beginning to rethink long-held theories.
When Israeli archaeologists began to excavate The Kishle prison in Jerusalem’s Old City in 1999, they were unaware of what they were about to find.
Little did they know, the ground of this Ottoman-era jail hid the remains of Herod’s palace – a Jewish monarch who ruled Jerusalem and the Holy Land two millennia ago.
Jerusalem’s successive Turkish, British and Jordanian rulers stationed garrisons here at The Kishle before the Israeli conquest of Jerusalem in 1967.
One part of The Kishle is now a police station, where Israeli officers manage the volatile religious and ethnic brew that is now Jerusalem’s Old City.
In another part of the jail, experts from Israel’s Antiquities Authority found a surprise.
While excavating there in 1999, they uncovered the retaining walls of a palace which they say was built by Herod the Great.
Excavation at The Kishle ended in 2000, with the location remaining sealed.
Now, the Tower of David – an ancient fortress to whose compound the Kishle belongs – plans to open it to the public in June and eventually transform it into a visitor centre.
Amit Re’em is an archaeologist for Israel’s Antiquities Authority and was part of the team that excavated The Kishle.
He vividly remembers the moment it became clear the massive structure at the bottom of the prison couldn’t be anything else but the foundations of Herod’s palace.
Israeli archaeologists found two parallel walls, a sophisticated sewage system, coins and ceramics dating back to that period.
The two retaining walls included rectangular-shaped cut blocks – or ‘ashlar’ stones as they’re known – which correspond to a description given by Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.
Re’em is convinced only someone like Herod, could order the construction of such a structure.
“The archaeological remains that we found in the excavation points to that this ground is the actual palace of Herod the Great,” he says.
“We have the retaining walls, it was a massive engineering project, and we see it in the excavation. We even found an enormous underground sewage that could only belong to the palace of Herod.”
Herod the Great – who died in 4BC and was succeeded by his son Herod Antipas – was vilified in the New Testament as a bloodthirsty tyrant who massacred Bethlehem’s male children to prevent the prophesised birth of Jesus.
Perhaps it was at this palace near the Old City’s Mount Zion that the trial of Jesus occurred.
“Where exactly the sentence of Jesus took place there are two major candidates,” says Re’em.
“First is the Antonia barracks fortress in the north-western corner of the Temple Mount and the other is the palace of Herod. Now, when we excavated the foundations of Herod’s palace it made this description of the Bible more vivid.”
The theory that the trial of Jesus took place in Herod’s palace is also supported by some Christian historians
It’s based on the idea that Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator who according to the Bible sentenced Jesus, lived inside the palace.
In Flavius Josephus’ account, Roman procurators lived in King Herod’s palace, meaning Pilate may have stayed there as well.
“After Herod’s death, a few decades longer ahead, the Roman procurator, the Roman government sit probably, maybe, sat inside the palace,” says Re’em.
“This was his palace, his room, so we know that Jesus was sentenced in the palace of the procurator, So maybe, again, this event was here.”
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