A Night of Trials and Hearings, Continued
Early morning, Friday, April 3, 33 AD


"Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' Jesus said to him, 'You have said so'" (Matthew 27:11 - RSV).

The "Via Dolorosa," the Way of Sorrow, traces the last steps of Jesus, from where he was tried and condemned before Pontius Pilate, to Golgotha, where he was crucified and buried. Every day countless pilgrims walk the famed route, identifying with Jesus' suffering while stopping at 14 Stations of the Cross, each commemorating some incident in the Passion. There is, however, no historical basis for the route, which has changed several times over the centuries.

The name Via Dolorosa did not come into use until the 16th century AD and originally there were only seven stations. But, in the late Middle Ages, under the influence of the Franciscans, the "Way of the Cross" was introduced into western churches in the form of devotional places in the church nave, or outdoors by a wayside, before which prayers were said. European pilgrims coming to Jerusalem naturally expected to see the same arrangement of fourteen stations as in their churches back home, therefore the Via Dolorosa in the Holy City was made to conform! The present route, with the last five stations inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, was devised in the 18th century AD, but four of the stations were not fixed until the 19th century AD.

Today's Via Dolorosa begins in the courtyard of the al-Omariyyah Madrasah (school for Islamic studies), a former army barracks built on the site of the Antonia Fortress (destroyed by Titus in 70 AD), which was designated early on as the Jerusalem residence of the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate. From there the devotional route heads west, passing through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City on its way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter. The route is crammed with shops and stands selling a wide assortment of kitsch to please almost any tourist/pilgrim seeking personal reminders of his or her walk in Jesus' footsteps to the cross: painted-velvet Pietas, Jerusalem T-shirts (two for $10; a bargain compared to prices back home), postcards, posters, Menorahs, Armenian ceramics, rosaries, kaffiyehs (Arab headresses in both red Arab and black Palestinian patterns), spices, street-food like humus (at Abu Shukri, close by the 5th Station of the Cross), falafel (fried chickpea balls) and sticky-sweet baklava, silver and gold "Jerusalem Crosses" (at Djani's Orient Bazaar, along Souk al-Dabbagha street, opposite the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer) and, of course, olive-wood crosses.

(Above left) Shops along the Via Dolorosa; (above right) along the Via Dolorosa, by the 4th Station of the Cross.

Tucked amongst all this hawking and hustling for euros, yens and "dollahs" are small chapels that geographically fix incidents recorded in the Passion narratives (and some that aren't). A small Franciscan chapel marks the place where Simon of Cyrene was conscripted to carry Jesus' crossbeam (below left, Station 5), and an ancient archway spanning the road was chosen centuries ago as the place where Pilate spoke to the crowd Ecce homo! "Here is the man!" (below right). Never mind that the arch was long ago proven to date some hundred years after the time of Jesus or that the present street level is several feet higher than in the 1st century AD. If millions of people, day after day, year after year, century after century, have embraced this route and hollowed it with their prayers and devotions, who can contradict it by scholarship and rational reasoning?


In the footsteps of Jesus...

In answer to the above question: sometimes it is necessary, just to separate the truth from all the imbedded pious fiction that has come to be associated with the "Way of the Cross." This day, therefore, rather than follow the traditional Via Dolorosa, we have challenged ourselves to trace, as much as the present topography of the Old City allows, the more authentic route of Jesus from his condemnation to his crucifixion. As we do so, we must be mindful of the fact that the archaeological layer related to the time of Jesus lies from 7 to 13 feet below present street level which rests on several layers of debris from twenty centuries of destruction and rebuilding. Furthermore, we will ignore the non-biblical, mythological stations that have come to be associated with the official way of the cross (i.e. Station 4 - Jesus meets his mother Mary and Station 6 - a woman named Veronica wipes Jesus' face neither mentioned in the gospels, although Mary witnessed her son's death).

The authentic Way of the Cross

To begin, a reading from John's Gospel of what happened after the Sanhedrin found Jesus guilty of the serious charge (according to Jewish law) of blasphemy:

"Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor. By now it was early morning, and to avoid ceremonial uncleanness the Jews did not enter the palace; they wanted to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate came out to them and asked, 'What charges are you bringing against this man?' 'If he were not a criminal,' they replied, 'we would not have handed him over to you.' Pilate said, 'Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.' 'But we have no right to execute anyone,' the Jews objected Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, 'Are you the king of the Jews?' 'Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, 'or did others talk to you about me?' 'Am I a Jew?' Pilate replied. 'It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?' Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.' 'You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, 'You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.' 'What is truth?' Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him.'" (John 18:28-38)

John has more to say about the trial before Pilate because he may have been in Pilate's official residence during the proceedings!

The man who heard these charges was the Roman prefect, Pontius Pilate, who ruled over Judea, Idumea, and Samaria. Pilate was appointed by the emperor Tiberius and took office in 26 AD, about the time John the Baptist began his ministry; he remained in office for ten years. Although his primary duty was that of financial administration and collection of taxes for the Roman Empire, he had the added responsibility of approving and carrying out the execution of anyone sentenced to death by the people's own government in this case the Sanhedrin.

Pontius Pilate

Just who was this man Pontius Pilate whose name we speak every Sunday: " Crucified under Pontius Pilate " " suffered under Pontius Pilate "? These familiar words from the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds record an event that is one of the cornerstones of the Christian faith. It is also a historical event, and Pontius Pilate was not a fictional character invented by the gospel authors. The Roman historian, Tacitus, writing of early Christians, said that "Christ, the originator of their name, had been condemned to death by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius" (Annals 15-44).

The most dramatic evidence of this man's existence came in 1961: a two-by-three-foot stone (right) honoring emperor Tiberius found at the theater in Caesarea, the Mediterranean port that served as the Roman capital of Palestine at the time of Jesus. It was inscribed with a three-line Latin inscription, the left part of which had been chipped away. Most of the fourth line is missing, but a possible reconstruction reads:



It translates: "Pontius Pilatus, prefect of Judea, gave and dedicated a temple of Tiberius." (Note the letters "IVSPILATVS" in the second line). Originally it had been placed in a temple dedicated to the Roman emperor Tiberius (successor to Augustus) by Pontius Pilate, the fifth Roman prefect (his proper title) of Judea. The terms 'prefect' and 'procurator' are used interchangeably and improperly in many modern historical accounts when referring to Pilate and his predecessors, but the later term was not applied to the Roman military governors until the rule of the emperor Claudius (41 to 54 AD). In the 2nd century AD the Caesarea theater was partially rebuilt and this stone was removed from the Tiberius temple and reused in the theater's steps. The actual stone is now in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, but a replica, shown above, is kept near the restored theater at Caesarea for the benefit of visitors. It is one of the few pieces of extra-biblical evidence of the life of a man whose name is repeated each Sunday when we recite the Apostles Creed: "... suffered under Pontius Pilate."

Pontius Pilate lived in Caesarea, a plush seaside pagan city with plenty of pagan altars. All the stuff he wanted. He only journeyed to Jerusalem at times of potential unrest, like the Passover, when the city was most crowded. It was required that he be there to control the crowds until the holiday was over and by the time he arrived he was in a bad mood.

Pilate's name provides us with two hints as to his background and ancestry. His family name, Pontius, is derived from the Pontii, a prominent clan among the Samnites, mountain men from Samnium in the Apennine Mountains southeast of Rome. The Samnites fought the Romans for years and almost conquered Rome in several wars, but were defeated in 290 BC. Although the Pontii were of noble birth, they were demoted to the Equestrian order, the Roman middle-class, when Rome finally absorbed the Samnites.

Pilate's personal name, Pilatus, means "skilled with a javelin." The javelin or pilum was five feet of wooden handle and two feet of pointed iron shaft. It was hurled by Samnite warriors at their enemies with devastating effect. When the point, which was soft and untempered, stuck in a shield, the shaft would bend and hang down, making it impossible for an enemy to throw back. The Romans copied the weapon, and it was the pilum that, in fact, made the Roman Empire possible.

Pilate was born a few years before Jesus. What did he look like? Only two things can be said for certain about his appearance: according to imperial fashion of the day, he was short-haired and clean-shaven. Each morning, after a cursory breakfast of bread and water, he would submit himself to a barber or tonsor. When Jesus was brought before him in the early morning hours of that Friday in April, he was probably still hurting from his morning shave.

Pilate held office from 26 to 36 BC, second in length of tenure only to his predecessor, Valerius Gratus, who served eleven years, contradicting the normal impression that he was incompetent. His administration, however, was described in a character sketch by 1st century AD author Philo of Alexandria:

He was "naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and relentlessness," given to "briberies, insults, robberies, outrages and wanton injuries, executions without trial constantly repeated, ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty" (Embassy 301-302).

Some allowance should be made for Philo's bias, as he was writing for the benefit of the emperor Claudius and was clearly endorsing the later kingship of Herod Agrippa I who he wished to portray in the best possible light against previous Roman prefects.

In the PBS documentary, "From Jesus to Christ," Pilate is described as a "thug." He also had a reputation as a corrupt man with sticky fingers. He was known for executing untried prisoners, for venality and theft... not somebody you'd want to get on the wrong side of. Up to 31 AD he was supported by Sejanus, the anti-Semitic commander of the Praetorian Guard in Rome, who wielded great authority after 26 AD, when Tiberius retired from active governing to the island of Capri. In all fairness, Judea proved a difficult province to govern and tensions had been rising among the Jewish people during the rule of Pilate's predecessor, made worse by bad government. Also, the first five years of Pilate's reign, he had no one on hand to advise or restrain him. He had some 4,000 men at his command. Only his senior officers (and perhaps not all) were Romans and they seemed more anti-Jewish then he himself; in Caesarea they sometimes amused themselves by insulting the local Jews and throwing stones at them. The Romans were present in Judea simply to collect taxes and maintain the Pax Romana ("Roman Peace").

Aside from his familiar role on Good Friday, both Josephus and Philo recorded a number of incidents involving Pilate, and they show that he was neither able nor fair-minded, and that he was, in fact, devious, anti-semitic and brutal.

Pilate's first serious clash with the Jews took place in his very first year in office when his troops marched into Jerusalem at night with their regimental standards bearing medallions with the emperor's image (imperatorum imagines). Pilate made this move under cover of darkness as it went contrary to the policy of his predecessors who had refrained from introducing such images into the city out of deference to the religious beliefs of the Jews. Because the emperor was worshiped as a god, the medallions were seen as engraved images, expressly forbidden by Jewish law (Exodus 20:4-5). Pilate's callous action provoked a demonstration by large crowd of Jews at his residence in Caesarea. Only after a strenuous diplomatic effort and a confrontation in the stadium there did Pilate relent and have the offensive images removed.

Josephus' description of this incident:

"So he introduced Caesar's effigies, which were upon the ensigns, and brought them into the city; whereas our law forbids us the very making of images; on which account the former procurators were wont to make their entry into the city with such ensigns as had not those ornaments. Pilate was the first who brought those images to Jerusalem, and set them up there; which was done without the knowledge of the people, because it was done in the night time" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 3:1).

Later, Pilate built an aqueduct to carry water to Jerusalem from three large rectangular cisterns called "Solomon's Pools" located just south of Bethlehem. His intent was to improve the city's water supply. But even this action led to trouble between the prefect and the Jewish authorities. No Jerusalem institution benefited more from the increased water-supply as the Temple did, and Pilate thought he was fully justified in demanding funds from the Temple treasury. Jewish law permitted the use of surplus funds from the mandatory annual Temple tax for civic projects, but Gentiles were not permitted to enter the inner Temple courts where the treasury was kept. Since the aqueduct fed cisterns below the Temple, construction had to be approved by religious authorities. The leadership probably gave Pilate the funds, while warning him that the people might protest the use of monies they saw as pledged to God, which is exactly what happened. This time, however, Pilate did not relent. He had his soldiers circulate among the people disguised in civilian clothes, killing or wounding many of them. He proceeded with construction leaving himself the cruel victor.

Again, from the writings of Josephus:

"But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 3:2).

Pilate exhibited this same disregard for Jewish sensibilities in his policy of minting coins decorated with symbols connected with pagan worship. This matter is clear testimony to his personality and invalidates any recent attempts to whitewash him.

Yet another act of violence involving Pontius Pilate is referred to in Luke 13:1, where he was said to have mixed the blood of certain "Galileans with that of their animal sacrifices." This incident is not reference in sources outside the Bible, but we can safely assume it took place during one of the major festivals, such as Tabernacles, Passover or Pentecost, since they provided an opportunity for messianic or social demonstrations. The Galileans probably broke an important Roman regulation, which led to the their bloody punishment.

In 31 AD, Pilate placed some golden shields on the walls of his praetorium, or headquarters, in Jerusalem. They had no images, only dedicatory inscriptions to the emperor Tiberius and it was done to flatter the emperor and display his loyalty following the overthrow of Sejanus, the prefect of the Praetorian Guard, after an attempted coup. Nevertheless, all levels of Jewish society, including Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, united in protest against the act. Unlike the earlier incident with the standards, Pilate refused to remove them. Although the shields bore no images, they offended Jewish feelings because they mentioned a man who was honored as a god. The Jews sent a letter to the aged emperor living on the island of Capri who responded with his own letter in very nasty Latin ordering Pilate to remove the shields to a temple in Caesarea, the official Roman seat of government. Several months later, Pilate was asked to judge Jesus of Nazareth, and his incident is particularly important in understanding Pilate's conduct of the trial, as well as its final outcome.

Pilate's final act as prefect:

Anxious to avoid disturbances or riots by his subjects, Pilate saw himself bound to suppress all demonstrations. Three years after he condemned Jesus to death, an obscure prophet with Messianic pretensions promised the Samaritans that he would uncover some sacred Temple vessels believed to have been buried on Mount Gerizim (right, with buildings of modern Nablus) since the time of Moses. A host of Samaritans actually gathered to witness the event, but Pilate ordered his troops to block the route to the summit. In a pitched battle with the armed Samaritans, the Roman forces were victorious, and the uprising's leaders were executed. The Samaritans complained to Vitellius, the Roman legate in Syria, and Pilate's superior, who placed an otherwise unknown man named Marcellus in charge as acting prefect and ordered Pilate to Rome for a hearing before the emperor Tiberius.

The final outcome of the affair is unknown, because all information about Pilate ceases. The record of Flavius Josephus, our main source, ends with: "but before he could get to Rome Tiberius was dead." His successor, Gaius Calligula, probably quashed the case, as he did with most of those carried over from Tiberius' rule.

Flavius Josephus' record of this incident:

"But the nation of the Samaritans did not escape without tumults. The man who excited them to it was one who thought lying a thing of little consequence, and who contrived every thing so that the multitude might be pleased; so he bid them to get together upon Mount Gerizim, which is by them looked upon as the most holy of all mountains, and assured them, that when they were come thither, he would show them those sacred vessels which were laid under that place, because Moses put them there. So they came thither armed, and thought the discourse of the man probable; and as they abode at a certain village, which was called Tirathaba, they got the rest together to them, and desired to go up the mountain in a great multitude together; but Pilate prevented their going up, by seizing upon file roads with a great band of horsemen and foot-men, who fell upon those that were gotten together in the village; and when it came to an action, some of them they slew, and others of them they put to flight, and took a great many alive, the principal of which, and also the most potent of those that fled away, Pilate ordered to be slain.

"But when this tumult was appeased, the Samaritan senate sent an embassy to Vitellius, a man that had been consul, and who was now president of Syria, and accused Pilate of the murder of those that were killed; for that they did not go to Tirathaba in order to revolt from the Romans, but to escape the violence of Pilate. So Vitellius sent Marcellus, a friend of his, to take care of the affairs of Judea, and ordered Pilate to go to Rome, to answer before the emperor to the accusations of the Jews. So Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome, and this in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, which he durst not contradict; but before he could get to Rome Tiberius was dead" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 18, chapter 4:1-2).

Note: The same year (36 AD) he ordered Pilate to Rome to answer for his actions against the Samaritans, Vitelius remitted Jerusalem's taxes, restored the high priestly vestments to Jewish control and deposed Joseph Caiaphas, who had served as high priest during Pilate's entire tenure in office. One explanation for the long length Caiaphas held office 18 years (18-36 AD) is that he was a loyal alley to Pilate and knew how to act in complete accord with him. The two stood together but, in the end, they fell together. Vitelius was warmly received by the people when he came to the Passover celebration, so Josephus says, therefore his actions must have met with their approval.

Where did the fateful confrontation between the Jewish officials, Jesus and Pontius Pilate take place?

Since the early 4th century AD, there has been a nearly unbroken tradition that the Antonia Fortress, at the southwest corner of the Temple Mount, was the residence (praetorium) of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate while in Jerusalem. Today no archaeologist supports this identification, although several guidebooks and references still maintain this early assumption as fact.

It is the above referenced episode of the "golden shields" that provides the best clue as to where Jesus' hearings before Pontius Pilate took place. When the Jewish philosopher Philo recorded the details of this incident, he stated Pilate hung the shields "in Herod's palace in the Holy City," which he further identifies as "the house of the governors." Furthermore, Jewish historian Flavius Josephus stated that the Roman governors occasionally stayed in the palace of the long-since-dead Herod the Great (died 4 BC). This belief is reflected in the NIV translations of both John 18:28: "Then the Jews led Jesus from Caiaphas to the palace of the Roman governor" and Mark 15:1: "The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium*)."

*The term praetorium was used to indicate the residence of the governor. Originally it referred to the "tent of the commander" (praetor), and thus denoted a military headquarters. By extension, it came to refer to those who assembled at the commander's tent, and subsequently to the residence of the provincial prefect, or governor, wherever it was located. Pontius Pilate resided full-time in the regional capital of Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast and came to Jerusalem only during the major Jewish festivals when the maintenance of public order might necessitate his presence. Thus Pilate was in Jerusalem during Passover at the time of Jesus' arrest, and his praetorium was a temporary residence.

It is further unlikely that Pilate's wife, Procula, who accompanied him to Jerusalem that week (see Matthew 27:19), would have stayed with her husband in the Antonia Fortress. Although, as Josephus stated, "by its magnificence (the Antonia) seemed a palace," (Wars of the Jews, book 5, chapter 5:8), the huge structure was little more than an army barracks for the 500-600 men of the Jerusalem garrison. While it is likely government business was conducted in the Antonia, the arrest of Jesus took place at night, and Pilate would have been in his living quarters, his Praetorium. Given a choice, he and Procula would have preferred life in a lavish king's palace over the spartan accommodations of uncultured soldiers. Undoubtedly, Jesus' trial took place in Herod the Great's grand palace, in the Upper City, on the very highest part of the western hill now called Mount Zion.

Covering about five acres, this elegant structure consisted of two huge wings, named the Caesareum and Agrippium; each had huge porches, banquet halls, baths and bedrooms for hundreds of guests. Its beauty rivaled that of the Temple itself. All around were groves of trees bordered by canals and ponds with bronze figures discharging water. The palace was protected on the city side by a separate wall with towers. When the Magi came to Jerusalem around the time of Jesus' birth seeking the newborn "king of the Jews" they almost certainly came here first, no doubt expecting to find him in such a kingly setting.


(Above left) Herod's palace as depicted in the 1:50 scale model of 1st century AD Jerusalem at the Israel Museum. Little remains of the once magnificent palace. The site of three defense towers that guarded its north end is now occupied by the Citadel (above right), also called the Tower of David, located just south of today's Jaffa Gate.

Although some of the palace's foundations have been discovered in the Armenian Quarter in the southwest corner of today's Old City, the largest extant structure of the Herodian complex is the base of Phasael's Tower, one of three huge defense towers that once guarded the palace's north side. Named for Herod's brother, it once stood 148-feet-high, and it was built like a palace with luxurious apartments and baths. According to Josephus, it resembled, but was "much larger," than the Pharos lighthouse at Alexandria, Egypt which ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The three towers were so magnificent that when the Roman legions destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD, general Titus left them standing to show future generations their beauty. However, the emperor Hadrian ordered them torn down in 135 AD, leaving only the massive bulk of their foundations.

Now occupied by the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, the Citadel is built on the highest point of the western hill of Jerusalem, higher than any other point in the ancient city, including the Temple Mount. It is the most recent in a series of fortifications built there in the course of more than 20 centuries to protect Jerusalem from the west. In the 12th century AD the Crusaders added the dry moat, but the Citadel took much of its present form under the Mameluke sultan Malik an-Nasir in the 14th century AD with the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent making additional changes in the 16th century AD.

*The traditional name Tower of David is the result of a misidentification by the 1st century AD historian Flavius Josephus, who stated that the southwestern hill of Jerusalem "was called the 'Citadel,' by king David" (Wars of the Jews, book 5, chapter 4:1) In fact, the Jerusalem of King David never extended this far west.

The beginning of our historically correct Via Dolorosa:

(Below) Biblical based "Way of Sorrow"

Our walk along the historically correct "Way of Sorrow" begins just inside today's Jaffa Gate (below left) alongside the Citadel. Munching on pita stuffed with falafel from a nearby shop, we push past hustlers tempting us with various trinkets olive twigs, scarves and postcards and head south on Armenian Patriarchate Road. Just beyond the Cathedral of St. James, on our right, is a walled compound known as the "Armenian Garden." This area, south of the Citadel was previously occupied by Herod's palace, where Pontius Pilate would have begun his preliminary questioning of Jesus. (Below right) View of the Armenian Quarter from the Citadel. The entire area on the right side of the photo was occupied by Herod's elegant palace.

1st Station of the Cross - Jesus' first interrogation by Pontius Pilate

The time was shortly after dawn, between 6:00 and 7:00 a.m., when the Roman governors normally began their official duties. The chief priests brought Jesus to the palace/residence of Pontius Pilate to press their charges against him. All the governor needed to do was to affirm their earlier verdict of condemnation so they would be rid of this upstart messiah whose popularity posed a threat to their influence and personal wealth.

(Right) the Armentian Quarter in the southwest corner of the walled Old City.

Caiaphas must have given Pilate advance notice that the case of Jesus of Nazareth was coming before his court, because the prefect ordered his official magistrate's chair moved outside the palace, to a raised platform overlooking the stone-paved plaza to the east ("Stone Pavement" in NIV (Aramaic Gabbatha; Greek Lithostratos; translated in the NIV as "Stone Pavement"). This was done to accommodate the Jews who would have defiled themselves for the Passover Seder if they entered a pagan headquarters. Throughout the trial, Pilate moved back and forth, inside the palace to question Jesus, then outside to hear the charges of the Jewish officials.

The significance of what happened next in the course of these proceedings can only be understood in light of the political relationship between the Jews and their Roman rulers. The Sanhedrin had condemned Jesus to death on the basis of the Jewish religious laws against blasphemy. While the chief Jewish judicial body had the power to impose capital punishment by stoning (as happened later with Stephen, one of the original seven church deacons), it could not crucify a man, because it was not a punishment according to the Jewish law. Therefore the approval of the Roman government was needed Pontius Pilate, as the official representative of that pagan government had no interest in Jewish religious matters, and it made no difference to him if Jesus, or anyone else, was blaspheming God. Therefore more appropriate charges had to be laid before the governor. Being politically astute, the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of sedition, alleging that he urged the people not to pay taxes while claiming to be the King of the Jews.

2nd Station of the Cross - A hearing before Herod Antipas

Pilate must have been informed by the chief priests and elders of the charge they were bringing against Jesus, because he asks the same initial question in all four Gospels,

"Are you the king of the Jews?" (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3, John 18:33).

To this, Jesus replied:

"Yes, it is as you say" (Synoptic Gospels) or "Is that your own idea, or did others talk to you about me?" (John 18:34).

Apparently Pilate was baffled by Jesus' failure to give an adequate defense, but his initial interrogation evidently convinced him of Jesus' innocence. The gospel accounts then relate a series of moves by the prefect to avoid or delay granting the Jewish authorities their desired outcome. First, upon learning that Jesus was a Galilean (Luke 23:6), and knowing that Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, had arrived for the Passover celebration, he sent Jesus under armed guard to the old Hasmonean palace (right, model at the Israel Museum) which lay due east, about two-thirds of the distance between Herod's palace and the Temple Mount. Pilate was not required to turn Jesus over to Antipas; he had full authority to try Jesus in Judea. Probably he figured that Antipas was better versed in Jewish law than he and chose to remand the case over to his jurisdiction. This served two purposes: first, it allowed him to avoid dealing with matter, second, it improved his strained relationship with Herod.

Herod could not have been more pleased. For months he had wanted to meet this man about whom stories had been spreading across the land. "From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform some miracle" (Luke 23:8). But Jesus said and did nothing. He would not stage a spectacle for the one who had killed his cousin, John the Immerser. Frustrated, Herod invited his troops to have their way with him. Dressing him in an brilliant white robe, like the Messiah was expected to wear, they mockingly ridiculed and reverenced him. Finally, Herod sent him back to Pilate.

3rd Station of the Cross - A second hearing before Pontius Pilate

Disappointed at the return of the prisoner, Pilate seized a second opportunity to rid himself of this troublesome case. He announced to the Jews gathered outside his headquarters:

"You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. Therefore, I will punish him and then release him" (Luke 23:14-16.

This statement provoked the crowd for the first time and they began shouting,

"Away with him! Crucify him!"

These back and forth questioning sessions frustrated Pilate. Out of desperation, he adopted a third ploy, which soon turned against him. Roman law specified that amnesty could be granted just before the Passover was eaten, either to an unconvicted prisoner or to a condemned criminal. Pilate tried to offer the mob a choice between amnesty for Jesus of a notorious revolutionary and bandit named Barabbas [meaning "son" (bar) "of a father" (abba)], assuming they would clamor for Jesus' release. But they surprised him, choosing Barabbas instead.

Next, Pilate's wife sent him a message:

"Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him" (Matthew 27:19).

Taken aback by this turn of events, Pilate evidently thought better of his scheme and sought yet another way to release Jesus, who in his eyes was clearly less dangerous than Barabbas. Hoping to finally gain the mob's sympathy, he had Jesus brought into the palace courtyard. There, Pilate's soldiers stripped Jesus and administered a brutal beating.

4th Station of the Cross - A brutal beating at the hands of Roman soldiers (the "Kings Game")

Etched into an area of nearly 2,000 year-old paving stones in the basement of the Sisters of Zion Convent (below left), near the start of the traditional Via Dolorosa in today's Muslim Quarter, is the game board of an ancient dice game called "basileus" (Greek king) (below right) note the "B" above the circle in the lower right corner of the photo.

Jesus was probably the victim of this cruel game, which was popular among soldiers stationed in Palestine in the 1st century AD. According to the throw of the dice, a player advanced through increasingly larger boxes in a race to the king's tower in the center. The game concluded with the execution of a mock king. It conjures up images of the soldiers playing their game, and of Jesus became a living "game piece" who was taunted and beaten as the "king" who would soon be put to death. The resemblance between this game and the mockery of Jesus by the soldiers in Matthew is striking:

"Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. 'Hail, king of the Jews!' they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again'" (Matthew 27: 27-30).

These paving stones were not here at the time of Jesus. They were part of a magnificent pavement laid down some 100 years after the Crucifixion. Around 135 AD, the emperor Hadrian built a new Roman city called Aelia Capitolina over the ruins of the Jerusalem Jesus' knew. Over the old Struthion Pool (the "Sparrow Pool" or Double
Pool), a rock-cut cistern for collecting rainwater to augment the city water supply, Hadrian constructed a large marketplace/forum. Even though these cold, reddish paving stones and the games etched into them date to a later time, anyone who has stood in the convent basement, some seven feet below street level, will swear they have heard the angry, mocking words of the soldiers and the sound of leather and bone ripping into Jesus ' skin, reverberating off the surrounding walls.

5th Station of the Cross - A final hearing: Jesus is condemned by Pontius Pilate

Pilate halted the soldiers' fun and brought Jesus out to the plaza by his headquarters, still wearing the crown of thorns and red robe (the outer cloak of a Roman soldier). Surely the punishment was enough he thought.

"Here is the man!" (John 19:5), he said, to Jesus' accusers.

However, the mob gathered outside the palace continued their chant,


This was not the same crowd that shouted 'Hosanna' on Palm Sunday and now shouted 'Crucify him.' This was a carefully orchestrated lynch-mob consisting mainly of priest-controlled Temple staff. The Temple police alone numbered 10,000. It is important to remember that this was all being done at night and the early morning hours to keep those who had celebrated Jesus' arrival from finding out until it was too late to act to save him.

Having lost patience, Pilate shouted back,

"You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him."

This statement is an indication of his level of frustration, because he knew full well the Jews could not carry out this form of punishment.

With Pilate now on the verge of releasing Jesus, the prosecution, perhaps even Caiaphas himself, said,

"If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar" (John 19:12).

That turned the tide! It was simple blackmail. With Pilate's previous record, he could not afford another review by Emperor Tiberius of his dealings with the Jews. You could almost hear them telling Pilate that if he set Jesus free, they would make another formal protest to emperor, as in the two previous "golden shields" incidents, accusing him of failing to uphold the Jewish religious laws and of condoning treason by one who claimed to be king in opposition to Rome. After all, the chief priests answered sarcastically,

"We have no king but Caesar."

With that, Pilate crumbled. Faced with the prospect of losing official status as a member of the "Friends of Caesar" club (which actually existed, complete with a ring sporting the emperor's image), he opted to save his career over Jesus' life. After all, he was appointed by Caesar and to fall from his grace meant trouble, especially now that Sejanus' power on the wane. Even though he may not have believed Jesus was guilty of high treason (Jesus certainly gave him no reason to think so), he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying,

"I am innocent of this man's blood, it is your responsibility!"

Then he released Barabbas and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

Jesus' Life Home n Witness the crucifixion