Walk the Land: Jesus Before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate
- Tuesday, February 22, 2005
Mount Zion majestically rises like a ship's prow over the valleys of Gehenna and Central, but even the Kidron Valley and Mount of Olives are visible from its height. Also visible, like a livid scar running along a crease in Gehenna is Potter's Field.
In Old Testament times, Gehenna was the site of infant sacrifice. In Jesus' day, it was a garbage dump. In First Century Jerusalem, 30 pieces of silver was not much, but along with the temporary allegiance of a disciple, it would buy a slave or a slimy low spot in Gehenna where pottery clay could be dug and the corpses of paupers buried. With one nightmare after another occurring on its soil, Gehenna in Hebrew lent its name to hell in the English. Even in crowded modern Jerusalem, the Potter's Field remains an ancient cemetery.
We hear a rooster crow. We are reminded that in addition to being the location of the Last Supper, traditionally, Mount Zion was also the home of the high priest Caiaphas.
At the time of Christ, tradition says that Caiaphas' palace was within the walls of the city and stood between the temple and the spot where Judas hanged himself. It these are the actual locations, one cannot help but wonder what Judas saw as he passed by Caiaphas' house and looked down into the campfire lit courtyard on that awful night.
Inside the house, the Sanhedrin and chief priests vented their jealous rage on Jesus. Caiaphas had determined that "one Man should die for the people," but what would be His crime? Throughout the night of Jesus' arrest, they argued fine points of the Law looking for evidence of criminality. In the end, they came up empty. Their witnesses contradicted one another. And most maddening of all, the Accused would not speak to them.
Finally, Caiaphas asked a question that Jesus would answer: "Are you the Christ?"
"I am," said Jesus.
They fell upon Him, slugging Him with their fists until their energy was spent. Then the guards took their turn.
Little remains of Caiaphas' palace, but the dungeons beneath it are terrible in their completeness and the grisly story they tell. Roughly hewn out of bedrock and separated by arches and pillars, there are holes chiseled through the arched tops so the prisoners' hands could be manacled above their heads while being beaten. At the time of Christ, it is said that there was only one entrance to the prison complex: through a portal in the floor. Even today, with electric lights and ventilation, the walls are cold and dank. One can only imagine the dark horror of the hours Jesus spent in the cells beneath Caiaphas' house.
The Scriptures tell us that early the next morning, Jesus was taken to Pontius Pilate. Where exactly that was, Bible passages aren't specific; tradition and common sense part company. Tradition says that Pilate was staying at the Antonia Fortress, but Dr. Paul Wright, president of Jerusalem University College, on Mount Zion, thinks it was more like that when Jesus was first taken to Pilate, it was at Herod's palatial mansion, just north of Mount Zion.
Said Dr. Wright: "Just south of Jaffa Gate, where the David's Tower Museum and Israeli Police Station are located today, we have archeological evidence that Herod ('the Great') built an absolutely huge palace that covers the western side of the Armenian Quarter. We do know that he built a bridge so he could go from his palace to the just north of where the Western (Wailing) Wall is today without going down into the city. By the time of Jesus' crucifixion, Israel was under direct Roman rule. Pilate is a mid-level Roman bureaucrat, cycling from one province to another. Personality-wise, he was everything that falls under the dictionary definition of despot. When he comes to Jerusalem (with his wife who had a nightmare about Jesus) - and that's not very often - it can be argued that he doesn't stay with the garrison, he stays at the great palace. When the chief priest wake him up very early to see a man he's never heard of, he takes a look out the window and does whatever he has to do to get rid of Him."
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