Spiritual Growth and Christian Living Resources

Walk the Land: Jesus Before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate

  • Rebekah Montgomery Contributing Writer
  • Published Mar 02, 2005
Walk the Land: Jesus Before Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate

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."

In this instance, it was to send Jesus to see Herod. Where Herod was staying is anybody's guess as there were many palaces in Jerusalem. At some point, largely to placate the high priests and the Sanhedrin, Pilate orders Jesus scourged. The scourging, perhaps, was at the Antonia Fortress, a huge tower were Roman soldiers were garrisoned and built to protect the northern approach to the city. When this failed to satisfy the blood lust, Pilate ordered Jesus to be crucified.  

The Antonia Fortress is gone, but the floor etched with gambling games of later origin remains. Also remaining are sadistic instructions of the proper way to scourge a prisoner so he feels the maximum amount of pain but does not die.

From ancient sources, we know that those condemned to die under Roman rule had a sign with their crime written on it and hung around their neck as they were paraded through the streets on the way to their death. If anyone had evidence that could exonerate the condemned, they were to bring it forward at this time and a new trial would be held. Pilate wrote on Jesus' sign "King of the Jews." The whole nation of Israel was gathered for Passover and no one brought any evidence to the contrary.

Rebekah Montgomery is the editor of Right to the Heart of Women ezine and the author of numerous books on spiritual growth. In September - November 2005, she and Dana Kempler plan to walk across Israel, reporting on it for Crosswalk.com. She can be contacted for comments and speaking engagements at rebekahmontgomery.com


Dr. Paul Wright is president of Jerusalem University College (JUC) on Mount Zion. JUC is an extension campus for more than 100 accredited Christian Universities. Take a photo tour at Jerusalem University College Home Page.

World Travel Express, the leading tour operator to Israel and the Middle East, helped to make this article possible. For more information, visit them at worldexpresstravel.com.

Coming Next Friday: Jesus' Steps into Eternity

Photo by Rebekah Montgomery: 
The Temple Mount is clearly visible from the school courtyard built on the site of the Antonia Fortress. Jesus was likely scourged here.