Chapter 16: Gethsemane: Arrest, Trial, and Condemnation
And they came to a place which was called Gethsemane" (Mk 14:32; Mt 26:36; cf. Lk 22:40). Just where Gethsemane was is unknown. It is called a garden in the Gospel of John (18:1), but the Synoptic Gospels call it only a place. The name, which appears nowhere else and is omitted by Luke even here, means "oil press," suggesting that when the name was given the oil from the olives grown on the hill was extracted here. An ancient tradition locates the place in the valley just north of the foot of the Mount of Olives, where a church now marks the traditional site of Mary’s tomb. Two locations on the western slope of the hill are revered by different groups as the sacred place. Each has a church on it. On the modern road to Jericho, which runs around the bottom of the Mount of Olives, is the Roman Catholic church, with a small, reverently tended garden beside it containing some old, gnarled olive trees. Above this, in another enclosure, is the Russian Greek Orthodox church, surrounded by a quiet grove. There is no way to determine the exact site, but it must have been somewhere in this vicinity, though possibly farther up or even on the eastern side nearer Bethany.
When they came to Gethsemane, Jesus left most of the disciples and went on, presumably deeper into the garden or orchard, taking with him only Peter, James. and John (Mk 14:32-42; Mt 26:36-46; Lk 22:40-46). Then, "greatly distressed and troubled," he told these three to wait and keep watch. "And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me yet not what I will, but what thou wilt’" (Mk 14:35-36; cf. Mt 26:39; Lk 22:41-42; and Mt 26:42).
Just what the cup was that Jesus begged to be spared we cannot say. He had spoken before of a cup that he must drink and had told the sons of Zebedee that they would have to drink it too (Mk 10:38-39; Mt 20:22-23). The immediate reference both there and here may be to martyrdom; yet it can hardly have been only his death that Jesus wished he might avoid. He had long been prepared for that. More probably, if such speculation is permissible, it was his rejection and the frustration of his hopes for his people that he still could not help wanting to have changed. In any case, this prayer is a sublime expression of the devotion to his Father’s will that governed Jesus’ whole life.
After quoting the prayer, in the traditional text, Luke reports two unique items (22:43-44) — the appearance of "an angel from heaven, strengthening him," and the sweat "like great drops of blood falling upon the ground." Like the descent of the Spirit at his baptism, this may have been an inner personal experience. The reference to blood is merely a simile expressing the intensity of Jesus’ wrestling with God and with his own feelings. Neither of these items is accessible to historical research; in fact the best text does not have these two verses.
When Jesus came back to the three disciples, he found them asleep (Mk 14:37-38; Mt 26:40-41); Lk 22:45-46). "Simon," he said, "are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation." This is ambiguous. Some interpreters understand it as telling what is to be prayed for. This is clearly the meaning where in Luke (22:40) Jesus says on first reaching the garden, literally, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." Now, however, the Greek uses a conjunction that usually means "in order that." The Aramaic conjunction back of the Greek would be as ambiguous as our English "that," but the meaning intended is almost certainly "Pray, in order that you may not enter into temptation."
The expression "enter into temptation" recalls the petition in the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:13; Lk 11:4), "lead us not into temptation." The noun translated "temptation" in both places means being tried, put to the test. Our English words "tempt" and "temptation," as a matter of fact, were used in that sense when the KJV was made, as in the repeated statement that the Israelites tempted God (e.g., Ex 17:7), or the story of the lawyer (Lk 10:25) who tempted Jesus (RSV "put him to the test"). The disciples were told in Gethsemane to keep praying in order that they might not be tried beyond their strength (cf. 1 Cor 10:13).
To this exhortation, in Mark and Matthew, Jesus adds a gentle expression of sympathetic insight (Mk 14:38; Mt 26:41) that has become proverbial: "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." The disciples meant well; but disappointment, perplexity, confusion, and sheer physical exhaustion were too much for them; they could not keep their eyes open. Probably also they could not quite believe that the end was so near or that it would be so disastrous as Jesus anticipated. They did not have his conviction that God so willed it.
A second and a third time, according to Mark and Matthew, Jesus went off by himself and prayed, and again came back and found the three disciples asleep. When he returned the third time (Mk 14:41-42; Mt 26:45-46), he said: "Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come; the Son of man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand." And as he spoke, a crowd armed with swords and clubs came from the chief priest and scribes and elders, with Judas at their head. Every reader knows who Judas was; but the evangelists add to his name "one of the twelve," as though to stress the horror of such a betrayal by one of the privileged circle.
The evangelists differ somewhat in their accounts of the arrest of Jesus, the variations consisting mainly of insertions or omissions (Mk 14:43-52; Mt 26:47-56; Lk 22:47-53). This time Mark’s narrative is the shortest and simplest of the three. Mark and Matthew relate that Judas had agreed beforehand to identify Jesus by kissing him, and that he did so, at the same time greeting Jesus as Master (literally, Rabbi). Luke, however, suggests that Judas was not allowed to carry out his hideous intention: "He drew near to Jesus to kiss him; but Jesus said to him, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of man with a kiss?’"
One of the disciples, all the Gospels agree, drew his sword and cut off the ear of a slave of the high priest. The Fourth Gospel says that the disciple was Peter, and even gives the name of the slave, Malchus (Jn 18:10). Matthew reports (26:52-53) that Jesus said: "Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" According to Luke Jesus said only, "No more of this!" Luke adds, however, that Jesus touched the slave’s ear and healed him. This is the last miracle related in the Synoptic Gospels, and the only healing miracle performed during the last days at Jerusalem. It is obviously a legendary embellishment of the straightforward tradition of Mark and Matthew.
Jesus then (Mk 14:48-49; Mt 26:55-56; Lk 22:52-53) spoke to "the crowds," according to Matthew; Mark says only "to them." Luke says, "to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders, who had come out against him." though according to Mark and Matthew the crowds came from the chief priests and elders. "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?" Jesus asked scornfully, and reminded them that they had made no attempt to take him while he was teaching publicly in the temple. "But let the scriptures be fulfilled." he concluded as reported by Mark. Matthew reads, "but all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." In Luke, Jesus says, "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." There is no way to tell which, if any of these, is correct.
"And they all forsook him, and fled." as Jesus had said they would (Mk 14:50; Mt 26:56; cf. Mk 14:27; Mt 26:31). The shepherd had been taken, and the sheep scattered. Mark alone adds the curious incident of the young man clad only in a linen cloth who tried to follow, and, when he was seized, slipped out of the cloth and fled naked (Mk 14:51-52). The conjecture that this was Mark himself is unfounded, but it is hard to see how the story arose unless it was a personal memory of someone.
In spite of the hour, Jesus was brought before the high priest and the chief priests, elders, and scribes, who were already assembled (Mk 14:53-54; Mt 26:57-58; Lk 22:54-55). Luke says that Jesus was taken to the high priest’s house, and all three Gospels in the next sentence mention the courtyard of the high priest. Only Matthew among the Synoptic evangelists gives the high priest’s name, Caiaphas.
There is much uncertainty concerning what ensued. Mark and Matthew agree closely, but what they report as occurring at a single appearance before the high priest is divided by Luke into two episodes, with a different order of events (Lk 22:56-62). Luke tells of Peter’s denial of Jesus and the soldiers’ mockery as taking place at the high priest’s house, with no suggestion that the high priest or the other dignitaries put in an appearance until morning. when "the elders of the people both chief priests and scribes," assembled and "led him away to their council" (v 66). Luke in fact, does not mention the high priest at all; it is "they" who do everything. The Gospel of John also seems to have two arraignments (18:13-27), but they are not the same as those in Luke.
Contrary to the statement in John 18:16 that Peter stood outside at the door until he was brought in to the fire, the Synoptic Gospels agree that he followed Jesus and his captors at a distance. went directly into the courtyard, and sat with the guards by the fire (Mk 14:53-54; Mt 26:57-58; Lk 22:54-55). If he had fled with the other disciples when they forsook Jesus, he must have turned back immediately.
Mark and Matthew report that the council tried to get testimony against Jesus that would justify a sentence of death, but though many false witnesses were found, they did not agree in their testimony (Mk 14:55-59; Mt 26:59-61). Finally the high priest challenged Jesus directly to answer the accusations. Receiving no reply. he asked specifically, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?" Matthew reads, "the Son of God," which of course is what Mark’s expression means.
What Jesus said in reply is reported in different ways, and it is very difficult to interpret. We too should like to know whether he considered himself the Messiah. The evangelists never doubt it (cf. Mt 16:17. 20; Mk 8:30; Lk 9:21), but that fact makes it all the more remarkable that their records disclose so many reasons to question it — reasons that lead many New Testament historians to the definite conclusion that Jesus did not believe himself to be the Lord’s Anointed. It is perhaps the greatest irony of Christian history that the affirmation that alone distinguished the first Christians from other Jews may have been after all contrary to Jesus’ own intention and belief.
What may seem to be the strongest evidence that he did believe he was the Messiah is his reply to the high priest. In all three Gospels this consists of two distinct parts, but each part is reported in three different forms. According to Luke (22:67-68), when "they" said. "If you are the Christ, tell us," Jesus answered evasively. "If I tell you. you will not believe; and if I ask you. you will not answer." According to Matthew (26:64). Jesus said "You have said so." which in Aramaic would be understood as affirmative (cf. v 25).
There are seven places in the Synoptic Gospels where Jesus himself is reported to have used the term "Christ." Only in four places does he clearly use the term of himself; and two of these, being post-resurrection sayings, cannot be used as sayings of the historical Jesus. One of the remaining two speaks of being given a cup of water "because you bear the name of Christ," where the parallel in Matthew reads, "because he is a disciple." In the other, "you have one master, the Christ," the title seems obviously an explanation inserted by an editor, scribe, or later reader. The evidence that Jesus ever spoke of himself as the Messiah is thus decidedly weak. That he even approved or accepted the title when others used it is equally doubtful, as we have noted in relevant passages (e.g., Mk 8:29 and parallels; Mt 11:2; Lk 4:41).
Many have held that Jesus believed he was the Messiah but rejected a type of Messianic hope that expected the Messiah to "restore the kingdom to Israel" (Acts 1:6). This is quite possible. Christians tend to overemphasize the military aspect of the Jewish Messianic hope. There were other kinds of expectation, more peaceful and more spiritual, and the term "Messiah" was used with them also. Warfare is not the only function of a king. From very ancient times a major responsibility of the ruler was to establish, and maintain justice, to prevent the exploitation of the poor and weak by the rich and powerful, and in particular to maintain the rights of orphans and widows.
Under foreign oppression it was natural to feel, as the Zealots did, that only by rebellion could the Roman yoke be cast off; but many of the Jews must have agreed with the Pharisee that an attempt to take matters into their own hands would be both impious and futile. That this was Jesus’ position is therefore no evidence that he rejected entirely the idea of himself as Messiah. Quite possibly he only discouraged the public use of the term because of the danger of fomenting revolutionary acts and provoking punitive action by the Romans.
The second part of his reply to the high priest, as given by Mark (14:62), reads, "and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven." (The use of "Power" here reflects the Jewish practice of avoiding a direct mention of God where it might seem anthropomorphic.) Instead of Mark’s "and you will see," Matthew has (26:64). "But I tell you, hereafter you will see," as though Jesus said, in answer to the question whether he was the Messiah, "As you say, but never mind about me! From now on you are going to see the Son of man," and so on. There was the same quick shift from Messiah to Son of man in Jesus’ response to Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. Luke (22:69) reads only, "But from now on the Son of man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God." Both Matthew’s "hereafter" and Luke’s "from now on suggest an extended process now about to begin rather than an instantaneous event. Neither Greek expression refers to an indefinite future time, such as the English "hereafter" suggests.
The image of sitting at God’s right hand comes from the same verse (Ps 110:1) quoted earlier by Jesus in the temple (Mk 12:36 and parallels): "The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool.’" This was evidently understood as addressed to the Messiah. Jesus, however, is speaking here of the Son of man. This implies that for him they were the same.
The stress on the coming of the Son of man, here and throughout the New Testament, raises a difficult question: what is the relation of the coming of the Son of man to the coming of the kingdom of God? They are almost never mentioned together. Sometimes the problem is further complicated by references to the kingdom of the Son of man in connection with his coming. These may not be authentic, but it is quite probable that Jesus connected the idea of kingship with the coming of the Son of man. In some way, moreover, which is never made clear and may now be impossible to determine, the coming and kingdom of the Son of man and the coming of the kingdom of God are bound up together.
The whole question of Jesus’ use of the term Son of man is an unresolved problem. Some scholars hold that Jesus did not use it at all, others that he used in one way but not in another. To me it still seems not at all improbable that the whole complex of ideas associated with the expression in the Gospels originated with Jesus himself. Its common idiomatic use by him, as by other Aramaic speaking people, may be taken for granted. Perhaps when he faced rejection and death he found an answer to the question "What then?" in Daniel’s vision of the one like a son of man, to whom dominion and glory would be given. He might then think of himself as already the Son of man during his ministry. By the time he applied the term "Son of man" to the suffering servant prophecy, "the Son of man" must have meant to him practically "I." Obviously all this cannot be proved; other possibilities must be recognized. It is no more speculative, however, than current theories of the origin of the whole idea in the church.
In Luke’s account (22:70) of the hearing before the elders, chief priests, and scribes, when Jesus was asked whether he was the Messiah and replied with the statement about the Son of man, they asked him, "Are you the Son of God, then?" (Mark and Matthew have combined this title with Messiah in the initial question.) He answered, "You say that I am." Like the high priest in Mark and Matthew, the council received this as a blasphemous affirmation that made further evidence unnecessary (Lk 22:71; cf. Mk 14:63-64; Mt 26:65-66). The high priest, say Mark and Matthew, tore his robe and called on the council to condemn the blasphemer. and "they all condemned him as deserving death." Here Mark and Matthew tell of the insults and abuse that Luke has already reported as inflicted at the high priest’s house (Mk 14:65; Mt 26:67-68; cf. Lk 22:63-65).
The story of Peter’s denial follows in the same two Gospels. Luke has reported it before the mockery and beating (Mk 14:66-72; Mt 26:69-75; cf. Lk 22:56-62). Otherwise the accounts are in substantial agreement. Only Luke has the poignant note, "And the Lord turned and looked at Peter." All three say that Peter, hearing the cock crow, remembered what Jesus had told him and wept.
Regardless of discrepancies, this story surely bears the marks of historical truth. Not much later Peter became one of the foremost leaders in the church. Such a story about him would not have been invented or preserved without a solid historical basis, resting ultimately on his own acknowledgment. Perhaps when he said, "I do not know the man," he was not so much being a coward as expressing his confusion and despair. "I thought I knew him," he may have felt, "but I don’t understand him at all. Why didn’t he let me use my sword to defend him? Why didn’t he call down the angels? Why does he let these men treat him like this without saying a word?"
Perhaps Peter and Judas shared something of the same disappointment; but the results were entirely different. According to Luke, Jesus had said to Peter after their final meal together (22:32), "I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren." Peter did turn again and became a rock worthy of the name Jesus had given him, though, at least to Paul’s way of thinking, he was still capable of hesitation and compromise (Gal 2:11-13).
Mark and Matthew now proceed with a statement that Luke made earlier in almost the same words (Mk 15:1; Mt 27:1-2; Lk 23:1; cf. Lk 22:66). to the effect that when day came the chief priests and the rest, after further consultation, bound Jesus and led him away. Luke says, however, "led him away to their council"; Mark and Matthew say, "led him away and delivered him to Pilate." Here Luke says simply "Then the whole company of them arose, and brought him before Pilate."
Matthew tells here (27:3-10) what happened to Judas after he betrayed Jesus. Luke gives another version of the story in the book of Acts (1:18-19). According to Matthew, Judas repented when it was too late, went back to the chief priests and elders, confessed that he had betrayed an innocent man, threw down in the temple the thirty pieces of silver they had paid him, and "went and hanged himself." The chief priests used the money to buy a field known as the potter’s field, but the people of Jerusalem named it Akeldama, meaning in Aramaic "Field of Blood." In Acts, Judas buys the field with his blood money, and it is called Akeldama because "falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out." Both stories may be legends.
Matthew adds that Judas’ death fulfilled a prophecy of Jeremiah about buying the potter’s field with thirty pieces of silver. As quoted by Matthew the prophecy combines bits from Jeremiah (18:2-3; 32:6-15) and Zechariah (11:12). Such combinations of verses from different books have been explained by the hypothesis that the evangelists quoted from collections of Messianic proof-texts. New support for this has been found in scraps of similar collections in the eaves of Qumran.
Not much is known about Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator before whom Jesus was now arraigned, but there is enough to show that he had little understanding and less concern for the sensitive pride of the Jewish people and their explosive mixture of religious devotion and nationalistic ardor. He allowed Roman soldiers to enter Jerusalem without removing the idolatrous images from their standards. Later he had golden shields bearing the emperor’s name hung on the walls of the palace he occupied when in Jerusalem. In both instances he was compelled to rescind his orders. Luke mentions (13:1) some Galileans whose blood Pilate "mingled with their sacrifices."
Another act, which he doubtless considered beneficial, provoked rioting. To provide an adequate water supply for the crowds that filled Jerusalem during the festivals, Pilate had an aqueduct made to bring water from a place near Bethlehem. Unwisely he paid for it out of the temple treasury.
For ten years (AD. 26-36) Pilate governed Judea until an oppressive act in Samaria brought his term of office to an end. When a crowd assembled on Mount Gerizim expecting to see the sacred vessels of the tabernacle excavated, Pilate’s soldiers massacred them. In response to tn appeal to the legate of Syria, Pilate was summoned to Rome. What effect the death of the emperor while Pilate was en route had on his reception at Rome is not clear, but he was not sent back to Palestine.
Such was the man before whom Jesus was now brought (Mk 15:2-5; Mt 27:11-14; Lk 23:2-5). The accounts of the appearance or appearances before Pilate involve as much uncertainty and confusion as those of his trial before the high priest. The quite different narrative in the Gospel of John only increases the complexity of the problem. Much intensive research has been done on this subject in recent years, without reaching clarity or certainty. Each item must be examined in the light of what is known about Jewish and Roman legal procedure, but we cannot assume that every recognized principle and precept was strictly observed. It seems clear, in fact, that there were some irregularities. For the present we can only follow the reports in the Gospels, noting what items are contributed or omitted by each evangelist.
Naturally Pilate would not have been interested in questions of Jewish theology or an individual’s claim to be the person referred to by ancient prophecies. Jesus’ accusers therefore alleged that he had been preaching sedition against the emperor. Luke says (23:2) that this accusation was lodged at the beginning of the hearing. Mark and Matthew imply that Pilate had heard of it, for they represent him as opening the proceedings with the question, "Are you the King of the Jews?" (Mk 15:2; Mt 27:11). But Jesus would say only, "You have said so," which Pilate took as a refusal to reply.
The persistent silence of Jesus in the face of the charges against him made Pilate wonder. He appears to have been reluctant to pronounce sentence against a man whom he regarded as at worst harmless. Only to appease the priests and elders and to avoid a charge that he himself was disloyal to the emperor (cf. Jn 19:12), and only after trying various expedients to evade responsibility for the decision, did he finally consent to have Jesus put to death.
One resort that seemed to offer a way out is related by Luke (23:6-12). When Pilate told "the chief priests and the multitudes" that he did not find the prisoner guilty of any crime, they insisted that Jesus had been stirring up the people from Galilee to Jerusalem. Learning that Jesus was from Galilee, the territory of Herod Antipas, Pilate recalled that Herod was in Jerusalem (no doubt for the Passover) and sent Jesus to him. Herod was curious to see Jesus perform a miracle but apparently no longer considered him dangerous. He therefore questioned him but could draw no response from him. At length, tiring of the effort, "Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him; then, arraying him in gorgeous apparel, he sent him back to Pilate."
By sending Jesus to Herod, Pilate achieved a more friendly relation with the puppet king; but he did not after all get rid of Jesus. He therefore summoned "the chief priests and the rulers and the people," announced that he had found Jesus innocent of any capital offense, and proposed therefore to chastise and release him.
All three evangelists tell of another expedient that may not have worked out as Pilate wished but did dispose of the annoying case (Mk 15:6-11; Mt 27:15-20; Lk 23:17-19). Pilate’s proposal to let Jesus go, Luke says, was met by an outcry, "Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas!" Matthew calls Barabbas "a notorious prisoner"; Mark explains that he was one of "the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection"; Luke says he had been imprisoned "for an insurrection started in the city, and for murder." Both Mark and Matthew say that it was Pilate’s custom to release at the festival a prisoner chosen by the Jews. When the crowd asked that he do so at this time, he asked, as Mark has it, "Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?" That way of putting the question would of course ensure a refusal. According to Matthew, Pilate asked, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?" This slightly more diplomatic form of expression would still only harden the demand for Barabbas.
Matthew contributes a detail not reported elsewhere (27:19), a warning from Pilate’s wife because of a dream in which she had "suffered much" because of "that righteous man." When the mob insisted on the release of Barabbas, Mark and Matthew report, Pilate asked what he should do with Jesus, and they replied "Crucify him!" (Mk 15:12-14; Mt 27:21-23; cf. Lk ~3’20~T3). Pilate asked. "Why, What evil has he done?" but they only demanded all the more loudly that he be crucified.
Again Matthew has a unique item. Seeing that the crowd was becoming disorderly, Pilate publicly washed his hands (Mt 27:24-25), declaring, "I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves" — as though letting an innocent man be crucified incurred no guilt! Matthew continues, "And all the people answered, ‘His blood be on us and on our children.’"
All the evangelists went out of their way to relieve Pilate of the responsibility for Jesus’ death and put it on the Jews. Current studies of Jesus’ trial are much concerned with this fact, seeming sometimes as anxious to blame the Romans as the evangelists were to blame the Jews. Justified resentment on the part of Jews and shame on the part of Christians for the disgrace and horror of anti-Semitism make such a desire natural. A distortion of history in one direction, however, is not remedied by distorting it in the opposite direction. Only an earnest effort to find the truth can promote real understanding and mutual respect. No matter what was done or said by Jews or Romans nearly two thousand years ago, their descendants were not responsible. Even if the mob, or any of them, uttered the frightful curse ascribed by Matthew to "all the people," that would not make the Jewish people of that day guilty, to say nothing of later generations.
The reasons for the tendency of the evangelists to exculpate Pilate are fairly obvious. No doubt they felt genuine indignation at the injustice of Jesus’ condemnation and death, but they were also anxious to counteract any impression that Christianity was a subversive movement and Jesus a political agitator against the Roman government. At the time when the Gospels were written, persecution was becoming a real danger for Christians. It was important to convince the rulers that the church was not a revolutionary organization.
As for the real responsibility of Pilate or the Jewish leaders for the crucifixion, perhaps the most we can say is that the Romans crucified Jesus, but the Jewish authorities probably desired his death and did what they could to bring it about. Both considered Jesus dangerous and had good reason to think so. Whether Jews or Romans were more responsible is a purely historical question, to be investigated without fear or favor.
To return to the narrative. Pilate released Barabbas, had Jesus flogged, and turned him over to the soldiers to be crucified (Mk 15:15-16; Mt 27:26-27; Lk 23:24-25). Matthew says that they "took Jesus into the praetorium"; Mark says, "led him away inside the palace (that is, the praetorium)." This is the only place in the Synoptic Gospels where the word "praetorium" is used, but it appears in John and Acts, and Paul mentions "the whole praetorium" at Rome (In 18:28. 33: 19:9; Acts 23:35; Phil 1:13). Ordinarily the word designates the residence of the chief Roman official, where cases were often tried and judgment pronounced.
Not one of the places where these tragic events occurred can be identified with certainty. Some scholars believe that the praetorium was the fortified palace built by Herod the Great at the western edge of the city, where what is called the Citadel or Tower of David now stands. Herod’s characteristic masonry can still be seen there in the foundations and the lower courses of the walls. This would be a natural place for Pilate to stay when he came up from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
There is another place, however, where he may have stayed, especially at times when it was important to keep an eye on the temple area. Herod had built a strong fortress, which he called Antonia, at the northwestern corner of the sacred enclosure. Some of the masonry of one of its towers is now visible, incorporated in a modern building. Here tradition puts the praetorium. In the courtyard of a Muslim school, on the rock where another tower stood, is the first of the fourteen traditional stations of the cross. Here Pilate is thought to have showed Jesus to the crowd, saying. "Behold the man!" (Jn 19:5).
According to the Gospel of John (19:13), when Pilate finally decided to have Jesus crucified, "he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, and in Hebrew, Gabbatha." There is a well-preserved and extensive stone pavement in what must have been the courtyard of the Fortress Antonia. It is clearly as old as the first century, for an early second-century Roman arch rests on it. On some of the huge paving stones are scratched diagrams of curious games, probably used by the Roman garrison. It is thoroughly probable that the Fortress Antonia was the praetorium. and that the pavement under the convent of Notre Dame de Sion is the very one on which Pilate placed his judgment seat when he condemned Jesus to death. If so, it was here too that the Roman soldiers mocked Jesus (Mk 15:17-19; Mt 27:28-30). There is no need to review the painful and familiar details.