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Possible site of Jesus' trial in Jerusalem found, archaeologist says
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Buried beneath an old prison site in Jerusalem may be the spot where Jesus appeared for trial before Pontius Pilate, an Israeli archaeologist said. - photo by Mark Kellner
Buried beneath an old prison site in Jerusalem may be the spot where Jesus appeared for trial before Pontius Pilate, an Israeli archaeologist said.

The location, near the city's historic Tower of David, differs from other suggestions for the site of one of history's most famous court proceedings, most notably the Antonia Fortress along the pilgrimage route known as the Via Dolorosa, or Way of Sorrows.

The Kishle, an old prison built by the Ottoman Empire adjacent to the Tower of David, sat atop ruins of an earlier palace built by Rome's ruler of ancient Palestine, Herod, said Amit Re'em, Jerusalem District Archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, according to the Jerusalem Post.

"For two years we excavated this by hand. We dismantled the prison cells but preserved the English, Arabic and Hebrew graffiti that the prisoners had carved," Re'em told the newspaper.

"A police compound adjacent to the Kishle reminds one of the continuity of this site; it has been manned by soldiers since the time of the Hasmoneans and before, a strategic highpoint chosen by Herod and other kings as a place for a palace and citadel," the newspaper account said.

Re'em said evidence of pools and water conduits items favored by Herod and noted by historians such as Flavius Josephus suggest Herod's palace was here, and that Pilate, who would have been a visitor in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus' arrest, would have used a space in Herod's palace for the trial.

"We have the retaining walls," Re'em told the Christian Broadcasting Network last April. "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."

"For those Christians who care about accuracy in regards to historical facts, this is very forceful," Yisca Harani, an expert on Christianity and pilgrimage to the Holy Land told The Washington Post (paywall). "For others, however, those who come for the general mental exercise of being in Jerusalem, they don't care as long as (their journey) ends in 'Golgotha' the site of the crucifixion."

Where events leading to the crucifixion took place depended on the times in which pilgrim routes were determined, Washington Post reporter Ruth Eglash noted.

"In the Byzantine period, for example, the Via Dolorosa began closer to the area where the museum now sits in the western part of the city. It was only after the 13th century that the starting point moved to the Antonia Fortress, the site of a former Roman military barracks, which today sits beneath a school close to the al-Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock," Eglash wrote.

Shimon Gibson, an archaeology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, told Eglash he believes the Kishle may well be the site where Jesus was tried, given the Gospel of John's account of the trial taking place near a gate on ground with paving stones.

"There is, of course, no inscription stating it happened here, but everything archaeological, historical and gospel accounts all falls into place and makes sense," Gibson told the newspaper.

Every year, an estimated 1 million Christian pilgrims visit Jerusalem, Eglash noted.
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