Authentic Remains From First Century Palestine (III)

Ferrell Jenkins
Akron, Ohio

Our study of first century remains encounters several difficulties in Jerusalem. Jesus did not spend a great deal of time in this city, but the events are highly significant. The pool of Siloam is certainly known, and the pool of Bethesda can probably be identified with the pool, 4inow many feet below the surface, near the present Church of St. Ann."39 The location of the upper room in which Jesus instituted the Lord's Supper can not be certainly known, but strong tradition fixes the site at the modern Coenaculum." 40 Christians of the fourth century were convinced that they had located the building. 41 In view of the destruction of the city in 70 A. D., this seems highly improbable, though the site may have been known.

The visitor to Palestine can take his pick of the Gardens of Gethsemane. There are four traditional sites, operated respectively by Roman Catholics, the Russians, the Armenians, and the Greek Orthodox .12 The Olive trees in the Latin "Garden" which we visited "could be one thousand years old." 43

The exact place where Jesus was condemned by the Jews is uncertain. 44 However, the remains at St. Peter "in Gallincantu" (at the crowing of the cock) are quite convincing. Here is thought to be ruins of the house of Caiaphas. Items of interest include a depository for Jewish fines, a complete set of Jewish weights and measures, a police station and prison; a corn mill hewn in the rock and storage rooms, and 2n old Jewish terraced street. The keepers of this place, the Assumptionist Fathers, believe it to be the place of Peter's denial and repentance and where the Apostles were imprisoned and scourged (Acts 5).

The location of the Praetorium is a little more solid. There are however, two possible locations. The most likely is at the Antonia Citadel built by Herod in honor of Mark Antony and discussed earlier. The outstanding French archaeologist, L. H. Vincent, was the leading proponent of this spot. He discovered the pavement that once covered the court of the Antonia. 45 This Lithostrotos or Pavement is now some six and one-half feet below the present surface under the convent and school of the Sisters of Zion. It seems to cover about 165 feet square. The scratching of various games thought to have been played by the Roman soldiers can still be seen on the stone. In 1956 the Westminster Historical Atlas took the position that the Praetorium was probably in the palace of Herod. 46 Wright, one of the authors of the Atlas, favors the location at Antonia in his most recent publication. 47 While a similar pavement may have existed near Herod's Palace, there is not one there now.

The Ecco Homo arch, which now stands over the ancient pavement, is the place where tradition claims that Pilate said, "Behold the man!" The arch itself did not exist in the time of Jesus nor did it have anything to do with the Tower of Antonia. It dates to the time of Hadrian in the early part of the second century. 48 In this connection we should mention that the name of Pilate has been found in the recent excavation of a theater at Caesarea. Originally the inscription as probably part of the wall of a building built during Pilate's governorship at Caesarea. 49

The Via Dolorosa with definite Stations of the Cross was not specified by the early church. All of this was developed in the 13th century by the Franciscans, who assumed that the Antonia was the Praetorium.50 Parrot points out that the Via Dolorosa has disappeared under tons of debris. 51

In seeking to determine the location of Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified, and of the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, where his body was placed it becomes necessary to study the walls of Jerusalem. Andre Parrot has made an exceptionally good summary of this material in his Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Jesus was crucified outside of Jerusalem (John 19:20), probably not far from a gate (Heb. 13:12), and near a road (Mark 15:29; Matt. 27:39). The place was named Golgotha, or the "Skull" (John 19:17-18) and there was a garden with a tomb in it nearby (John 19:41). 52 Does the traditional site, the Church of Holy Sepulcher, meet these requirements? We have earlier discussed the walls built by Herod the Great. The third wall of Jerusalem was begun by Herod Agrippa about 42 A. D. but was not finished until the time of the first Jewish revolt, 66-70 A. D. Almost the entire length of this wall is accounted for.53 It is not "without" this third wall that the crucifixion of Jesus took place, but outside the second wall which had been strengthened by Herod the Great. The difficulty is that the second wall cannot be precisely traced. Parrot follows the information left by Josephus and judging from the fragments of the "second wall" concludes that Golgotha and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchers were indisputably outside the Jerusalem that Jesus knew. 54 In fairness we should hastily point out that Parrot is not attempting to show that the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is certainly the place of the burial of Jesus; he is seeking to show that it is a valid suggestion. 55 This is a problem that is still unsettled and the site of the crucifixion cannot be identified with certainty today.

It seems to be difficult for the traveler on his first trip to Jerusalem to understand how what he sees could be what the Bible spoke of at all. Old churches have covered the natural setting. Rather than a garden setting, he sees a site hemmed in by houses and towers which themselves are enclosed by a wall. This may be one of the factors that causes many to turn to the Gordon Calvary and Garden Tomb. 56 In 1883 General Charles G. Gordon noticed something that others had observed before him. Just north of the present city walls, near the Damascus Gate, he noticed a hill with the features of a skull. He viewed this as the head of the skeleton of ancient Jerusalem lying on its side. A nearby tomb which probably should be dated as late as the third or fourth century A. D. 57 soon came to be associated with Gordon's Calvary, though it is not certain that he had so connected them. 58 This site is especially impressive to many Protestants but has no archaeological evidence to commend it.

What is said in the Gospel records about the Joseph of Arimathea, tomb fits perfectly with what is known about tombs of the period. Parrot knows of at least four tombs with the "flat slab like millstone" that is rolled to close the tomb. 59 We saw one at the Herodian family tomb.

We share the feeling with F. F. Bruce that "interesting as the problem must be to every Christian, it is not of the first importance; wherever our Lord's sepulchre is to be located, 'he is not here, for he has risen. 60

The Neighbors of Jesus

The ruins at Qumran in the area west of the Dead Sea are authentic remains of the first century, which includes fragments of every book of the Old Testament except Esther have made a valuable contribution to textual studies. The works produced by the Qumran sect, probably the Essenes, have provided a better insight into the Messianic thinking of at least one party of the Jews. There is no evidence that either John the Baptist, Jesus or His disciples ever had any direct contact with this group. 61 But it has, nonetheless, provided a wealth of information regarding the general period.

If we extend our investigation a little further south we find some first century remains in the territory of ancient Edom. This was the dwelling place of the Nabataeans. Their greatest king was Aretas (9 B. C. - 40 A. D.), whose realm included southern Palestine, most of Transjordan, northern Arabia, and for a time even Damascus (2 Cor. 11:32.) A number of their temples and sacred "high places" have been found. At Petra, their capital, has been found the finest examples of open-air "high-places" preserved anywhere in the Near East. 62


Many first century tombs have been examined, especially by the late E. L. Sukenik. On these have been found names and titles similar and often identical to those in the New Testament. Names such as Miriam (Mary), Martha, Elizabeth, Salome, Johanna, Sapphira, Jesus (Jeshua) and Joseph are among the common names of that period.63


Coins play an important part in the dating of the material remains that are excavated. For the period extending from 4 B. C. to the second Jewish revolt in the second century, coins of Jewish rulers, procurators, emperors, and free cities in the area of Palestine are available. This coinage provides an outline of the Roman policy toward the Jew for the period under consideration.64


As they say on the guided tours, "This completes our trip for today." We trust that the information gathered here may be as helpful to others in their study of Palestine in the New Testament period as it has been to us in the preparation thereof. Perhaps future excavations will uncover buildings, objects, inscriptions, tombs or coins that will shed new light on the places that our Lord and His disciples walked and worked.


39 G. E. Wright and F. V. Filson, The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible (rev. ed.; Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1956), p. 107.

40 Ibid. 41 Dalman, 316. 42 Kraeling, 404.

43 Michel join-Lambert, Jerusalem, trans. Charlotte Haldane (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1958), P. 95.

44 Dalman, 331. 45 Wright, 226.

46 Wright and Filson, 107. 47 Wright, 226.

48 Ibid.

49 Jerry Vardaman, "A New Inscription Which Mentions Pilate as 'Perfect'," Journal of Biblical Literature, LXXXI (March, 1962), 70, 71.

50 Kraeling, 406.

51 Andre Parrot, Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, trans. Edwin Hudson (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1957), p. 33.

52 Parrot, 15. 53 Albright, 158

54 Parrot, 16-22, 55 Ibid., 16. 56 Ibid., 40. 57 Finegan, 240. 58 Parrot, 59-61 59 Ibid., 48.

60 F. F. Bruce, "Archaeological Confirmation of the Old Testament." Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1958), p. 330.

61 For this writers evaluation of the question "Did Christianity Originate with the Dead Sea Sect?" see Evidence Quarterly, I (3rd Quarter, 1960), p. 42-51. 62 Wright, 230.

63 Albright, 244

64 For a good brief discussion of the coins of the period see Thompson, pp. 304-314.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XII: 7, pp. 13-15
April 1968