The Praetorium

The Praetorium

Let us now face the second problem: where was the Praetorium of Pilate located? The Gospels do not help us to locate the Praetorium where Jesus was flogged and condemned to death. Luke is the most laconic and does not even mention the word Praetorium. He only says that the Jews "took him to Pilate" (Lk 23,1). The most detailed account is that of John who in chapters 18 and 19 repeatedly speaks of the Praetorium and adds also the terms Gabbatha and Lithostrotos (Jo 19,13). From the whole picture it seems that the term Praetorium indicates the palace where Pilate retired to interrogate Jesus. To the contrary, the Lithostrotos is an open-space located outside the Praetorium (note the continuous use of the verbs "enter" and "come out" in the account of John): it is there that Pilate pass his judgement and proclaims the death sentence.

Fr. Benoit, way back in the fifties, already showed that in roman practice the Praetorium was the residence of the "Praetor" and not an ordinary place where the "Praetor" (or the procurator) exercised justice. In a second moment he attained from the literary sources to affirm that the roman procurators, when they came to Jerusalem from Caesarea, used to reside at the royal palace which Herod the great had built on the western hill, thus a distinct palace from the Antonia tower which is located on the Eastern hill of the city. Benoit thus concluded that Jesus was flogged and condemned to death in the upper city, in the area of the big still visible Herodian tower, popularly known as David's Tower (next to Jaffa Gate) and not in the Antonia Tower. As corollary one has to say that according to this theory Jesus had to "go down" to Calvary and not "go up" because the Herodian Palace on the upper city was the high spot of the western hill.


The Lithostroton in the property of the Sisters of Sion.


The theory of Fr. Benoit has a defect: it does not keep in mind the tradition of the pilgrims who, starting from the fourth century localise the place of the judgement of Jesus not in the upper city, but at a spot in the central valley of Jerusalem, called Tyropeon. This point happens to be between the place where the Via Dolorosa starts and the Western Wall. The same pilgrims insist that from that spot, facing North, you had Calvary to your left (to the West) and from here one had to go up to the place of crucifixion. Fr. Bagatti, in reproducing the texts of these pilgrims, warns against the ease with which certain scholars discard these ancient traditions.

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