Archaeology is a valuable tool which allows us to travel back in time, so to speak, and walk in the footsteps of the people described in the pages of Scripture. Viewing the things these individuals saw allows us to contextualize and understand the biblical text. As part of this “Footsteps” series, we’ve gone back in time to see things that Joseph likely would have seen in Egypt, and things Peter probably saw in Capernaum. In this article, we’ll focus on Jesus in Jerusalem.
The New Testament biographies of Jesus – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – record that Jesus made regular trips to Jerusalem. As a first-century, Jewish man, he made the required pilgrimages to celebrate the Jewish feasts (ie. Feast of Unleavened Bread – Matt. 26:17; Feast of Tabernacles – John 7:2,10; Feast of Dedication – John 10:22; Purim1 – John 5:1, etc.). Here are three things Jesus likely saw during his time in Jerusalem.
Pool of Siloam
In one of the gospels, we read about how Jesus healed a blind man: “He spit on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” (John 9:6-7 ESV) The Pool of Siloam was evidently nearby and obviously a place with which Jesus was familiar. In fact, most Jews who came to Jerusalem were familiar with the Pool of Siloam, since, during the Feast of Tabernacles, a priest drew water from this pool in a golden vessel and carried it in a procession back to the Temple.2
For many years, people identified a small pool where water emerges from Hezekiah’s Tunnel as the Pool of Siloam. This is where a Byzantine church had been built by the Empress Eudocia to commemorate the miracle of the blind man.3
In 2004, workers repairing a drainage pipe located a short distance away from the Byzantine pool, unearthed several large, stone steps. Archaeologists, Eli Shukrun and Ronny Reich were called in and unearthed a large pool that was in use during the first century, which most scholars now believe is the Pool of Siloam of Jesus’ day.4 This pool was dated using coins and pottery found during the excavations. Four coins of Alexander Jannaeus (ca. 103–76 BC) were found in the plaster of the original steps, dating it’s construction to the late Hasmonean/early Hellenistic period. Near one of the corners of the pool in a plaza or terrace, the excavators found Second-Temple pottery and coins from the First Jewish Revolt (66-70 AD).5 Thus, this large pool was likely used from the late Hasmonean/early Hellenistic period through to the destruction of Jerusalem in the latter half of the first century. It is almost certain that this is the Pool of Siloam which Jesus was familiar with and in which the blind man was healed.
Early, eyewitness testimony records that Jesus frequently went to the Temple while he was in Jerusalem (Matt. 21:12; 24:1; Mark 11:27; 12:35; John 5:14; 7:14; 8:2, 20: 10:23). The main gates, used by most pilgrims coming to the Temple, were the Double and Triple Gates (or the Huldah Gates), located on the southern side of the temple mount.6 Early Rabbinic sources testify that the two Huldah Gates in the south were used for entering an exiting the Temple (Mishnah Middot 1:3; 2:2).7 The fact that many ritual baths, called Mikvoit (or Mikveh, in the singular) have been discovered in this area, testify to the importance of these gates.8
The Double and Triple Gates, as well as the southern steps leading up to them, are still visible today. The southern Temple Mount area was unearthed in excavations led by Benjamin Mazar from 1968-78, and under Ronny Reich in the 1990’s. A number of discoveries, including the southern steps, a first century road, numerous ritual baths, and the famous Trumpeting inscription, all add to our understanding of the function of the temple in the time of Jesus.9 In front of the Double Gate, Mazar unearthed a massive staircase, 215 feet wide with 30 steps constructed of trimmed paving blocks, which have since been restored.9 Undoubtedly, Jesus used these steps many times to enter and exit the Temple precincts.
Once inside, the temple complex itself was divided into several courtyards. The Court of the Gentiles was the closest area that gentiles and ritually impure people could get to the temple itself. Between this courtyard and the inner courts of the temple precinct, there was a wall on which were warning signs in both Greek and Latin that forbade foreigners from going beyond that point. Josephus describes these warning signs in two passages:
“When you go through these [first] cloisters, unto the second [court of the] temple, there was a partition made of stone, all round; whose height was three cubits, its construction was very elegant. Upon it stood pillars, at equal distances from one another; declaring the law of purity, some in Greek and some in Roman letters; that no foreigner should go within that sanctuary.” (War 5.5.2)10
“Thus was the first enclosure. In the midst of which, and not far from it, was the second: to be gone up to by a few steps. This was encompassed by a stone wall, for a partition: with an inscription, which forbade any foreigner to go in under pain of death.” (Antiquities 15.11.5)11
In 1871, one of these warning signs was discovered in Jerusalem. The limestone slab had a seven-line inscription which reads: “Foreigners must not enter inside the balustrade or into the forecourt around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”12 In 1935 a second fragmentary temple warning inscription was discovered outside of the Old City of Jerusalem near the Lion’s Gate. Jesus and his disciples would have seen these warning inscriptions many times as they entered the temple precincts.
Two buildings dominated the landscape of first-century Jerusalem: the Temple and Herod’s palace. Jesus would have, no-doubt, seen the three great towers of Herod the Great’s palace, which he named in honor his friends and relatives: Hippicus, Phasael, and Miriamne. The base of one of these ancient towers still stands today near the Jaffa Gate and is popularly, if erroneously, known as the “Tower of David.” Many identify this tower as Phasael, although Hillel Geva has argued that it is the remains of Hippicus.13 While Jesus was likely familiar with Herod’s palace from the outside, is there any evidence that he was ever inside this famous building? I believe there is.
When Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus, he was taken to the “palace of the Roman governor” (John 18:28), which was one and the same as the Praetorium. (Mark 15:16).
When Herod’s son Archelaus was deposed by the Romans in 6 AD, they confiscated his possessions. Herod’s magnificent palace then became the residence for the Roman governor whenever he visited Jerusalem. Philo of Alexandria, a contemporary of Jesus, described Herod’s Palace as “the residence of the prefects;” Josephus also identified the residence of Roman governors with Herod’s palace.14
Archaeologist, Shimon Gibson states, “Today, a consensus of opinion exists among scholars that Herod’s Palace on the west side of the city was the same as the Praetorium and that in its immediate vicinity Jesus was tried and condemned to death.”15
Part of Herod’s palace can be seen today near the Tower of David Museum, beneath the “Kishle,” an Ottoman-era prison. The massive Herodian walls are visible at the lowest level, with various other layers of construction through the ages built on top of them.
Viewing the places in Jerusalem that Jesus would have seen is a helpful way to enter the biblical text and develop a greater understanding of the geographical, historical, and cultural background of the world in which Jesus lived. Many places in the Jerusalem of Jesus’ day have been excavated and the findings affirm the accurate descriptions of these places found in the gospels.
Title Picture: Chris Yunker / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0
1 Gordon Franz, “Jesus Celebrated Purim,” March 5, 2003. http://www.ldolphin.org/jpurim.html (Accessed June 9, 2019).
2 “The Pool of Siloam,” in NIV Archaeological Study Bible (ed. Walter C. Kaiser Jr and Duane Garrett; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 1739.
3 Hershel Shanks, “The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Cured The Blind Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 31:5 (September/October 2005): 18, 21 .
4 Todd Bolen, “The Pool of Siloam Revealed,” BiblePlaces.com. https://www.bibleplaces.com/poolofsiloam/ (Accessed June 4, 2019).
5 Hershel Shanks, “The Siloam Pool: Where Jesus Cured The Blind Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review, 31:5 (September/October 2005): 21.
6 Leen Ritmeyer, “The Beautiful Gate of the Temple in Jerusalem,” Ritmeyer Archaeological Design, Dec. 14, 2010. https://www.ritmeyer.com/2010/12/14/the-beautiful-gate-of-the-temple/comment-page-1/ (Accessed July 9, 2019).
7 Ferrell Jenkins, “The Double and Triple Gates of the Temple Mount,” Ferrell’s Travel Blog, May 30, 2017. https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2017/05/30/the-double-and-triple-gates-of-the-temple-mount/ (Accessed July 9, 2019).
8 Todd Bolen, “Southern Temple Mount,” Bible Places. https://www.bibleplaces.com/southerntm/ (Accessed July 9, 2019).
9 John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991), 106.
10 Josephus, War of the Jews, 5.5.2. Online: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/war-5.html (Accessed July 9, 2019).
11 Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 15.11.5. Online: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/josephus/ant-15.html (Accessed July 9, 2019).
12 Carl Rasmussen, “Warning to Gentiles from the Days of Jesus — Inscriptions,” Holy Land Photos, https://holylandphotos.wordpress.com/2018/12/17/warning-to-gentiles-from-the-days-of-jesus-inscriptions/ (Accessed July 9, 2019).
13 Hillel Giva, “The ‘Tower of David’—Phasael or Hippicus?” Israel Exploration Journal 31, no. 1/2 (1981): 57-65. http://www.jstor.org/stable/27925783 (Accessed July 11, 2019).
14 John McRay, Archaeology and the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991), 118-119.
15 Shimon Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence, (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2009), 91.