Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary

By John J. Rousseau; Rami Arav | Go to book overview

Jerusalem, Herod’s Palace


Herod’s palace, which was the Jerusalem residence of the Roman prefects in the first century C.E., is one of the sites proposed for Jesus’ condemnation by Pilate.

Scripture References

Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; John 18:28, 33; 19:9, 13.

General Information

The palace built by Herod the Great at the western edge of the Upper City, although known largely from Josephus’ description rather than from archaeological materials, was a feat of architectural achievement and luxurious extravagance (Josephus, War 5, 4.4/176–1821. It was also a strong fortress comprised of the city fortification wall itself on the western side and an inner wall 30 cubits (45 feet) high in the south and the east, with towers at regular intervals. Josephus refers to it as the “Upper Palace” (War 2, 17.5/429) and indicates that during the First Jewish War, which ended with the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans, priests and royal soldiers retreated to this palatial fortress. On the north side was still a stronger fortress or citadel formed by three large towers named in memory of persons dear to Herod: Hippicus, a friend slain in battle; a brother Phasael, also killed in war; and Mariamne, his Hasmonean and preferred wife, whom he had slain out of jealousy (War 5, 4.3–4/160–73).

According to Josephus’ description, the palace contained rooms for a hundred guests, banquet halls, and cloisters, all built with rare stones and wood. Elegant furniture and gold and silver objects adorned the apartments. The palace grounds featured patios, gardens and groves, dovecotes, and ponds with bronze statues out of which water gushed forth. The towers of the northern citadel were built of large white marble blocks tightly joined together. Hippicus, at the northwest corner was a solid block, 32 feet square and 45 feet high; it was surmounted by a reservoir 30 feet high and also a two story building, 32 feet high, with battlements and turrets, for a total height of 120 feet. Phasael, in the northeast, had a solid base of 60 feet cube surmounted by a cloister and another tower for a total height of 135 feet; it was modeled after the famous Pharos* of Alexandria. The third tower, Mariamne, was probably located east of Phasael; its solid base of 30 feet cube supported a “more magnificent building,” delicately adorned for a total height of 75 feet.

When Archaelus, son and successor of Herod in Judea, was deposed in 6 C.E., the palace was assigned as the prefectoral residence in Jerusalem, the normal headquarters being in Caesarea Maritima. During the prefect’s absence, the palace was probably occupied by a small garrison and a group of slaves under the supervision of a steward. The permanent prefectoral representative was most likely the tribune commander of the cohort in the Antonia. At the beginning of the First Jewish War, when the Romans had evacuated Jerusalem, the rebels seized the palace, which they finally burnt, along with the upper part of the three towers (War 5, 4.4/182–83). After he subdued the rebellion, Titus left the towers and part of the western wall standing and installed a garrison in the southern area of the palace’s ruins (War 7, 1.1/1–2). Successive invaders—Arabs, Crusaders, Mameluks, and Turks occupied the site and destroyed it further. Today, the only remains of Herod’s magnificent palace and towers are to be found in the Citadel, just south of the Jaffa Gate, which dates mostly from the Mameluk period. What is today called David’s Tower (a name given by the Crusaders) incorporates elements of the Phasael Tower.

Archaeological Data

Very few remains of Herod’s enormous palace have been recovered. Bliss and Dickie in 1894 unearthed a wall in the Citadel from the Hasmonean period, which had been incorporated in a new structure. Excavating in the same area from 1934 to 1948, C. N. Johns discovered the Hasmonean and Herodian base of David’s Tower, which he identified with Phasael. The tower had been built into a previous Hasmonean wall as can be inferred from coins of Alexander Jannaeus discovered there. In 1968–69, R. Amiran and A. Eitan found the remains of a large tower preserved to a height of 10 feet. It was inside the Hasmonean fortification wall, which was also recognized by M. Broshi in 1971 when he excavated in the Armenian Garden; it was the same as the one Bliss and Dickie had previously identified. Altogether, it appears that the foundations were deep and that the palace complex was built on a platform at least 10 feet higher than the first Hasmonean construction. On the eastern side it extended probably to what is today the Street of the Armenian Patriarchate.

Implications for Jesus Research

Scholars are divided as to the location of the piaetońum,’ “prefectoral residence,” at the time Jesus was condemned by Pilate. The Gospels use this Latin term as well as the Greek lithosthioton, “stone paved area,” Hebrew gabbatha, “elevated place,” and Greek form bematos (from the Hebrew bema, “judicial bench” or “platform”), but do not indicate its location (Matt. 27:27; Mark 15:16; John 18:28, 33; 19:9, 13).

Herod’s palace was almost certainly the piaetolium in Jerusalem. According to Philo, Pilate resided in the palace at the occasion of the great feasts in the Holy City (Delegation to Gaius, chap. 38). Gessius Florus resided in the palace in May 66 just before the beginning of the First Jewish Revolt when he came to Jerusalem with murderous intentions and slaughtered 3,600 persons, including women and children (War 2, 14.8–9/301–8). Yet no specific evidence establishes that Pontius Pilate was residing in Herod’s palace when he condemned Jesus to be crucified. Herod’s palace was the normal prefectoral residence in Jerusalem; yet Pilate could have elected to stay in the Antonia at the time of Jesus’ last Passover (see ANTONIA, PAVEMENT). If Jesus was sentenced to death by Pilate at the palace, the most logical place would have been at its eastern gate opening on a square where the prefect would have had a bema or sella cuiulis, “judgment seat.” Those who defend this hypothesis interpret the “Upper Market Place” of Josephus (War 2, 14.9/305) as a “large city square next to the palace.” It is highly improbable that Herod would have planned a market place at one of the main gates of his palace, and that a prefect would have tolerated the gathering of crowds at his door on a regular and perhaps daily basis.


Amiran, R. and A. Eitan. “Excavations in the Citadel, Jerusalem, 1968–1969.” Preliminary Report. Eietz Israel 11 (1973): 213–18 (Hebrew).

Geva, H. “Jerusalem.” NEAEHL 2:725–29.

Levine, L. I. “Symposium. Herod’s Building Projects: Toward an Appraisal of Herod as a Builder.” The Jerusalem Cathedra 1 (1981): 62–66.

Netzer, E. “Herod’s Building Program.” ABD 3:169–72.


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Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Map of Palestine Key v
  • Title Page ix
  • Contents xi
  • Foreword a Down-to-Earth Jesus xiii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • List of Abbreviations xx
  • List of Figures xxi
  • List of Tables xxiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Aenon and Salim 7
  • Agriculture, Cereals 8
  • Antonia, Pavement (Gabbatha, Lithostrotos) 12
  • Bethabara/Beth Araba/Bethany 14
  • Bethany 15
  • Bethlehem 16
  • Bethphage 18
  • Bethsaida 19
  • Boats 25
  • Caesarea Maritima 30
  • Caesarea Philippi (Banias) 33
  • Camps, Siege Banks 35
  • Cana 38
  • Capernaum (Capharnaum) [Hebrew, Kfar Nahum] 39
  • Cave of Letters 47
  • Chorazin 52
  • Coins and Money 55
  • Coins as Historical Documents 61
  • Construction, Cities 68
  • Crucifixion 74
  • Dead Sea Scrolls 78
  • Decapolis 85
  • Ephraim 87
  • Exorcism 88
  • Gadara, Kursi 97
  • Galilean Caves 99
  • Gamla, Gamala 100
  • Garden Tomb 104
  • Gennesareth (Hebrew, Ginosar) 109
  • Gethsemane 110
  • Golgotha, Traditional Site 112
  • Gospel of Thomas 118
  • Hebron 123
  • Herodium 124
  • Hippos/Susita 127
  • House 128
  • Jacob’s Well 131
  • Jericho 132
  • Jerusalem, Caiaphas’s House 136
  • Jerusalem, Caiaphas’s Tomb 139
  • Jerusalem, City of David, Ophel 142
  • Jerusalem, Gehenna, Akeldama 145
  • Jerusalem, Herodian 146
  • Jerusalem, Herod’s Palace 151
  • Jerusalem, Kidron 152
  • Jerusalem, Pool of Bethesda 155
  • Jerusalem, Streets and Stairs 161
  • Jerusalem, Tombs 164
  • Jerusalem, Upper City 169
  • Jerusalem, Upper Room 173
  • Jerusalem, Walls and Gates 175
  • Jerusalem, Water System 180
  • Jordan River, Fords 183
  • Judean Caves 185
  • Machaerus (Hebrew, Makhwar) 187
  • Magdala (Hebrew, Migdal; Aramaic, Migdal Nunya; Greek, Taricheae) 189
  • Magic, Miracles 190
  • Masada 195
  • Medicine, Physicians 199
  • Moses’ Seat 203
  • Mount Gerizim 206
  • Mount Hermon 208
  • Mount of Olives 210
  • Mount Tabor 212
  • Nain (Hebrew Naim) 213
  • Nazareth 214
  • Ointments, Perfumes 216
  • Olive Oil Industry 220
  • Pantera’s Tombstone 223
  • Pontius Pilate’s Stone 225
  • Pottery and Glass 227
  • Qumran 233
  • Ritual Baths (Miqvaoth) 236
  • Samaria, Samaritans 240
  • Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret) 245
  • Sepphoris (Hebrew, Zippori) 248
  • Shepherding 251
  • Slaves and Servants 253
  • Sodom and Gomorrah 257
  • Son of Man 259
  • Stone, Stoning 263
  • Sychar-Shechem 267
  • Synagogues 268
  • Tannery, Leather 273
  • Tax and Tax Collectors 275
  • Temple, History, Description 279
  • Temple, Royal Stoa 288
  • Temple, Sacrificial System 291
  • Temple, Service and Ritual 296
  • Temple, Solomon’s Portico 303
  • Temple, Stairs and Gates 304
  • Temple, Treasury 309
  • Temple, Trumpeting Place 311
  • Temple, Warning Signs 312
  • Textiles, Dyeing 313
  • Tiberias (Hebrew, Tveria) 316
  • Traditional Healing 318
  • Tunic without Seam, Dice 324
  • Tyre and Sidon 326
  • Viticulture 328
  • Weapons 332
  • Weights and Measures 336
  • Wood, Furniture 339
  • Tables 343
  • Historical Synopsis 357
  • Glossary 361
  • General Bibliography 365
  • Index of Scriptures Cited 369
  • Index of Early Jewish Writings Cited 379
  • Index of Ancient Writers Cited 382
  • Index of Names, Places, and Subjects 385


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