Last SupperOne of the Roman procurators who served before the accession of King Agrippa was Pontius Pilate. His name would have died with him were it not for an execution warrant he signed during his term of office, AD 26-36. In order to reduce the status and importance of Jerusalem, hoping thereby to lessen its influence as the fount of Jewish rebellion against Roman rule, the procurators shifted the seat of their administration to the Herodian-built city of Caesarea on the Mediterranean. But they would visit Jerusalem on the principal Jewish festivals, the Pilgrim Festivals, when the Temple drew vast numbers of worshippers from the country and the Diaspora and the consequent dangers of insurrection were greatest.

It was on the Passover Festival, the traditional “freedom festival” of the Jews, when they recall their exodus from Egypt and liberation from slavery, that Pontius Pilate came to Jerusalem. It was while he was there that he ordered the crucifixion of a Galilean Jewish preacher, Jesus of Nazareth, little dreaming of the effect upon mankind his action was to have.

The year was AD 33. Jesus and his disciples, observant Jews, had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. He had been making the pilgrimage since boyhood. “When he was twelve years old,” we read in Luke (chapter 2) “his parents [who] went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover” took him along. On their way home, after staying through the days of the feast, they missed the youngster, but thought he was with their kinsfolk. They had gone a day’s journey when they found that he was not with their group, and they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. They searched for three days, and then “they found him in the Temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.”


By the time he came to Jerusalem on what was to be his last Passover, he was already well known—and marked as a dangerous rebel. He was aware of the threat to his life if he forsook the comparative safety of Galilee and made this pilgrimage, when Jerusalem would be thronged with visitors and the Romans would be on the alert for revolt. He knew that many rebellious preachers before him had ended up on the cross, the traditional manner of execution by the Romans and hated by the Jews, who saw it as a cruel expression of a cruel tyranny. But Jesus came nevertheless.

What made his pilgrimage even more dangerous was the repeated claim that he was the Messiah. This angered most Jews, including the Jewish leadership with their experience of “false Messiahs,” and who also considered the idea of the “Son of God” most blasphemous. But the Romans feared that he might be greeted as an angel of liberation come to free his people from foreign oppression, and they would certainly take action against him.


The meal was held in the “Upper Room” of a certain house, and there was to be much controversy in later centuries as to its exact location. The Gospels offer no clue, simply telling us that when his disciples asked him “Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the Passover?,” he told them to go into the city, follow a man with a pitcher of water, enter the house which he entered, and say to the owner, “The Master saith, where is the guest-chamber, where I shall eat the Passover with my disciples? And he will show you a large upper room furnished and prepared- there make ready for us” (Mark XIV). The traditional location of the “upper room” is on today’s Mount Zion. It is called the Coenaculum, which means refectory.

From now on, every move made by Jesus in the final hours of his days on earth was to be commemorated, centuries later, by a shrine. After the ritual meal, he and his disciples go across the Kidron valley to the Mount of Olives, and a little way up the slope come to an enclosed piece of ground called Gethsemane—Gat-shemanim is Hebrew for “oil-press.” Nearby is a cave where they are to rest during the night. Leaving most of them in the cave, Jesus decides to spend his last hours in reflection and prayer under the moon, among the silver olive trees, and takes three disciples with him to witness his Agony. It is from there in the garden of Gethsemane that he is taken on the route which is to lead to the cross.

He is brought first to the “palace of the high priest” Caiaphas. This is held by modern scholars to have been one of the buildings of the Hasmonean palaces, formerly the site of the Seleucid Akra, the fortress on the southwest hill across the Tyropoeon valley form the Temple compound; but tradition places it close to the Coenaculum.

From there he is led straight to the procurator, Pontius Pilate, at the Praetorium, and taken “unto the hall of judgment.” The Jews remain outside. There is scholarly controversy as to whether the Praetorium was the Antonia fortress, next to the Temple on the east hill, which housed the bulk of the Roman garrison, or whether the Praetorium, which was any office or residence where the Roman praetor (chief or leader) hung his shield and before which he place his tribune, was Herod’s palace. A unit of Roman troops was stationed there too. The majority hold that it was the latter, and that the trial of Jesus therefore took place on the southwest hill, close to today’s Jaffa Gate and Citadel. Tradition, however, has it that the event took place in the Antonia castle.

After Pilate has given judgment—the private part of the trial took place within the castle, the public part in the courtyard open to the populace—“the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the common hall…and led him away to crucify him.” In the “common hall,” he is scourged and crowned with thorns. He then makes his painful way, his via dolorosa, to Golgotha, site of the execution. If the Praetorium were Herod’s palace, he would have proceeded along the northern section of the Old City wall, the First Wall, through the Gennath or Garden Gate, roughly midway between Herod’s Hippicus Tower and the southwest section of the Temple Mount, and then turned northwards, through a gate in the Second Wall, and out to the west of the northern suburb of Bethesda. If the scene of judgment was Antonia, the sad procession would have come upon Golgotha from the northeast, and would have gone through the same gate in the Second Wall but would not have touched the first. That is the route traditionally accepted, marked by today’s Via Dolorosa and the Stations of the Cross. Executions took place outside the city walls, and at the time Golgotha was outside. It became enclosed only a few years later when King Agrippa built his northern or Third Wall.