Antonia Fortress

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Antonia Fortress: Pilate’s Judgment Hall

 

Location

 

1. The Antonia Fortress was located just outside the Temple Mount area on its northwestern side.  

 

2. Today, Umariya Elementary School and a convent of the Sisters of Zion lie atop its ruins.

 

3. Some of the ruins can be accessed through the Convent of the Sisters of Zion.

 

4. Tradition places the Antonia Fortress as the beginning point of the Via Dolorosa (painful path). 

 

Historical Background

 

1. The Antonia Fortress was a military headquarters and barracks built by Herod the Great in 19 BC to protect the Temple Mount area and the city of Jerusalem. It was named after Herod's patron, Mark Antony.  

 

2. Some believe Jesus appeared before Pilate here and was condemned to death by crucifixion.

 

3. Others believe that Pilate’s Headquarters, also called Pilate’s Palace or Praetorium, was the place Christ appeared before Pilate. It’s located on the northern side of Jerusalem, just south of the Jaffa Gate. The evidence points strongly in favor of this location as the place of Christ’s trial and condemnation.

 

4. Some believe that the Antonia Fortress encompassed all the current Temple Mount and that the original Temple Mount was in the City of David. However, Scripture clearly states that at the dedication of the temple that Solomon built, in 2 Chronicles 5, that the Ark of the covenant was brought, “out of the City of David” to the temple. “Then Solomon assembled to Jerusalem the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the fathers’ households of the sons of Israel, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the City of David, which is Zion” (2 Chron. 5:2).

 

If the Ark was brought out of the City of David to the temple, then the temple couldn't have been in the City of David. There is also overwhelming historical and archaeological evidence, and the writings of the famous Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, that contradict the belief that the Antonia Fortress encompassed all the Temple Mount.

 

Evidence that the Temple Mount was not the Antonia Fortress.

1. Contrary to what some say, the current Temple Mount existed long before the Romans arrived. The Temple Mount foundation, or platform, was first built by Solomon. Then Hezekiah enlarged it. Later, its foundations were repaired during the time of Zerubbabel when the second temple was built. We see evidence of this in the ancient stones around the Eastern Gate. They date back to the time of Solomon, Hezekiah, Zerubbabel, and Nehemiah. 

 

2. Later, in around 141 BC, the Hasmoneans built an extension to the southern end of the Temple Mount. This can be seen in the Eastern Wall, where the bend in the wall exists. Thus, there is a change in stone styles from earlier periods to the Hasmonean period. 

 

3. Then, in around 19 BC, Herod the Great began to enlarge the Temple Mount Platform. He would double the size of what it was during the Hasmonean period. This can be seen in the Eastern Wall as well, where there is a seam in the wall. The stone styles change from Hasmonean to Herodian. Josephus confirms this: “Accordingly, in the fifteenth year of his reign [23-22 BC], Herod rebuilt the temple, and encompassed a piece of land about it with a wall, which land was twice as large as that before enclosed. The expenses he laid out upon it were vastly large also, and the riches about it were unspeakable” (Wars of the Jews, Bk 1, Ch. 21, Sect. 401).
Therefore, the current Temple Mount existed long before the Romans arrived and was not expanded to be a Roman Fort.

 

4. There are also no historical records that a Roman Legion was stationed in Jerusalem before 66–67 AD. At this time, the Jews had revolted and recaptured Jerusalem from Roman control. The 10th Roman Legion was then moved to Jerusalem to conquer it. This was a fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy. The city was destroyed and conquered in 70 AD.

 

5. Facts about the 10th Roman Legion. 

 

  • It was founded in around 41 or 40 BC. It was also called the X Fretensis or Legio X.

  • It was never stationed in Jerusalem until it arrived to overthrow the Jewish rebellion that had taken place wherein the Jews overtook the Roman Soldiers who were in Jerusalem and regained control. It was the 10th Roman Legion, led by Vespasian, that would win the battle to recapture Jerusalem from the Jews in 70 AD. 

  • From 67 onward, X Fretensis fought in the war against the Jews. It was commanded by Marcus Ulpius Trajanus, the father of the future emperor. The supreme commander of the Roman forces in Judaea was general Vespasian, who was to become emperor during the civil war that broke out after the suicide of Nero in 68 AD.

  • After the conclusion of the Jewish revolt in around 73 AD, Legio X was garrisoned at Jerusalem. Their main camp was positioned on the Western Hill, located in the southern half of the old city, now leveled of all former buildings. The camp of the Tenth was built using the surviving portions of the walls of Herod the Great's palace, demolished by order of Titus. The camp was at the end of the cardo maximus of Aelia Capitolina (Pace, H. Geva, "The Camp of the Tenth Legion in Jerusalem: An Archaeological Reconsideration," IEJ 34, 1984, pp. 247-249).

6. Josephus clearly describes and clarifies that the Antonia Fortress was destroyed by the Romans when they conquered and tore down the temple in 70 AD: “Titus now ordered the troops that were with him to raze the foundations of Antonia and to prepare an easy ascent [into the Temple Mount] for the whole army” (Wars Ch. 6, Sect 93). “Meanwhile, the rest of the Roman army, having in seven days overthrown the foundations of Antonia, had prepared a broad ascent to the Temple” (Wars Ch. 6, Sect. 149). 

 

It is vital to understand that when Josephus wrote this, it was in 70 AD, more than 70 years after Herod enlarged the Temple Mount Platform. Also, the Tenth Roman Legion never was stationed in Jerusalem until after it was conquered in 70 AD. So, the idea that the current Temple Mount Platform was built for the Tenth Roman Legion is entirely false.

 

7. If the Antonia was destroyed in seven days, it reveals that it wasn’t that big. Also, it was destroyed, so there is no way the current Temple Mount could be the Antonia Fortress. 

 
Places of Interest

 

1. Ecce Homo Arch (behold the man)
2. Convent of the Sisters of Zion
3. Cistern hewed out of the rock.
4. Pavement stones with Roman carved games on them.
5. Pavement stones with carved grooves.
6. Temple Mount

 

Antonia Fortress in the Bible

 

1. The Antonia Fortress is the believed place where the Via Dolorosa begins.

 

Tradition places the Antonia Fortress as the beginning place of the Via Dolorosa. However, the site with the best evidence for being the beginning place of the Via Dolorosa is Pilate’s Palace, located just south of the Jaffa Gate.

 

2. Paul addressed an angry mob from the Antonia Fortress.

 

Acts 21:27–40: When the seven days were almost over, the Jews from Asia, upon seeing him [Paul] in the temple, began to stir up all the crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, “Men of Israel, come to our aid! This is the man who preaches to all men everywhere against our people and the Law and this place; and besides he has even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple. 30 Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut. 31 While they were seeking to kill him, a report came up to the commander of the Roman cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. 32 At once he took along some soldiers and centurions and ran down to them; and when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came up and took hold of him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; and he began asking who he was and what he had done. 34 But among the crowd some were shouting one thing and some another, and when he could not find out the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. 35 When he got to the stairs, he was carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob; 36 for the multitude of the people kept following them, shouting, “Away with him!” 37 As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the commander, “May I say something to you?” And he said, “Do you know Greek? 38 Then you are not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?” 39 But Paul said, “I am a Jew of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no insignificant city; and I beg you, allow me to speak to the people.” 40 When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.

 

Faith Lesson from the Antonia Fortress

 

1. Paul suffered at the Antonia Fortress for his faith. Are we willing to boldly proclaim our faith and suffer as a result if necessary?

 

2. Paul shared his testimony often. Do we have our testimony memorized, and do we share it when talking to others about God?

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