Where Is the Real Via Dolorosa?

According to Israeli archeologist, site where Pilate condemned Jesus to death is near Western Wall.

In 29 C.E., the first year of Pontius Pilate as Roman procurator in Jerusalem, a young Jewish man from the Galilee, who had come to Jerusalem shortly before, was brought before him. According to the New Testament, the man, Jesus of Nazareth, had aroused the ire of the city's Sanhedrin because of his messianic declarations, and they turned him over to the Roman authorities on charges of subversion. Jesus' trial, which took place around Passover, was short: when he stood before Pilate, the Roman asked him "Are you the king of the Jews?" Jesus responded: "It is as you say." According to the Gospel accounts, after an exchange with the Jews who had gathered outside the place of Jesus' judgment, Pilate ordered Jesus crucified.

The place where Jesus' trial before Pilate was held, the Antonia Fortress, became one of Christianity's most sacred sites, and was eventually identified as the first of the 14 stations of the cross on the Via Dolorosa, which leads through the Old City to Golgotha - the place of Jesus' crucifixion and burial, at what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Catholics celebrate Easter on Sunday.

For the past thousand years, the Antonia Fortress has been pinpointed at a site in the Muslim Quarter overlooking the Temple Mount from the north, where the Muslim Ormariyah boys' school is now located.

However, an Israeli archaeologist now claims that the accepted location of the Antonia Fortress north of the Temple Mount is mistaken, and that the Via Dolorosa is not where tradition has located it for centuries.

According to Dr. Shimon Gibson of Jerusalem's Albright Institute, the site where Jesus was tried by Pontius Pilate and condemned to death is located near the Old City's western wall, next to the so-called Tower of David. Thus, the Via Dolorosa should actually begin at what is now a parking lot tucked away in the Old City's Armenian Quarter, where Gibson has identified the stone pavement (gabbata is the Aramaic word used in the New Testament) where procurators held their trials. From there, Gibson says, the real Via Dolorosa continued to where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre now stands.

The Roman fortress itself was apparently destroyed during Titus' conquest of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Gibson, who presents his arguments in his recently published English-language book, "The Final Days of Jesus," says the tradition about the real location of the Via Dolorosa was distorted during the Crusader era. The Crusaders massacred many of the city's Muslims, Jews and Orthodox Christians, leading to the effacing of centuries-old traditions. The city's "sacred geography" was reorganized, and a chapel was built on the site now identified by most people as the Antonia Fortress. But according to Gibson, excavations at the site show that the structure that stood there in Roman times was small and could not have held the palace of the Roman procurators.

However, Professor Meir Ben-Dov, a senior archaeologist who has excavated in Jerusalem's Western Wall Tunnel, calls Gibson's arguments "utter nonsense." Ben-Dov says the description by the contemporaneous historian Josephus Flavius "attests like a thousand witnesses that the Antonia Fortress was located at the corner of the Temple Mount, not anywhere else. I myself unearthed the foundations of its towers in the 1980s." According to Ben-Dov, Roman soldiers did not enter the Temple Mount, and therefore the fortress was situated next to it. "Josephus describes how Roman soldiers stood on the Antonia's ramparts and mooned Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount."