Christian Living

BibleArcheology 01/18/11

Jesus' Trial: It Wasn't Where You Think

Two things can send my blood pressure into the red zone more quickly than anything else: bad grammar and bad archaeology. Or rather, religious traditions that ignore archaeology in order to lure unsuspecting pilgrims into yet another tourist trap.

One of the worst victims of church tradition is the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. The whole route was the result of a split between Jerusalem's churches in the Middle Ages. Simply put, each church claimed the Via Dolorosa ran through their churches. Plus, some of the "stations of the cross" are based on legends invented hundreds of years after Jesus lived (Yes, I'm talking to you, St. Veronica).

To help trace the real Via Dolorosa, I contacted a prominent archaeologist for an interview, knowing that he was writing a book on this topic. (I badly want to publish his name, but it's a new year, and I'm trying to take the high road at least a few times.) Nameless Archaeologist's literary agent told me that I'd have to shell out a few thousand dollars to be shown this new route, and that I would have to hold my story until after the book was published.

That's when I called New Testament historian Claire Pfann from the University of the Holy Land, a longtime friend of CBN. Claire laughed at my story and told me that information was common knowledge among scholars, Nameless Archaeologist had no claims on the property, and that she would show me the places for free. I'm in her debt because she helped us get that story on the air before anyone else, beating CNN by just a few hours.

You can watch it here: www.cbn.com/media/player/index.aspx

My favorite spot on this alternate Via Dolorosa is a place I had walked past dozens of times without even noticing it. You won't ever see a busload of tourists here. People walk quietly by on their way to somewhere more important, kids play soccer in the grass, someone sits down on a stone to tie a shoe. There are no signs telling you what you're looking at, no lines of people waiting to get in, no roped-off areas separating you from "holy ground."

And yet, according to reliable historians and archaeologists, this is the place where Pilate presented Jesus to the crowds, with the famous phrase Ecce Homo, or "Behold the Man."

It's a quiet, grassy spot along the Old City walls, just southeast of the Citadel, a medieval fortress built on the ruins of Herod's palace. A set of massive stone steps, now nearly buried in the grass, lead up to the modern wall, behind which was the palace. These steps are the spot where Pilate led Jesus, beaten and bloody, to stand before all of Jerusalem. As I stand there and look out over the city, down into the Valley of Hinnom then up to the neighborhood of Yemin Moshe, I try to imagine what the view must have looked like to Jesus. He would have been facing outside the city toward rocky desert hills, dotted with cypress and olive trees.

And in the foreground were the crowds, mocking, shouting, accusing. We have no king but Caesar. Crucify him. Then Pilate washed his hands, and Jesus was led back through the city walls, up the western side of the city, and outside the walls again to be crucified.  He never protested or defended himself, never hurled sarcastic barbs at his accusers or tried to run away. He simply stood still.

To view a slide show of the real Old City Wall please visit www.cbn.com/gallery/.

I love to see people learn the truth about where Jesus walked; that's partly why I'm writing this blog. But as I stand in this spot, I'm selfishly glad it's still untouched by busloads of tourists. For just a few moments, I can stand here in the quiet, close my eyes and remember how, on these very steps, Jesus moved closer to the greatest act of love in history... simply by standing still.

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