Forget the Via Dolorosa -Walking in Jesus’s Real Footsteps
Tourists to the Holy Land walk right past one of the most important sites in Christian history without realizing its significance. Noted archaeologist and author Shimon Gibson claims that the place of the trial of Jesus is not near the Antonia fortress, as the route of the Via Dolorosa (the “Way of Suffering”) marks, but rather in a completely different part of Jerusalem – now a small, unmarked park near the Jaffa Gate.
In his newly published book, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaelogical Evidence, Gibson claims that the starting point of the Via Dolorosa, which has been walked for centuries, is incorrect and reflects “a tradition with no historical basis whatsover.”
“It is amazing for me to think that thousands of Christian pilgrims pass by one of the most important, tangible sites of Christian history without realizing it. It is not known and there is no sign posted,” Gibson said in a recent interview with Travelujah.
Gibson, who has spent the last 30 years excavating numerous sites which are relevant to the story of Jesus, admits that some of his conclusions may be controversial. He is convinced, nonetheless, that the ancient stones and ruins have an important role to play in unravelling many of the mysteries surrounding Jesus’s final days and first-century Jerusalem. “Books which deal with Jesus tend to be written by theologians and historians who might make use of archaeological data, but not always. They usually use archaeology as a garnish, for a bit of illustrative material but not more than that. I decided to start with the archaeological context.”
His other findings include a new interpretation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and a proposed location for the tomb of Jesus.
What to see if you really want to walk in Jesus’s footsteps
Travelujah asked Gibson what pilgrims should plan if they really want to “walk in Jesus’s footsteps.” He suggested four sites, not always on the typical itineraries:
1. The Bethesda and Siloam Pools
These massive pools were thought for many years to have been water reservoirs. Yet Gibson argues that they were not designed to conserve large quantities of rainwater but were actually built for ritual purification needs.
Jerusalem was packed with thousands of Jewish pilgrims during Jesus’s time who came to celebrate the Passover festivities and attend the Temple. These pilgrims had to undergo ritual purification before ascending to the Temple. Gibson suggests that Jesus was trying to establish a new movement of baptism, with alternative purification and healing procedures centered at these pools.
It was at these pools, Gibson believes, that the “main activities of Jesus took place while he was in Jerusalem.”
2. Flight of Steps south of the Temple Mount
The Temple was one of the wonders of the ancient world and more than twice the size of the Athenian Acropolis. Gibson said that here “you can get a sense of the crowds that would have climbed up. They story of the Jesus overturning the tables took place here too.”
3. Mt. Zion
Gibson is currently excavating in this area, known in the Byzantine tradition as the area of the “House of Caiaphas“. While the exact location of the first-century house of the High Priest is still unknown, there are many palatial homes from that period being uncovered. Gibson writes that it is “great fun to thread the soil through one’s fingers, digging up fragments of cooking pots and storage jars, occasionally hitting upon a coin, but ultimately the main thrill is in being able to reveal the outline of the households, kitchens and installations, dining halls and bedrooms, dating back some 2,000 years.”
4. Park between Jaffa Gate and the southwest corner of the city (Trial location)
In this small park are the remains of a gateway system with a large expanse that Gibson believes was the site of Jesus’s Trial. He doesn’t believe the Trial would have been inside Herod’s palace, as commonly believed, since the palace was a very private residence. “It is inconceivable that Herod would have done business in his home.”
In his book, Gibson makes the case for this location and uses recent archaeological finds to name the Trial’s exact physical setting. He believes “the Trial was out in the open, conducted in front of the crowds.”
The Final Days of Jesus paints a picture of life in first-century Jerusalem that brings together the latest archaeological discoveries with the traditional sources. Author Shimon Gibson is currently a senior associate fellow at the W.F. Albright Instititute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem and an adjunct professor of archaeology at the University of North Carolina. He previously worked in the Israel Antiquities Authority
Gibson wrote in his book, “There is magic in its stones. Jerusalem is one of those special cities that many put on the list of places they most want to visit during their lifetime.” We recommend this book as a must-read for anyone who wants to uncover a bit more of that magic.
Lori Kaufmann is Co-Founder of Travelujah.com, the only Christian social network focused on travel to the Holy Land. Based in Israel, Travelujah connects people to the Holy Land by allowing users to share their experiences, write blogs, upload their pictures, create profiles, Search the Bible, learn with experts , book tours, hotels and Christian guesthouses and journey into the Land of the Bible.