Holy Land Pilgrimage with Gila



"Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus and
 said to Him, 'Are you the King of the Jews'? ”        John 18: 33

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's imagine the Passover Feast from the Praetorium


Passover, the feast of unleavened bread, was approaching.  Herod’s temple plaza of 144,000 square meters (1.5m. square feet) -- the largest temple plaza in the ancient world -- could accommodate 400,000 pilgrims.

Rejoicing may have started on the road up to Jerusalem. Large caravans came overland from Babylon.  Ships brought pilgrims from Syria, Asia Minor and North Africa. Galilean pilgrims were known to sing psalms as they walked.  While the festive atmosphere started on the road, the true feast came in Jerusalem.

As commanded in Deuteronomy 14, every Jew was to eat at the Lord’s place – his grain, his new wine, his oil and the firstborn of his herds and flocks.  However, if he came from far away, he could exchange his produce for money and then spend that money on whatever his heart desired, as long as the money was spent in Jerusalem. (Wow – what a perk for Jerusalem merchants!!)

“And you shall spend that money for whatever your heart desires, you shall eat there before the Lord your God, and you shall rejoice, you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 14:26)  The trip to the Temple for Passover was the main feast of the year and a kosher occasion for splurging.

The Dome of the Rock sits on the location of the Temple of Jesus' day

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Dome of the Rock sits on the site of Jerusalem's first century AD Temple


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As the Jewish men were busy selecting a choice male lamb to be sacrificed in the Temple compound and the women busy simmering matzo ball chicken soup (just kidding), Pontius Pilate was making his preparations as well.

Pilate's palace on the shores of the Mediterranean at Caesarea

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Pilate's palace on the shores of the Mediterranean at Caesarea

Pilate left his seaside villa at Caesarea on the Mediterranean where he practiced his breast stroke daily in the fresh-water swimming pool and rooted for the most audacious chariot drivers in the hippodrome race track on weekends.  He harnessed his Ferrari Chariot and headed for Jerusalem.  Pilate was afraid that such a large gathering of Jewish pilgrims in one place might spark spontaneous riots or even worse – a full scale rebellion.  After all, Passover was the festival commemorating Jewish national liberation.

Seeing as King Herod Agrippa was also in town (Luke 23), Pontius and Mrs. Pilate most likely stayed at the palace-fort called Antonia, at the NW corner of the Temple Mount.  It had been built 6 decades earlier by Herod the great Judean builder so he would be able to spy into the Temple courtyard and perhaps even eavesdrop on the impassioned speeches of soap-box preachers along Solomon’s Porticoes.

The Antonia fortress, probably the first of Herod’s building projects, had a tower at each of its four corners.  One tower on the southeast corner was 70 cubits high which would be about 110 feet tall.  The main building of the Antonia was divided into two wings, each with a courtyard enclosed by two-storied porticoes.  The historian Josephus tells us that there were stairs leading down to the Temple porticoes by which the guards descended.

Model of the Antionia Fort with its 4 towers

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Model of the Antonia fortress with four towers (on right)

During the festivals, the guards took armed positions around the porticoes to watch the people and repress any suspicious movement in the plaza.  After all, the Temple itself was the visible rallying point of Judean loyalties.  Josephus the first century AD historian tells us that it was customary for the Roman prefect or procurator to be in Jerusalem with additional troops at Passover.

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was taken to the Praetorium after Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas and delivered Jesus to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him away into the hall called Praetorium and they called together the whole garrison.  And they clothed him with purple; and they twisted a crown of thorns, put it on his head and began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15: 16-18)

Many scholars believe that the Praetorium was part of the Antonia fortress.  That’s why the Via Dolorosa or the Way of the Cross starts by where the Antonia once stood at the northwest corner of the Temple plaza.

The Via Dolorosa or the Way of the Cross starts by the Praetorium

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

The Via Dolorosa or the Way of the Cross starts by the Praetorium

Today the Omariyyeh Moslem elementary school is situated on the site of the destroyed Antonia fort.  On Fridays and afternoons when classes have finished, it is possible to climb up to the school and look out over the Temple plaza as Pilate once would have done.  All you need is a slush fund for your group or about five shekels per person.

Entrance to the Omariyyeh School where the Antonia Fort once stood

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Entrance to the Omariyyeh School, on the site of the Antonia or Praetorium

As a photographer, I find it thrilling to take in an unobstructed view of the Dome of the Rock and try to imagine the scene in the eyes of the Roman governor – a breathtaking gleaming white marble temple 16 stories high, surrounded by at least a hundred thousand pilgrims waiting to make their sacrifices.  What a scene!

View of the Temple Mount from the Antonia Fort

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

View of the Temple Mount from the Omariyyeh School

Come to Jerusalem and as we prepare to follow Jesus’ footsteps to Golgotha, we’ll imagine the Passover scene from the Praetorium.  Then exiting Pilate’s Judgment Hall we hum, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

Copyright 2011 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin, a Connecticut Yankee guiding in King David’s court, has been sharing biblical insights on site in the Holy Land for over 30 years.  To celebrate a birthday milestone, she guided her own family around her favorite place in Jerusalem – the Temple Mount.  On tour, Gila mixes fun, fantasy and facts with passion for archeology and Bible.  Be sure to contact her in the beginning stages of planning your tour to check her availability.

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If you are contemplating leading a tour to the Holy Land or know someone who is, don’t miss Gila’s tips about do's and don'ts guaranteed to make your Holy Land pilgrimage a rave success.  Read Tips from A to Z for Holy Land Tour Leaders.

Tour the Temple Mount in the company of Abraham and Isaac, David and Solomon, Jesus and the disciples, the angel Gabriel and Mohammed.  Meet many other luminaries, both real and legendary.

Now available as a written 24-page PDF with a Temple Mount plan, guidelines for passing the security check and the ten best reads on the Temple Mount from Gila's bookshelves.

More on the Life of Jesus:


Let's meet where Mary met Elizabeth

Let's gather by Bethsaida's city gate

Let's focus on Jesus' Ministry from Mount Arbel

Where Mary met Elizabeth    

1st C AD Bethsaida

Mount Arbel / Jesus' ministry


Let's sing your favorite carol in Shepherds Fields

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Let's orient ourselves to Jesus' Jerusalem

Shepherds' Fields   

Hippos / Decapolis city

Model of Jesus' Jerusalem

If you are an adventurer at heart and would like to explore Jerusalem on your own, order Gila’s up-to-date unorthodox guide, “Explore Jerusalem’s Soul” with suggestions of the top ten roof-top views, the top ten inspiring places to study Scripture, the ten least-known churches worth visiting and the ten top restaurants to sample Middle Eastern “soul-food.”




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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin