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Key Biblical Events and the Palace of Herod the Great

In this series, Marc Turnage, director for the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies, demonstrates how understanding history beyond the biblical texts sheds light on the character and personality of biblical figures––in this instance, Herod the Great.

Marc Turnage, the executive director of the Assemblies of God Center for Holy Lands Studies, provides a regular column that offers deep and sometimes surprising insight into the Word of God through close examination of the culture of the day, biblical sites, and archaeological records. This month he examines the ancient site and biblical references to the palace of Herod the Great and how the palace was a key location for a number of significant biblical events.

The palace of Herod the Great in Jerusalem sat on the top of Jerusalem's western hill, today's Mount Zion. Visitors to Jerusalem's Old City can see remains of his palace in the Tower of David Museum inside Jaffa Gate and the Armenian Garden. The base of the Tower of David Museum is one of the three towers built by Herod to protect his palace on its northern side. Inside the moat surrounding the Tower of David Museum, is a large swimming pool cut into the bedrock that was part of Herod's grand palace. The Jewish historian Josephus described Herod's palace in Jerusalem as "constructed with exceedingly large, high rooms…decorated…in very costly fashion with gold, stones, and color-washes."

Herod's Jerusalem residence witnessed two significant events recorded in the gospels. The wise men, who arrived in Jerusalem seeking the young boy Jesus would have appeared before Herod the Great at his Jerusalem palace (Matt. 2:1-12). After the death of Herod in 4 B.C., Rome divided his kingdom among three of his sons. His son Archelaus (Matt. 2:22) ruled over the territory that included Jerusalem. Rome removed Archelaus from power in A.D. 6, and brought his territory under the direct rule of Roman governors, prefects, the most famous of which was Pontius Pilate.

The Roman prefects resided in the palace of Herod the Great in Caesarea, a port city built by Herod on the Mediterranean coast. The Roman procurator Felix kept the Apostle Paul guarded in Herod's praetorium (palace) in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). During the Jewish festivals in Jerusalem, like Passover, the Roman prefects traveled from Caesarea to Jerusalem and resided in the palace of Herod the Great there.

The gospels indicate that Pilate resided in Herod's Jerusalem palace when he encountered and condemned Jesus to death. The gospels mention Jesus appearing before Pilate in the praetorium (John 18:28, 33; Mark 15:16). Mark parenthetically identified the praetorium as "the palace" (Mark 15:16; cf. Acts 23:35). The principal palace in Jerusalem used by the Roman prefects was the palace of Herod. Pilate pronounced his judgment on Jesus at a place in Greek called lithostratos (John 19:13). This Greek term refers to a paved floor with colorful tiles known as opus sectile. Within the land of Israel, this style of floor, within first century buildings appear primarily in those of Herod the Great, which indicates that Pilate condemned Jesus in Herod's palace.

Early Christian tradition remembered Jesus' appearance before Pilate in Herod's palace. The earliest tradition that commemorated Jesus' walk from Pilate to the cross began in the Armenian church of St. James, built upon part of Herod's palace. These two events at the beginning and end of the life of Jesus took place in Herod's palace. The casual visitor and pilgrim to Jerusalem today often walks through Jaffa Gate -- the area of Herod's palace -- and does not realize the events that transpired in that place. 

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