Leen Ritmeyer

Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. This artist’s rendition shows the city that Jesus entered during the last week of his life—and outside of which he was executed. For Christians, a key focus of faith is the rock quarry (at left in the drawing) nestled outside the city walls. A rock projection resembling a skull was called Golgotha; it was here that Jesus was crucified. Today the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, now inside the Old City walls, stands on the spot and contains the last five Stations of the Cross.

But where would Jesus have begun his journey to Golgotha? The modern-day Via Dolorosa route assumes that the praetorium of Pilate, where Jesus was condemned, was located at the Antonia Fortress (top left in the drawing), a barracks attached to the north end of the Temple Mount. Jerome Murphy-O’Connor notes, however, that the praetorium was almost certainly at the far more lavish palace built by Herod, shown at bottom left in the drawing. Jesus would have been led from there to the Gennath Gate, and then out to Golgotha. Murphy-O’Connor shows that the earliest Christian pilgrims followed such a “western” Via Dolorosa as part of their devotions. Not until the late Middle Ages, thanks to the influence of European visitors to the Holy Land, did the “eastern” Via Dolorosa, beginning at the north end of the Temple Mount, win the hearts of the faithful, where it has remained ever since (with minor shifts; see map of the Via Dolorosa route).

The drawing reflects a large Jerusalem in the first century, a view supported by many archaeologists. Murphy-O’Connor, however, believes that the city had expanded only as far as the dashed lines.