Copyright, John T. Stevenson, 2000

In this chapter we will look at the life of Jesus and the contributions which archaeology and history make in understanding His life and times.



1. The Calendar of Dionysius.

In 525 A.D. Pope John I asked a Scythian monk named Dionysius to prepare a standardized calendar for the western world. At that time there were several methods being used to record years.

It was agreed that from henceforth the birth of Christ would be used as the new standard. At that time, Christ was thought to have been born on December 25, 753 AUC (Anno Urbis Conditae "From the foundation of the city"). Therefore Dionysius used 754 AUC as his new Year One.

Christian Year

4 B.C.

3 B.C.

2 B.C.

1 B.C.

1 A.D.

2 A.D.

Old Roman AUC








The years prior to 754 AUC were denoted by B.C. (Before Christ) while those after are A.D. (Anno Domini "Year of our Lord"). It was not until hundreds of years later that scholars suggested that Dionysius had been in error as to the exact date of the birth of Christ.

2. The Death of Herod.

Matthew 2 is very clear in stating that Herod the Great was still alive when Jesus was born. The chronology of the reign of Herod is as follows:

40 B.C. Herod proclaimed King of the Jews by the Roman Senate.

37 B.C. Herod regained possession of Palestine with the help of a Roman legion.

4 B.C. Herod died.

Josephus tells us that there was a lunar eclipse shortly before Herod's death (Antiquities 17:6:4). Astronomers today are able to give us the precise dates when lunar eclipses were visible from Palestine.



7 B.C.

No eclipses

6 B.C.

No eclipses

5 B.C.

March 23 - center at about 8:30 p.m.

September 15 - center at 2:20 a.m.

4 B.C.

March 13 - center at 2:20 a.m.

3 B.C.

No eclipses

2 B.C.

No eclipses

1 B.C.

January 10 - center at 1:00 a.m.

Josephus also states that the Passover was celebrated shortly after Herod's death and that his total reign had been 37 years and that he died 34 years after his recapture of Jerusalem. The Passover on that year began on April 11. Therefore we can conclude that Jesus was born prior to March in the year 4 B.C.

You see, the events of Matthew 2 took place at least 41 days after the birth of Christ. Luke 2:22-24 tell us of Mary bringing Jesus to the temple and this could not have taken place until she was ritually purified, a process that required at least 41 days to complete.

Time from Birth


Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem

8 Days

Circumcision of Jesus (Luke 2:21)

41 Days

Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38)

After 41 Days

The Magi come to Herod looking for the King of the Jews



Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth.

This was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

And all were proceeding to register for the census, everyone in his own city. (Luke 2:1-3).

Luke's account of the birth of Jesus is tied to the events of history. This is not merely a story of long ago and far away, it is rooted in space and time, solidly in the context of history.

1. Caesar Augustus.

This is a reference to Gaius Octavius Augustus, the nephew of Julius Caesar who became emperor after defeating Antony and Cleopatra at Actium.

Augustus was famed as an administrative genius. His long reign is said to have been the golden age of Rome. Building projects abounded throughout the empire. Augustus once quipped that he had "found Rome brick and left her marble."

This was the time of Pax Romana the peace of Rome. It was during this time that the Prince of Peace was born.

2. The Census.

This census presents us with several problems. Verse 2 says that this was the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Quirinius was governor of Syria in 6-7 A.D. Herod the Great died in 4 B.C. and we know from Matthew's Gospel that Herod was still alive when Jesus was born. We do not know of any earlier census taken in Palestine. Neither do we know of any other census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Critics have often pointed to this passage as being a case of a historical mistake in the Bible. In response, Christians have proposed the following solutions:

The problem is that the Greek text does not easily lend itself to these translations. This would be a forced reading of the text.

An alternative answer is found in the specifics of Quirinius and his role as "governor" of Syria. The term that Luke uses is a general one. He says that this was the first census taken while Quirinius was GOVERNING Syria. The specific word used by Luke to describe this governing is the present active participle of a term meaning "to rule or govern." This term can be used of any sort of ruler. The same term is used in Luke 3:1 both of Pontius Pilate as well as of the Emperor Tiberius.

I would suggest that it is possible that there were TWO different instances in which a census was taken.

A possible reference to an earlier governorship of Quirinius can be found in an inscription called the "Lapis Tiburtinus." This is a tombstone which records the achievements of an unknown governor who served in the days of Augustus. Although the stone is broken in such a way that we are not able to read his name, we can read that this unknown governor served as pro praetor of Syria twice. The interesting thing about this is that we have no record of any governor of Syria serving two separate terms.

Furthermore, we know that after Quirinius served as co-consul with Augustus in 12 B.C. he traveled to Syria where he commanded the Roman legions in the area.

Tertullian states that the census of Luke 2 "taken in Judea by Sentius Saturnius"(Against Marcion 4:19). It is possible that Saturnius was the legate of Syria (he served as governor from 9-6 B.C.) at the same time that Quirinius was serving as general of the legion and therefore also holding a position of rulership over the area. If this is the case, then Quirinius oversaw both a first and a second census.

It is noteworthy that in 1905 a Greek papyrus was discovered in Egypt which mentions an imperial census taking place which mandated people to return to their homes:

Gaius Vibius Maximus, the Prefect of Egypt, declares: The census by household having begun, it is essential that all those who are away from their homes be summoned to return to their own hearths so that they may perform the customary business of registration and apply themselves to the cultivation which concerns them. Knowing, however, that some of the people from the countryside are required by our city, I desire all those who think they have a satisfactory reason for remaining here to register themselves before . . . Festus, the Cavalry Commander, whom I have appointed for this purpose, from whom those who have shown their presence to be necessary shall receive signed permits in accordance with this edict up to the 30th of the present month...

Notice that this is said to be a "customary census." We are not told how long this custom had been in effect, but it apparently involved each person returning to his home.



Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 2 "Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east, and have come to worship Him." (Matthew 2:1-2).

When we read about the Magi, we are inclined to think of Christmas card pictures of three kings or three "wise men." The truth is that the Magi were an ancient order of priests from Parthia. They believed in ONE GOD who had created all things and who was the author of all that was good. They allowed no images or statues into their temples.

In the days of Herod, the Magi had become a very powerful political body. No Parthian King was ever permitted to rule on the throne of Parthia until he had first been accepted by the Magi.

Do you remember who Herod had to fight to regain Israel in B.C. 40? It was the PARTHIANS! You can imagine his consternation as a delegation of Parthian King-makers arrive in Jerusalem, seeking the one who has been "born King of the Jews."

Herod was the king of the Jews. But Herod was never BORN the King of the Jews. He was a foreigner. He was not a true king. He was not of the royal line of David. He was not even Jewish. He had never been accepted by the Jews.

And when Herod the king heard it, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.

And gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he began to inquire of them where the Christ was to be born.

And they said to him, "In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet, 6 'And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the leaders of Judah, for out of you shall come forth a Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel.'" (Matthew 2:3-6).

I want you to try to picture the situation. One day a caravan arrives in Jerusalem. This in itself is not unusual. Caravans are always arriving in Jerusalem. However, these are no ordinary merchants. They are Magi from the east. They are from the land of Herod's enemies - the Parthians. They are from the same Parthians who had forced him to flee for his life over 30 years ago. The Parthians have been continuously at war with Rome during all these years. Herod has remained loyal to Rome. And now this group of religious King-Makers have come to Jerusalem.

We do not know how many were in the party. Undoubtedly there were many. And they are all asking the same question: "Where is the new King who has been born?" The news reaches Herod. Could this be a plot on the part of the Parthians to overthrow him and place another on his throne? Herod has heard nothing of a newborn king.

As Herod hears reports from the Magi, it becomes evident to him that they have come to seek out the MESSIAH, the One whose coming was foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore Herod calls a convention. The chief priests and the scribes are called in. These are the experts. When they have all been assembled, Herod asks them a question:

"Where is the Messiah to be born?"

The experts all agree on the same answer. They are all of the same opinion. There is no debate. The Old Testament prophet Micah has made it very clear. The Messiah is to the born in BETHLEHEM.

You know the rest of the story. Herod pretends to have a desire for worship while his plan is really that of an assassin. He engages the unwitting assistance of the Magi, but they are warned by God in a dream. They leave Bethlehem by an alternate route and Joseph, Mary and the baby escape to Egypt. In a futile attempt to capture them, Herod orders the execution of every child under 2 years of age.

Archaeology and history are silent with regard to the slaughter of the babies of Bethlehem. But this is not especially surprising as Bethlehem was only a tiny village and the slaughter of the infants would have been hushed up to prevent it from becoming a source of rebellion.

Why did Herod permit the Magi to go unescorted through his domain? The answer is that he knew their destination and he had a method of keeping abreast of any of their movements. A signal tower located atop the Herodium had an aerial view of Bethlehem and was able to pass signals on to Herod in Jerusalem.



Herod died in the Spring of 4 B.C. He left a number of surviving children. Josephus tells us that Herod had ten wives. Five of them had children of historical significance. Three of Herod's sons were put to death by Herod before he died.

Wife of Herod


Further Career



Executed five days before Herod died

Mariamne, the granddaughter of Hyrcanus


Both brothers were strangled at the orders of Herod



Herod Philip

Married Herodias and moved to Rome. She later left him for Herod Antipas.

Malthace the Samaritan


Became Ethnarch of Judea


Tetrarch of Galilee; put John the Baptist to death; trial of Jesus

Cleopatra of Jerusalem

Herod Philip

Tetrarch of Trachonitis & Iturea; married Salome.

The New Testament tells us that Joseph took Mary and the baby Jesus to Egypt until the death of Herod. After this, Archelaus was made Ethnarch of Judea. He would only last 10 years and then would be removed and replaced by a series of procurators.

Roman Procurators in Israel



Other Significant Data


6-9 A.D.

Judas of Galilee led revolt against taxation (Acts 5:37).

Marcus Ambivius

9-12 A.D.

Annius Rufus

12-15 A.D.

Caesar Augustus died during his term

Valerius Gratus

15-26 A.D.

Deposed Annas from the high priesthood

Pontius Pilate

26-36 A.D.

Ordered the crucifixion of Jesus


36-41 A.D.

Caiaphas deposed from the high priesthood; returned the high priest garments which had been confiscated by Rome

Herod Agrippa given Judea and Samaria from 41 to 44 A.D.

Cuspius Fadus

44-46 A.D.

Took back the garments of the high priest

Tiberius Julius Alexander

46-48 A.D.

Ventidius Cumanus

48-52 A.D.

Riot in temple over a coarse Roman jest

Antonius Felix

52-60 A.D.

Brought about the murder of the high priest; heard the case of the apostle Paul, but left him in prison to please the Jews

Porcius Festus

60-62 A.D.

Heard the case of Paul and sent him on to Rome

Lucceius Albinus

62-64 A.D.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, put to death while Albinus is out of the country

Gessius Florus

64-66 A.D.

Culminated in the revolt of the Jews

The word "procurator" signifies that the primary duty of this government post was the procurement of taxes for Rome.



But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning over Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. And being warned by God in a dream, he departed for the regions of Galilee, 23 and came and resided in a city called Nazareth, that what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled, "He shall be called a Nazarene." (Matthew 2:22-23).

Joseph brings his small family to the tiny village of Nazareth in Galilee and settles there. This would be the location of the boyhood of Jesus. He would live and work here until it was time for Him to begin His public ministry.

1. Nazareth.

Nazareth was such a small town that it was not even mentioned in the Old Testament, the Talmud or by Josephus. It was located in the foothills just north of the Valley of Jezreel.

2. The Nazareth Inscription.

Discovered and brought to Germany in 1878, this inscription is written in Greek and seems to be dated a little prior to 50 A.D.

Ordinance of Caesar: It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain undisturbed in perpetuity for those who have made them for the cult of their ancestors, or children, or members of their house. However, if any man lay information that another has either demolished them, or has in any way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing or other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honor the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In the case of transgression, I desire that the offender by sentenced to capital punishment on charge of violation of sepulcher.

What was the cause of such an ordinance? The Jews of all people did not meddle with graves since this would be the cause of ceremonial uncleanliness. It is evidently because Jews had charged Christians with having removed the body of Jesus from its tomb (Matthew 28:11-15).



1. Chronological Considerations.

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas... (Luke 3:1-2).

There are a number of chronological pointers, but the most exact is the first. Tiberius became the Emperor of Rome on August 19, 14 A.D. Fifteen years from this date would bring you to 28-29 A.D. depending upon whether you reckoned the first four months as the first year.

2. An Outline of His Ministry.

Early Judean Ministry

Galilean Ministry

Later Judean Ministry

Perean Ministry


Death, Burial & Resurrection




1st Year

2nd Year

3rd Year

Passover in John 2:13

Passover in John 5:1?

Passover in John 6:4

Passover in John 11:55


Period of Popularity

Growing Opposition

The duration of this time of ministry seems to be a little over 3 years, judging from the spacing of the various feasts that are mentioned.



Most of the ministry of Jesus was centered in the area of Galilee. The name "Galilee" (literally, HaGalilee) means "the circle." The name probably reflects the circular shape of the lake.

Galilee was under the oversight of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great. Antipas served under the authority of Rome.

There was a saying among the Jews that went, "If you want to be spiritual, go to Jerusalem; if you want to be rich, go to Galilee." This is because Galilee enjoyed a booming economy. Fishermen plied its lake. Farms lay scattered across its rolling hills and upon the fields of Jezreel. It was to this area that Jesus came to begin his ministry.

Why did Jesus begin His public ministry in Galilee? Perhaps it was because Galilee tended to be more receptive to new ideas. It was something of a proverb that Galilee was the birthplace of all sorts of seditions and revolutionary ideas.



The Sea of Galilee has been given several different names throughout its history. It is alternately known as the Sea of Tiberias (John 6:1; 21:1) and Lake Gennesaret (Luke 5:1). In Old Testament times it was known as the Sea of Chinnereth (Numbers 34:11; Joshua 13:27).

The waters of the Sea of Galilee lie 680 feet below sea level. The Sea measures some 13 miles from north to south and is surrounded by mountains. This ring of mountains is broken by the Jordan River in the south and in the north by a narrow gorge to the north which winds its way 30 miles to the snowcapped heights of Mount Hermon. This gorge acts as a funnel for the winds that blow off the surrounding mountains. When cool air currents from the mountains rushing down the gorge collide with the heated air over the lake, the result is sometimes a violent storm.



The original Semitic name of the settlement is Kefar Nahum i.e. the village (kafar) of Nahum (Nahum means "consolation"). The composite name Kefar Nahum is always rendered in non-Semitic languages as a single name, and the guttural "h" has been dropped altogether.

Capernaum much more than Nazareth offered to Jesus a twofold advantage as far as his messianic activity was concerned.

In contrast to Nazareth, the population of Capernaum was highly stratified: fishermen, farmers, artisans, merchants and publicans lived in the same village, but apparently without any strident economical inequality. Even the relations between the inhabitants of Capernaum and the Romans were surprisingly cordial. It was a Roman centurion who built the synagogue for the Jewish community, while the elders of the village reciprocated in kindness and pleaded earnestly with Jesus asking him to heal the centurion's servant (Lk 7:1-10). From the same community Jesus chose many of his apostles either among fishermen (Peter, Andrew, James, John - Mt 4:12-22) or publicans (Matthew - Mk 2:13).

The archaeological site, called at present Kefar Nahum in Hebrew and Talhum in Arabic, is located on the northwest shore of lake Kinneret in Galilee some 600 feet below sea level, 8 miles from Tiberias.

When Robinson visited the site in 1838 he left the following description: "The whole place is desolate and mournful. A few Arabs only of the Semekiyeh were here encamped in tents, and had built up a few hovels among the ruins which they used as magazines."

From 1968 to 1991 Franciscan archaeologists worked at ancient Capernaum. The excavations concentrated first on the two public buildings of the town.

Their efforts were rewarded by the sensational discovery of the house of Peter and of the first century synagogue built by the Roman centurion. The house of Peter, often mentioned by the Synoptic Gospels in relation to the activity of Jesus in Capernaum, and recorded later on by pilgrims, was rediscovered in 1968 under the foundations of the octagonal church some 30 meters south of the synagogue. The history of that house where Jesus lived, can be summarized as follows:

    1. The house was built in the late Hellenistic Period.
    2. In the late first century A.D. it was changed into a "domus-ecclesia" a house for religious gatherings
    3. In the fourth century A.D. the same "domus-ecclesia" was enlarged and was set apart from the rest of the town through an imposing enclosure wall.
    4. In the second half of the fifth century A.D. an octagonal church was built upon the house of St. Peter and remained in use until the seventh century A.D.



As you travel north from the Sea of Galilee, you will find the upper reaches of the Jordan River as it flows to the south. Moving upstream, you will find Lake Hula (which today has dried up). Moving even further northward, you would find yourself on the lower slopes of Mount Hermon, the source of the Jordan River. Straddling these lower slopes was the Roman city of Caesarea Philippi.

The city was named after Julius Caesar. Indeed, there was even a temple in honor of Caesar and the Romans who lived there celebrated him as divine. It was an international metropolis with Syrians, Jews, Greeks, and Romans. At least 14 temples to false gods were to be found in the city of Caesarea Philippi. The city was dedicated to the Greek deity Pan, the god of nature.

It was in this setting that a penniless, homeless Nazarene asked a question of His disciples.

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He began asking His disciples, saying, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?"

And they said, "Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets."

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?"

And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matthew 16:13-16).



Antipas was given Galilee on the west and Perea on the east bank of the Jordan River. His title was that of a Tetrarch (literally, "ruler of a fourth part"). He built his palace at Sepphoris, only 4 miles to the northeast of Nazareth. He also built the city of Tiberius on the southeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Herod Antipas was not actually a king. He ruled at the whim of Rome. Indeed, on one occasion he traveled to Rome and requested that Emperor Caligula make him a king, but he was refused.

Although he was technically not a king, it was common for his subjects to refer to him as their king. After all, if it walked like a duck and it quacked like a duck, then it was only natural that they should call it a duck, even if Rome chose to call it a Tetrarch.

For Herod himself had sent and had John arrested and bound in prison on account of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip, because he had married her.

For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife."

Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death and could not do so; 20 for Herod was afraid of John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. And when he heard him, he was very perplexed; but he used to enjoy listening to him. (Mark 6:17-20).

During a visit to Rome, Herod Antipas had stayed in the home of his half-brother, Herod Philip (not Philip the Tetrarch) and his wife and half-niece, Herodias. Herodias was married to her half-uncle, Philip. They had a daughter named Salome. However, Herodias was discontent to be the wife of a commoner and she was impressed by the dashing young Antipas. They entered into an adulterous affair and secretly plotted to divorce their own spouses so that they could marry one another.

This presented some problems because Antipas was married to the daughter of Aretas, king of Arabia. King Aretas was not going to take kindly to the divorce of his daughter and they reasoned that it would be best if she met with some kind of "accident."

When the princess learned of the plot, she ran home to daddy. This would ultimately lead to a war in which Antipas would suffer a crushing defeat at the hands of his ex-father-in-law.

Josephus relates that many of the Jewish people attributed the defeat of Antipas to his murder of John the Baptist.

"Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness toward one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism... Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure against him." (Antiquities 16:5:2).

The Bible tells the story of how this murder had come to pass. Herod Antipas threw a party during which he made a rash promise to his stepdaughter.

A strategic day came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his lords and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee; 22 and when the daughter of Herodias herself came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his dinner guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you want and I will give it to you."

And he swore to her, "Whatever you ask of me, I will give it to you; up to half of my kingdom." (Mark 6:21-23).

Herod had a winter palace on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea located at the extreme southern point of his domain in Perea. It was known as Macherus.

It had been built in the days of the Hasmoneans and had then been enlarged by Herod the Great and surrounded with elegant defenses. The town stood on the shoulder of the hill over which stood a mighty fortress, surrounded by walls over 200 feet high. Within this fortress was a magnificent palace. From the heights of this fortress, one could look across the Dead Sea 3800 feet below to see the mountains of Judea in the distance.

Josephus tells us that it was here that John the Baptist was brought and imprisoned.

The daughter of Herodias is not mentioned by name in the Bible, but Josephus tells us that her name was Salome (Antiquities 18:5:4). We do not know the nature of this dance, but it was sufficient to draw from Herod this amazing promise of up to half his kingdom.

We only understand the foolishness of this promise when we realize that it was a promise which Herod could not possibly keep because his kingdom was not his to give. He had begun to think of himself as an oriental king when he was only an appointed puppet acting at the behest of Rome.

Herod was to come to an ignominious end. He would suffer defeat at the hands of King Aretas of Arabia. Then at the urging of his ambitious wife, he and Herodias would travel to Rome to seek the kingship of all of Palestine. His request would be his undoing. As he stood before Emperor Caligula, he was accused of conspiring against Rome and banished with his wife to Gaul where he died as a penniless pauper.



1. The Pharisees.

The Pharisees were the conservative party in Israel. Their name comes from the Hebrew word meaning "to separate." They held to a strict separation from all things foreign. In this way, they trace their roots back to the Hasidim, the "pious ones." They held, not only to the written Law of Moses, but also to the oral traditions that had grown up around Judaism.

2. The Sadducees.

The Sadducees were the liberal party within the nation of Israel. Their ranks came mostly from the wealthy aristocracy. The high priest and all of the chief priests in the Sanhedrin were almost exclusively from the Sadducees. They can be best understood when contrasted with the Pharisees.



Name means "separated ones"

Name means "righteous ones"

Held to the authority of all of the Old Testament Scriptures as well as of the oral law

Viewed the Torah as having greater authority

Believed in miracles, angels & immortality

Rejected the miraculous, angels & immortality

Held to a future resurrection

Denied any resurrection

Popular in the synagogues

Ruled the Temple

The Sadducees would move against the early Christians as they proclaimed that Jesus had risen from the dead. The Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection.

3. The Essenes.

The Essenes were a separatist sect who rejected all pleasure as being sinful. They lived a communal existence and often practiced celibacy, something very rare among the Jews who generally took the command to be fruitful and multiply very literally. Initiates to the group underwent a one-year probationary period before taking oaths of fidelity and piety toward God. Only after this were they permitted to partake of the communal meals with the rest of the group.

It is commonly thought that Qumran was an Essene community and that it was they who copied and hid the Dead Sea Scrolls in the caves in the surrounding area.

4. The Zealots.

These were more of a political than a religious party. They were the nationalists and they wanted to foment a rebellion against Rome. They refused to pay taxes and sometimes went so far as to murder government officials. Simon, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus, was a Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13).



The city of Jerusalem had grown extensively since the days of the kings of old. It was now a major metropolis with outlying suburbs. Herod the Great had brought many Hellenistic influences to the city. It now boasted a circus where chariot races could be held as well as a Greek theater.

The city was built upon two parallel ridges which were divided by a steep valley. The lower hill to the east was the site of the original city dating back to the days of the Jebusites. The Temple sat at the northern edge of this ridge

The newest part of the city was located to the north. This area was as of yet still unprotected by a wall -- it would be enclosed by Agrippa I.

To the east of the city is the steep ravine known as the Kidron Valley. Opposite the city on the east side is the Mount of Olives, rising a hundred feet above the city. On the lower slopes of the Mount of Olives is the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane.



In 1969 archaeologists found an inscribed stone which had originally been a portion of the pinnacle of the temple at the southwestern wall of the Temple mount. It read, "To the place of trumpeting." It was apparently to this location that a priest would come each morning and each evening to announce by trumpet call the morning and evening sacrifices.

1. The Western Wall.

Long sections of the southern wall of the Temple Mount and its southwestern corner were exposed during the 1970's, bringing to light the monumental Herodian walls surrounding the Temple Mount and the vast, planned areas of public construction outside of them.

The western wall of the Temple Mount is the longest 485 meters (1590 feet). Best known of the remaining Herodian Temple Mount constructions is the traditional Jewish prayer area of the Western Wall (the "Wailing Wall") which has stood exposed, above ground level, for two thousand years. The Six-Day War provided an opportunity to explore along the continuation of the Western Wall from the prayer plaza northwards.

On the north side of the Western Wall, a tunnel leads northwards into a medieval complex of subterranean vaulted spaces. There is a long corridor with rooms on either side. Incorporated into this complex is a Roman and medieval structure of vaults, built of large dressed limestone. There is an earlier Herodian room, constructed of well-dressed stones, with double openings and walls decorated with protruding pilasters. Charles Warren, who surveyed the area in the 19th century, erroneously named it the "Masonic Hall."

The vaulted complex ends at Wilson's Arch, named after the explorer who discovered it in the middle of the 19th century. The arch, supported by the Western Wall, was 12.8 meters (42 feet) wide and stood high above the present-day ground level. Josephus Flavius mentions a bridge which connected the Temple Mount with the Upper City to the west during the Second Temple period. This bridge once carried water via a conduit from Solomon's Pools; it was destroyed during the Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70 AD) and rebuilt during the early Islamic period.

Beyond Wilson's Arch is a large cruciform hall, part of a Mamluk period construction. But on the western side the Herodian Western Wall can be seen in its full glory. From this point, along the outer face of the Herodian western wall of the Temple Mount, a long narrow tunnel was dug slowly and with much care under the supervision of archeologists. As work progressed under the buildings of the present Old City, the tunnel was systematically reinforced with concrete supports. A stretch of the western wall - 300 meters (984 feet) long - was revealed in pristine condition, exactly as constructed by Herod.

At the end of this man-made tunnel, a 20 meter (65 foot) long section of a paved road and an earlier, rock-cut Hasmonean aqueduct leading to the Temple Mount were uncovered. Today one can proceed along it to a public reservoir and from there, a short new tunnel leads outside to the Via Dolorosa in the Muslim Quarter.

2. The Temple Mount.

There has been considerable debate in recent years as to the exact location of the Temple upon the Temple Mount. The most popular view is that it was located on the site of the modern Dome of the Rock.

3. Entrances to the Temple Mount.

There were five primary means of egress onto the Temple Mount. Four of these were regularly used.

a. The Eastern Gate.

The road leading up to the eastern gate was joined to a great bridge that spanned the Kidron Valley.

b. The Hulda Gates.

Named for the prophetess Hulda who had advised Josiah, these large double gates ran up a long stairway from the south side of the Temple complex.

c. Robinson's Arch.

Not far from the southwestern corner of the Temple Mount, the remains of "Robinson's Arch" can be seen projecting from the wall. This arch once supported a monumental staircase which gave access to the Temple Mount from the main street below it.

d. The Royal Bridge and Wilson's Arch.

The Temple Mount was separated from the western portion of the city by the deep Tyropoeon Valley. Today this valley has been filled in and is no longer visible.

The Royal Bridge was built on huge spanning arches and traversed the Tyropoeon Valley, joining the western portion of the city to the Temple. Each arch spanned 41 feet and stood on stones measuring 24 feet in length.

e. The Fortress Stairs.

A narrow stairway ran down from the Antonia Fortress to the Court of the Gentiles. It was from here that Paul evidently addressed his fellow Jews when he was being arrested in Acts 21:40.

4. The Court of the Gentiles.

Surrounding the Court of the Gentiles were a series of "porches" or cloisters through which ran double rows of Corinthian pillars, each cut from marble and measuring 37 feet in height and covered by a flat roof. The entire court was paved with marble. The southern of these porches was known as "Solomon's Porch" (Acts 3:11).

This court derived its name from the fact that Gentiles were permitted into this area provided they conducted themselves in a reverent manner.

5. The Dividing Wall.

A low wall ran completely around the Temple structure. It had periodic gates and an stone inscription located at each gate. Two separate copies have been found of this same inscription. It was evidently posted at regular intervals around the Temple.




33.5 cm long

22.5 cm high

14.5 cm thick

1st Copy - 7 lines of writing

2nd Copy - 6 lines of writing


Warning inscription against Gentiles entering the Temple


1st Copy - 1871

2nd Copy - 1935

No outsider shall enter the protective enclosure around the sanctuary. And whoever is caught will only have himself to blame for the ensuing death.

It was because the apostle Paul was falsely suspected of breaking this rule that a mob came together leading to his arrest (Acts 21:27-30).

Beyond the Dividing Wall was a flight of 14 steps that led up to a terrace on which stood the inner wall of the Temple. This inner wall had a number of gates, but the main gate was located on the eastern side. This was the "Beautiful Gate" (Acts 3:2). There were 12 steps leading up to this gate. The doors of the gate were made of Corinthian brass and mounted on massive hinges. Entering through this gate brought one into the Court of the Women.

6. The Court of the Women.

The Court of the Women was not exclusive to women. It was called this because this was as far within the Temple as women were permitted to enter. The court was surrounded by colonnades. Along the walls there were thirteen jars which served as recepticals for various offerings.

Worshipers would come in and drop their offering into one of the jars. It was in such a manner that Jesus and His disciples would have watched the poor widow bringing her offering into the Temple (Mark 12:43).

Offerings which were mandated


The Half-shekel tribute

Offerings left over from sacrifices


Sin offering



Trespass offering


Turtledove offering

Voluntary Offerings


Offerings of birds


Pigeon offering


Nazarite offerings




Cleansed leper




General voluntary offering


Golden vessels

On the west side of the Court of Women were 15 steps that led up to the Nicanor Gate, also made of Corinthian Brass. This gate led into the inner courtyard of the Temple.

7. The Inner Courts.

The inner courts were made up of the Court of the Men, the Court of the Levites, and the Court of the Priests. Within the Court of the Priests there were two objects which stood before the Temple.

a. The Altar.

The altar was made of rough, unhewn stones. It stood 15 feet high and was surrounded by a raised platform so that the priests could reach its surface. In contrast to the Altar of Incense within the Temple, this altar was used for sacrificing animals.

b. The Laver.

This was an immense brass bowl of water supported by the statues of twelve oxen. It was drained every evening and refilled each morning. It was also known as the "sea." This is significant when we read in Revelation 4:5 of the Throne of God, the elders and a sea of glass like crystal.

Twelve more steps led up to the Temple itself. Two great columns flanked the doors leading into the Temple.

8. The Interior of the Temple.

The Sanctuary proper was divided into two parts. There was an inner part and an outer part. They were separated by a thick inner veil. The outer sanctuary was the scene of daily activity. Into this section would come a priest each morning and each evening. It held several articles of furniture.

a. The lampstands.

Whereas in the original tabernacle there had been only a single golden lampstand, since the days of Solomon, there were now seven such lampstands.

Titus' Arch of Triumph in Rome pictures Jewish captives being forced to carry one of these golden lampstands as a part of the Roman spoils of war.

These lampstands brought light to the Temple. But the lampstands were not the source of the light. The source of the light was the oil which was retained in the various bulbs and cups and flowers on the lampstands. These were oil lamps. The Jews had an annual celebration called Chanekkuk - the Feast of Lights. It was a time of commemoration of the cleansing of the Temple in the days of the Maccabees. The story was told of how there had been only enough oil to last for a single day, but how it had miraculously lasted for an entire week until more could be brought.

b. The Table and the Sacred Bread.

The table of shewbread was a wooden table overlaid with gold. Onto this table, the priests would lay out 12 loaves of bread.

c. The golden altar of incense.

The altar of incense was a cubit wide and a cubit long and two cubits in height. It was overlaid in gold.

"And you shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you.

"And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps.

"And when Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations." (Exodus 30:6-8).

Incense was offered upon this altar every morning and every evening. This incense created a sweet-smelling aroma. It would sweeten the entire Temple. The smoke of this incense represented the sweet prayers of God's people ascending to heaven.

d. The inner veil.

There was an outer veil was located at the door of the Tabernacle. It separated the outside from the inside. Beyond this veil and past the golden lampstand and the table of shewbread and the altar of incense was the second veil. It served to separate the Holy Place from the innermost sanctum - the Holy of Holies.

Embroidered on the veil were the images of cherubim. They served as guardians of the veil, keeping even the priests from entering in. They are reminiscent of the cherubim stationed at the entrance to the Garden of Eden. They were stationed with a flaming sword in order to keep out all who might enter.

When Luke 23:45 tells us that the veil was torn from top to bottom at the death of Jesus, which veil was being described? Remember that there were two veils. The Scriptures do not specify which one was torn.

What is interesting is the following passage from the Jewish writings:

Forty years before the Temple was destroyed....the gates of the Hekel opened of their own accord, until Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai rebuked them (the priest) saying: "Hekel, Hekel, why alarmist thou us ? We know that thou art destined to be destroyed. For of thee hath prophesied Zechariah ben Iddo [Zech. 11:1]: Open thy doors, O Lebanon, and the fire shall eat thy cedars." (Yoma 39b).

Josephus records a similar event as having taken place just prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

At the same feast (Passover) the eastern gate of the inner court at the 6th hour of the night (at midnight) opened of its own accord. This gate was of brass and very large and heavy, seeing that when it was closed each evening it took 20 men to shut it. It had bolts sunk to a great depth into a threshold made of a solid block of stone. The guards of the temple ran and reported the matter to the captain, and he came forward and with great difficulty managed to close it. This again to the uninitiated seemed like the best of signs, since they thought that God had opened to them the gate of blessings; but the wise understood that the security of the temple was leaving of its own accord and that the opening of the gate meant it was a gift to the enemy, interpreting the sign in their own minds as showing its impending desolation. (War 6:5:2).

e. The Holy of Holies.

When you want to emphasis something in Hebrew, you do it by means of repetition. You can find a number of examples of this:

"Truly, truly" (John 3:3).
"Woe, woe" (Ezekiel 16:23).
"The song of songs, which is Solomon's" (SS 1:1).

This was a designation for the most holy place of all. It was the holiest of holies. It was the innermost sanctum of the Tabernacle. It's dimensions were in the form of a perfect cube measuring 10 cubits by 10 cubits by 10 cubits.

In Solomon's day, the Ark of the Covenant had sat within the Holy of Holies. But that was no longer the case. The Ark had been lost many hundreds of years earlier. There was now only the bedrock of the mountain where the Ark had once stood.

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle performing the divine worship, 7 but into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance. (Hebrews 9:6-7).

Priests entered into the Temple every morning and every evening to offer the morning incense and the evening incense. These were acts of prayer and of worship. But these priests were not permitted to go any further than the inner veil. Only one priest was allowed to pass beyond the veil. He was the high priest. And he was only permitted to do so once a year.

It would be on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement that the High Priest would pass through the veil and into the holy of holies. He would approach the place where Ark of the Covenant had once rested and he would sprinkle the blood upon the bedrock.



The Caiaphas family tomb was accidentally discovered by public workers constructing a road in a park just south of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1990. Archaeologists were called to the scene. When they examined the tomb they found 12 ossuaries (limestone bone boxes) containing the remains of 63 individuals. The most beautifully decorated of the ossuaries was inscribed with the name "Joseph son of (or, of the family of) Caiaphas." That was the full name of the high priest who arrested Jesus, as documented by Josephus (Antiquities 18:2:2; 4:3). Inside were the remains of a 60-year old male, almost certainly those of the Caiaphas of the New Testament.

The inscription on his craved ossuary, fit for a high priest, was the name Yehosef bar Qafa (Joseph, son of Caiaphas). Coins found in the cave were bronze minted in 42 A.D. during the reign of Herod Agrippa I.



1. The Man.

Outside of the New Testament, nearly all of our information about Pilate comes from either Josephus or Philo of Alexandria.

Pilate was appointed to the position of Procurator by Emperor Tiberius. His area of jurisdiction was Judea and Samaria - that which had been formerly held by Archelaus prior to his being deposed. During his term of office, he had several serious conflicts with the Jews.

Pilate created a stir among the Jews when he had the Roman military standards brought into Jerusalem. The Jews saw this as idolatry and rioted.

Pilate appropriated the corban money from the Temple to finance the construction of an aqueduct. A number of Jews were killed in the ensuing riot (Luke 13:1-2).

When a Samaritan claimed that there was a golden treasure which had been hidden by Moses on Mount Gerizim, a great crowd assembled. Pilate interpreted this as a rebellion and ordered his soldiers to attack. There were so many killed that a complaint was filed in Rome for Pilate's removal. He was ordered to return to Rome and was banished to Gaul where he is said to have eventually committed suicide.

2. The Pilate Inscription.






82 centimeters high
65 centimeters wide
4 lines of writing


Building dedication by Pontius Pilate

Place of Discovery

Caesarea, 1961

Most of the actual inscription is missing. All that is left is the following lines:

. . . . ECTVS IVDA E

From this portion of the text, archaeologists have suggested the following translation:

To the honorable gods (this) Tiberium
Pontius Pilate,
Prefect of Judea,
had dedicated

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