In April of 33 AD, following the betrayal by Judas Iscariot and the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was taken through a series of formal and informal trials in front of high priests, the Sanhedrin, and the Roman Prefect, including the leaders Annas, Caiaphas, Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilatus (Matthew 26:57-68, 27:11-26; Mark 14:53-65, 15:1-15; Luke 22:66-23:25; John 18:12-19:16). The trial began when Jesus was brought before the religious leaders of Judaism, including the former high priest Annas. After a short encounter with Annas, Jesus was taken to the acting high priest Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas, at the house of Caiaphas (Luke 22:66; Matthew 26:57; John 18:24). According to the 1st century AD Judean Roman historian Josephus Flavius, Joseph son of Caiaphas was the full name of this High Priest (Josephus, Antiquties 18.34-35). While the location of the “House of Caiaphas” has not been definitively pinpointed, there are remains of 1st century priestly mansions in the southwest area of ancient Jerusalem on Mount Zion which could have been the house of Caiaphas or at least serve as an example of how that residence would have looked. The sites include elaborate remains of priestly mansions from the 1st century AD, including ritual baths, preserved basement rooms, ritual artifacts such as stone purification jars and bowls, and even an inscribed ritual cup containing the name Yahweh and perhaps music and lyrics sung by the priests (Gibson, “New Excavations on Mount Zion in Jerusalem and an Inscribed Stone Cup/Mug from the Second Temple Period”). Additionally, excavations in the Jewish Quarter of Old City Jerusalem, also referred to as the “Herodian Quarter,” have revealed multiple houses and a priestly mansion from the 1st century AD which included decorative mosaic floors, wall frescoes, ritual purification baths, and ritual vessels (Geva, Jewish Quarter Excavations in the Old City of Jerusalem). Discoveries attest to the presence of a large and elaborate residence occupied by a priestly family. While it is unknown who lived in these various houses in 33 AD, it is within the realm of possibility that one of them was the house of Caiaphas or Annas. Caiaphas, according to the trial narrative in the Gospels, was the high priest at the time. Archaeological and textual data demonstrates that the high priest Joseph Caiaphas, who played a key role in sentencing Jesus to death by crucifixion, was a prominent person in 1st century AD Jerusalem and acting high priest of Judaism from 18-36 AD (Josephus, Antiquities 18.34-35; Curran, “’The Long Hesitation’: Some Reflections on the Romans in Judaea”; Matthew 26:3; Luke 3:2; John 18:24).
Once the interrogations by Annas and Caiaphas were finished, Jesus was led to the assembly of the Sanhedrin after sunrise. According to the Talmud, in 30 AD the meeting place of the Sanhedrin had moved to the Hall of Hewn Stones on the Temple Mount, which may have been located either on the north side of the complex or more likely inside the Royal Stoa on the south side of the Temple complex, near the entrance to the Temple Mount (Talmud Shabbat 15a; Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 88b). Although the exact location of this building is speculative, there are areas on the southern side of the Temple Mount that could have accommodated the meeting place and reconstructions often place the building in this location.
After a brief initial encounter with the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilatus, who wanted to avoid the consequences of angering the Judean religious leadership and endangering his political position and favor with Emperor Tiberias, he sent Jesus to Herod Antipas, the local ruler of Galilee (Luke 23:8-12). When Pilate was made prefect of Judaea Province, Tiberius was Emperor, but Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard, eventually accumulated so much power and influence that he effectively ruled the Empire while Tiberius lived on the island of Capri (Suetonius, Life of Tiberius, 65). Because this rise to power occurred just before Pilate was sent to Judaea Province, Pilate actually may have been appointed prefect by Sejanus rather than Emperor Tiberius (Philo, Legatio ad Gaium, 159-160). After a series of events that put Pilate at odds with many of the Judeans, matters were made even more complicated when Sejanus was accused of a plot in 31 AD and subsequently executed, followed by the arrest and execution of many of his associates, now making Pilate directly accountable to an Emperor who was seeking to rid himself of enemies (Josephus, Antiquities, XVIII.6.6; Juvenal, Satire, 10.67-72; Dio, Roman History, 58.9-11). Because the trial of Jesus occurred only about 2 years after this drastic change, Pilate had already angered the Judeans on multiple occasions, and Pilate likely had an association with Sejanus, he was in a very delicate position that required him to stay in favor with the Emperor, lest he be exiled or even executed. Thus, when the Judeans told Pilate that if he released Jesus he was no “friend of Caesar,” Pilate clearly understood that to be a threat to destroy his political favor with Tiberius and endanger not only his career but his life (John 19:12-13; Maier, “Sejanus, Pilate, and the Date of the Crucifixion”). While Josephus and Philo depict Pilate as a cruel and strong leader, rather than somewhat weak and accommodating as portrayed in the trial narratives of the Gospels, this change in attitude is understandable when the situation is understood (Josephus, Antiquities and Wars; Philo, Legatio ad Gaium; cf. Luke 13:1).
Jesus was then brought to Antipas, who would have been temporarily staying somewhere in Jerusalem for the festival of Passover. Herod Antipas the tetrarch, named as one of the rulers inheriting a portion of the kingdom after the death of Herod the Great, is known from coins, the writings of Josephus, and an allusion in the writings of Philo (Chancey et al., “The Archaeology of Roman Palestine”; Kanael, “Ancient Jewish Coins and Their Historical Importance”; Josephus, Antiquities 18.111-137; Philo, Legatio ad Gaium, 300; Luke 3:1). Jesus was taken to this particular ruler because Herod Antipas presided over Galilee, and Pilate discovered that Jesus was from Galilee. Like the other officials involved in the trial of Jesus, the tetrarch Herod Antipas is firmly attested as a local ruler of Galilee during the time of Jesus, and his short involvement in the trial of Jesus is perfectly logical. Antipas, however, seemed completely uninterested in condemning Jesus, and merely mocked Him and sent Him back to Pilate.
The Roman Prefect of Judaea Province from 26-36 AD, Pontius Pilatus, is the most famous of the leaders involved in the trial of Jesus, and there is no shortage of ancient material attesting to this Roman official and his actions. Pilate is mentioned numerous times in various ancient documents, had coins minted, and even commissioned a monumental stone inscription that survived the ages. Roman historians mentioned Pilate the Procurator of Judaea in the reign of Tiberias, and also events such as the golden shields which he had placed in Jerusalem, causing anger among many of the Judeans (Tacitus, Annals 15.44; Josephus, Antiquities 18.55 and Wars 2.169; Philo, Legatio ad Gaium, 299). Although these historians call Pilate a Procurator, his title was actually Prefect according to an inscription commissioned by Pilate himself. At the coastal city of Caesarea Maritima, an inscription which mentions Pilate and his position was discovered during excavations. The inscription, partially obscured, dates to the 1st century AD and includes the name and title “Pontius Pilatus, Prefect of Judaea” (Vardaman, Jerry. “A New Inscription Which Mentions Pilate as ‘Prefect’”). Rulers of Judaea Province prior to 44 AD, after Herod Agrippa I died and direct rule by Rome was reinstituted, were Prefects, like Pilate, while beginning with Cuspius Fadus in 44 AD the political situation changed and these officials were Procurators (Curran, 88; Josephus, War 2.111, Antiquities 17.342; Cassius Dio, Roman History, 55.27). Pilate is also attested by coins that he had minted during his tenure as Prefect. The names appearing on the coins, however, are those of Tiberias Caesar (Emperor ca. 14-37 AD) or Julia Caesar rather than Pontius Pilatus because he was a mere provincial governor. Similar to coins minted by other Roman officials, coins issued by Pilate exhibited pagan symbols, with the possible extra incentive to attempt to conform Judeans to Roman culture (Kanael, “Ancient Jewish Coins and Their Historical Importance”). The ancient texts, coins, and inscription from Caesarea demonstrate that Pilate was the prefect of Judaea Province during the reign of Tiberius Caesar and the trial of Jesus of Nazareth, just as the Gospels state.
The trial of Jesus before Pilate occurred at a place called the Praetorium, while Jesus was standing on the Pavement and Pilate was situated at the bema or Judgment seat (John 19:8-13). All of the Gospel narratives state that the trial occurred in Jerusalem, but John recorded additional specifics. The Praetorium was the residence of the Roman governor, and in the case of Judaea Province there was a Praetorium in both Caesarea and Jerusalem due to the Roman capital at Caesarea and the importance of maintaining a Roman presence in Jerusalem due to its place as the center of worship for Judaism. The structure received its name from earlier Roman usage, referring to the place where a commander resided. This specific governor’s residence in Jerusalem was probably the former palace of Herod the Great, which was located on the western side of the current Old City of Jerusalem at the walls (Gibson, The Final Days of Jesus: The Archaeological Evidence; Tacitus, Legatio ad Gaium; Josephus, Wars). Some of this area has been excavated in recent decades, but most of the remains from the Roman period were probably destroyed in later conquests and construction. The Pavement, or lithostrotos, was a place paved with flat blocks of stone, like a street or courtyard. Part of the Pavement from the courtyard of the Praetorium in Jerusalem was preserved after being covered by dirt and debris for centuries, and can be seen today. The judgment seat, or bema, is also mentioned. The bema was a raised platform, and in its basic sense means “step,” although it is often translated as “judgment seat.” A more precise translation referring to its specific form and function is tribunal or judicial “bench.” It originated in Greece and was used by both orators and law courts, but it was later adopted around the Roman world. The bema at the Praetorium in Jerusalem was also discovered just outside of the Old City wall in Jerusalem during excavations, and can be seen at the site of the Praetorium courtyard adjacent to the stone pavement. The bema was where Pilate pronounced his decision that he would allow Jesus to be crucified. Roman historians Josephus and Tacitus record that Jesus was condemned by Pilate to be crucified in Judaea during the reign of Tiberias (Josephus, Antiquities, 18:63-64; Tacitus, Annals, 15:44). The Babylonian Talmud may also contain reference back to a contemporary document about Jesus and the reason for His trial. A section recorded an indictment against Jesus the Nazarene that prescribed stoning for his practice of sorcery and leading Israel into apostasy, requested that anyone with information on his location tell the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, and stated that he was hanged on the eve of Passover (Tracate Sanhedrin 43a). Thus, there is both specific archaeological and textual confirmation of the trial of Jesus before Pilate in the Praetorium, as recorded in the Gospels.
Jesus, the central character in the trial narratives, is mentioned by several historians of the 1st and 2nd centuries, including Josephus, Tacitus, Celsus, Justin Martyr, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, and Lucian. Additionally, Jesus may even be attested by an inscription on an ossuary in Jerusalem from only decades after the trial. A controversial 1st century AD ossuary, or bone box, dating to before 70 AD, mentions a Jesus as the brother of the deceased James, son of Joseph. One side of this “James Ossuary” was inscribed in Aramaic, reading “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus” (Lemaire, “Burial Box of James the Brother of Jesus”). Due to the location, date, and names, the inscription could be referring to Jesus of Nazareth whose father was Joseph and brother was the famous Jerusalem Church leader and New Testament epistle author named James. The artifact was included in a forgery trial and several scholars questioned its authenticity, but the evidence has demonstrated the box to be from 1st century Jerusalem and the entire inscription appears to have also been written in the 1st century before it was placed in a tomb (Magness, “Ossuaries and the Burials of Jesus and James”; Flesher, “The Story Thus Far …”; Krumbein, “Preliminary Report: External Expert Opinion on three Stone Items”; Rosenfeld et al., “Archaeometric Analysis of the James Ossuary”). The likelihood of those three names appearing together in that particular familiar relationship in 1st century Jerusalem has been estimated at less than 2 people, strongly suggesting the possibility that the inscription mentions Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, although controversial, the ossuary inscription could be the only currently known artifact recovered from the 1st century AD which mentions Jesus as an historical and prominent person.
Ancient texts, artifacts, and architecture demonstrate that the narratives describing the trial of Jesus in the Gospels mention real historical people, events, and locations from the 1st century AD in Jerusalem. Further, the specific condemnation of Jesus to crucifixion during the rule of Pontius Pilate is corroborated by ancient historical texts outside of the Gospels. Because of the historical and archaeological data which illuminates and substantiates the records of the trial of Jesus found in the Gospels, the accounts can be considered an accurate history of events in Jerusalem at the beginning of April, 33 AD.