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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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PRAETORIUM.—The word occurs in the text of Mark 15:16 only, but in the margin of Matthew 27:27, John 18:28; John 18:33; John 19:9, with Acts 23:35 and Philippians 1:13. In the Gr. it is a transliteration of the Lat. prœtorium, which originally meant the tent of the commander of an army, and then the official residence of a provincial governor; other senses, such as that of the Imperial bodyguard or even of a spacious country house, were gradually acquired. In most of the passages in the Gospels it is used in reference to a part or the whole of Pilate’s official residence in Jerusalem, which was probably the palace of Herod the Great (see Pavement).

Two other identifications are supported by comparatively early tradition, but are not on the whole to be approved. That Pilate’s house was in the lower city, a little to the north of the Temple, is altogether unlikely. The theory has failed to be confirmed by any discovery of the site; and it is not easy to see why Pilate should prefer such a locality, when the palace built by Herod was available as the official residence of the procurator. More can be said in favour of Pilate’s occupation of the castle of Antonia, which stood to the north-west of the Temple area. It was a fortress and prison, and served as the headquarters of the garrison at Jerusalem. Josephus (Ant. xv. xi. 4; BJ i. v. 4) describes it as a citadel, with abundant accommodation, and connected with the precincts of the Temple by a private way. But, again, Pilate was not likely, especially when accompanied by his wife and household (Matthew 27:19), to stay there, when the sumptuous palace of Herod, with its gardens and banqueting halls, was at his disposal. It is true that the proximity of Antonia to the Temple would be a convenience to the priests and Sanhedrists, and save them from the toil of attendance at the more remote palace: but Pilate was not the man to study the wishes or comfort of the Jewish leaders at the cost of any discomfort to himself. The arguments in favour of his adoption of the castle as his residence have been accepted, amongst recent commentators, by Westcott (on John 18) and Swete (on Mark 15:16); but, on the other hand, Herod’s palace has been preferred by Schürer, Edersheim, Sir C. Wilson, and commentators such as Alford and Meyer. The practice at Jerusalem would thus correspond with that at Caesarea (Acts 23:33-35).

Such a hypothesis leaves the passages in which the praetorium is referred to without any serious difficulty; and it becomes possible to follow the probable order of events. According to St. John, the trial of Jesus took place in one of the porticoes of Herod’s palace. When sentence was pronounced, Jesus was led away by the soldiers to Antonia, where they were themselves quartered, and where prisoners were ordinarily detained. He was taken into a court, to which also the name of prœtorium is given (Matthew 27:27, Mark 15:16), and mocked by such of the soldiers as were off duty. In this connexion prœtorium denotes probably the place of meeting of the council of chief officers for the transaction of the business of the cohort and for the trial of offences in the absence of the procurator. Such a usage of the term is anticipated, if not illustrated, in Livy (Hist. xxx. 5, xxxvii. 5); and the existence of such a court would be necessary for the maintaining of order in Jerusalem and the vicinity. When the soldiers were weary of the mocking, they led Jesus away again to be crucified.

R. W. Moss.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Praetorium'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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