In an interview posted this morning on Justin Taylor’s blog, Leen Ritmeyer describes the “Palatial Mansion” that overlooked the Temple Mount in the first-century. This impressive structure inside today’s Wohl Museum is frequently skipped by tourists to Jerusalem, if I can judge by the private visits my groups usually enjoy at the site. Many who have been to Jerusalem may thus “see” this ancient home through the Leen Ritmeyer’s eyes, as the supervisor of the reconstruction effort provides a helpful “walk-through.” The house also provides the opportunity to clarify a difficult portion of the New Testament. How could Peter be warming himself by a fire in the courtyard on the night he denied Jesus, and yet be able to “go outside” the house of the high priest (Luke 22:54-62)? Ritmeyer explains and illustrates the concept of an open courtyard inside the palace. While I appreciate the way that Ritmeyer makes these discoveries so accessible to the average Bible reader, I am less optimistic that this particular house is the very house where Jesus stood on trial and Peter denied the Lord. In favor of making this positive identification is the fact that this is the largest house known from this time period in Jerusalem. On the other hand, most of the land in the Old City has never been excavated. If there were 100 houses in Jerusalem in the first century, how likely is it that the only complete one excavated is the same one mentioned in the Bible? See the post for the full interview, some of Ritmeyer’s famous diagrams, and links to his excellent resources. A commenter to the post also shares 63 high-resolution photos he took on a visit. These are particularly valuable because photography is not allowed unless you pay a lot of money.
4 thoughts on “Ritmeyer on the House of the High Priest in Jerusalem”
Let me first say that the identification of the Palatial Mansion with the palace of Annas the high priest is only tentative, as I wrote. No one can say with certainty that this is the very palace of Annas the high priest.
The identification, however, was first suggested very cautiously by Nahman Avigad, the well-known and well respected excavation director of the Jewish Quarter Excavations.
The reason for a tentative identification is not only the size of the Mansion as you suggest, as a similarly sized dwelling was excavated right next to it. This Palatial Mansion is distinguished from all other six Herodian houses that have been excavated nearby, in that it has four mikva'ot, which shows the importance attached to purification by the inhabitants. I know of no other ancient private dwelling in Jerusalem or elsewhere in the Land that has four mikva'ot.
In addition, the sumpteousness of the decoration and the artifacts found in the excavation of this mansion shows that the occupants were very wealthy. The high priestly families were known to have been wealthy, especially the house of Annas. Previously, we have been able to identify the most elaborately decorated rock-cut tomb in the Hinnom Valley with the Monument of Annas the High Priest, that was located here according to Josephus' description of the Roman circumvallation wall. He and his family must have been extremely wealthy, as were the inhabitants of the Mansion.
The proximity of the Burnt House, that can certainly be attributed to the priestly family of the House of Katros, shows that priests lived in this area. It is therefore not unreasoable to suggest that this mansion may also have belonged to a family of High Priests.
Finally, Josephus wrote in War 2.426 that the palace of Annas the high priest was burnt together with the palace of Agrippa and Berenice, the so-called Hasmonean Palace. Although no trace of this palace has been found, it must have been located not far from the Mansion, as from its roof the Temple Mount could be overlooked. It must have stood, as most scholars agree, close to the rockscarp that overlooked the Tyropoeon Valley. There is no possiblilty of another 100 houses to be found between these two monumental buildings.
Wether this Mansion is the palace of Annas the high priest or not, the layout of this dwelling with its Reception Room and nearby courtyard make it visually possible, better than in any other place in Jerusalem, to imagine the tragic moment when the eyes of Jesus and Peter met, and Peter leaving this place, weeping bitterly.
I'm not an expert on any of these, so this is just conjecture. I was thinking, while it probably isn't safe to assume that this house is the very one where Jesus stood on trial, could it be safe to assume that since "the only complete one excavated is the same one mentioned in the Bible" had a large outdoor courtyard that it would be possible, even probable, that the high priest's house did also?
Leen – Your thoughtful response is most appreciated. You always serve us so well. Thank you.
In my mind, the factor that makes this dwelling helpful in thinking about the encounter of Jesus and Peter actually works against the identification of this as the high priest's house. That is, as you have shown, there is but one small area in a corner where Peter would have been able to see through to the reception hall, and this is not on the "way out." A similar house with a courtyard and large hall could have had more communication between the two.
In any case, given the various attractions of making sensational identifications, I think we remain more credible if we take a cautious approach.
Gale – yes, I think that what Leen has proposed helps us to understand just how the story could have unfolded, thus making it quite reasonable that the high priest's home had a courtyard.