New Testament Significance
Cleansing of the Temple
The location of the Antonia Fortress poses questions about the historicity of the Cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11:15-19). During Passover, as migrants flocked into the city, the estimated number for Roman soldiers was around 600 and they would all have been on high alert for any revolutionary activity. The fortress also had the handy location of being situated right next to the temple and therefore any disruption to the peace in the court of Gentiles would have generated an immediate response from the authorities. It seems strange that whilst “the chief priests and the scribes heard it” (Mk 11:18) there was no Roman intervention given the proximity of the fortress. Jesus’ actions in the courtyard of the temple therefore, which involved turning of tables and cursing moneylenders during a highly volatile period in Jerusalem’s history, clearly lack historical basis.
Site for the Roman Trial?
Some have argued that the part of the fortress made up Pilate’s Praetorium and therefore the setting for the Roman trial of Jesus (Mk 15:1-15). A Praetorium was often a plot of land under a Roman general’s jurisdiction. This belief was based on the mistaken supposition of archaeological evidence that has now been disproven. Roman flagstones were unearthed from under the Church of the Condemnation and Imposition of the Cross and the Convent of the Sisters of Zion. Originally it was held that this area was the biblical site of Jesus’ Roman trial. However archeological developments and further exploration of the plot has revealed that these pieces were from Hadrian’s 2nd century Forums, part of Aelia Capitolina. Archaeologists now agree that the location of the Praetorium was not in fact the Antonia Fortress but on the other side of the city on the Western Hill.
Whilst the fortress is not named at any point in the New Testament there is a strong case made that the fortress was the “barracks” where Paul was imprisoned in Acts 21:37. As Paul was arrested in the Temple and the fortress was the closest possible place where he could have been held, it is a logical assumption that he was held there.
Pierre Benoit, 'The Archaeological Reconstruction of the Antonia Fortress', in Jerusalem Revealed (edited by Yigael Yadin) (1976).