In Annas’ Mansion

As Naman Avigad led the excavations of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem between 1973-1974, he began to unearth something remarkable. Under Mr. Avigad’s guidance, spades broke beneath the surface of ancient streets so that eager hands and brushes might resurrect the homes of the Jewish aristocracy from the sands of Jerusalem where they had been entombed since the Romans laid waste to the city in AD 70.

All of the six homes excavated during the two year period were rich archeological finds. All were ultimately incorporated into the Wohl Archeological Museum, but one outshone all the rest. This residence, dubbed The Palatial Mansion, was actually more of a palace. It boasted an astonishing footprint of 6,500 square feet, but had a living space almost double because it was a two-story dwelling.

There is little doubt the home was owned by one of the priests who served the Temple. One of the strongest supports for this theory are the mikvehs (ritual purification baths) in the residence, but there are other clues as well. The home is also a short walk to the Royal Bridge where the Priests could walk directly onto the Temple Mount platform.

Fascinating, but what does this magnificent home have to do with the Easter season? This amazing archeological treasure is one of the brilliant moments when archeology converges with scripture. This is almost certainly the home of Annas the High Priest where Jesus was taken after he left the Gethsemane. The paved courtyard in the center of the home is where Peter sat warming his hands around a fire as he listened to the proceedings drift down to him from the windows of the room directly behind him as Jesus answered the charges of the Sanhedrin. It is in the shadows of this courtyard where Peter, who loved the Lord so much, broke beneath the weight of his fear and found that though his spirit was willing his flesh was far too weak.

That night, Peter and John followed Jesus and the men who had bound him through the western entrance of the home. They immediately descended a flight of steps and then entered the vestibule. John was known to the priest, and had possibly been to the home before, but Peter must have been mesmerized by the opulence before him. Beneath his feet was an elaborate mosaic, with a large rosette in the center. A geometric pattern bordered the design with a pomegranate, so symbolic of the priesthood, inlaid in each corner.

As Peter glanced to his right, he saw into the what has been dubbed “the fresco room” because of the elaborate frescoes in red and gold which stretched from floor to ceiling. Lamplight flickered across beautiful furnishings, the best money could buy. On Peter’s left there were two doors leading into a large reception hall. The room was 33’x21′. The walls were white stucco and had been graced with a faux treatment that gave them the appearance of stonework. The ceiling was stucco too. The decorative treatment there was an elaborate, interwoven geometric design of hexagons and arrow heads called an “egg and dart” motif.

The reception hall was crowded with wealthy, powerful, angry men. Jesus stood in the center, bound. John was able to enter the room to watch the proceedings but Peter needed to find somewhere else to wait so he walked out the end of the vestibule and into the courtyard which was in the center of the home.

Some of the servants of the high priests and guards were already there. Braziers were kept to heat the rooms of the palatial mansion. Large beams, which had been partially burnt would be relit and allowed to smolder in these containers to warm the rooms of the large home. The men in the courtyard had placed one of these braziers in the center of the yard, and lit a fire within it to warm themselves while they awaited the developments. Peter was most certainly out of his element, but the night was cold and so he drew near he fire. Directly behind him, the long windows of the reception hall cast wavering lamplight into the courtyard below. As Peter sat around the fire, surrounded by enemies, he would have heard the accusations, and the sound of the Christ’s beating as the fists began to fall.

It was in this pressure cooker that this one who loved the Lord was accused and fell into denial once, and then again. Then, just as the first rays of sunlight began to peek over the wall, he denied his Lord a third and final time.

At this very moment, a priest at the nearby temple moved to the top of the wall and raised a large shofar to his lips and blew three long blasts, “the cock crow” which announced the beginning of the liturgical day.

The sound pierced Peter’s heart like a knife. He shrank away from the fire and into the shadows, making his way back to the door of the vestibule. Just as he stepped inside, he found himself in the perfect spot to glance once more into the interior of the Reception Hall to his right. Jesus, bloody and beaten in the center of the room, locked eyes with him across the crowd.

Peter’s heart was broken by his betrayal. It was a wound that would linger in him until the Lord personally restored him on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The excavations of the Palatial Mansion bring the night of Christ’s trial and Peter’s betrayal to life. Please see the video below for a brief tour, but skip the ad.

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