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What was the size of the crowd outside the Praetorium when Jesus and Barabbas were offered to be released at the Passover feast? Are there any historical accounts as to the size of the crowd?

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  • not possible. see NABRE bible footnotes on the chapter. Details of the cohort of soldiers means 600, but crowd number cannot be ascertained.
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The Praetorium was located within the the enclosed grounds of Herod’s Palace in the Upper City. The biblical account in Luke 2:41-50 informs us that all adult Jewish males would attend the Passover Festival, normally accompanied by their families. This was the most important festival in the Jewish religious calendar and thousands of people would have travelled into Jerusalem.

We have an account of Jesus and his family going up to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was 12 years of age. Joseph, Mary and their other children headed home after the Passover then discovered (the following day) that Jesus was missing. They enquired among all their relatives who were also on the road home. Jerusalem would have been packed out with Jews celebrating this, the most important of all the festivals.

Acts chapter 2 also describes how, after the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples who were in Jerusalem for Pentecost, the city was packed with “God-fearing Jews” from as far afield as Rome, the Parthian empire, Crete, Egypt, and Arabia. Hundreds of thousands of people would have flocked into Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside.

Going back to the events described in Luke, we learn that the Jewish religious leaders handed Jesus over to Pilate to be tried. Herod’s Palace was the residence of the Roman governors (Matthew 27:11-26). The members of the Sanhedrin would not go into the enclosed area where the Praetorium was located because that would have made them ceremonially unclean.

The historical record (from the New Testament) does not indicate the size of the enclosure where Herod’s Palace and the Praetorium were located. Neither does it say how many people would have been standing outside the palace waiting for Pilate’s verdict. All we know is that there was a great crowd and Pilate was afraid of a riot breaking out. He was sufficiently cowed to give in to their demands.

What was the size of the crowd baying for Jesus’ blood? The Bible does not tell us. Are there any other historical records of this event that might give us a clue?

Josephus, the Roman historian, has suggested that over a million persons could have been in Jerusalem for this important festival (which was also a holiday). However, the physical limits of the area surrounding Herod’s Palace and the Praetorium would necessarily have restricted the number of people who might have been there.

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