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We read in Jn 18, of the beginning of the trial of Christ:

Then they brought Jesus from Caiaphas into the Praetorium, and it was early; and they themselves did not enter the Praetorium, so that they would not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.

Now, there were a lot of thing that would defile a Jew during the Passover. Praetorium being the headquarters of the Roman Governor, there were all possibilities of it not honouring Jewish rituals. We see Jesus getting flogged at the Praetorium. But John does not specify as to what exactly made a Jew unclean in the Praetorium. Do we have any apocryphal writing on the topic?

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The Praetorium was part of Pilate's Jerusalem residence and headquarters in the former Palace of Herod I. The concern here was not that Pilate was a Gentile per se, but has to do with special Passover laws about leavening.

Exodus 13:

6 For seven days you will eat unleavened bread, and the seventh day will also be a festival to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread may be eaten during the seven days, but nothing leavened and no leaven may be found in your possession in all your territory.

During the first century, there were surely debates about the exact meaning of possessing leavening, just as there are today. Even today, strict Jews will empty their houses of any yeast or products containing yeast, and will carefully clean all shelves and floors to avoid contamination.

The night before Passover, immediately after sundown, one begins the search for leaven (Orach Chayyim 431:1). The aim of the search is to be sure that no leaven has been left behind after the cleaning of the house...The procedure includes these items: a candle; a feather, which acts as a broom; and a wooden spoon into which the pieces of bread will be scooped.

Among the stricter Jews of Jesus' time, a similar custom must also have been in place. Those in the position of religious authority had to be especially careful to avoid even the possibility of ritual impurity at Passover, and to enter the palace of the most famous Gentile personage in Jerusalem then could easily cause scandal.

Conclusion: There is no reason that this particular detail in John's account should be considered apocryphal. Jewish religious authorities had to be particularly cautious about avoiding leavening in preparation for Passover, and Pilate's house (including the Praetorium) was a place where the necessary precautions could not be taken.


Note: The Talmudic discussions such as Pesachim I provide a glimpse into the seriousness of avoiding leaven during Passover that probably existed in Jesus' time as well.

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The structure itself wasn't built to be unclean. Though Herod was an Idumean, he considered himself Jewish and would have kept ritual cleanliness for the Passover. It was Pilate along with the Romans occupying the Praetorium, and their lack of observing Jewish ritual cleanliness that made it unclean.

Into the palace (εἰς το πραιτωριον [eis to praitōrion]). For the history and meaning of this interesting Latin word, praetorium, see on Matt. 27:27; Acts 23:35; Phil. 1:13. Here it is probably the magnificent palace in Jerusalem built by Herod the Great for himself and occupied by the Roman Procurator (governor) when in the city. There was also one in Caesarea (Acts 23:35). Herod’s palace in Jerusalem was on the Hill of Zion in the western part of the upper city. There is something to be said for the Castle of Antonia, north of the temple area, as the location of Pilate’s residence in Jerusalem. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Jn 18:28). Broadman Press.

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