The Aramaic appellation of a place in Jerusalem, designated also under the Greek name of Lithostrotos
Gabbatha (Aramaic GBTA) is the Aramaic appellation of a place in Jerusalem, designated also under the Greek name of Lithostrotos. It occurs only in John, xix, 13, where the Evangelist states that Pontius Pilate “brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat, in the place that is called Lithostrotos, and in Hebrew Gabbatha.” The name “Gabbatha” is certainly an Aramaic word, for by “Hebrew” St. John, like other New Testament writers, denotes the Aramaic language which was spoken commonly at the time in Judea. It is not a mere translation of “Lithostrotos”, which properly means the tessellated or mosaic pavement whereon stood the judgment-seat, but which was extended to the place itself in front of Pilate’s praetorium, where that pavement was laid. This is proved by the practice of St. John, who elsewhere gives Aramaic names as distinctly belonging to places, not as mere translations of the Greek. This is proved also by the fact that “Gabbatha” is derived from a root (GB “back”, “elevation”); which refers, not to the kind of pavement, but to the “elevation” of the place in question. It thus appears that the two names “Lithostrotos” and “Gabbatha” were due to different characteristics of the spot where Pilate delivered Our Lord to death. The Aramaic name was derived from the configuration of that spot, the Greek name from the nature of its pavement. Efforts have been made by commentators to identify “Gabbatha” either with the outer court of the Temple, which is known to have been paved, or with the meeting-place of the Great Sanhedrin, which was half within, half without the Temple‘s outer court, or again with the ridge at the back of the House of the Lord; but these efforts cannot be considered as successful. The only thing that can be gathered with certainty from St. John’s statement (xix, 13) is that “Gabbatha” denotes the usual place in Jerusalem, where Pilate had his judicial seat, and whither he caused Jesus to be brought forth, that he might deliver in His hearing, and in that of the Jewish multitude, his formal and final sentence of condemnation.
FRANCIS E. GIGOT