Did Jews really come “from every nation under heaven” to Jerusalem at Pentecost 33 C.E.?
In addition to the Bible account at Acts 2:5-11, the contemporary Jewish writer Philo provided an account that describes the crowd of people who came to Jerusalem at Pentecost 33 C.E.
About travelers to Jerusalem, Philo wrote: “Countless multitudes from countless cities come, some over land, others over sea, from east and west and north and south, at every feast.” He also quoted from a letter sent by Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, to the Roman Emperor Caligula. In it, Agrippa stated concerning Jerusalem: “The Holy City . . . is the capital not of the single country of Judaea but of most other countries also, because of the colonies which it has sent out from time to time to the neighbouring lands.”
Agrippa listed areas in which Jewish colonies had been established, including faraway places in Mesopotamia, North Africa, Asia Minor, Greece, and islands of the Mediterranean. “Although this list makes no specific mention of journeys to Jerusalem,” says scholar Joachim Jeremias, “the idea is implicit, since it was obligatory for all adult Jews to make the pilgrimage there.”—Deuteronomy 16:16.
How were the thousands who came to Jerusalem for the Jewish festivals accommodated?
Three festivals were held yearly in Jerusalem—Passover, Pentecost, and the Festival of Booths. In the first century, hundreds of thousands traveled to Jerusalem for such occasions from all over Israel and from every other land where Jews lived. (Luke 2:41, 42; Acts 2:1, 5-11) All these pilgrims had to find somewhere to stay.
Some would spend the night with friends; others at inns or lodging houses. Many camped in tents within or around the city walls. During his last stay in Jerusalem, Jesus lodged in the nearby city of Bethany.—Matthew 21:17.
A number of structures containing many bath basins have been found near the temple. These buildings are thought to have been hostels where pilgrims could stay and cleanse themselves before entering the temple. An inscription found in one of these buildings indicates that Theodotus, a priest and leader of the local synagogue, “built the synagogue for the reading of Torah and . . . furthermore, the hostel, and the rooms, and the water installation for lodging needy strangers.”