Pontius Pilate

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Pontius Pilate was the Roman Prefect of Judaea (approx. 26 to 36 CE), most known for his part in the trial of Jesus Christ.

Pilate of history vs the one in the Gospels[edit]

The secular records on Pilate portray a very different man from that shown in the Gospels. Pliny and Josephus portray a ruler who cared little for the wishes of his Jewish subjects and was not above using violence against peaceful demonstrations.[1] Josephus's account of how Pilate brutally dealt with the Samaritan prophet of 36 CE indicates the style of his unusually long prefecture (note that although Pilate was recalled to Rome, there is no evidence that he was convicted of any wrongdoing)[2]:

For a man who made light of mendacity and in all his designs catered to the mob, rallied them, bidding them go in a body with him to Mount Gerizim, which in their belief is the most sacred of mountains. He assured them that on their arrival he would show them the sacred vessels which were buried there, where Moses had deposited them. His hearers, viewing this tale as plausible, appeared in arms. They posted themselves in a certain village named Tirathana, and, as they planned to climb the mountain in a great multitude, they welcomed to their ranks the new arrivals who kept coming. But before they could ascend, Pilate blocked their projected route up the mountain with a detachment of cavalry and heavily armed infantry, who in an encounter with the first comers in the village slew some in a pitched battle and put the others to flight. Many prisoners were taken, of whom Pilate put to death the principal leaders and those who were most influential among the fugitives.

When the uprising had been quelled, the council of the Samaritans went to Vitellius, a man of consular rank who was governor of Syria, and charged Pilate with the slaughter of the victims. For, they said, it was not as rebels against the Romans but as refugees from the persecution of Pilate that they had met in Tirathana. Vitellius thereupon dispatched Marcellus, one of his friends, to take charge of the administration of Judaea, and ordered Pilate to return to Rome to give the emperor his account of the matters with which he was charged by the Samaritans. And so Pilate, after having spent ten years in Judaea, hurried to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, since he could not refuse. But before he reached Rome Tiberius had already passed away.

—Flavius Josephus, (c. 94) Jewish Antiquities 18.85-89

The idea that such a man would brush off someone claiming to be "King of the Jews" (ie King of Judea) as a Jewish matter is insane. First, such a claim could be considered sedition which would have resulted in Pilate executing the person. Second, Pilate was quite willing to have his soldiers hide among the Jewish people so if they did something he didn't like (such as protested against using Temple money to build an aqueduct) he could use his soldiers to randomly attack, beat, and kill people.[3] Third, as the Samaritan prophet debacle shows Pilate tended to react negatively to large groups of Jews so the large crowds Jesus supposedly attracted would have been enough to set Pilate off. Finally, the disturbance in the Temple area would have also resulted in immediate action by the 600 some Temple guards or if they weren't enough to deal with the problem the whole Roman legion (about 5,000 strong) from Fort Antonia to be called in[4] so Pilate most likely would only be deciding the fate of the survivors (if there were any) of such an act.

Pilate in popular culture[edit]

Pontius Pilate has been depicted and referenced many times in literature and popular culture. In Monty Python's Life of Brian he was played by Michael Palin and accompanied by Graham Chapman as Biggus Dickus.

During the 2008 United States Presidential Campaign, Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen riled Republicans with a dig at Alaska Governor Sarah Palin when he gave a one-minute speech on the House floor on September 10, saying that "Barack Obama was a community organizer like Jesus . . . Pontius Pilate was a governor".[5]

Letters[edit]

There is a double myth that Pontius Pilate wrote letters to Seneca in Rome that mention Jesus and his reported miracles.[6]

It is a double myth because it is claimed that apologists often quote letters from a 1928 book Letters of Pontius Pilate: Written During His Governorship of Judea to His Friend Seneca in Rome[7] written by W. P. Crozier, an Oxford-educated Guardian journalist (and later the paper's editor) with an interest in Greek, Latin, the Bible and Zionism.

The reality is far more interesting:

The Acts of Pilate (Gospel of Pilate), thought to have been written in the middle of the fourth century as the Acts of Peter and Paul,[8] contains a supposed letter from Pilate to Caesar. There seems to be two versions of this: one where the letter is addressed to Tiberius (d 37 CE)[9][10] and another where it is addressed to Claudius (41 CE)[11][12][13][14]

Eusebius comments on "Letters of Pilate" being referred to by Justin and Tertullian while also noting an anti-Christian text called Acts of Pilate.[15]

The often quoted letter of Pontius Pilate to Claudius is NOT from Crozier's book but from the far older The Acts of Pilate as proven by its citation in works from 1827, 1880 and 1883, so the claim the letter comes from there is false. However, The Acts of Pilate is not considered genuine, so the part about apologists using a known fiction is true.[16]

Other lies[edit]

One particularly ridiculous tradition holds that Pilate was born in Scotland, at Fortingall north of Loch Tay, the son of a Roman envoy sent north to do diplomacy with Caledonian chieftains. This is despite the Roman armies not going anywhere near Scotland until around 71 CE. The story appears to have been made up in the late 19th or early 20th century by shipping magnate and local landowner Donald Currie.[17]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. Josephus, Titus Flavius (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.2
  2. The Strange Afterlife of Pontius Pilate, Kevin Butcher, History Today, 25 March 2016
  3. Josephus, Titus Flavius (c. 94). Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.2
  4. Richard Carrier. (June 14, 2013) "Brown Out: A Christian Reviews Proving History"
  5. YouTube - Steve Cohen Campaigns for Obama on House Floor
  6. Jim Walker, 2001-01-30. "Did a historical Jesus exist?" NoBeliefs.com.
  7. Complete text
  8. Reid, George (1913). "Acta Pilati". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  9. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 by Wilhelm Schneemelcher and R. Mcl. Wilson (Dec 1, 1990) ISBN 066422721X pages 501-502
  10. Letter of Pilate to Tiberius" New Advent
  11. Houston, George (1827) The Correspondent Vol 1 pg 354-355.
  12. Clough, William Overton; (1880) Gesta Pilati University of Michigan ASIN: B0038QONFQ pgs 97-98
  13. Huidekoper, Frederic (1883) Indirect testimony of history of the genuineness of the Gospels. 4th ed pg pg 143-144
  14. M. R. James as given in Quasten's Patrology, vol. 1, p. 117
  15. Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha (1963 ed.) vol. 1 p. 445.
  16. New Testament Apocrypha, Vol. 1 by Wilhelm Schneemelcher and R. Mcl. Wilson (Dec 1, 1990) ISBN 066422721X pages 501-502
  17. A curious tale, Heidi Soholt, Scotland Magazine, Issue 48, Dec 2009, p 22