Pontius Pilate

We're all familiar with this nefarious character of biblical fame. A lot of what we think about him is filtered through the gospels, but there are other sources that talk about him as well.

Unequivacably, he was the Roman governor of Judaea from 26 CE to 36 CE. He began his tenure under the emperor Tiberius but was recalled back to Rome under Caligula.

The following website would have you believe that "The Pilate described by Josephus & the Roman historian Tacitus was a strong willed, inflexible military governor who was insensitive to the religious scruples of his Jewish & Samaritan subjects & relentless in suppressing any potential disturbance."

It goes on to cite the following extra-biblical sources:
Josephus, Antiquities 18.35, 55-64, 85-89, 177; War 2.169-177;
Philo, Embassy to Gaius 38;
Tacitus, Annals 15.44.

This would seem to confirm the narrative that the christians have build around this much-maligned personage. But it that really what we can conclude from these ancient historians? Thanks to The Perseus Project we can look up these sources (in English) and see what people other than the gospel writers thought of the govna.

Tacitus, Annals 15.44 - States that Christians were followers of Christ, who they allege had been killed by Pilate.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.35 - States that Pilate was interred as procurator of Judea.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.55-64 (except 63, see note below) - States that Pilate put the Eagles over the temple, and was able to subdue the Jewish objections to this act with swords, but took pity on them instead, and had the eagles removed. Then he built an aquaduct with the temple funds.

Note: 18.63 is considered a later addition by a later anonymous medival scribe. Its statements therefore are not summarized above as the words of Josephus.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.85-89 - A nice little Samarian revolt is quelched by the Roman infantry. Pilate is accused of excessive force and recalled to Rome.

Josephus, Antiquities 18.177 - References Pilate as a procurator of Judea.

Josephus, War 2.169-177 - Repeat of Ant. 18.55-64

All in all, Pilate isn't recorded to have done very much at all, and it is impossible to say what the referenced site concludes about the man.

Pilate was no more ruthless than any other governor or Jewish king, and he was apparently extremely sensitive to the religious scruples of the Jewish people (Unlike previous governors and even Jewish rulers of the time).

Although the bible does not speak to this fact, the role of the Roman governor of the province of Judea was a very simple one: He was to collect taxes and if necessary perform a show of force to remind the Judeans who their masters were. There is nothing in Roman histories or law that should lead us to believe that they also acted like judges.

If we choose to read the bible as a narrative, rather than an historical document, then we can guess that Pilate was added to the story to lead a sense of authenticity, an historical perspective, to the tale. This was done again at the beginning of the gospel of Luke (2.1-2) when Quirinius is said to be governor of Syria, which couldn't be the case for the year the events occured.

Thus, unless Jesus committed a crime against the Romans, the Romans would have left it to the local authorities to handle executions. There is an interesting theory that Jesus may have been viewed as an insurrectionist. The Jewish authorities then would be handing over a rebel to the Romans. The Roman behaviour, then, in this scenario, could be interpretted not as one of pawns to the Jewish authorities, but rather as over-cautious overlords content to execute the innocent and guilty so long as everyone recognised that insubordination would be dealt with ruthlessly.

The Jews would have been wise head this terrible warning. Not half a century later, Josephus would have occasion to write, into great detail, about the Jewish revolt and the utter anhililation of Jerusalem. But Pilate was no longer governor of Judea at this time.

More Info:
A much longer examination of the career of Pilate.
A summary of how Luke, all likelihood, borrowed much of his narrative from Josephus.
An explanation as to why the sections of Josephus omitted above are certainly medieval forgeries.
The Sedition against Rome theory of Jesus' imprisonment.


At 10/16/04, 11:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What got you on PP?

Well the gospels being written 40 years after Christ one must figure there was creative license used. I know that there was politcal motivations, I mean at the time only Roman's were believed to be able to perform miracles, so the ones attributed to JC were likely to stick to the Romans', like see we can do it too.


At 10/17/04, 10:10 AM, Blogger Crinis said...

Just for kicks. I was getting bored of blogging politics all the time. As for miracle workers in the middle-east around this time (there were many) see Richard Carrier's Kooks and Quacks article. It's a good'un.

At 10/18/04, 11:09 PM, Blogger Christine said...

vince--really--get a new career as a writer. please. you are robbing society of your findings. and your keyboard tapping will be much more pleasurable for you, too.


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