The Real Lucius Pontius Pilate

pilate

The other day, I watched a British “TV documentary” on Pontius Pilate that left me furious. It got some of its facts right but in supporting the conclusion it wanted to reach (which was an anti-scriptural bias), it conveniently left out other facts.

It suggested that Pilate not only had as much reason as anyone to want Jesus dead, he was part of the conspiracy against him and colluded with the Sanhedrin for his arrest.

Um… no. What are you smoking that you think that?

Jesus was arrested at Passover, when Jerusalem was flooded with visitors. Pilate spent his entire governorship over Judea trying to repress riots. Arresting the most popular messiah in the province is a wonderful way to start a riot with over five thousand participants. You’d have to be an idiot to do that, and Pilate was no idiot.

One fact the documentary left out was this: Pilate dealt with riots over his use of temple funds in building the aqueducts by sending armed centurions into the crowd to force it into submission. They wore cloaks to disguise themselves and at his signal, threw them off and took after the mob with clubs. A dozen people were killed, which led to Tiberius sending a severe chastisement and warning him not to incite further complaints against the Judean governor. That’s reason enough not to want anything to do with the arrest of Jesus.

The Jewish historian Josephus provides us with evidence that Pilate had a history of similar anti-Semitic sentiments and violence toward the Jews. He threatened mobs with brutality on several occasions in both Judea and Crete and it was the mass slaughter of a group of Samaritans that got him sent back to Rome. (This is where history loses sight of him, because by the time he arrived, Tiberius was dead. Was he ever tried? Did Caligula punish him or dismiss the charges? … you’ll have to read my novel this summer to find out! 😉

jesus

The documentary tried to discredit scripture by pointing out that its “sympathetic” depiction of Pilate as working tirelessly to have Jesus freed isn’t consistent with the historical figure. It blamed the prejudice of the authors toward the Sanhedrin as depicting Pilate in a more favorable light than his history would suggest. Yet, if Pilate was known for his brutality and much-hated among the Judeans, why would the disciples shy away from brutal honesty in their representation of him? They certainly don’t sugarcoat anyone or anything in the rest of the gospels! (LOGIC FAIL.) Therefore, we must conclude that what they wrote about Pilate is actually how it happened.

Scripture’s account of a frustrated, reluctant Pilate when faced with the Messiah isn’t inconsistent with history at all. He wasn’t merciful! Pilate still has Jesus scourged, even intending to release him. Scourging was a brutal punishment that often led to death – and if not, extreme scarring, broken bones, and other physical deformities. Even if Jesus was innocent, such a punishment would have broken him for life. Pilate also still had him crucified, one of the worst, most painful ways to die. Yet, he did fight to have Jesus released.

So what does that tell us?

It says a lot more about the Messiah than it does Pilate, if a notorious anti-Semite known for his total brutality took one look at a man with the potential to incite riots against Rome and said, “Free him.”

What must that man have been like?

8 Replies to “The Real Lucius Pontius Pilate”

  1. Very informative. Was he a sly fox or just overwhelmed by the pressure of Rome and Tiberius on one side and the moral force of Jesus and opposing him the enemies of Jesus on the other? You almost feel pity for him. There was no prefect playbook written to cover this!

  2. So I guess Mel Gibson’s portrayal of him is riddled with inaccuracies too. In “The Passion of the Christ,” Pilate was portrayed as a fairly sympathetic character. You almost liked him. Just wish that Hollywood could get it right for once. But I guess they’d rather compromise the Scriptures than their own whacked out beliefs.

    1. Since Mel’s movie really only covers twelve hours in Pilate’s life, that he comes across as sympathetic in wanting to free Christ isn’t really a problem, since it fits the scriptural representation. (I’m also a little bit biased, since that film is what started my interest in Pilate in the first place. ;))

      Mel’s movie is, however, largely based off the dreams of a Catholic nun from the middle-ages, so he supplements scripture with visions. Many don’t like it for that reason; I, however, find his conclusions and world-building fascinating!

  3. Wow. I mean just . . . wow. Hollywood is on a mission to discredit scripture, implying that what was written a thousand years ago is not what actually happened. However, we have no reason to disbelieve Scripture. Your argument that the Bible is not sugar-coated so why would they sugarcoat Pilate is a great one. The biblical authors never sugar-coated anything! I mean, seriously, did we need to know about Lot and his daughters? Apparently we did because it’s in scripture, black and white, clear as crystal.

    It’s a much more viable argument that the authors would have MADE Pilate the enemy. They certainly wouldn’t have painted an enemy in a positive light if he hadn’t actually wanted to spare Christ! People so desperately want to change scripture that they will come up with anything and everything, no matter how implausible.

    So, not going to watch this one, I think. I wish I could have seen the steam coming out your ears. 😉

    1. I don’t think attempts now to discredit scripture (and Christ) are any different from the lies of the day — “Oh, his body was stolen out of the tomb!”

      One speaker I once heard said we don’t have to stress over defending God or the Bible, because He can do that! It’s true to a degree, since more and more validation is discovered in time, both historical discoveries and scientific. But yes, since scripture never sugar-coated anyone (if so, we wouldn’t know about Lot… or David’s mistress… or any of the other awful things “heroes” do), why would it start with Pilate?

      Something I want to know is — how did the disciples find out about Pilate’s response? He spoke to the entire courtyard at the end, but his conversations with Christ were in private. How did they learn of Claudia’s dreams? It makes me wonder if a servant in their household was a follower!

      No, you can skip this bio! 😉

      1. “…how did the disciples find out about Pilate’s response? He spoke to the entire courtyard at the end, but his conversations with Christ were in private. How did they learn of Claudia’s dreams?”

        Very simple, ..
        A – Pontius Pilatus was acting in his official role when he interviewed Jesus. A scribe / secretary was most probably present and recorded the proceedings as an official record of the governor of Judea and for the official records / archives in Rome. The governors and legates of Rome had to submit [usually] yearly reports and to back them up they needed their own record keeping. The trial of Jesus was a major affair for the Roman authorities in Judea as it took place in Jerusalem at the most sensitive and explosive time of the year and as it involved great multitude of people and most crucially as the leadership of the Jews was also involved; it created the controversy and was driving the riots. It is inconceivable that the Romans on the hot spot would not have made official written records of the affair. They were meticulous in their record keeping.
        B – Pontius Pilatus had his problems with the Jews, there was no love lost between them. The Jews got better of him once and it is most certain that he was wary of them. The controversy around Jesus could only have increased his paranoia. He had no knowledge of obscure points of Jewish religious law and he must have been suspicious that the Jewish elite is trying to get better of him again and discredit him for good. He must have been apprehensive to not make a wrong move, his position and even his own life depended on it. This would explain, and the Gospel accounts testify to this, that he tried to tread carefully in this political-religious morass. I am certain that he wanted to have an official record of the events of that week, at least in order to have his back covered in the event of a rebellion erupting and he getting the blame for it. If the conversation with Jesus was on record then it is most natural that it ‘leaked’ from official records to public ones.
        C – Pontius Pilatus was married, living in a hostile environment and under pressure from both the emperor and the leaders of the Jews. It is natural to consider that being in a stressful situation he talked to his wife. A wife is a very good collector and disseminator of curiosities, information and gossip. If he was worried and shared his worries about his position with her, if he talked to his wife about Jesus, then it is most certain that the details of the interrogation of Jesus were spread around Jerusalem by the women of the Pilatus’ household. Surely, before the advent of radio and TV, the most efficient news propagation in history has been done by wives. This fact also answers the question of why we know about the dream of Pilatus’ wife.
        The details of the Jesus’ interrogation must have come from two sources, from an official one and also from an unofficial one.
        In the year 410 the VIsigoths sacked Rome and in the ensuing fire the archives of Rome with their contents burned down. If anything survived then it was destroyed by the second sack of Rome by the Vandals [hence the term vandalism] in the year 455. All written records related to the province of Judea were lost..

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