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! 😉
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?