[suicide (?) ca. 38 CE]
The best known Roman governor of Judea
to later history because of his role in the accounts of Jesus' execution. Pilate
probably came from the ranks of cavalry officers [equites]
from which Rome regularly drew the prefects of smaller occupied
provinces like Judea.
His appointment as prefect of Judea in the latter half of the reign
the brutal Praetorian captain Sejanus was de facto ruler of
Rome---is confirmed by reports in Josephus
& a stone found in 1962 at Caesarea Maritima [the capitol of the
Roman province of Palestine], inscribed: "[Thi]s Tiberieum [Pon]tius
Pilatus, Prefect of Judea, [mad]e."
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. This stands in sharp contrast to the
impression conveyed in the Christian gospels which, for apologetic
reasons, portray him as reluctant to execute Jesus. Pilate's decade
long tenure (26-36 CE) testifies to both his relative effectiveness
in maintaining order & to the aging emperor's lack of personal
attention to administrative affairs. The ruthless slaughter of
thousands of Samaritan pilgrims by Pilate's cavalry (ca. 36 CE),
however, led to such a strong Palestinian protest that Pilate was
eventually recalled to Rome. Tiberius died before his return; but
the new emperor [Caligula]
relieved Pilate of his command & exiled him to Gaul [Vienne-on-Rhone].
Later rumors reported by Eusebius (4th c. CE)
claim he committed suicide.
References: Josephus, Antiquities
18.35, 55-64, 85-89, 177;
Philo, Embassy to Gaius
Tacitus, Annals 15.44.
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.7.1.
Luke 3:1, 13:1.
Mark 15:1-15 // Matt 27:1-26 // Luke 23:1-25 // John 18:28-19:16.
Mark 15:42-45 // Matt 27:57-58 // Luke 23:50-52 // John 19:38.
Acts 3:13, 4:27, 13:28.
1 Tim 6:13.
Other resources on line:
Judean bronze coin issued by Pilate in 30
CE. The Greek inscription reads
(clockwise from the bottom left: Tiberiou
[Ka]isaros ["of Tiberius Caesar"]. At the center is a lituus,
a curved crook used by Roman augurs. Though this pagan religious symbol
was used frequently on Roman coins minted outside Palestine, Pilate was
the only Roman prefect to have put it on money issued for commerce among
Jews. His use of a pagan religion symbol on Judean coinage is
another of Pilate's acts that demonstrates his deliberate disregard
for Jewish religious scruples.
For high resolution images of this coin & those
of other Roman
rulers see Sandy Brenner's vivid numismatic guide: Jerusalem
Through Coins. For more images & detailed analysis of the
symbols used on The
Coins of Pontius Pilate see article by Jean-Philippe Fontanille.
Limestone block dedicating a
monument at Caesarea to the Roman emperor Tiberius [TIBERIEUM
= "house of Tiberius" (top line)]. The Latin inscription
is fragmentary since the block was broken by ancient construction workers
to use in making repairs to the theater
built by Herod. But enough has survived to identify the donor [(Pon)TIUS
PILATUS (second line)] and his office [(Praef)ECTUS IUDA(ea)E = "governor of
Judea" (third line)]. The rest is illegible. For full pictures of
this stone, which is on display at the Israeli Museum in Jerusalem, see:
Perspective on the World of Jesus
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