Pontius Pilate (Luke 23)

Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea from A.D. 26 to 36. Ruling from Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast, he was primarily responsible for maintaining the peace and collecting taxes. A number of artifacts remain from Pilate’s governance of Judea:

  • In 1961 an inscription bearing Pilate’s name was found during an excavation of the theatre at Caesarea. The surviving portion reads “Tiberium (of the Caesareans?), Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea (…has given…)” The inscription was most likely part of a building called a Tiberium, possibly a temple, dedicated to the emperor Tiberius. While the Tiberium fell into disuse, the stone bearing the inscription was used, ironically, to repair a stairway during a fourth century remodeling of a theatre built by Herod the Great. It was in the stairwell that the Italian excavators discovered the inscription.
  • Pilate built an aqueduct to bring water into Jerusalem from the south of the city. Remnants of this structure can still be seen in Bethlehem.
  • A number of coins struck during Pilate’s tenure have survived. As with coins of other Roman governors, they do not bear Pilate’s name but instead carry the names Tiberius Caesar and Empress Julia. Pilate’s coins incorporated symbols that would have offended the Jews. One was a littus, or augur’s wand (augury or divination was forbidden by Mosaic Law, e.g. Deuteronomy 18:9-14). The other was the simpulum, a small ladle with a high handle used to make libations during sacrifices, a common symbol of the Roman priesthood.

The trial of Jesus was probably carried out at Herod’s palace, the Praetorium (Matthew 27:27, Mark 15:16, John 18:28, 19:9), portions of which have been excavated. The only mention of Pilate in the New Testament apart from the trial of Jesus is in Luke 13:1. There Jesus was told about “the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices”, evidently a reference to an incident in which a number of Galileans were killed while offering sacrifices at the temple. This accords well with what we read about Pilate in the works of the ancient Jewish writers Josephus and Philo, who portrayed him as cruel and corrupt. Pilate was recalled to Rome after having massacred a group of Samaritans.

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