Pontius Pilate°

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PONTIUS PILATE °, Roman governor of Judea from 26 to 36 c.e. Pilate held office at the time of Jesus' crucifixion. At the outset of his rule, he incurred the resentment of the Jews when his army, in Jerusalem for its winter encampment, brought into the city its standards bearing the imperial image (Philo, De Legatione ad Gaium, 38). This act utterly disregarded the religious sensibilities of the Jews, who staged a mass protest before Pilate in Caesarea. Pilate, who realized that his threats of force would not deter the Jews, yielded to their demands and had the standards removed from Jerusalem to Caesarea. He caused even greater bitterness by his appropriation of Temple funds in order to build an aqueduct. When angry crowds demanded the abandonment of the project, Pilate planted Roman soldiers among them. At a signal from him, the soldiers fell upon the demonstrators, killed and injured many of them, and crushed the resistance (Jos., Wars 2:177; Antiq. 18:60–62). The situation worsened when Pilate ordered his soldiers to attack the Samaritans who had gathered on Mount Gerizim for a religious ceremony. Many, including several of their leaders, were killed. The Samaritans sent a delegation to protest to L. Vitellius, governor of Syria. Vitellius ordered Pilate to Rome to account for his conduct to Emperor Tiberius and appointed Marcellus in Pilate's place, as well as alleviating taxation in Jerusalem. Before Pilate reached Rome, however, the emperor died and Pilate never returned to Judea.

Bloody riots in the time of Pilate are also hinted at in the New Testament, though there is no clear statement of the circumstances. Pilate is best known with regard to the crucifixion of *Jesus. According to Tacitus "Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment…" (Annales xv, 44:2–5). According to the Evangelists, Pilate considered Jesus innocent of any crime. Jewish pressure alone is supposed to have caused Pilate to have him tried and executed. Christian sources, presumably motivated by a desire to place complete responsibility for the *crucifixion on the Jews, are generally sympathetic to Pilate. Josephus, however, is extremely matter of fact about Pilate's actions: "Pilate, upon hearing him [Jesus] accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, condemned him to be crucified." (Antiq. 18.64, though some scholars believe this passage to be a later interpolation into the text). This is in contrast to the account given in the epistle of Agrippa i (Philo, ibid.) which depicts Pilate as corrupt, cruel, and bloodthirsty. In Christian tradition, Pilate's death is attributed either to suicide or to execution by the emperor. A Latin inscription mentioning the emperor Tiberius and Pilate was discovered at Caesarea in 1961 ("…this Tiberium, Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea, did [or erected]…"); it clearly indicates that the title of the governors of Judea was also praefectus (see *Procurator). Coins minted by Pilate belong to the years 29–31 c.e.; it is unclear why he did not strike coins in the early years of his governorship (26–28 c.e.), or in his later years (32–36 c.e.). A lead weight from the time of Pilate and dated "Year 15 of Tiberius" is also known.


G.A. Mueller, Pontius Pilatus… (Ger., 1888) contains earlier bibliography; Schuerer, Hist, index; M. Radin, Jewsamong the Greeks and Romans (1915), 280ff.; G. Lippert, Pilatus als Richter (1923); D.R. Fotheringham, Suffered under Pontius Pilate… (1930); Pauly-Wissowa, 40 (1950), 1322–23; J. Blinzler, Der Prozess Jesu (1951, 19552); P. Winter, On the Trial of Jesus (1961); R. Caillois, Pontius Pilate (Eng., 1963); Doyle, in: jts, 42 (1941), 190–3; Vardaman, ibid., 81 (1962). add. bibliography: A.H.M. Jones, Studies in Roman Government and Law (1960), 115; M. Stern, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism, vol. 2 (1980), 89, 92 (for bibliography on the Caesarea inscription and on the praefectus Iudaeae title); Y. Meshorer, "Coins of the Roman Procurators of Judaea," in: A Treasury of Jewish Coins From the Persian Period to Bar Kokhba (2001), 167–76; M. Grant, Jesus (1977): 161ff; E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (1993), 28ff.; J. Dominic Crossan and J.L. Reed, Excavating Jesus (2001), 268. For further literature see: *Jesus (bibliography).

[Lea Roth /

Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

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