SPECIAL TOPIC: PONTIUS PILATE

I. The Man

A. Place and time of birth unknown

B. Of the Equestrian order (upper middle class of Roman society)

C. Married, but no known children

D. Earlier administrative appointments (of which there must have been several) unknown

II. His Personality

A. Two different views

1. Philo (Legatio and Gaium, 299-305) and Josephus (Antiq. 18.3.1 and Jewish Wars 2.9.2-4) depict him as a cruel and uncompassionate dictator.

2. The NT (Gospels, Acts) presents a weak, easily manipulated Roman procurator.

B. Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity, pp. 143-148, gives a plausible explanation of these two views.

1. Pilate was not appointed procurator in a.d. 26 under Tiberius, who was pro-Jewish (cf. Philo, Legatio and Gaium, 160-161) on the advice of Sejanus, Tiberius' anti-Jewish, chief advisor.

2. Tiberius suffered a loss of political power to L. Aelius Sejanus, his praetorian prefect who became the real power behind the throne and who hated Jews (Philo, Legatio land Gaium, 159-160).

3. Pilate was a protege of Sejanus and tried to impress him by

a. bringing Roman standards into Jerusalem (a.d. 26), which other procurators had not done. These symbols of Roman gods inflamed the Jews (cf. Josephus' Antiq. 18.3.1; Jewish Wars 2.9.2-3).

b. minting coins (a.d. 29-31) which had images of Roman worship engraved on them. Josephus says he was purposefully trying to overturn Jewish laws and customs (cf. Josephus, Antiq. 18.4.1-2).

c. taking money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem (cf. Josephus, Antiq. 18.3.2; Jewish Wars 2.9.3).

d. having several Galileans killed while offering a sacrifice at Passover in Jerusalem. 

e. bringing Roman shields into Jerusalem in a.d. 31.  Herod the Great's son appealed to him to remove them, but he would not, so they wrote Tiberius, who demanded they be removed back to Caesarea by the sea (cf. Philo, Legatio and Gaium, 299-305).

f. having many Samaritans slaughtered on Mt. Gerizim (a.d. 36/37) as they searched for sacred objects of their religion, which had been lost. This caused Pilate's local superior (Vitellius, Prefect of Syria) to remove him from office and send him to Rome (cf. Josephus, Antiq. 18.4.1-2).

4. Sejanus was executed in a.d. 31 and Tiberius was restored to full political power; therefore, #a, b, c, and d were possibly done by Pilate to earn Sejanus' trust; #e and f could have been attempts to earn Tiberius' trust, but may have backfired.

5. It is obvious with a pro-Jewish emperor restored, plus an official letter to procurators from Tiberius to be kind to Jews (cf. Philo, Legatio and Gaium, 160-161), that the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem took advantage of Pilate's political vulnerability with Tiberius and manipulated him to have Jesus crucified. This theory of Barnett brings the two views of Pilate together in a plausible way.

III. His Fate

A. He was recalled and arrived in Rome just after Tiberius' death (a.d. 37).

B. He was not reappointed.

C. His life is unknown after this. There are many later theories, but no secure facts.

 

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