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Reference: Pilate


PILATE, PONTIUS. Connected with the Pontian clan (gens), first remarkable in the person of Pontius Telesinus, the great Samnite general. Pilate is probably from pileus, "the cap of freedom,"which manumitted slaves received; Pilate being perhaps descended from a freedman. Sixth Roman procurator of Judaea, appointed in Tiberius' 12th year (A.D. 25 or 26). The pagan historian Tacitus (Ann. 15:44) writes: "Christ, while Tiberius was emperor, was capitally executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate." The procurator was generally a Roman knight, acting under the governor of a province as collector of the revenue, and judge in cases arising under it. But Pontius Pilate had full military and judicial authority in Judas, as being a small province attached to the larger Syria; he was responsible to the governor of Syria. Archelaus having been deposed (A.D. 6), Subinus, Coponius, Ambivius, Rufus, Valerius Gratus, and Pontius Pilate successively were governors (Josephus, Ant. 18:2, section 2).

Pilate removed his military head quarters from Caesarea to Jerusalem, and the soldiers brought their standards with the emperor's image on them. The Jews crowded to Caesarea and besought him to remove them He was about to kill the petitioners after a five days' discussion, giving a signal to concealed soldiers to surround them; but their resolve to die rather than cease resisting the idolatrous innovation caused him to yield (Josephus, Ant. 18:3, section 1-2; B.J. 2:9, section 2-4). So far did the Jews' scruples influence the Roman authorities that no coin is stamped with a god or emperor before Nero (DeSaulcy, Numism. 8-9); the "penny" stamped with Caesar's image in Mt 22:20 was either a coin from Rome or another province, the shekel alone was received in the temple. Pilate again almost drove them to rebel

(1) by hanging up in his residence, Herod's palace at Jerusalem, gilt shields with names of idols inscribed, which were finally removed by Tiberius' order (Philo, ad Caium. 38, ii. 589);

(2) by appropriating the Corban revenue from redemption of vows (Mr 7:11) to building an aqueduct. (It is an extraordinary engineering work, 30 miles long; the southern source is 15 miles from Jerusalem at wady el Arrub; Ain Kueizibba is its true source; it is carried on a parapet 12 ft. high over wady Marah el Ajjal.) He checked the riot by soldiers with concealed daggers, who killed many of the insurgents and even spectators.

(3) He mingled the blood of Galileans witk their sacrifices, probably at a feast at Jerusalem, when riots often occurred, and in the temple outer court (Lu 13:1-4). Probably the tower of Siloam was part of the aqueduct work, hence its fall was regarded as a judgment; the Corban excluded the price of blood, as Mt 27:6.

It is not improbable that Barabbas' riot and murder were connected with Pilate's appropriation of the Corban; this explains the eagerness of the people to release him rather than Jesus; the name may mean "son of Abba," an honorary title of rabbis, from whence the elders were strongly in his favor. Livy (5:13) mentions that prisoners used to be released at a lectisternium or propitiatory feast in honor of the gods. That Jerusalem was not the ordinary residence of Pilate appears from Lu 23:6, "Herod himself also (as well as Pilate) was at Jerusalem at that time." Caesarea was the regular abode of the Roman governors (Josephus, Ant. 18:4, section 1; 20:4, section 4). The Passover brought Pilate to Jerusalem, as disturbances were most to be apprehended when the people were gathered from the country for the feast. (See JESUS CHRIST on Pilate's conflict of feelings.)

He had a fear of offending the Jews, who already had grounds of accusation against him, and of giving color to a charge of lukewarmness to Caesar's kingship, and on the other hand a conviction of Jesus' innocence (for the Jewish council, Pilate knew well, would never regard as criminal an attempt to free Judas from Roman dominion), and a mysterious awe of the Holy Sufferer and His majestic mien and words, strengthened by his wife's (Claudia Procula, a proselyte of the gate: Evang. Nicod. 2) vision and message. Her designation of Jesus, "that just man," recalls Plato's unconscious prophecy (Republic) of "the just man" who after suffering of all kinds restores righteousness. Jesus' question, "sayest thou this of thyself, or did others tell it thee of Me?" implies suspicion existed in Pilate's mind of the reality of His being "King of the Jews" in some mysterious sense.

When the Jews said "He ought to die for making Himself Son of God" Pilate was the more afraid; Christ's testimony (Joh 18:37) and bearing, and his wife's message, rising afresh before his mind in hearing of His claim to be "the Son of God" His suspicion betrays itself in the question, "from whence art Thou?" also in his anxiety, so unlike his wonted cruelty, to release Jesus; also in his refusal to alter the inscription over the cross (John 18; 19). (See HEROD ANTIPAS for his share in the proceeding.) Jesus answered not to his question, "from whence art Thou?" Silence emphasized His previous testimony (Joh 18:37); but to Pilate's official boast of his power to release or crucify, Jesus' answer, "Thou couldest have no power at all against Me, except it were given thee from above;" answers also "from whence art Thou?" Thy power is derived thence from whence I am. Pilate had no quaestor to conduct the trial, being only a procurator; but examined Jesus himself.

A minute accuracy, confirming the genuineness of the Gospel narrative; also his having his wife with him, Caecina's proposal to enforce the law prohibiting governors to bring their wives into the provinces having been rejected (Tacitus, Ann. 3:33-34). Pilate sending up (anepempsen; Lu 23:7) Jesus to Herod is the Roman law term for referring a prisoner to the jurisdiction of the judge of his country. The "tesselated pavement" (lithostroton) and the "tribunal" (bema) were essential in judging, so that Julius Caesar carried a tribunal with him in expeditions (Josephus, Ant. 20:9, section 1). The granting of a guard for the sepulchre (Mt 27:65) is the last that Scripture records of Pilate. Having led troops against and defeated the Samaritans, who revolted under a leader promising to show the treasures which Moses was thought to have hid in Mount Gerizim, he was accused before Vitellius, chief governor of Syria, and sent to Rome to answer before Caesar. Caligula was now on the throne, A.D. 36.

Wearied with misfortunes Pilate killed himself (Josephus, Ant. 18:4, section 1-2; Eusebius, H. E., ii. 7). One tradition makes Pilate banished to Vienne on the Rhone, where is a pyramid 52 ft. high, called the "tomb of Pontius Pilate." Another represents him as plunging in despair into the lake at the top of Mount Pilatus near Lucerne. Justin Martyr (Apology i. 76, 84), Tertullian (Apol. 21), Eusebius (H. E. 2:2) say that Pilate made an official report to Tiberius of Jesus' trial and condemnation. "Commentaries (hupomneemata) of Pilate" are mentioned in a homily attributed to Chrysostom (8 in Pasch.). The Acta Pilati in Greek, and two Latin epistles to the emperor, now extant, are spurious (Fabric. Apoer. 1:237, 298; 3:111, 456).

Pilate is a striking instance of the danger of trifling with conscientious convictions, and not acting at once upon the principle of plain duty. Fear of man, the Jews' accusations, and the emperor's frown, and consequent loss of place and power, led him to condemn Him whom he knew to be innocent and desired to deliver. His compromises and delays were vain when once the determined Jews saw him vacillating. Fixed principle alone could have saved him from pronouncing that unrighteous sentence which brands his name forever (Psalm 82). His sense of justice, compassion, and involuntary respect for the Holy Sufferer yielded to his selfishness, worldly policy, and cynical unbelief. Pilate was guilty, but less so than the high priest who in spite of light and spiritual knowledge (Joh 19:11) delivered Jesus to him.

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Pontius Pilatus, a Roman of no known family, succeeded Valerius Gratus as procurator of Jud

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(armed with a spear), Pontius. Pontius Pilate was the sixth Roman procurator of Judea, and under him our Lord worked, suffered and died, as we learn not only from Scripture, but from Tacitus (Ann. xv. 44). was appointed A.D. 25-6, in the twelfth year of Tiberius. His arbitrary administration nearly drove the Jews to insurrection on two or three occasions. One of his first acts was to remove the headquarters of the army from Caesarea to Jerusalem. The soldiers of course took with them their standards, bearing the image of the emperor, into the holy city. No previous governor had ventured on such an outrage. The people poured down in crowds to Caesarea, where the procurator was then residing, and besought him to remove the images. After five days of discussion he gave the signal to some concealed soldiers to surround the petitioners and put them to death unless they ceased to trouble him; but this only strengthened their determination, and they declared themselves ready rather to submit to death than forego their resistance to aa idolatrous innovation. Pilate then yielded, and the standards were by his orders brought down to Caesarea. His slaughter of certain Galileans,

Lu 13:1

led to some remarks from our Lord on the connection between sin and calamity. It must have occurred at some feast at Jerusalem, in the outer court of the temple. It was the custom for the procurators to reside at Jerusalem during the great feasts, to preserve order, and accordingly, at the time of our Lord's last Passover, Pilate was occupying his official residence in Herod's palace. The history of his condemnation of our Lord is familiar to all. We learn from Josephus that Pilate's anxiety to avoid giving offence to Caesar did not save him from political disaster. The Samaritans were unquiet and rebellious Pilate led his troops against them, and defeated them enough. The Samaritans complained to Vitellius, then president of Syria, and he sent Pilate to Rome to answer their accusations before the emperor. When he reached it he found Tiberius dead and Caius (Caligula) on the throne A,D, 36. Eusebius adds that soon afterward "wearied with misfortunes," he killed himself. As to the scene of his death there are various traditions. One is that he was banished to Vienna Allobrogum (Vienne on the Rhone), where a singular monument--a pyramid on a quadrangular base, 52 feet high--is called Pontius Pilate"s tomb, An other is that he sought to hide his sorrows on the mountain by the lake of Lucerne, now called Mount Pilatus; and there) after spending years in its recesses, in remorse and despair rather than penitence, plunged into the dismal lake which occupies its summit.

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PILATE. It is not known of what country or family Pontius Pilate was, but it is believed that he was of Rome, or, at least, of Italy. He was sent to govern Judea in the room of Gratus, A.D. 26, or 27. He presided over this province for ten years, from the twelfth or thirteenth year of Tiberius, to the twenty-second of the same emperor. He is represented, both by Philo and Josephus, as a man of an impetuous and obstinate temper, and, as a judge, one who used to sell justice, and, for money, to pronounce any sentence that was desired. The same authors make mention of his rapines, his injuries, his murders, the torments that he inflicted upon the innocent, and the persons he put to death without any form of process. Philo, in particular, describes him as a man that exercised an excessive cruelty during the whole time of his government; who disturbed the repose of Judea; and was the occasion of the troubles and revolt that followed. St. Luke acquaints us, that Pilate had mingled the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices; and that the matter, having been related to Jesus Christ, he introduced the subject into his discourse, Luke 13. The reason why Pilate treated them in this manner, while sacrificing in the temple, is not known. At the time of our Saviour's passion, Pilate made some attempts to deliver him out of the hands of the Jews. He knew the reasons of their enmity, against him, Mt 27:18. His wife, also, having had a dream that alarmed her, requested he would not stain his hands with the blood of that just person, verse 19. He therefore attempted to appease the wrath of the Jews by scourging Jesus, Joh 19:1; Mt 27:26; and also tried to take him out of their hands by proposing to deliver him or Barabbas on the day of the passover. Lastly, he thought to discharge himself from pronouncing judgment against him, by sending him to Herod, king of Galilee, Lu 23:7-8. When he saw all this would not satisfy the Jews, and that they even threatened him in some manner, saying, he could be no friend to the emperor if he suffered Jesus to be set at liberty, Joh 19:12-15, he caused water to be brought, and washed his hands before all the people, and publicly declared himself innocent of the blood of that just person, Mt 27:23-24. Yet at the same time he delivered him to his soldiers that they might crucify him. This was enough to justify Jesus Christ, as Calmet observes, and to prove that he held him as innocent; but it was not enough to vindicate the conscience and integrity of a judge, whose duty it was as well to assert the cause of oppressed innocence, as to punish the guilty. He ordered the inscription to be placed over the head of our Saviour, Joh 19:19; and when requested by the Jews to alter it, peremptorily refused. He also gave leave for the removal of our Lord's body, and to place a guard over the sepulchre, Mt 27:65. These are all the particulars that we learn concerning Pilate from the writers of the Gospels.

The extreme reluctance of Pilate to condemn Christ, considering his merciless character, is signally remarkable, and still more his repeated protestations of the innocence of his prisoner; although, on occasions of massacre, he made no scruple of confounding the innocent with the guilty. But he was unquestionably influenced by the overruling providence of God, to make the righteousness of his Son appear as clear as the noon day, even when condemned and executed as a malefactor, by the fullest, the most authentic, and the most public evidence:

1. By the testimony even of his judges, Pilate and Herod, after examination of evidence.

2. By the message of Pilate's wife, delivered to him on the tribunal.

3. By the testimony of the traitor Judas, who hanged himself in despair, for betraying the innocent blood.

4. By the testimony of the Roman centurion and guard, at his crucifixion, to his divinity and righteousness. And,

5. Of his fellow sufferer on the cross. Never was innocence so attested as his innocence.

Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Eusebius, and after them several others, both ancient and modern, assure us that it was formerly the custom for Roman magistrates to prepare copies of all verbal processes and judicial acts, which they passed in their several provinces, and to send them to the emperor. And Pilate, in compliance with the custom, having sent word to Tiberius of what had passed relating to Jesus Christ, the emperor wrote an account of it to the senate, in a manner that gave reason to judge that he thought favourably of the religion of Jesus Christ, and showed that he should be willing for them to confer divine honours upon him; but the senate was not of the same opinion, and so the matter dropped. It appears by what Justin says of these acts, that the miracles of Christ were mentioned there, and even that the soldiers had divided his garments among them. Eusebius insinuates that they spoke of his resurrection and ascension. Tertullian and Justin refer to these acts with so much confidence, as would make one believe they had read and handled them. However, neither Eusebius nor Jerom, who were both inquisitive and understanding persons, nor any other author who wrote afterward, seems to have seen them, at least not the true and original acts. For as to what we have now in great number, they are not authentic, being neither ancient nor uniform. There are also some pretended letters of Pilate to Tiberius, giving a history of our Saviour; but they are universally allowed to be spurious. Pilate being a man who, by his excessive cruelties and rapine, had disturbed the repose of Judea, during the whole time of his government, was at length deposed by Vitellius, the proconsul of Syria, A.D. 36, and sent to Rome to give an account of his conduct to the emperor. But, though Tiberius died before Pilate arrived at Rome, yet his successor Caligula banished him to Vienne in Gaul, where he was reduced to such extremity that he laid violent hands upon himself. The evangelists call him governor, though in reality he was nothing more than procurator of Judea, not only because governor was a name of general use, but because Pilate, in effect, acted as one, by taking upon him to judge in criminal matters, as his predecessors had done, and as other procurators in the small provinces of the empire, where there was no proconsul, constantly did.

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