Jesus is No Myth

Dedicated to promoting the idea that the Biblical Jesus Christ was a historical character.

Pilate

The Trial Before Pilate

On Friday morning, the Day of Preparation, the weather in Jerusalem was cold. The disciples have fled in fright after the arrest of Jesus. Peter has heard the cock crow for the third time and has wept his tears of recrimination and remorse. Jesus stands alone at the mercy of his enemies.

Mark 15:1 And early in the morning the chief priests with the elders and scribes, and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation, and binding Jesus, they led Him away, and delivered Him up to Pilate.

John 19:28 They led Jesus therefore from Caiaphas into the Praetorium; and it was early; and they themselves did not enter into the Praetorium in order that they might not be defiled, but might eat the Passover.

Historians say that the Praetorium was located wherever the Praetor was. In this case the Roman Governor, Pilate, was the Praetor. If his headquarters were with the Roman Legion then the Praetorium was located in the Tower of Antonia, which stood near the northwest corner of Temple of Herod. The Tower of Antonia housed the Roman garrison. For the Passover, and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, it is possible that the Praetorium was located in the Palace of Herod which lay west of the Temple.

During the summer of 1961, Italian archaeologists excavated an ancient theater at Caesarea, the Mediterranean port that served as the Roman capitol of Palestine. The Italians dug up a stone about the size of a suitcase that bore an inscription in Latin. In three inch letters the stone said,

“Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, has presented the Tiberium to the Caesareans.”[1]

The discovery was the first archaeological evidence for the existence of Pontius Pilate. He is called the “Prefect” of Judaea, not “Procurator,” as some sources have said. The Scriptures called him “governor,” and so he was. Pilate was the Prefect of Judaea, a governor with military rank and responsibilities. Pilate married Claudia Procula, who was the illegitimate daughter of Claudia, the third wife of Tiberius Caesar. Claudia Procula was, therefore, the granddaughter of Augustus Caesar. Claudia Procula accompanied Pilate when he assumed his post in Jerusalem in AD 25. By this marriage Pilate gained family, and position. Pilate received the Roman honor to be called the “Friend of Caesar,” and wore the ring which signified this association.

Incidents with the Jews marred Pilate’s tenure in Palestine. The affair of the Roman ensigns is an example. It was the habit of the Roman regiments to carry ensigns as their standards when they marched. Images of Caesar adorned the top of the ensigns. The Jews considered the Roman attitude toward the ensigns to be idolatry. Pilate ordered the army to Caesarea for winter quarters, and had them carry the ensigns with them. He ordered them to march at night, a fact that suggests he suspected there might be trouble with the Jews. Subsequent events confirmed his suspicions. Immediately upon entry into Caesarea, the Jews angrily besieged him with protests about the introduction of idols into the city. The trouble lasted for six days and six nights, during which Pilate remained stubbornly opposed to the Jewish protest. On the sixth day, Pilate ordered his soldiers to arm themselves privately, and he went out and sat on his judgment seat in an open place in the city. When the Jews protested again he ordered the army to surround them, and threatened them with immediate death lest they leave off the protest. But when the Jews threw themselves on the ground and bared their necks, prepared to die, Pilate was so impressed that he ordered the ensigns removed.

On another occasion, Pilate used sacred money to build an aqueduct to Jerusalem. When the Jews protested the use of the Temple’s money, Pilate sent soldiers with daggers among the crowd, and they killed a great number of the Jews.

That was Pontius Pilate. He was not the trembling, indecisive weakling that some writers have alleged.

It is easy to infer from Pilate’s conduct of the trial of Jesus that the governor had advance notice from Caiaphas that Jesus of Nazareth would be coming before his tribunal. The governor ordered his ivory magistrate’s chair moved outside the palace to a raised dais overlooking the plaza to the east. The Jews called this place “Gabbatha,” the Pavement. Since that Friday was the Day of Preparation for the Passover, the Jews would not enter the Praetorium. They would not allow themselves to be defiled by entering the place of the Gentiles.

It was still early when the crowd of priests and scribes, Temple guards and servants filled the plaza. The guards thrust Jesus forward. The priests evidently expecting Pilate to accept their earlier condemnation are surprised by Pilate’s formality.

Review Questions

1.  The Jewish authorities brought Jesus to trial before Pontius Pilate on ______________, a day they called the _________ of _________________.

2. The location of the trial of Jesus was called the _____________________.

3. Archaeologists found a stone that shows Pilate dedicated a building called the _____________________.

4. Pontius Pilate was the Roman  ______________ of Judaea.

5. The name of the wife of Pontius Pilate was ____________   _____________.

6. Pilate wore a ring that proved he was a “_______________ _____ _____________.” 

7. Pilate placed his judgment chair outside above the __________________.

The Roman Trial

The Roman system of justice required for the magistrate’s formal opening remark. Also, it was an essential part of Roman legal procedure that an accusation be made. This public accusation was called the accusatio. It was followed by the magistrates inquiry, called the interrogatio. Lastly, came the prisoner’s defense, called the excusatio.[2]

The Trial of Jesus

Magistrate’s opening remark: Maier calls this the opening interrogatio of the Roman trial.[3] Pilate therefore went out to them, and said, “What accusation do you bring against this Man?” Pilate spoke to them in Greek, asking them, in effect, “How do you speak against this man before the Roman public tribunal?[4]  

Then followed the accusatio:

John 18:30 They answered and said to him, “If this man were not an evil-doer, we would not have delivered him up to you.” 31 Pilate therefore said to them, “Take him yourselves, and judge Him according to your law.”  The Jews said to him, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death;” 

This first attempt by the Jews to have Jesus put to death on the basis of the Sanhedrin verdict failed. Pilate would not approve of a verdict on the Jewish charge of blasphemy. The Jews now changed the verdict of the Sanhedrin, and the opinion of the elders into charges against Jesus. They raised essentially three charges.

Luke says,

Luke 23:2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King.”

Mark 15:3 And Pilate asked Him, saying, “Are You the King of the Jews?” And He answered him and said, “It is as you say.”  

John records the first encounter between Jesus and Pilate as follows:

John 18:33 Pilate therefore entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus, and said to Him, “You are the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?”  35 Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You up to me; what have You done?”

Excusatio:

The opposite of the accusatio was the excusatio, or defense. Similarly, in the Greek, the “apologia” stands opposite the kategoria, and is the Greek equivalent of the Latin term for defense. The defense Jesus offered was adequate to convince Pilate that He presented no threat to Rome.

John 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is My kingdom is not of this realm.” 37 Pilate therefore said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.”

Review Questions

1. The opening phase of a Roman trial was the ___________________.

2. The second phase of the Roman trial was called __________________.

3. The defense offered by the accused was called the __________________.

4. Jesus said that Pilate was correct when he referred to Jesus as a _______________.

The King Before the king

When the Jews said that Jesus taught all over Judaea, starting from Galilee, Pilate then asked them if Jesus were a Galilean, because if he came from Galilee then Jesus belonged to the jurisdiction of Herod Antipas. Herod had come to Jerusalem from Tiberias in order to remain in the favor of the Jews by showing respect for the Passover festival. About five months had passed since Herod Antipas had sent a letter to Caesar protesting Pilate’s conduct in the matter of the golden shields. The episode had placed Pilate in virtual probation, and he had no desire to make an enemy of Caesar.

There was in those days divided authority in Palestine. Herod Antipas ruled the tetrarchy that included Galilee. Since Galilee had been Jesus’ place of birth, He fell under the jurisdiction of Herod as much as under Pilate. In a move that Pilate hoped to both rid himself of the problem of what to do with Jesus, and to make amends with Herod, Pilate ordered a change of venue. He  sent Jesus under guard to the Hasmonean palace.

The palace was located along the western wall of the upper city to the west of the people’s assembly hall. It was surrounded by a 45-foot wall surmounted by ornamental towers at fixed intervals. The palace was renowned for its circular porticoes, fine gardens, and a banquet hall seating over 100 guests. The palace was destroyed in September of AD 70.[5]

The chief priests came also, bringing with them their charges. No doubt they expected to get a quick conviction in the court of the Herod who had ordered John the Baptist beheaded.

After Jesus arrived, Herod prodded Jesus for a reaction, but got nothing. So the king and his soldiers treated Jesus with contempt, and mocked Him. They then dressed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him back to Pilate.

Review Questions

1. Did Pilate want to sit as judge in the trial of Jesus?

2. What did Pilate do to avoid the responsibility of the trial?

3. Did Jesus receive respect in the court of Herod?

Pilate’s Choice

Luke says,

Luke 23:13 And Pilate summoned the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. 15 No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him. 16 I will therefore punish Him and release Him.”

John says of this conversation between Pilate and the Jews,

John 18:39 But you have a custom, that I should release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?”  40 Therefore they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.

The chief priests and officers of the Jews demanded that Pilate crucify Jesus. Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves, and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” John says, John 19:7.

John 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God. 8 When Pilate heard this statement, he was the more afraid;...

Was Pilate afraid of the Jews? Hardly. Pilate feared Caesar. Pilate also feared because his wife Claudia Procula had told him of her dream about Jesus, and that Pilate should leave him alone. The next question the governor put to Jesus showed that he feared that Jesus might just be a representative of God, or the “gods” as he would have said it.

John 19:9 … “Where are you from? But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 Pilate therefore said to Him, ”You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me up to you has the greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, “If you release this Man, you  are no friend of Caesar’s; every one who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.

As Paul Maier says, “It was a brilliant thrust that hit the mark...”  Pilate could not refuse the Jewish demand. If he refused to crucify Jesus then they would complain to Caesar, tell the emperor that Pilate had refused to punish an insurrectionist and rebel, a man who had openly called himself the “King of the Jews.” Pilate would be forced out of the exclusive club of the Friends of Caesar, and disgraced.[6]

Pilate’s resistance crumbled. It was either Jesus or himself.

Matthew says,

Matthew 27:24 And when Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children!”  26 Then he released Barabbas for them; but Jesus he scourged and delivered over to be crucified.

Tacitus, the Roman historian, says in his Annals of Imperial Rome that the “originator” of Christianity,“ Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judaea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judaea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome.”[7]

Final Review Questions

1. Did Pilate find guilt in Jesus?

2. Did Pilate want to release Jesus?

3. What is the name of the historian who wrote that Pilate executed Jesus?

4. How do the facts given by Tacitus accord with the New Testament record?  

Conclusion

The crucifixion of Christ came at the command of the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin, the highest tribunal of the Jewish nation, had already passed judgment upon Him for blasphemy, and had sought his death. His condemnation resulted from his claim that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the long prophesied King of the Jews.

Review Questions

1. The enemies of Jesus brought Him to trial before a king. Who was the king?

2. Jesus was tried before the Roman governor. What was his name?

3. Is there archaeological evidence to verify the governorship of Pilate?

4. To what club did Pilate belong?

5. Was Pilate a weak governor?

6. Did Pilate find Jesus guilty?

7. What are the three parts of a Roman trial?

8. Did the Jewish authorities keep the same charges before Pilate as they maintained before the Sanhedrin?

9. Did Jesus admit to Pilate that He was the Messiah?

10. Did Pilate appeal to law or to the mob to determine whether Jesus should be crucified?

Appendix

In the Slavonic Josephus, which is referred to as a translation of the original Aramaic text of the War, there is a disputed passage, yet interesting for the way it relates to the crucifixion of Jesus:

“And in it (the Temple) there stood equal pillars, and upon them titles in Greek and Latin and Jewish characters, giving warning of the law of purification, (to wit) that no foreigner should enter within. For this they called the sanctuary, being approached by fourteen steps, and the upper area was built in quadrangular form. And above these titles there hung a fourth title in these characters, announcing that Jesus the King did not reign, but was crucified by the Jews, because he prophesied the destruction of the city and the devastation of the Temple.” [8]

___________________________________________________

[1] Paul Maier, The First Easter, p. 57.

[2] Ibid., Morison, Who Moved the Stone, p. 54.

[3] Ibid., Maier, p. 65. Yet, Morison differs,  p. 54.

[4] W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “accusation.”

[5] C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, T. C. Butler, & B. Latta, (2003). Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, p. 755.  

[6] Ibid., Maier, p. 72-73.

[7] Michael Grant, Trans., Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, p. 365.

[8] Barrett, The New Testament Background: Selected Documents, p. 207.