Pontius Pilate

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Dedicatory inscription to Roman Emperor Tiberius by Pontius Pilate, First Century A.D.

Pontius Pilate, Roman governor of Palestine from 26 to 36 A.D., famous for ordering Jesus to be crucified. When the Sanhedrin had brought Jesus to him to be put to death, a charge that they had no authority to carry out themselves, Pilate at first tried to remove himself by having the case given to Herod on the grounds that Jesus was a Galilean. Herod subsequently bounced the case back to Pilate who, after briefly talking with Jesus, determined Jesus was not worthy of death. The religious authorities had stirred up the crowd and wanted crucifixion. Pilate had Jesus flogged, but this did not appease them. Ultimately he had the crowd choose between Jesus or Barabbas. They chose to free Barabbas. Pilate had Jesus crucified, but only after first "washing his hands" of the blood of this innocent man.

There has been much debate as to how to view Pilate and his choices and how Pilate truly thought. What is known is that Pilate was on very shaky ground. He owed his political position to Sejanus, a man who had already lost his head. Jewish complaints against him had already resulted in him being overruled by the Emperor once before. His record was such that another difficulty could well lead to his removal, and, indeed, that's exactly what happened in 36 A.D. when the Jews complained against him and he was dismissed from his position. In the Gospel accounts there is a reference made that if Pilate lets Jesus go, then he is "no friend of Caesar". Being a "friend of Caesar" was a term that had significance to the time as it was the way that political appointments were made. Saying that he was no friend of Caesar would have been viewed as a veiled threat that if he didn't rule the right way, accusations could be made against him to Rome.

Whatever Pilate's ultimate desires, what he did is recorded in history, and that has certainly made him more infamous in history than any other man of his position has ever been. Everyday for over 1600 years, a Catholic mass recites the Nicene Creed where Pilate's name is mentioned "crucified under Pontius Pilate."