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 Matthew 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 (Mark 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 (Luke 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 Matthew 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 Luke 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 (John 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). frontHEROD ANTIPAS for his share in the proceeding.) Jesus answered not to his question, "from whence art Thou?" Silence emphasized His previous testimony (John 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; Luke 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 (Matthew 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 (John 19:11) delivered Jesus to him.
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