Lesson #129: Pilate’s Written Evidence

I’m off to spend two weeks visiting some friends in Israel and Jordan on Saturday, which I’m pretty excited about. There’s even a more-or-less solid plan to get in as much as we can in the time we have. It’s going to be kind of intense, but there’s a lot of general and religious history for me to geek out over. Wailing Wall? Check. Decapolis cities? Check. Ancient revolutionary camps at Masada? Check.  Petra? Double check (!). And there will be lots of hiking with amazing views. Sunrise at Masada looking out over the Dead Sea? Check. Other places my friends know? Check.  And there will be markets and falafel and floating in the Dead Sea (!) and lunch with a bona fide national team footballer.*

Anyway, completely independently of my friends in country and the ridiculous number of my Jewish friends who have been to Israel giving me suggestions, I stumbled on a website today about 10 interesting 20th century religious finds in the Middle East. One of these things is evidence, quite literally in stone, of Pontius Pilate.

Historically speaking, there’s not much evidence for Pilate. There’s the Bible (which is not considered a reliable historical source), the gnostic texts (also not considered reliable sources), two of Josephus’ works (Antiquities of the Jews and The Jewish War), Tacitus’ Annals and Philo’s Legatio ad Gaium. There are no definite details about his life before or after his service to Rome. Where he came from and what happened to him after the military debacle in Samaria is the subject of conflicting legend.

However…it is generally agreed, based on the above sources that Pilate’s rule in Judea was violent, disrespectful of the Jewish tradition and corrupt.** And, while primary sources credited Pilate as Procurator of Judea, there was no physical evidence of this until 1961 when a limestone dedication of the temple built in honour of the Emperor Tiberius was discovered in a Roman theatre in Caesaria and dated between 26-37 AD. The dedication reads: Tiberium, (Pon)tius Pilatus, (Praef)ectus Iuda(eae). The “Pilate Inscription” is housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.*** It has been added to my list of things to see.

*That last one’s kind of a cheat. She and I are friends from our Texas days. But she really does play for the national team.

**More on Pilate here, here and here.

***More on the Pilate Inscription here.

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