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by James Bishop
“Then Pilate said to Him, “Do You not hear how many things they testify against You?” But He answered him not one word, so that the governor marveled greatly.” (Matthew 27:13)
Pontius Pilate plays a significant role in the New Testament gospel accounts. He was the governor of the Roman province of Judaea (26 – 36 AD), and was the person who took charge over the trial of Jesus and who subsequently ordered his crucifixion. But what of his historicity, did he really exist? Can we know some details about him? Are our gospel accounts on him reliable? We will try to answer some of these questions as we go along.
Right off the bat our historical evidence is very convincing. We have textual evidence of his activities and existence from our four biographical gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, John), and Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (Annals 15, 44). Tacitus tells us that: “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius also chronicles an episode involving Pilate. According to Flavius he spent money from the Temple on an aqueduct he wanted to build. He also ordered his troops attack and silence the Jewish opposition (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.2). Another crucial text comes from Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria. He tells us that Pilate had a “furious temper,” and was “relentless[ness].” (On The Embassy of Gauis Book XXXVIII 299–305).
What is important is that these sources are very early. For instance, Pilate was governor from 26 – 36 AD, and our sources date very close to this time. For example…
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