Bond Pontius Pilate

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This study reconstructs the historical Pontius Pilate and looks at the way in which he is used as a literary character in the works of six first-century authors: Philo, Josephus and the four evangelists. The first chapter provides an introduction to the history and formation of the imperial Roman province of Judaea. The following two chapters examine the references to Pilate in Philo and Josephus, looking at each author's biases before going on to assess the historicity of their accounts. The next four chapters consider the portrayal of Pilate in each gospel, asking how a firstcentury reader would have interpreted his actions. Each chapter asks what this portrayal shows about the author's attitude towards the Roman state, and what kind of community found this useful. The conclusion distinguishes between the 'historical Pilate' and the different T ilates of interpretation' preserved in ourfirst-centuryliterary sources. Helen K. Bond is Lecturer in New Testament at the University of Aberdeen. Her other publications include The Allegro Qumran Collection (in collaboration with George G. Brooke, 1996).



Pontius Pilate in history and interpretationHELEN K. BOND


PUBLISHED BY THE PRESS SYNDICATE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK 40 West 20th Street, New York NY 10011-4211, USA 477 Williamstown Road, Port Melbourne, VIC 3207, Australia Ruiz de Alarcon 13, 28014 Madrid, Spain Dock House, The Waterfront, Cape Town 8001, South Africa Helen K. Bond 1998 This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place without the written permission of Cambridge University Press. First published 1998 Reprinted 1999, 2000 First paperback edition 2004 Typeset in Times 10/12 pt [CE] A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data Bond, Helen K. (Helen Katharine) Pontius Pilate in history and interpretation / Helen K. Bond. p. cm. - (Monograph series / Society for New Testament Studies: 100) Based on the author's thesis (doctoral) - Durham University. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0 521 63114 9 (hardback) 1. Pilate, Pontius, 1st cent. 2. Governors - Palestine Biography. 3. Jews - History - 168 BC-135 AD. 4. Philo, of Alexandria - Contributions in the biography of Pontius Pilate. 5. Josephus, Flavius - Contributions in the biography of Pontius Pilate. 6. Bible. N.T. Gospels - Criticism, interpretation, etc. 7. Jesus Christ - Trial. I. Title. II. Series: Monograph series (Society for New Testament Studies): 100. DS122.B66 1998 933'05'092-dc21 97-45970 CIP ISBN 0 521 63114 9 hardback ISBN 0 521 61620 4 paperback

Transferred to digital printing 2004

To Evelyn, John and David Bond With love and thanks


Preface Acknowledgements Abbreviations Map of the Roman province of Judaea, 6-41 CE 1 2 Pontius Pilate and the Roman province of Judaea Pilate in Philo The theology behind Philo's historical works Political rhetoric Philo's Pilate The historical event Conclusion Pilate in Josephus The Jewish War Pilate in the Jewish War Rhetorical themes within the two stories The characterization of Pilate in the War Summary The Antiquities of the Jews Pilate in the Antiquities of the Jews Rhetorical themes behind the Pilate narratives in the Antiquities The characterization of Pilate in the Antiquities Summary The historical events Conclusion Pilate in Mark's gospel Mark's passion narrative

page xi xxi xxii xxvi 1 24 27 33 36 36 47 49 49 52 54 57 62 62 65 69 74 78 78 93 94 95IX



Contents Context Markan themes culminating in the passion narrative The characterization of Pilate in Mark Conclusion 5 Pilate in Matthew's gospel Matthew's sources Matthew's special interests reflected in his redaction of Mark 15.1-15 The characterization of Pilate in Matthew Matthew's use of fjye/icbv Conclusion Pilate in Luke-Acts Luke's sources Lukan themes influencing the portrayal of Pilate The characterization of Pilate in Luke Conclusion Pilate in John's gospel John's sources Johannine themes culminating in the trial before Pilate The characterization of Pilate The Roman trial Conclusion 97 99 103 117 120 123 124 129 135 136 138 140 140 150 159 163 165 166 174 175 192 194 194 196 203 208 227 243 247



8 Historical events behind the gospel narratives Historical events behind Luke 13.1 The historical trial of Jesus 9 Conclusion

Bibliography Index of texts cited Index of modern authors Index of main subjects


That Jesus of Nazareth was crucified under Pontius Pilate, the fifth prefect of the imperial Roman province of Judaea, is one of the surest facts of Christianity; it is attested not only by the earliest Christian traditions but also by the Roman historian Tacitus {Annals 15.44). As the judge of Jesus, Pilate has earned an important place both in the New Testament and Christian creeds and also in popular imagination. The picture of an official washing his hands in an attempt to avoid responsibility and the eternally unanswerable question 'What is truth?' (John 18.38) are inextricably linked with Pilate, even by those who profess little or no Christian commitment. In view of Pilate's significance it is not surprising to find many varied treatments of the historical governor over the last century, both on an academic and on a popular literary level.1 Two factors generally have influenced these presentations. First of all, the sources at the historian's disposal are relatively thin and those which are available appear to give contradictory views of Pilate. The Jewish writers Philo and Josephus describe Pilate in negative terms; a harsh, cruel man who was the enemy of the Jewish nation. The Christian gospels, however, are generally interpreted as presenting a governor who, although weak and indecisive, recognized the innocence of Jesus and attempted to save him from execution. To a large extent any reconstruction of the 'real Pilate' has depended upon the relative value set upon each source by the historian.2 In the second place, several influential interpretations of Pilate over the last century appear to have been coloured, whether consciously or not, by the social and political environments ofFor material prior to 1888 see Miiller, Pontius, pp. v-viii. Full details of works referred to by author in this introduction can be found in the bibliography. 2 There are, of course, many references to Pilate in apocryphal writings but, due to limitations of space, this study will look at first-century sources only.XI1



their authors. Thus these T ilates' may reflect as much the writer's contemporary society as first-century Judaea under Pilate's administration. At the turn of the century the standard work on Pilate was by G. A. Miiller, Pontius Pilatus, der funfte Prokurator von Judda und Richter Jesu von Nazareth published in Stuttgart in 1888. Miiller's favourable view of the governor was largely based on Pilate's portrayal in the gospels and tended to dismiss the testimony of the Jewish writers as tendentious. Despite E. Schiirer's picture of a contemptuous, intolerant and reckless Pilate in his Geschichte des judischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi (1886-1890), it was Miiller's interpretation which was taken up and developed in Germany by E. von Dobschiitz (1904) and H. Peter (1907). Pilate was seen as a reasonably able governor finding himself faced with a series of difficult situations involving a turbulent race of people in a difficult province. In Britain, A. Souter, writing an article on Pilate in 1908, similarly concluded that whilst Pilate could show a lack of tact and was not the stuff from which heroes were made, he was 'doubtlessly in many respects a competent governor'. F. Morison, writing a popular account in 1939, presented a sympathetic portrayal of Pilate whose rule over Judaea rather resembled that of a British colonial governor. C. H. Kraeling, writing in the Harvard Theological Review in 1942, argued that Pilate's actions in at least one incident were determined by thoroughly practical considerations rather than an arbitrary act of provocation as the Jewish sources would have us believe.3 With few exceptions, this relatively favourable interpretation of Pilate, based largely on the characterization of the governor in the gospel accounts, dominated the first half of the twentieth century.4 In the former Soviet Union Pilate and acts associated with him, such as the washing of hands, were particularly prominent in worksKraeling, 'Episode', referring to Pilate's erection of iconic standards in Jerusalem (Josephus, J W 2.\69-1A\ Ant. 18.55-9). See chapter 3 for fuller details. 4 One notable exception, however, was I. Broyde whose article in the Jewish Encyclopaedia (1905) emphasized Pilate's cruelty. Though less negative than Broyde, G. T. Purves in 1900 had also thought that Pilate made little effort to understand the Jews, that he was a man without high moral qualities and of a feeble character. In response to R. Eisler's Messiah (ET 1931), this period also saw several works dealing with strictly historical questions, particularly the precise dating of Pilate's administration; these offered no assessment of Pilate's competence as a governor or of his character. See, for example, Holzmeister, 'Wann'; Hedley, 'Pilate's'; de Laet, 'Successeur'. Dibelius, 'Herodes', though a theological analysis of the Lukan trial narrative, offers no characte