16 votes, average: 4.06 out of 516 votes, average: 4.06 out of 516 votes, average: 4.06 out of 516 votes, average: 4.06 out of 516 votes, average: 4.06 out of 5 (16 votes, average: 4.06 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

Pontius Pilate: A Sensitive Guy….


Could Pilate have conceded over burial rights also? Granted this may not extend to those accused of treason, but as Pilate did permit some local customs, does this not open up sufficient space for Josephus’ claim over burial rights to be taken seriously?



This question arose a couple of weeks ago after I had returned briefly to an older conversation about whether Jesus would have been buried on the afternoon he was crucified.  I tried to show that if so, this would have been in clear violation of policy and precedent.  Part of the entire punishment for capital offenses — especially crimes against the state (e.g., claiming to be a ruler of a people ruled instead by Rome) — was to be left *on* the cross for days, as a public display, and a humiliation and denigration: bodies were left subject to the elements, the scavengers, and natural decay.  The Romans wanted everyone to know that THIS is what happens to those who cross the power of Rome.

A number of readers suggested that Pilate was possibly sensitive to Jewish law and views of the matter, and would have allowed for decent burial because that’s what the Law of Moses requires.  My view is that Pilate flat out didn’t give a damn.

This is a debate that I had with conservative evangelical New Testament scholar Craig Evans some years ago.  He too claimed Pilate would have been well-disposed to Jewish sensitivities about the matter.  I answered this claim in a couple of posts, that I’ll repost now.

Here is the first one:


I think there is almost no historical figure that Craig and I disagree on more than the Roman governor of Judea at the time of Jesus’ death, Pontius Pilate.   I see him as a cruel, vicious, hard-headed, insensitive, and brutal ruler; Craig portrays him as an efficient but wise and rather sensitive aristocrat who could learn from his lessons and who would go out of his way not to offend Jewish sensibilities.  A lot hangs on which view (if either) is right, since it was Pilate – we agree on this! – who ordered Jesus’ crucifixion.  Moreover, if Jesus was given a decent burial (Craig’s view) or was left to hang on the cross for some time in accordance with standard Roman practice (my view), it was, in either case, Pilate’s decision.

Craig’s view is that Pilate’s sensitive decision not to allow crucified victims to hang on their crosses after their deaths is what allowed him to keep “the nation at peace” (the phrase comes from the Jewish historian Josephus, whom I will be dealing with in later posts).  My view is that the reason the nation was kept “at peace” was precisely because governors like Pilate showed with graphic brutality what would happen to anyone who revolted or threatened to revolt; crucifixion and the humilities suffered post mortem were an effective deterrent for revolt, for most of the Roman period.

But what kind of person was Pilate?  Craig refers to a passage in Josephus, Book 18 of the Antiquities, where Pilate, on assuming rule of Judea, brought Roman standards bearing an image of the emperor into Jerusalem, thereby offending the Jews who were resident there, who maintained that since holy city was holy to God, there were to be no “images” there.  According to Craig’s discussion, the Jews protested, Pilate realized he had made a mistake and backed down, and that was the end of the story.  Craig emphasizes that this account shows that previous governors had not brought standards into town – showing their basic sensitivities to Jewish customs and laws – and that once Pilate saw that he had made an error he “quickly” (his word) gave way.

As Craig summarizes the event:  “Pilate either did not understand Jewish law and custom and so acted in ignorance, or he did, thinking he could force on his Jewish subjects his allegiance to the emperor.  In either case, he quickly learned how loyal the Jews were to their law and wisely backed down.

For Craig, this “wise” decision affected the rest of Pilate’s rule in Judea.  Jewish customs were not to be breached.  And so, Craig “find[s] it hard to believe,” that once Pilate learned his lesson about Jewish determination to follow their customs, that he would later allow crucified criminals to remain on their crosses in violation of Jewish sensibilities.

I have a very different read of Pilate in general, of this incident of the standards in particular, and of its effect on Pilate’s behavior subsequently.   First I’ll talk about this incident.

Craig speaks of it as if Pilate acted in ignorance.  But that flies in the face of what our one source of information about the incident actually says.  Here is how the historian Josephus introduces his account:  “But now Pilate, the procurator of Judea, removed the army from Caesarea to Jerusalem, to take their winter quarters there, in order to abolish the Jewish laws.”   That doesn’t sound very promising.  Josephus goes on to say that Pilate did not introduce the standards as one who was “ignorant” of Jewish customs or of the possible effect such a brazen act would have.  On the contrary, he knew exactly what he was doing.  He brought the standards in, Josephus emphasizes, “at night” when no one would know what was happening.  Only on awakening did the Jews in town realize what he had done.

And so then, did the Jews of Jerusalem raise their voices in protest and Pilate then realize the error of his ways?  Well, not exactly.  Josephus indicates that Pilate had gone back to Caesarea and a mass of Jews marched on his palace, demanding the removal of the standards.  He flat-out refused.  (Why?  Hint: he didn’t give a damn about Jewish customs or sensitivities.)   The Jews then staged a massive sit-in demonstration for six full days.  (Craig says that Pilate “quickly” learned his lesson; well, it was not exactly quickly….).  Did Pilate back down *then*?  No, he got fed up.  He had his armed soldiers surround the crowd, and ordered the Jews to return home to Jerusalem with the Roman standards still in place, or he would have each and every one of them executed on the spot.  Nice guy.

It’s true, he did in the end back down, but not because of sensitivity.  The Jews responded to the death threat by throwing themselves on the ground, baring their necks, and telling the soldiers to lop off their heads.  They would rather suffer a massive slaughter than put up with having images of the emperor in the holy city.   Pilate at that point realized that he could not possibly slaughter so many people.   Josephus doesn’t tell us why, but its not hard to understand.   Presumably all the leaders of the Jews were among the crowd.  If Pilate ordered the mass murder of all the leaders of the people he was supposed to be governing, he would be held responsible back in Rome – not for violating Jewish customs, but for killing off all the local aristocracy.  Not exactly a smart move.   Such a move would almost certainly put an end to his governorship (as it was later put to an end by another act of brutal repression – ten years later).

So, did Pilate “learn his lesson” as Craig suggests?  Actually, quite the contrary, as is explicitly shown by the one source that Craig himself relies on, as I’ll explain in the next post.  Pilate continued to show his brutality and insensitivity long after this event.

Members of the blog get posts like this 5-6 times a week!  You too could be among the elect, the chosen ones!  It doesn’t cost much, and every penny goes to good causes.  So why not join?


Pilate, Who Never “Learned His Lesson”
Paul’s Views of Women



  1. Avatar
    godspell  January 21, 2018

    Persuasively argued, but if Pilate was capable of so badly misgauging Jewish sentiment once, he could do so again–and think Jesus was an important enough figure among the Jews as to make him worthy of some small post-mortem consideration. (He would not bother to differentiate between Jew and Christian, and one could argue there was no meaningful distinction to be made at that point).

    I don’t believe the story the gospels tell, but I’m still not seeing a fully believable story for how we got from “Thrown in a trash heap to be eaten by scavengers” to “Interred in a tomb behind a large rock with guards posted, and then his body just disappeared.”

    I’m not saying that couldn’t happen, but then again, can we really say Pilate might not have had a moment where he said “What the hell, let him be buried”?

    I mean, if I told you Adolph Hitler’s mother was attended to by a Jewish doctor in her final days, and years later, when the Final Solution was in full swing, that doctor and his wife were declared off-limits, under Der Fuehrer’s personal protection, lived peacefully in their apartment, while every other Jew around them who hadn’t made it out of the country was carted off to death camps or summarily executed on the street, and they both lived through the war, to tell the tale–would you believe it? Well, it happened. As have many other things that sound like an overly imaginative fiction writer made them up.

    So let’s not pretend human behavior always makes sense, and hews to precise unbreakable patterns that can be easily predicted, or our history will become utterly incomprehensible to us.

    Was Pilate a sensitive guy? It seems unlikely.

    But possibly a little more so than Hitler.

    • Avatar
      rburos  January 22, 2018

      Using a dative preposition would require “under DEM Fuehrer’s personal protection”, though my reply is more a metaphor. . .

      • Avatar
        godspell  January 24, 2018

        I should never try to pretend I know German. And I’ve actually been there!

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  January 22, 2018

      I think your description and analysis of the “standards’ dispute is correct. However, you suggest that when the Jews offer to die, Pilate realizes he’ll be slaughtering the hierarchy along with everyone else, and it would be difficult to explain to Rome. First, I don’t think most of the hierarchy was there–it seems to have been a grassroots protest rather than one directed by the elites. Second, the controversy began at the very beginning of Pilate’s service, and reporting to Rome the slaughter of thousands of Jews–ordinary people and some elites–would have marked Pilate as an incompetent administrator. His later slaughter of Samaritans at Mt. Gerizim (sp?) did result in his recall, although some ten years later. Pilate was furious over the Jews opposing him, and especially having to back down. I’ve no doubt that played a significant role in his subsequent dealings with the Jews. That might be a good reason to believe he wouldn’t have been amenable to Jews removing Jesus from the cross, but that’s another matter.

      • Avatar
        godspell  January 24, 2018

        I kind of shake my head at the assumption that Pilate would have even noticed if Jesus was removed from the cross.

        As I said elsewhere, we can’t say “Jesus was incredibly unimportant to Pilate and the Roman authorities” and then say “But they would have made sure his body stayed up there.”

        Bodies can be stolen under cover of night (remember how medical students used to get cadavers?). Officials can be bribed to look the other way. And whatever did happen, we can be absolutely sure the story was garbled in transmission, and prettied up for posterity.

        But that’s quite a different thing from saying the entire story was made up out of whole cloth.

  2. Avatar
    ardeare  January 21, 2018

    Maybe it was a combination of factors; The Passover, Joseph of Arimathea and Roman senators who may have been present to observe the festival for any threats to the empire. Then again, maybe it was Pilate’s birthday!

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  January 21, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, again, I think it’s important to distinguish Jesus being left on the cross from Jesus getting a “decent” burial. To this I will add the difference between Pilate being “sensitive” to Jewish sensibilities from Pilate being politically practical. Let’s assume that Pilate wasn’t sensitive to the Jewish religion — for which I think you’ve made a reasonable case — that does not preclude him being practical. The practical Pilate would not want to push his insensitivity to the point of making his job harder.

    So let us, again, consider the two questions. Jesus a) left on the cross, and/or b) given a decent burial? If we take Pilate to have been at least practical, then it’s not unreasonable to expect that Pilate may have taken Jesus’ body down, because leaving it up could have created political problems for him with just about every level of Jewish society. However, if we consider whether this goes to Pilate allowing Jesus to get a decent burial, whether or not Pilate allowed that to happen, it would have no practical effect on his rule. Most Jews wouldn’t even know whether Jesus got a proper burial after death, let alone cared. That was usually the concern of immediate loved ones, and since Jesus didn’t have any immediate loved ones there when he died, there was no one there to be concerned about it. That’s why I’m much more skeptical about the proper burial than the removal of the body.

    If I were a betting man, I would bet that the historical Jesus was removed from the cross before sunset on the day he was found dead, and that his remains were disposed of in a way that would protect the city from possible contamination of human remains, such as a deep burial in an unmarked grave or — more likely — cremation and burial of the bones.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2018

      See today’s post.

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 24, 2018

      Paul just says Jesus was buried.

      He doesn’t say anything about how decent it was.

  4. Avatar
    Stephen  January 21, 2018

    Prof Ehrman, the problem I have with Pilate is imagining that a condemned criminal would get a personal interview with the Governor of Palestine. Did the Romans have such little legal bureaucracy? And what about the logistics of it? When Pilate was residing in Caesarea would all capital cases have been shipped to him? Of course the sources indicate that Pilate was in Jerusalem during the Passover but if Jesus’ punishment admits of no special case then why would his trial? Aside from being a great story isn’t it likely that this episode arose as part of the tendency to exaggerate Jesus’ impact in his ministry and to set up the situation where Pilate (and the Romans) can be absolved of the blame for Jesus’ death?


    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2018

      Yeah, I know. As if anyone could just come up to him on the street….

      • Avatar
        MarkGrago  August 15, 2018

        Dr. Ehrman, what language would Jesus and Pilate be talking in? I don’t believe a Roman governor woukd have been speaking Aramaic to an accused. Is it possible Jesus spoke Latin?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 15, 2018

          I assume Pilate would be speaking either Latin or Greek. I don’t think Jesus knew either. So if they actually exchanged words, they must have had a translator. Another option is that Pilate was told the charges against him and ordered him crucified.

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 26, 2018

      If you read Roman history (as chronicled by Romans), you can find much much more improbable stories than the one about Pilate and Jesus.

      Of course, some of them are dubious as well.

      Even actual kings have been known to mingle with their subjects, grant boons, offer blessings (even hear of ‘The King’s Evil’?). Pilate was a civil servant. He was in charge of administering the law. He might have wanted to know if this Jesus was part of some subversive force that would cause problems for him down the line.

      Obviously the gospel authors didn’t have transcripts of any interviews. Even if they heard stories, they’d be secondhand, thirdhand, or worse. “What is truth?” honestly does sound like something a man of Pilate’s education would have said to someone like Jesus, but that doesn’t mean he said it. Just good writing, is all that is.

      Looking at the times we live in, what ISN’T possible, when it comes to human behavior?

      I’m seriously asking.

  5. Avatar
    Jon1  January 21, 2018


    Three questions:

    1] You wrote of the blasphemous images incident, “Craig speaks of it as if Pilate acted in ignorance”, but then you quote Craig actually being completely open to the opposite: “Pilate either did not understand Jewish law and custom and so acted in ignorance, OR he did, thinking he could force on his Jewish subjects his allegiance to the emperor.” You seem to have selectively ignored the second part of Craig’s quote. Why is that?

    2] Assuming Pilate didn’t give a damn about Jewish customs or sensitivities and that Pilate backed down only because he was worried about losing his job (I agree), you speculate that Pilate would have lost his job “for killing off all the local aristocracy.” To complete your hypothesis, can you please explain why Pilate’s bosses in Rome would have cared if Pilate killed off all of the local aristocracy?

    3] If one looks at Pilates actions as driven entirely by job security, there seems another plausible explanation for his actions in both the blasphemous images incident and the sacred temple treasury incident (Antiquities 18.3.2). In the former, Pilate wanted to avoid an *unnecessary* mass riot by the Jews who remained after Pilate slaughtered their leaders, and in the latter Pilate accepted a *necessary* mass riot because there was a *massive monetary payoff* (the money was used to pay for an aqueduct). In both cases, Pilate’s bosses would have given him a huge thumbs up for being an evil but *smart* leader. Can you please explain why this explanation is not plausible?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 22, 2018

      1. Look at the context. 2. Because the task of the local governor was to keep the peace, not destroy it. 3. See today’s post.

      • Avatar
        Jon1  January 22, 2018


        I read your next post and this one again it doesn’t help your argument. As you point out, the reason Pilate accepted a riot in the sacred temple treasury incident is because there was a *massive monetary payoff* (to pay for the aqueduct). And as you also point out, the reason Pilate backed down in the blasphemous images incident is because it would have risked an *unnecessary* mass riot by the Jews who remained after Pilate slaughtered their leaders. In both cases, Pilate is exactly the “vicious and insensitive” ruler you say he is, he is just also *smart and calculating* and therefore knows what his bosses would approved of. In the same way, Pilate might not have risked an *unnecessary* mass riot by Jews by violating their burial customs on the eve of a major holiday celebrating Israel’s liberation from foreign domination with tens of thousands more Jews in the city. What don’t you get about this? Why do you keep making the argument about whether Pilate was a mean guy or not? It seems a red herring.

  6. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  January 22, 2018

    Since we’re going down this road again….

    With the gospels, Paul, and whoever wrote Colossians, there’s at least 8 times where Jesus’ burial was mentioned. Paul didn’t say anything about Joseph of Arimathea, but he didn’t come out and tell us Pilate was the one who had Jesus executed either. There’s assumptions made on Paul’s part. Paul assumes his listeners know Pilate’s role in Jesus’ death and that they know what burial means. The only thing that was passed down to us was the tomb story. Paul and the Gospels are not in conflict with each other but are complementary which is extraordinary considering Mark shows no awareness of Paul.

    The fact that the tomb story wasn’t a red flag so that at least one ancient writer should have mentioned it as not being possible is very strange. Are our ancient sources giving us an accurate picture of crucifixion or is there something still amiss? Of course, it’s possible it slipped by without notice. But if that is possible, then it’s also possible Jesus’ was the exception rather than the rule because exceptions happen. Flukes happen. Sometimes things work in our favor for no good reason. Besides that, Pilate comes across to me as an unstable person. Unstable people make nonsensical decisions. Kim Jong-un is a prime example of that. One day he wants to cooperate, the next day he’s firing missles and threatening the world.

    I don’t think the historical evidence we have contradicts Jesus’ burial story as much as it just has nothing to say about him in particular.

    • Avatar
      Iskander Robertson  January 23, 2018

      why was the reason Paul mentioned that jesus appeared to PETER????

      Paul says that jesus was BURIED

      Paul does not say by whom

      using your argument, there was absolutely no reason why Paul needed to mention peter/caiphus.

  7. Lev
    Lev  January 22, 2018

    Doesn’t this show that Pilate got the measure of the Jewish people – that they were so utterly committed to their sacred laws that they would rather be slaughtered than compromise? My sense is that Pilate learned a lesson from this, and he realised he couldn’t do whatever he wanted when it came to breaching the Jewish law.

    It appears this isn’t the only instance where Pilate deferred to Jewish law – for example, we know that Jews did not permit an image of any human in Jerusalem. When we look at the three different coins minted by Pilate in Jerusalem in AD 29, 30, and 31, Caesar’s image does not appear on any of them. Yet it does on Roman coins outside Jerusalem.

    A pattern seems to be emerging.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  January 22, 2018

      But didn’t the coin allegedly shown to Jesus in the Temple courtyard show the emperor as a god?

      • Lev
        Lev  January 23, 2018

        Copper coins minted in Jerusalem omitted the emperor’s image, but silver and gold coins were minted elsewhere. The coin in Mark 12:15, (a silver denarius minted at Lyon, France), bore the emperor’s image and the title.

        It is not surprising that Jesus’ opponents had this coin as Jews could not pay taxes without it. It appears the Jews were successful in having the Jerusalem copper coins minted without the image, but unsuccessful in keeping the silver denarius bearing the image out of the city.

    • Avatar
      AnotherBart  January 23, 2018

      As I understand it, Pilate minted three coins with pagan symbols on one side and Jewish on the other. This was an act of instigation, not deference.

      Lev, you make a very good point that it did not have Tiberius’ image on it. Its as if Pilate was saying…. “Ok, no pictures of Tiberius, but….. I’m still gonna irritate you”. And of course, when he crucified Jesus, he put the sign, “King of the Jews” above him which ….. just think about that…. he was insulting them, & threatening them at the same time.

      Apparently, the coins were plentiful enough that they can be bought today….
      (Note: I do not endorse or oppose the vendor of the link below. It simply appears to have interesting information)

  8. John4
    John4  January 22, 2018

    Hey Bart!

    Helen Bond’s *Pontius Pilate in history and interpretation* is exhaustive and entirely readable. You recommended the volume to me. I, in turn, recommend it to any here who want to know everything which can be known about Pilate.

    Many thanks! 🙂

    • Avatar
      Kirktrumb59  January 22, 2018

      O goodness. Cheapest paperback (Bond’s Pilate book) I could find online ~ $60. Hardcover $120. Samples on several sites, nowhere near the full monty. But what I saw looks good. Not available on our library network. Oh well.

      • epicurus
        epicurus  January 23, 2018

        @Kirktrumb59- Maybe you already know this, but If you happen to live near a university you might check their system as well. I’ve been able to get many books this way that I would have normally never been able to read. In my city the University has a card allowing non students to borrow books, and they actually have 9 copies of Bond’s Pilate book!

  9. Avatar
    AnotherBart  January 22, 2018

    Crazy– I just happened to be on the subject of Pilate. And, in this case, I agree with Dr. Ehrman, not Dr. Craig Evans. Surprised?

    Does Dr. Evans not know about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices? (1)
    Does Dr. Evans not know about Pilate’s minted coins with pagan symbols on one side and jewish on the other?

    Pilate may have been indecisive, changing his mind at times, but sympathetic or sensitive to Jewish ways he was not. Not. At. All.

    FYI, I disagree with both Dr. Ehrman and Dr. Evans when it comes to the dates of authorship. Aramaic Matthew was written in the shadow of the statue that Caligula threatened to put in the Temple c. 41 A.D. not Titus’ destruction of the Temple 70 A.D.

    (1) Luke 1:13 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+13%3A1&version=NIV

  10. Avatar
    meajon  January 28, 2018

    I’m listening to a Great Courses course entitled, “The Holy Land Revealed” by Jodi Magness, who works at UNC Chapel Hill, and she quotes Philo as describing Pontius Pilate as “‘naturally inflexible a blend of self-will, and relentlessness,’ and speaks of his conduct as full of ‘briberies, insults, robberies, outrages and wanton injuries, executions without trial constantly repeated ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty.'” (citing Embassy to Gaius 301-302). Hum. She also says:

    Eventually Pilate’s insensitivities actually got him dismissed from his post. What happens is that a large group of armed Samaritans followed their leader to Mount Gerizim expecting to find sacred tabernacle treasures buried there. Pilate, sensing that this was a situation that could potentially develop into trouble, brought this troops in and ordered his troops to block the crowd. There was a battle. Pilate executed the leader and the most influential of the Samaritans. The Samaritns then turned and appealed to the legate up in Syria and he then ordered Pilate back to Rome for trial. Pilate was replaced by someone else.

    She doesn’t cite a source for this or say this is attributable to Philo. It’s difficult to imagine a Roman prefect losing his job because he was too mean.

  11. Avatar
    AnotherBart  January 29, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman:

    Have you considered Philo’s statement that (after Sejanus’ execution, Oct 18th, 31 C.E.) Tiberius ordered his governors to respect Jewish customs? If Jesus was executed before 31 C.E. then the case for Pilate’s letting Jesus’ body rot might make sense. But if it was in 33 C.E., then Pilate would have been under orders from the top to respect Jewish customs.

    “Therefore, all people in every country, even if they were not naturally well inclined towards the Jewish nation, took great care not ….attack ….Jewish …. laws.

    [Tiberius] knew … after [Sejanus’] death that the accusations … brought against the Jews … dwelling in Rome were . .., inventions of Sejanus, ………
    ,,, ,,,
    [Tiberius] sent commands to all the governors ….to comfort … our nation …., as the punishment .. to be inflicted was .. meant … only on the guilty;….
    ,,, ,,,
    [Tiberius] ordered them to change none of the .. customs, but look upon them as pledges, …..,,,,,,,

    Philo ON THE EMBASSY TO GAIUS XXIV. (159…….)

    • Bart
      Bart  January 30, 2018

      Yes, I discuss Philo in my fuller treatment in How Jesus Became God.

      • Avatar
        AnotherBart  February 4, 2018

        What do you know about Sejanus?

        • Bart
          Bart  February 5, 2018

          That was Patrick Stewart, right?

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  February 5, 2018

            ??? (web search for “Patrick Stewart Sejanus” …..)
            LOL!!! I guess so! I’d never heard of “I, Claudius” before!!

          • Bart
            Bart  February 6, 2018

            Ah, should be required viewing. Low-tech/budget production from back in the day, but fantastic.

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  February 6, 2018

            Regarding Sejanus:

            How would you feel if your fav. boss had been…. executed….. (!), and Mr. NEW boss was looking for old-boss sympathizers?

            Get it?

            Imagine: you’re Mr. Pilate / old fav boss=Sejanus / new boss = Tiberius / “I sure hope Caesar thinks I’m his friend!” ………. οὐκ εἶ φίλος τοῦ Καίσαρος”

            I sent you an email. Feel free to not post this comment. I won’t be offended.

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  February 7, 2018

            Dr. Ehrman:

            Did you know that at a certain point
            Tiberius ordered his governors
            to respect Jewish customs
            and to assure the Jews
            that only the guilty were to be punished?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 9, 2018

            What ancient source are you thinking of that says this?

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  February 9, 2018

            Philo, EMBASSY TO GAIUS, XXIV. (159) (160) (161)
            159. Τοιγαροῦν οἱ πανταχοῦ πάντες, εἰ καὶ φύσει διέκειντο πρὸς Ἰουδαίους οὐκ εὐμενῶς, εὐλαβῶς εἶχον ἐπὶ καθαιρέσει τινὸς τῶν Ἰουδαϊκῶν νομίμων προσάψασθαι· καὶ ἐπὶ Τιβερίου μέντοι τὸν αὐτὸν τρόπον, καίτοι τῶν ἐν Ἰταλίᾳ παρακινηθέντων, ἡνίκα Σηιανὸς ἐσκευώρει τὴν ἐπίθεσιν.
            160. ἔγνω γάρ, εὐθέως ἔγνω μετὰ τὴν ἐκείνου τελευτήν, ὅτι τὰ κατηγορηθέντα τῶν ᾠκηκότων τὴν Ῥώμην Ἰουδαίων ψευδεῖς ἦσαν διαβολαί, πλάσματα Σηιανοῦ τὸ ἔθνος  ναρπάσαι θέλοντος, ὅπερ ἢ μόνον ἢ μάλιστα ᾔδει βουλαῖς  νοσίοις καὶ πράξεσιν  ντιβησόμενον ὑπὲρ τοῦ παρασπονδηθῆναι κινδυνεύσαντος αὐτοκράτορος.
            161. καὶ τοῖς πανταχόσε χειροτονουμένοις ὑπάρχοις ἐπέσκηψε παρηγορῆσαι μὲν τοὺς κατὰ πόλεις τῶν  πὸ τοῦ ἔθνους, ὡς οὐκ εἰς πάντας προβάσης τῆς ἐπεξελεύσεως,  λλ’ ἐπὶ μόνους τοὺς αἰτίους – ὀλίγοι δὲ ἦσαν – , κινῆσαι δὲ μηδὲν τῶν ἐξ ἔθους,  λλὰ καὶ παρακαταθήκην ἔχειν τούς τε ἄνδρας ὡς εἰρηνικοὺς τὰς φύσεις καὶ τὰ νόμιμα ὡς  λείφοντα πρὸς εὐστάθειαν.

            Philo, EMBASSY TO GAIUS, English
            XXIV. (159) Therefore, all people in every country, even if they were not naturally well inclined towards the Jewish nation, took great care not to violate or attack any of the Jewish customs of laws. And in the reign of Tiberius things went on in the same manner, although at that time things in Italy were thrown into a great deal of confusion when Sejanus was preparing to make his attempt against our nation;
            (160) for he knew immediately after his death that the accusations which had been brought against the Jews who were dwelling in Rome were false calumnies, inventions of Sejanus, who was desirous to destroy our nation, which he knew alone, or above all others, was likely to oppose his unholy counsels and actions in defence of the emperor, who was in great danger of being attacked, in violation of all treaties and of all honesty.
            (161) And he sent commands to all the governors of provinces in every country to comfort those of our nation in their respective cities, as the punishment intended to be inflicted was not meant to be inflicted upon all, but only on the guilty; and they were but few. And he ordered them to change none of the existing customs, but to look upon them as pledges, since the men were peaceful in their dispositions and natural characters, and their laws trained them and disposed them to quiet and stability.

            It has to be read carefully, and in context, keeping track of the pronouns. I think he’s talking to Caligula at this point, or this may be a quote from his written defense to Caligula.

          • Avatar
            AnotherBart  February 11, 2018

            Do the words of Philo, “[Tiberius] sent commands to all the governors ….to comfort … our nation …., as the punishment .. to be inflicted was .. meant … only on the guilty;….” suggest historical reliability of Pilate’s words in John 19:4 “….. I find no guilt in him”?

            Philo: ….λλ’ ἐπὶ μόνους τοὺς αἰτίους
            Pilate: ….οὐδεμίαν αἰτίαν εὑρίσκω ἐν αὐτῷ. (John 19:4)

            Philo: “but only the guilty” (Embassy XXIV.161)
            Pilate: “I find no guilt in him”. (from John 19:4)

  12. Avatar
    heyjude  March 14, 2018

    ‘The multitude’ apparently demanded Jesus’s crucifixion, so surely Pilate wouldn’t have feared repercussions if he followed his usual practice of leaving bodies on crosses. That is, assuming this was his usual practice.

  13. Avatar
    Charbel98  May 16, 2020


    What do you think of the alleged report (Pilate to Tiberius about Jesus) mentioned by Justin Martyr and Tertullian? It seems to me that Justin Martyr, writing to the emperor of the Roman empire (the world’s most powerful person at the time), would not dare to lie in this letter. He even mentions the report twice. Do you think he’s bluffing, or that he is convinced that there is such a report even though there is not?

    Thank You

    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2020

      I’m sure it’s just a legend. If you’re interested, I deal with the issue in my book “The Other Gospels” where I talk about and provide a new tranalsation of the letters allegedly written back and forth between Pilate and the emperor.

You must be logged in to post a comment.