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Did Pontius Pilate Respect Jewish Sensitivities?

When I was in high school I was active on the debate team, and really loved it.  We were pretty good, although I was nowhere near being the best on the team.  My colleague and another fellow on the team ended up debating together in college and won the national championship as sophomores.  These guys were terrific.

One of the decisions we constantly had to make when arguing the negative side of a resolution was how to go about attacking the claims of the affirmative side.  There were two general approaches: one was what we called the “shotgun” approach.  This involved leveling lots and lots of arguments (like buckshot) and hoping that the other side could not respond to them all, thereby making the judge of the debate think that some of the arguments stuck, even if not all of them were that good.  The problem with the shotgun approach was that if a bunch of the arguments weren’t very good, the affirmative side could knock them down fairly easily, and by the end, it looked like just about everything they said showed that our arguments weren’t very good.

And so we usually opted to take the other approach, which was to develop two or three arguments at length that were very difficult indeed to refute.   If the affirmative side couldn’t win, say, two of the three arguments (as opposed to successfully answering 10), then the debate was in the bag for us.

Another way of looking at this is to say that a cumulative argument – lots of little arguments adding up to one big argument — can be seen as an effective mode of refutation, but ONLY if each one of the little arguments itself carries weight.  If each of the little arguments don’t carry any weight at all, then the cumulative effect also doesn’t carry weight.   You can accumulate all the zeros you want, and they’ll still add up to zero.

If I had been Craig and wanted to attack the views that I set forth in How Jesus Became God, I think I would not have taken the shotgun approach.   The accumulation of arguments that individually don’t carry much weight just ends of not being very convincing.  My view is that most of his arguments really don’t carry any weight – the “evidence” from Philo, the “evidence” that Roman governors sometimes showed clemency to convicted criminals, the claim that Romans allowed executed criminals decent burial, and – the evidence I’ll cite now.

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Did Pilate “Learn His Lesson”?
Discrepancies That Pay Rich Dividends



  1. Avatar
    Gary  May 16, 2016

    Good morning, Dr. Ehrman,

    I read through Craig Evans article that you refer to.

    In it Evans claims that the Romans had varying degrees of treason, the worst being “high treason”. Evans contends that Pilate did not condemn Jesus to “high treason” but a lower level of treason since the Gospels indicate Pilate didn’t believe Jesus had done anything wrong. The punishment for lower levels of treason was still crucifixion, but by the rules stated in the Digesta, Pilate would have released the body of Jesus for burial. The Digesta states that only persons crucified for “high treason” should not be returned to family/friends/etc. for proper burial.

    I have read through all your posts on this topic and did not see you address this point. It looks to me that he has wiggled out of a serious weakness in the Christian argument for the Resurrection by parsing the definition of “treason”. What is your reaction to this and is there anyway to settle this issue? Has a legal scholar published a position on this issue?


    • Bart
      Bart  May 17, 2016

      Does he tell you the date of the Digesta? 🙂

      • Avatar
        Gary  May 17, 2016

        Yes. Written in the sixth century, allegedly quoting someone in the late second century, who allegedly quoted a document from the time of Augustus.

        The Christians I am debating who are using Evan’s article as their defense are saying that the author of the quoted late second century document states that this custom, begun by Augustus, had been in practice (during times of peace) continually to his time (the late second century), therefore giving Evans and his followers “evidence” that Pilate probably did allow Jesus’ body to be given to the Sanhedrin for burial.

        • Bart
          Bart  May 18, 2016

          You had mentioned that you read through all my posts dealing with Evans’s views. I do discuss each and every one of his major arguments, so you may want to reread my posts. And it’s easy to search all my posts by key words (e.g., Justinian). I show why his argument about the Digest is just wrong in my post of July 11, 2014. Hope it helps!

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