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Pilate’s *Own* Account of Why He Crucified Jesus

I have been talking about how Pontius Pilate becomes increasingly innocent over time in Christian accounts of the death of Jesus.  One of my arguments is that the motive behind this exoneration of the Roman governor is an attempt to blame “the Jews” for killing their own messiah.  This exoneration increases over time and after a while stops being at all subtle.

Check out this non-canonical account that allegedly gives Pilate’s own version of the matter.  This is in an apocryphal text called the Anaphora Pilati (= The Report of Pilate – a report he allegedly sent to the emperor Tiberius).  You can find this text in the book I co-edited with my colleague Zlatko Pleše, The Other Gospels.   Here is the introduction taken from there and my translation of the text itself (it’s preserved in Greek)

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Introduction

 

The “Report” of Pontius Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius (the “Anaphora Pilati”) relates the events of Jesus’ trial, death, and resurrection from the perspective of the Roman governor.  We learn that despite his many divine deeds, Jesus was condemned by the Jews, who compelled Pilate to have him crucified.  But in the presence of many supernatural signs, Jesus was raised from the dead, leading to the damnation of his Jewish opponents. The obvious motives behind the account are to celebrate Jesus’ miraculous character, to exonerate Pilate for his death, and in so doing to inculpate the Jews.

The first half of the document…

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The Legend of Peter’s Martyrdom
The Increasing Innocence of Pilate in the Death of Jesus

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    fishician  February 22, 2018

    Goes to show that long before Facebook people were willing to swallow incredible stories as long as they supported their own views. And the fact that multiple manuscripts of this survived suggests to me that it was well-known and circulated document among the Christians.

    3
  2. talmoore
    talmoore  February 22, 2018

    This is what we today would call “fan fiction”.

    3
  3. Avatar
    doug  February 22, 2018

    I wonder how many Christians must have sincerely believed that this “Report of Pilate” was the “Gospel truth”.

    3
  4. Avatar
    royerd  February 22, 2018

    So early medieval fake news. Indeed, this text displays the not so subtle in the remark, “all the synagogues that opposed Jesus were engulfed.” It’s kind of interesting how “urban legend” with its unconscious or semi-conscious, maybe even innocent folklore at times simply shifts to outright political/cultural propaganda. At least that seems like one way to read it. Maybe it’s all the same or of one piece. –Dan

  5. Avatar
    Rthompsonmdog  February 22, 2018

    Do you know if last night’s debate is available online or will be posted?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2018

      I’ll be posting it next week, if all goes to plan.

      7
      • Avatar
        jdub3125  February 23, 2018

        At KSU? While in the area you might have had a chance to cruise by SunTrust Park and the Battery, and maybe some friendly soul there would have bid you “OffSeason’s Greetings, Professor!” And along with the debate you could post a pic of yourself standing by the Bobby Cox statue. 😀

  6. Avatar
    cmt4442ed  February 22, 2018

    It is a hard to believe this account. The first question I have is a follows: Why was not Pilate and his administration aware of such a man performing incredible supernatural acts long before the man was brought to him? Since we know, according to some accounts in the Gospels, Jesus fame spread through the region like Wildfire, the Roman government infrastructure should have become aware of him very quickly.

    Even if Pilate was not aware of the individual miracles, the large scale feedings of thousands of people in the desert would have been a significant event to be brought to his attention. This is simply because a crowd of 5,000 – 15,000 would have alerted the Roman army of a possible insurrection. That many subjected people coming together is a dangerous occurrence when one is occupying a territory.

    However, in the Gospels and this account, Pilate has never heard of Jesus. That ignorance is quite dissonance given the vigilance of Roman occupation forces to keep apprised of the issues going on in the region — especially spectacular ones like Jesus allegedly performed

    1
  7. Avatar
    mkahn1977  February 22, 2018

    Does the fact that there are references to “Hades” and the “netherworld” instead of Satan and hell help us to date and determine who actually wrote this? They appear to know ancient Jewish biblical figures, something I can’t see Pilate knowing or caring about.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2018

      I don’t think we can determine where the stories came from, but yes, they are clearly based on a knowledge (of some kind) of the biblical accounts.

      1
  8. Avatar
    stokerslodge  February 23, 2018

    Bart, my question is not directly related to the above. Given that the Jewish people were under Roman rule at the time: who gave Paul the authority to persecute the Christian church prior to his conversion? Did the Roman authorities have a say in the matter, or did they turn a blind eye and leave him to get on with it?

    • Bart
      Bart  February 23, 2018

      In the book of Acts it was the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem. That seems unlikely though — they had no authority over Jews in other locations (such as Damascus). I’m not sure he was “authorized” by anyone. He himself never says he was. My guess is that he was simply doing this on his own authority — possibly beating up followers of Jesus whenever he found them.

      1
    • talmoore
      talmoore  February 23, 2018

      If we assume that the details of Paul’s life as recounted in the NT are true, such as, for example, that Paul studied under Gamaliel, then Paul could have been a typical zealous 20-something Pharisaic student, and those types tend to be, shall we say, bullies. It’s not uncommon for young men, caught up in the fervor of a religious movement, to be intolerant of — if not out-right hostile towards — other religious schools or beliefs. For instance, the name of the Taliban literally comes from the Arabic word for student — talib. That is, the Taliban started out as normal, young male students of Islam, who became radicalized. Reading about the milieu in which Paul would have grown up and studied, one gets the sense that it was not unsimilar to, for example, a modern day Muslim madrasa. Incidentally, the Arab word madrasa comes from the same Semitic root as the Hebrew midrash, which means to study or examine. The notions of religious study and radical religious movements, therefore, are often interwined. It’s embedded within the Semitic cultures in which Judaism and Islam formed. Part of this appears to have been carried into Christianity as attacks on so-called heresies, culminating in the Inquisitions and Crusades, both movements spearheaded by radicalized, highly religious young men.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  February 23, 2018

    With regard to Tischendorf, for those new to the blog, there is a really good Smithsonian Channel presentation of the “Bible Hunters, Episode 1” about Tischendorf and his discovery of Codex Sinaiticus, our oldest text of the New Testament. It is quite a story. The Smithsonian Channel reruns this series from time to time and the History Channel website will list the times. Tischendof was really a fascinating man. Dr. Ehrman also discussed him on the blog 0n 6/12/15. There are probably other ways of watching or obtaining this documentary. These days there always are many ways to find such stuff.

  10. Avatar
    Carlflygt  February 23, 2018

    I dunno. It appears to me Christian anti Semitism is an attack on the Jewish God, not on the human Jews. This business with Pilate is an extension of the basic logic.

    Maimonides’ list of 613 commandments lists #51 as, Kill any sorcerer. Presumably this is God speaking, telling his people how to preserve their holiness.

    Seems to me it is God, not the Jews, who wants Jesus, the miracle worker (the sorcerer) killed.

    I need to check thru the whole Maimonides list (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/613_commandments),but I suspect there are several commands from God that make the actions of the Jews against Jesus appear lawful.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 25, 2018

      Anti-semitism is usually understood as a hateful (and often violent) opposition to Jews because of their Jewish (= semitic) ethnicity and heritage.

  11. Avatar
    nbraith1975  February 24, 2018

    “(6) Still, Herod, Archelaus, Philip, Annas, and Caiaphas, along with all the people, handed this man over to me for questioning. And because many stirred up a rebellion against me, I ordered him to be crucified.”

    As far as I’m concerned, this excerpt alone renders the entire “Report of Pontius Pilate” a joke.

    The majority of the report is a personal defense by Pilate of not just Jesus the man, but Jesus as someone with even greater powers than any god worshiped in Rome at the time. It is clear that Pilate admired Jesus for his great works and humanitarian service and that he held him in great reverence.

    What’s interesting is how is it that the Roman governor Pilate, who held all power in that region with the backing of the entire Roman army, so easily gave in to political pressure from Jewish leaders and had Jesus crucified? If he truly did so, this is proof that Pilate was a man of very shallow principles that feared the very people he was charged to rule over. By the minimum qualifications for a Roman governor, Pilate had no business being in the position of governor. It’s a wonder, if this letter was actually received by Tiberius Caesar in Rome, that Tiberius didn’t have Pilate removed from office and executed for being such a weak leader in the face of a trivial domestic disturbance.

    I don’t for a minute believe this accounting is factual and believe it’s more in-line with pro Christian propaganda than anything to do with an accurate historical account.

    • Bart
      Bart  February 25, 2018

      Yes, no one thinks it’s factual. It’s just an extremely interesting legend.

      1
  12. Avatar
    mannix  March 7, 2018

    Bart,
    I don’t know if you’ll read this, but I was wondering if Pilate spoke Aramaic. Were Roman authorities required to learn the language of those they ruled over? The reason I asked is if he didn’t, then he would have required a translator when questioning Jesus (unless Jesus spoke Latin as well as Aramaic) and when conversing with the Jewish leaders and the “crowd” as well. If indeed a translator was involved then would he not be an “earwitness” to the proceedings? Furthermore, would his memory not be subject to possible “distortion” (I’m reading Jesus Before the Gospels) if he was used as a source for the gospels?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2018

      He may have picked up a bit, but no, he would have mainly spoken Latin, and presumably Greek. He must have had translators on hand.

      1
  13. Avatar
    clongbine  March 20, 2018

    I really appreciate you taking the time to post manuscripts like this (in English) for us to consider.

    This story reminds me of the gospel of Peter, where Pilate washes his hands, but the Jews don’t. And I think this protectionist mindset is further reflected in the early documents of the church councils, where the deep distrust of Judaism is so blatantly obvious.

  14. Avatar
    Vroomfondel  April 20, 2018

    Bart, while you say that no one thinks it’s factual, nevertheless *someone* actually wrote it and, presumably, thought that others would believe it. I wonder whether the author himself believed it.

    The very idea that a Christian might put words into someone else’s mouth or report as true things that did not happen is — outrageous! 🙂

    Clearly it must have been a Jew who wrote this, trying to make early Christians look like credulous, bungling fools — because they all (the Jews, every last one of them, even the babies) want to discredit Jesus, his teachings and his followers. 🙂 🙂

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