To make the best sense of this post it is important to keep in mind what I said in the previous one.

In his response to my views of in How Jesus Became God – that Jesus most likely was not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion by Joseph of Arimathea – Craig Evans has maintained, among other things, that Pilate was not the kind of governor who would ignore Jewish sensitivities.   For Craig, Pilate started his rule by making a big mistake of bringing into Jerusalem the Roman standards that bore on them the image of the emperor.  But once he realized that the Jewish populace was offended, he backed down and from then on he showed that he had learned his lesson.  For that reason, Craig finds it “hard to believe” that at a later time Pilate would do something so opposed to Jewish custom as allow a body unburied on the day of a person’s death.

This view strikes me as extremely problematic, for several reasons.   To start with, it flies in the face of what we in fact know about Roman practices of crucifixion.   I should point out that if it were *Jews* who had executed Jesus, then indeed their law would have required them to bury him that day; but it was not Jews, it was Romans who killed him.  Jewish law does not apply to Romans and Jews could not insist that it did.  Even if they did insist, they would be doing nothing different from what every other nation, race, and people did – protest that they wanted to bury their dead.   Romans never, so far as we know, paid attention to these local sensitivities in the case of the crucifixion of enemies of the state.

Second, I showed yesterday that Craig very much misreads the incident of the Roman standards, as based on the account that he himself cites (the Jewish historian Josephus).   Pilate showed, in that incident itself, that he did not care a twit about Jewish sensitivities – he was offensive, intransigent, and brutal.

Most important for this current post is a fact that Craig (understandably) fails to mention in his discussion of Pontius Pilate, in his critique of my view.  That is that we have hard *evidence* that Pilate did not “learn his lesson” when it came to offending Jewish sensitivities.  The evidence comes from the same source Craig uses, and it shows beyond any doubt that Pilate was the vicious, insensitive ruler that history, but not Craig, has portrayed him as being.

In a second story from Josephus we learn of an incident from later in Pilate’s rule, by which time, in Craig’s calculation, Pilate had grown sensitive to Jewish customs.  You can figure out for yourself whether you think he is right about that.

This second anecdote again comes from Josephus’ Antiquities, book 18.   Pilate wanted to provide fresh water for Jerusalem and so arranged to have an aqueduct built (a noble idea) – but he paid for it by raiding the treasury in the Jewish Temple (not a noble idea).   The Jewish populace was incensed, and staged a massive protest (Josephus speaks of tens of thousands of Jews).  And did this massive indignation remind Pilate that he should not trample on Jewish customs, practices, and sensitivities?  Well, not exactly.

Instead of backing down (we have no record of Pilate *ever* backing down: remember the golden shields, the standards, and now the aqueduct), Pilate had his soldiers disguise themselves in local dress with clubs under their outer garments and mingle among the crowds.  And then when the crowds refused to disperse, he gave the signal, the soldiers broke out their weapons, and started pounding people left and right.  Chaos ensued, and many people died.

If someone wants to maintain that Pilate was a wise ruler who, after an initial but understandable mistake, realized what he was dealing with when trying to rule Judea and so took particular care not to offend, let alone harm, his Jewish subjects – this is Craig’s view – then I think one is compelled to present some evidence of this view.   On the contrary, all of the evidence points in the opposite direction, from the two sources of information we have of Pilate’s reign, Josephus and Philo of Alexandria.  We would do well to recall Philo’s assessment of Pilate’s governorship, spoken after he had been removed from office, when Philo speaks of Pilate’s:

“corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never-ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.” (Flaccus, 83)

When Craig insists that Pilate would not have flaunted Jewish sensitivities in following the standard Roman practices of crucifixion, I think he is simply overlooking every surviving piece of historical evidence that we have about the man.

Over $2 Million Donated to Charity!

We have two goals at Ehrman Blog. One is to increase your knowledge of the New Testament and early Christianity. The other is to raise money for charity! In fact, in 2022, we raised over $360,000 for the charities below.

Become a Member Today!
2023-08-09T10:30:04-04:00August 16th, 2023|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Share Bart’s Post on These Platforms


  1. Jon1 August 16, 2023 at 10:51 am


    1) The question here would seem to be *why* Pilate backed down in the Roman standards incident but not in the temple treasury incident. There seems a logical explanation given that governors had two main tasks — collect taxes for Rome and keep the peace. Without any money at stake in the Roman standards incident, Pilate backed down *to keep the peace*, and the Emperor would have approved. With money at stake in the temple treasury incident, Pilate did not back down and, again, the Emperor would have approved. When Craig says Pilate backed down in the Roman standards incident because of “sensitivity” to Jewish religious beliefs, he doesn’t mean Pilate is a “nice guy,” he means Pilate is doing so for practical reasons *to keep the peace*. Why is this interpretation of these passages less likely than your interpretation?

    2) You seem to think Pilate backed down in the Roman standards incident because he was worried about some moral objection by his bosses in Rome. If so, why didn’t Pilate back down in the temple treasury incident as well?

    • BDEhrman August 17, 2023 at 6:13 am

      I do think Pilate backed down for practical reasons in the case of the standards. You can’t engage in a massive slaughter of the people you’re supposed to be ruling and be expected to pass muster with your overlords.

      • Jon1 August 17, 2023 at 12:57 pm

        Ok, so we both agree that “Pilate backed down for *practical reasons* in the case of the standards.” Your position is that Pilate was worried about getting fired because his bosses in Rome would have had a moral objection to his slaughtering the Jewish leaders in cold blood. My position is that Pilate was worried about getting fired because his bosses in Rome would think we was unnecessarily risking the peace by slaughtering the Jewish leaders in cold blood. Why is your view more likely than my (and Craig Evans’) view?

        • BDEhrman August 18, 2023 at 6:40 pm

          I’d say to you it’s not. But I am definitely not saying that he feared the bosses in Rome would have a “moral” objection. Sometimes I wonder how you’re inferring what I say when I never say any such thing?

        • Jon1 August 19, 2023 at 12:55 am

          I asked you about Pilate backing down in the Roman standards incident in another thread, “Do you think Pilate was worried about some moral objection by his bosses in Rome?” and you replied “Yes, in that case he did” ( It is really difficult to even identify your positions, in this case why you think Pilate backed down in the Roman standards incident. You explicitly say it is for a “practical reason” but deny it is to keep the peace. If Pilate didn’t back down to keep the peace, then why did he back down?

      • Jon1 August 24, 2023 at 11:52 am


        Here is what you said in a recent post about the Roman standards incident: “Pilate realized that he could not murder such masses in cold blood, and ‘surprised at their prodigious superstition,’ ordered the standards removed” ( And then you say above “I do think Pilate backed down for practical reasons in the case of the standards.” More information is needed here! What in your view was the “practical reason” Pilate backed down in the Roman standards incident?

        • BDEhrman August 26, 2023 at 4:10 pm

          I’m not going to keep replying to the same question over and over again. The practical reason was that a mass slaughter of precisely the people he was supposed to be governing would have gotten him in trouble with the authorities. (crucifying someone for sedition against the state and then leaving the person on th ecross would *not* have done so). Again, I think we’ve beat this one to death now.

          • Jon1 August 26, 2023 at 5:24 pm


            Let me know via your website message system if you would rather I contact you via email on this topic, but I’d ask that you hear me out because I think we’re almost to the end. You wrote, “The practical reason [for Pilate backing down in the Roman standards incident] was that a mass slaughter of precisely the people he was supposed to be governing would have *gotten him in trouble* with the authorities.” Why would slaughtering Jewish leaders have gotten Pilate in trouble with the Roman authorities if it was not because such action would *jeopardize the peace*, which means Pilate backed down in the Roman standards incident to *keep the peace*?

          • BDEhrman August 30, 2023 at 11:02 am

            I’m not interested in pursuing the conversation. I’ve already said what I think repeatedly, and there’s no point saying it any more because you disagree. That’s fine. No reason we have to agree. But also no reason we have to keep reeating the same things over and over again, so let’s move on.

  2. charrua August 16, 2023 at 11:12 am

    Indeed Pilate was not the nice guy Craig depicted ….

    What about Luke 13:1-9?

    “There were some present at that very time who told him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”

    I couldn’t find any trace of this in Josephus.

    Any idea about what Luke referred to?

    • BDEhrman August 17, 2023 at 6:14 am

      Unfortunately this is the only reference to the incident; it doesn’t speak highly of Pilate though…

  3. fishician August 16, 2023 at 11:32 am

    Do you think this sequence is plausible? 1. Jesus is crucified, shocking his disciples. 2. They reason that God must have raised him up and exalted him to heaven. 3. As the story spreads people interpret this as a physical resurrection. 4. A physical resurrection requires a body, so his must have been preserved rather than left on the cross, i.e. buried. 5. An influential person must have requested the body from Pilate, hence, Joseph of fictional Arimathea. 6. Some stories have Jesus appearing in Galilee, some in Jerusalem, because there were no actual sightings, just stories that developed over time.

    • BDEhrman August 17, 2023 at 6:17 am

      Something like that. but I’d say #2 and #3 are because of visions some of them had: they *knew* God had raised Jesus, and as apocalypticists, they knew that meant physically. I don’t think they would have worried that a decomposed body could not be raised, since the apoclayptic idea was preciselyly thtat this was what would be happening at the end of the age, which has just begun. I suspect there were sightings, but God knows that they entailed. Last night I remembered seeing my dad in an audience I was lecturing to about ten years after his death. The guy looked just like him, and for a minute I wondered….

  4. curiojeff August 16, 2023 at 12:47 pm

    If Jesus’ body was left on the cross (and your argument is persuasive), how long are we talking? A few days? Over a week? More? And if so, it seems unlikely that any of Jesus’ followers would believe in a resurrection while his remains were still up there on the cross in plain sight. Do you believe the whole resurrection “sightings” occurred weeks after Jesus’ desecrated remains were finally removed from the cross?

    But that begs the question: Why would early Christians invent the story of the tomb when it’s not necessary for a resurrection claim? In fact, it would be even *more* miraculous if Jesus re-appeared before them, body intact, after it was totally destroyed by the elements and scavenging animals, no? It seems that the tomb falls under a “gist memory,” with details varying from account to account (which day, who visited the tomb, etc.) but the basic existence of the tomb being believable, despite typical Roman practice and Pilate’s insensitivity.

    • BDEhrman August 17, 2023 at 6:19 am

      The two earliest accounts indicate that the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee (in some haste, I should think, fearing for their own lives)> It would take a week to get there. Sone of them clained they saw Jesus’ alive after his crucifixion. I’d assume that happened either en route to or in Galilee. They would not have known what actually happened to the body.

    • R_Gerl August 18, 2023 at 7:54 pm

      Since I have the day off, I decided to view James Tabor’s video on the possible tomb burial and resurrection of Jesus. I must say, it has given me a lot to think about and he has an interesting take on the burial and resurrection stuff. His rationale is quite interesting, and I think his reasoning in this video would make an excellent blog article for Here is the video and I highly recommend it for everyone.

  5. NTDeist August 16, 2023 at 12:53 pm

    I believe this is the most historically accurate answer from Mary Magdalene: “She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:13 The “they” were the Romans.

  6. robgrayson August 16, 2023 at 2:54 pm

    Reading these posts about Pilate, I’m frankly dumbfounded as to how a respected NT scholar like Craig Evans can get away with advocating for these kinds of spurious (non-)arguments.

    Based on the posts you’ve shared, the case you make seems to me to be pretty unassailable, and that’s because your arguments are based on actual evidence and nothing else. It’s hard to see how Evans can so flagrantly misrepresent the available evidence; one can only conclude that either he does so deliberately, in full awareness that that’s what he’s doing (which surely seems unlikely), or that his religious a prioris are so ingrained and overwhelmingly strong that he’s blinded to the fact of his misrepresentation of the evidence.

    What’s your view on this, Bart?

    • BDEhrman August 17, 2023 at 6:20 am

      I always wonder how someone who disagrees with me can think their view makes sense. 🤨 disabledupes{51bc7618ea3d0a90229d8dd36987e6ad}disabledupes

  7. Clair August 16, 2023 at 5:10 pm

    Most information is religious in nature. Judging from other places, there were Vicas, Villas and local government run by locals for the Governor, King using local and Roman civil law most often. All these folks liked things as they were. Herod and his Fiscals seem to decide their laws don’t cover crazy prophets but, fines and damages to the Temple. could have had him enslaved. Not much of a story. I see rich landholders and such, fearing peasant revolt, pressuring Pilate. Did high priests own villas and farms?

  8. DoubtingTom August 17, 2023 at 8:28 am

    The high priests were the beneficiaries of tithes, so had a vested interest in agricultural prosperity.
    Ironically, these OT laws are still cited to browbeat Christians into tithing by most ministers and priests, even as they also say the Jewish law no longer applies with Jesus’s death.

  9. PeterR August 17, 2023 at 9:07 am


    Do you think that because it was Passover, a tense time in Jerusalem, and, more importantly, because Jesus’ sedition was non-violent, it’s less likely that Pilate would have insisted on leaving the corpse rot on the cross in the normal way?

    • BDEhrman August 18, 2023 at 6:25 pm

      Nope. The more spectators who saw crucified corpses, the better. We have no record of Roman officials fearing uprisings over crucifixions; they knew no one would protest openly, lest they themselves were seen sa enemies.

  10. ClaudeTee August 17, 2023 at 4:32 pm

    Please correct me if I am wrong (and I know you’ll not hesitate in doing so), but is it not the case that there is no record of a place called Arimathea, other than in the NT? Isn’t it likely that Arimathea is a fictional place and that Joseph, then, is a fictional character?

    • BDEhrman August 18, 2023 at 6:48 pm

      Yes, that’s right. That doesn’t prove he’s fictional but it certainly should raise a red flag. About ten years ago I was playing with the idea that it’s a symbolic name; in Greek it could mean something like “super disciple”

    • giselebendor August 22, 2023 at 10:26 am

      Arimathea is Ha Ramati, in Hebrew. It means ” the one from Ramah”, just as Ha G’lilee means ” the one from Galilee”.

      There were many cities or villages named Ramah in the Land of Israel. Please see this very comprehensive link about these places in the HB.

      Today, Ramah is al-Ram, an Arab town 8 kilometers from Jerusalem.

      The word “ramah” is widely used in today’s Hebrew, as “hill” or “level”.

      For Joseph to be “from Ramah” is more than plausible. We cannot know 100% if the actual person existed or not- one would have to put massive Biblical amounts of material to that test-, but it’s hard to think that *everything* was made up. Was Jesus from Galilee?

      • madmax2976 August 25, 2023 at 2:58 pm

        Except in this case, given good reason to doubt a tomb burial, it would then follow that Joseph of Arimathea was in fact made up. That would further lead to question whether such a place existed.

    • sLiu August 31, 2023 at 7:27 pm

      Bard [Google] AI
      What or where is Arimathea as in Joseph of Arimathea?
      Arimathea is a city mentioned in the Bible as the home of Joseph of Arimathea, who was a wealthy and respected member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. He was also a secret follower of Jesus. According to the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus after he was crucified. He then took the body and buried it in his own tomb.

      The exact location of Arimathea is unknown. It is thought to have been located in Judea, but its exact location has been disputed by scholars. Some possible locations for Arimathea include:

      Ramathaim-Zophim: This is the town where Samuel the prophet was born. It is located about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem.

  11. Jon1 August 17, 2023 at 8:10 pm


    In HGBG (pg. 155) you write, “If the followers of Jesus knew that he ‘had’ to be buried in a tomb—since otherwise there could be no story about the tomb being [discovered] empty—and they had to invent a story that described this burial, then the only ones who could possibly do the deed were the Jewish authorities themselves. And so that is the oldest tradition we have, as in Acts 13:29. Possibly this is the tradition that lies behind 1 Corinthians 15:4 as well: ‘and he was buried.’” I’m trying to figure out what exactly you’re saying here. Are you saying the 1 Cor 15:3-5 creed formulators possibly knew of a tradition (a legend) where the Jews “buried” Jesus in a rock-hewn tomb that was discovered empty three days later and, if you are not saying this, then what exactly are you saying?

    • BDEhrman August 18, 2023 at 6:52 pm

      I’m saying Paul doesn’t indicate who buried Jesus. Acts 13:29 indicates that that it was the “leaders in Jerusalem” (“they”). Possibly that’s what Paul thinks. Who knows?

      • Jon1 August 19, 2023 at 1:13 am

        I’m asking what the *creed formulators* knew, not Paul. In HJBG pg. 155, you seem to be saying “buried” was initially attached to a discovered empty tomb tradition: “If the followers of Jesus knew that he ‘had’ to be buried in a tomb—since otherwise there could be no story about the tomb being [discovered] empty…” Are you saying here that the 1 Cor 15:3-5 creed formulators possibly knew of a tradition (a legend) where the Jews “buried” Jesus in a rock-hewn tomb that was later discovered empty, or are you suggesting the creed formulators know only of the tomb burial tradition but not it’s later discovered empty, i.e. the two traditions got separated, or are you saying something else? You’re clearly trying to explain the word “buried” in the creed here, and you connected it to a discovered empty tomb tradition, but you seem not to want to acknowledge that the creed formulators would then have known of a discovered empty tomb tradition. It’s confusing.

      • Jon1 August 24, 2023 at 12:31 pm

        Disappointed you couldn’t provide further clarification but appreciative of your efforts to untangle the historical evidence.

  12. kellygene63 August 18, 2023 at 2:52 am

    I don’t see any reason Pilate would take Jesus Body down, most of his followers left probably fearful for their own lives so doubt they asked Pilate, I don’t think Jewish leaders had any love for Jesus and was probably so angry they didn’t care if jesus was properly buried or not, I don’t think there was any reason for Pilate to be worried about that would make him even think about removing his body, I don’t think his body was ever put in the tomb and that’s why they say it was empty when they arrived, then we get the emotional embellished story of Angels and seeing Jesus to work the miracle narrative. I think this was very dark time in history with misery, war and death everywhere, and dealing with all this was horrific, so people had make stories of hope. It’s strange how people complain today in America about how horrible life is today, we are probably living in one greatest most enjoyable parts of history. But I keep seeing post after post that the end of world is here and Jesus is returning.

  13. ChimpoChimperoo August 18, 2023 at 9:59 am

    This is pure speculation, but I am wondering about this prolonged VS short time crucifixion. The story of Jesus being taken off the cross early on and then buried properly occurs in most canonical and non canonical gospels. This gives it a bit of the ‘ring of truth.’

    If this really happened, could it mean that the original critiques of early Christianity by pagans and Jews (the Greek philosopher, Celsus and early Talmudic writings) that he was the illegitimate son of the Roman head of archery: Tiberius Julius Abdes Pantera and that Pantera, who served as head of archery in Judea from 1 BCE to 9 CE when he was called to the the battle of the Gutenberg forest, used his influence because of his relationship with the mother of Jesus to placate his long lost love while residing in Roman fortifications west of the Rhine River after the ignominious defeat of Roman legions in the battle?

    • BDEhrman August 18, 2023 at 7:14 pm

      Seems like a bit of a stretch? It’s not clear that point A gets you to point B. disabledupes{10301052370ad86479b1251e0afadd7b}disabledupes

  14. 1jdefrancisco August 18, 2023 at 9:36 pm

    Isn’t it possible that because of 1) the amount of pilgrims coming into Jerusalem for the Passover, and 2) lack of direct evidence against Jesus, that Pilate would have been more lenient than usual to avoid an insurrection that would overpower the Roman garrison?

    • BDEhrman August 23, 2023 at 4:14 pm

      It’s not clear to me, thinking of the actual historical situation, that Pilate would fear an uprising for him crucifying a person that no one in town knew, a lower-class peasant with a small group of powerless and unknown disciples. It’s just hard for us, I think, to imagine that Jesus wasn’t the talk of the town and on everyone’s mind, a real threat to society for the Romans. But that does seem to be the most plausible way of understanding the situation. Neither Pilate nor the Jewish leaders had ever heard of Jesus before someone told them that he was trying to gather a following.

  15. jbickle August 26, 2023 at 5:34 am

    The notion that the Romans would have allowed a martyrs grave of someone who claimed to be the King of the Jews ( something only the Emperor could award and who was additionally an insurrectionist against Rome) for his followers to plot revenge, is fanciful.

Leave A Comment