If you’ve seen Michael Palin’s portrayal of Pontius Pilate in Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’, you’ll recall the weak and wavering man with a stutter in awe of his friend Bigus Dickus. Does this in any way resemble reality?
No. Not at all.
The Pilate of history was a vicious and paranoid tyrant who had no hesitation in putting people to death without trial. Roman Prefects could treat members of the subject nation more or less as they wished. Outside the gospel stories there is no record of Pilate ever showing mercy, and it would have been completely out of character to let anyone off the hook. Anyone thought to pose a threat to law and order would have been quickly and mercilessly dispatched.
Indeed, Pilate was later recalled to Rome to face charges of misrule. He went on to commit suicide in disgrace!
The gospels say it was only when the chief priests convinced Pilate that Yeshua bar Yehosef was a danger to public order was he sent for crucifixion. The authors faced a dilemma – how could they explain why this notoriously vindictive man had to be persuaded to send Yeshua to his death even though he believed that he had no charge to answer?
‘Matthew’ was so keen to absolve the Romans of their responsibility that he has Pilate’s wife advising him in to ‘have nothing to do with this innocent man for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.’ There is no mention of this in the other gospels.
Pilate’s reluctance in the gospels to crucify this articulate Jewish irritant contrasts so much with what is known about him from historical sources that it seems certain that later editors ‘doctored’ the gospels to deflect blame away from Rome.
Indeed, few scholars regard the gospel reports of Yeshua’s ‘trial’ as having any credibility at all!
©David Lawrence Preston, 25.8.2016
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Balboa Press, 2015