It’s the beginning of Holy Week for Christians around the world. Death and its aftermath are already on the minds of people whose lives are deeply affected by coronavirus (and whose isn’t?), but the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus take on a particular significance at this time of year.
Whatever one might think about the theological importance of the crucifixion, it was Pontius Pilate, the prefect of Judea, who sentenced Jesus to die. But who was the man who killed Jesus? Was he a reluctant participant in a miscarriage of justice or a hardened military man? Did the trial of Jesus leave any impression on Pilate or, as some sources tell us, did he eventually convert to Christianity? One thing is for sure: Without Jesus almost no one would know Pilate’s name and without Pilate there would be no Christianity.
Pontius Pilate was the fifth prefect of the Roman province of Judea from roughly 26-37 A.D. Of this much we can be sure. In 1961, archaeologists unearthed a limestone block with an inscription referring to “Pontius Pilate” as the “prefect of Judea” at Caesarea Maritima, a Roman port on the coast of the Mediterranean in Israel. The discovery provided tangible first-century evidence of the existence and career of this particular Roman official. Unlike so many biblical characters, there’s no doubting his existence; in addition to this “Pilate stone,” we know about him from Jewish historians and philosophers, bronze coins, a ring that may have belonged to him, and the four gospels. But as certain as we are that he existed, our sources disagree about the kind of man and administrator that he was.
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