Lent Reflection: Pontius Pilate

By David Morson

As we approach Holy Week I intend to try and do a Reflection about each day. But before that, I thought it might be of interest to know some of the background to some of the main characters. So I will start today with Pontius Pilate.

When Herod the Great died, the Romans ended the system of monarchy in Palestine. It was decided that Herod’s son, Herod Antipas should become Tetrach (ruler) of Galilee and that there should be a Roman Governor or Procurator, in command of Judaea where the capital Jerusalem was situated.
The role of the Procurator was primarily military to keep order. It was considered one of the least prestigious and most troublesome appointments in the whole Empire because of religious unrest.

Pilate was the 5th Procurator and served for some ten years between 26 – 36/37 AD. His military headquarters was on the coast at Caesarea, but he came to the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem to maintain order at potentially volatile times, such as Passover when the city was crowded.
Before his appointment to Judaea we don’t know a great deal about Pilate. His name in Latin “Pilatus” could mean someone who was an accomplished soldier with the “pilum”, meaning spear,or the son of a free man. It is believed that he had been a member of the Praetorian Guard, the Emperor’s own Body Guard.
In the Gospels we are told that the turning point in the Trial of Jesus is when the crowd shouted that anyone who did not act against a potential King was ” no friend of Caesar.”

This is significant because Pilate had already been reported to Rome on three occasions for upsetting the Temple Authorities by his actions of bringing Imperial Standards and Shields into the Temple area as a show of strength and for forcibly taking Temple money to built an aquaduct from the sea to Jerusalem. Whilst, the Authorities in Rome proclaimed their Caesar as the “Son of God”, they tolerated the different religions of their provinces as a way of keeping peace and harmony. So Pilate had been severely warned not to antagonise the Religious Authorities in Jerusalem again. Pilate was eventually called back to Rome after a heavy handed military operation which led to the deaths of a group of Samaritans near Mount Gerizim.
Two final interesting points. In St Matthews account of the Trial of Jesus, Pilate’s wife has a dream and warns him not to have anything to do with Jesus, this just man. Tradition has it that her name was Procla and she was revered in the early Christian communities for trying to save Jesus.
Also, in the Coptic Eastern tradition, Pilate himself is revered, for, without his condemnation of Jesus there would have been no salvation.
More about Pilate’s role on Good Friday.