Challenging the Historicity of Pontius Pilate

The credibility gap between the Gospel claims about PP in early Xn literature and other sources has begun to widen.  For quite some time, I accepted the testimony of archaeology in favor of his existence. But the Pilate stone has ceased to impress me, and other considerations lean further yet in the direction I’ve been heading.  I now doubt the historicity of PP, but am not yet willing to conclude decisively against him.  Here are some of the facts under consideration, related to the topic at hand which I am presently investigating.

  1. Caesarea Maritima was the capitol of the Judean province on the Mediterranean (Palestinian) coast. The Gospels know nothing of this whatever (They have heard of no such location in the travels of the apostles in the Acts, or during the “lifetime” (Ahem) or ministry of Jesus; and Josephos even seems to leave the impression at times (though he knows better) that Jerusalem (obviously) was the center of the universe, and therefore it was “obviously” the capitol of Judea.
  2. Josephos says that Jerusalem’s population could swell to over 1M people during the Jewish holidays, but that its standing population ran far less (fewer).  This seems to mesmerizing at a sales pitch that Jerusalem was the center of the universe, so I am calling this estimate false (like those of many an ancient sales pitch — see Herodotos’ 10k Greeks vs. 100k Persians (bogus) claim.  Numbers always fall first in the array of ancient propaganda attacks set against the factual record.
  3.  The Pilate Stone inscription reads in Latin. This seems botched.  Every person in the NT who has Roman blood speaks only in Greek in the narrative. One Roman soldier (Acts 22?) even requires of Paul, “Do you speak Greek” (also, like we do?).    I put the connotation of the question in parentheses.  The first Xn “father” to write in Latin was Tertullian (210), and it is because he is from Carthage.  According to Dr. Bruce Metzger, even in 250, the city of Rome was still predominantly using Greek, not Latin.  It is highly unlikely that the Pilate Stone is authentic, given its Latin script form, probably written after 180.

This fictitious inscription by Christians from the second (perhaps third) century follows neatly upon the Lukan titulus, the inscription written over the head of Jesus just prior to his crucifixion, about which Pilate supposedly said, “What I have written I have written.”  Luke says that Pilate had inscribed there, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (preposterously) in three tongues — Hebrew (wrong, it would have been Aramaic according to Acts 1.18-19 and the LXX [which left Hebrew behind]), Latin (wrong; almost no one in Judea for the Passover could read Latin) and Greek.  Only Greek was needful. Everyone who could read either Hebrew or Latin in Judea at the Passover could also read Greek.

Then we have the nasty little problem of writing this when it was pitch black from noon to three in the afternoon. Holy Moses [Wink].

  1.  The name “Pontius Pilate,” so far as I can tell, is in fact an apocryphon.  No one was named “Pilate” in the ancient world. “Pontius” itself is extremely rare.  This person did not exist (most likely), or if he did, he lived a life very different than our standard tradition says.

Here is an apocryphal (heroic and homeric) account by Jospehos from the tradition, “proving” the existence of Pilate.  It is hokey (Somewhat like the reader’s digest condensed Book of Esther), so here it is:

Flavius Josephus, The Jewish War 2.169-174 (

Pilate, being sent by Tiberius as prefect to Judaea, introduced into Jerusalem by night and under cover the effigies of Caesar which are called standards.   This proceeding, when day broke, aroused immense excitement among the Jews; those on the spot were in constern-ation, considering their laws to have been trampled under foot, as those laws permit no image to be erected in the city; while the indignation of the townspeople stirred the countryfolk, who flocked together in crowds.

Hastening after Pilate to Caesarea, the Jews implored him to remove the standards from Jerusalem and to uphold the laws of their ancestors. When Pilate refused, they fell prostrate around his palace and for five whole days and nights remained motionless in that position.

On the ensuing day Pilate took his seat on his tribunal in the great stadium and summoning the multitude, with the apparent intention of answering them, gave the arranged signal to his armed soldiers to surround the Jews.  Finding themselves in a ring of troops, three deep, the Jews were struck dumb at this unexpected sight. Pilate, after threatening to cut them down, if they refused to admit Caesar’s images, signaled to the soldiers to draw their swords.

Thereupon the Jews, as by concerted action, flung themselves in a body on the ground, extended their necks, and exclaimed that they were ready rather to die than to transgress the law. Overcome with astonishment at such intense religious zeal, Pilate gave orders for the immediate removal of the standards from Jerusalem.

This account runs “oh so typical” of heroic lore, of which Josephos’ writings are filled.  He is a typical ancient, with a certain love of the Foxe’s Book of Martyrs tradition for Jews (see Daniel and Esther), a sample of which you have just read.  This may even have been added belatedly by Christians like Eusebius of Caesarea et al (say, about 331) as a retrofit. Our earliest complete manuscript for Josephos is from about the 9th century.  It was most probably well-worked over by the Christians, so I cannot blame all the traditional excess on FJ.

I shall improve upon this blog post when convenient.


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