Caravaggio painting of Jesus as a prisoner
According to the BBC: “No trial or execution in history has had such a momentous outcome as that of Jesus in Roman-occupied Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. But was it an execution or a judicial murder; and who was responsible? The story begins when the Galilean rebel Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, deliberately fulfilling a prophecy in the Hebrew Bible about the coming of the Messiah. He's mobbed by an adoring crowd. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The next day Jesus raids the Temple, the heart of the Jewish religion, and attacks money-changers for defiling a holy place. The leaders of the Jewish establishment realise that he threatens their power, and so do the Romans, who fear that Jesus has the charisma to lead a guerrilla uprising against Imperial Rome. |::|

“Jesus is arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried by Caiaphas and then by the Roman Governor. He's sentenced to death and executed. Caiaphas Caiaphas had a privileged position Caiaphas was a supreme political operator and one of the most influential men in Jerusalem. He'd already survived 18 years as High Priest of the Temple (most High Priests only lasted 4), and had built a strong alliance with the occupying Roman power. Caiaphas knew everybody who mattered. He was the de-facto ruler of the worldwide Jewish community at that time, and he planned to keep it that way. |::|

“The case against Caiaphas is that he arrested Jesus, tried him in a kangaroo court and convicted him on a religious charge that carried the death penalty. What were Caiaphas' motives? Jesus threatened Caiaphas's authority. Caiaphas could not afford to allow any upstart preacher to get away with challenging his authority; especially not at Passover time. This was the biggest Jewish festival and scholars estimate that around two and half million Jews would have been in Jerusalem to take part. Caiaphas did not want to lose face. |::|

Websites and Resources: Christianity Britannica on Christianity ; Religious Tolerance ; History of Christianity ; BBC on Christianity ;Wikipedia article on Christianity Wikipedia ; Early Christian Writing ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins ; Christian Answers ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; Early Christian Art ; Early Christian Images ; Early Christian and Byzantine Images ;

Jesus and the Historical Jesus ; Britannica on Jesus Jesus-Christ ; Historical Jesus Theories ; Wikipedia article on Historical Jesus Wikipedia ; Jesus Seminar Forum ; Life and Ministry of Jesus Christ ; Jesus Central ; Catholic Encyclopedia: Jesus Christ ;

Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible ; King James Version of the Bible ; Bible History Online ; Biblical Archaeology Society ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL)

Trials of Jesus

Jesus was tried first by Jewish officials and questioned in front of a group of Jewish religious leaders led by Caiaphas and then, second, tried by the Roman Governor According to the BBC: The Gospels give different accounts of this, and of who is present. Caiaphas, the Chief Priest of the Temple wanted to destroy Jesus before he caused a rebellion that would bring down the comfortable world of the Temple and enraging the Roman authorities. |During questioning Jesus says enough for the Romans to see him as a rebel, and the Jews to regard him as a blasphemer. The trial of Jesus before the Jewish authorities is a source of much controversy, and has been used in the past to justify anti-Semitism. Modern Christians do not blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The Jewish authorities had several reasons for being angry with Jesus: 1) Jesus had challenged their authority - earlier in the week Jesus had gone to the Temple and protested against the moneychangers, as a symbolic denunciation of all the injustices the Temple stood for; 2) Jesus was reinterpreting Jewish Law; 3) Jesus was breaking the laws concerning the Sabbath; 4) Jesus claimed to be the Messiah, a claim which the authorities thought blasphemous; 6) The claim to be Messiah suggested that Jesus was preparing some sort of rebellion - probably against the Roman colonial government. Such a revolt would endanger the relationship between Roman and Jewish authorities. (In those days the Messiah was expected to be a royal figure who would defeat the enemies of God and cleanse or rebuild the temple, and perhaps also bring God's justice to the world.) [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Jesus is tried by Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor, on a charge of treason. The Jewish authorities were not authorised to execute people, so they needed to transfer the case to the Roman authorities. Pilate is not convinced that Jesus is guilty of a capital crime and suggests that it would be sufficient to flog him. The crowd objects to this and demands that Jesus be killed. Pilate gives in and sentences Jesus to be flogged first and then executed by crucifixion. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“Although the Gospels paint Pilate as a weak man who ignores justice rather than stand against the crowd, other sources say that he was tough and authoritarian, and unlikely to have been pushed around by anyone. Pilate was eventually ordered back to Rome and tried for the cruel way he treated the people under his government. There is a Christian tradition that Pilate and his wife eventually converted to Christianity. |::|

First Trial of Christ

Sanhedrin Trial

Jesus was brought to trial in Jerusalem in April in A.D. 30 or A.D. 33. He was tried twice in two separate trials. The first one was at a Jewish high court for Sanhedrin (the Jewish tribunal and ruling body), at the Jerusalem basilica, presided over by Caiaphas, the high priest of Jerusalem, who questioned Jesus. Jesus was accused of falsely pretending to be a Messiah. When the priest asked him: “Art Thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” Jesus answered in the affirmative.

According to the conventional telling of the story the Sanhedrin court quickly found Jesus guilty of violating temple law and making false prophecies based in part on Jesus’s exchange with the moneychanger and his claim to be a Messiah. But the court lacked the authority to pass a death sentence so Roman authorities were called in. Scholars regard the Sanhedrin as a political body, lacking religious legitimacy, that collaborated with the Romans. Jesus was also charged with blasphemy. If he had been found guilty of that in the Jewish court high priests could have had him stoned to death. But that didn’t happen. Instead Jesus was turned over to Pilate and Roman authorities.

The Gospels do not agree on what happened to Jesus between the time he was arrested and his sentencing by Pilate. One unresolved question is what crimes Jesus was actually found guilty of? Was it political subversion, offensive religious claims or blasphemy. Many scholars say that he was ultimately condemned on blasphemy charges, not because he claimed he was the “Son of God,” which scholars say he never did, but because he claimed to have the power to forgive sins and talked of bringing the kingdom of God to earth---things which Jews believed only God had the power to do.

In 1990, archaeologists working in Jerusalem found an ossuary (box of bones) marked with the family name Caiaphas. Dated to the first century A.D., the bones are believed belongs to Caiaphas, the Jerusalem high priest who presided over the trial of Jesus.

Caiaphas and the Trial of Jesus

“Jesus was first tried by Caiaphas. Caiaphas had a privileged position Caiaphas was a supreme political operator and one of the most influential men in Jerusalem. He'd already survived 18 years as High Priest of the Temple (most High Priests only lasted 4), and had built a strong alliance with the occupying Roman power. Caiaphas knew everybody who mattered. He was the de-facto ruler of the worldwide Jewish community at that time, and he planned to keep it that way. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The case against Caiaphas is that he arrested Jesus, tried him in a kangaroo court and convicted him on a religious charge that carried the death penalty. What were Caiaphas' motives? Jesus threatened Caiaphas's authority. Caiaphas could not afford to allow any upstart preacher to get away with challenging his authority; especially not at Passover time. This was the biggest Jewish festival and scholars estimate that around two and half million Jews would have been in Jerusalem to take part. Caiaphas did not want to lose face. |::|

Case Against Jesus

Annas and Caiaphas

“Did Jesus know what he was doing in the events leading up to his execution? According to the BBC: “Many experts believe that, more than anyone else, the person responsible for the death of Jesus was Jesus himself. There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that everything he did was planned and that he knew what the consequences would be. |::|

“1) Jesus' motive: Jesus believed profoundly that he was on a mission from God and everything he did was to fulfil that mission. 2) Acting out the prophecy of the Messiah: In the events of Holy Week, Jesus seems to be deliberately acting out the prophecy in Hebrew scripture about Israel's true king, the anointed one, the Messiah, coming at last to be God's agent to redeem Israel. His arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey was a fulfilment of prophecy but it would not have been enough on its own to get Jesus killed. |::|

“3) Attacking the religious establishment: Jesus went to the Temple and launched not only an attack on the commercial activity of the moneychangers but a symbolic attack on the Temple itself. Jesus was steeped in the religious culture of his time; he knew the potential consequences of his actions. He knew what it meant to proclaim the Temple's destruction and to claim that a new kingdom was forming, the Kingdom of God. |::|

“Jesus knew that it would not be long before the authorities took action against him, and he knew that the sentence was likely to be death. The obvious thing for Jesus to do was to leave Jerusalem and hide, and he had plenty of time to run. But Jesus continued to put himself directly in the path of danger; he stayed in Jerusalem and celebrated the Passover with his disciples. |::|

“During that Last Supper Jesus seemed to be predicting his own death. As he and the disciples sat together, Jesus called the bread they were eating his broken body and referred to the red wine they drank as his spilled blood. Later, Jesus identified Judas Iscariot as his betrayer. In one of the Gospels Jesus says to Judas, "Do what you have to do, but do it quickly." |::|

Jesus Threatened Caiaphas and His Relationship with Rome

Christ beaten and maocked before Caiaphas

According to the BBC: “Caiaphas' power base was the Sanhedrin, the supreme council of Jews which controlled civil and religious law. It had 71 members, mostly chief priests, and Caiaphas presided over its deliberations. It was hard work but it had big rewards - modern archaeologists have discovered that Caiaphas and his associates lived lives of luxury with large and lavishly decorated houses. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“But, of course, the Sanhedrin only ruled because the Romans allowed them to and the way to keep the Romans happy was to maintain order in society. Caiaphas himself was a Roman appointment, so he needed to keep cosy with the governor, Pilate, if he wanted to stay in power and preserve his luxurious way of life. |::|

“So if Jesus was making trouble, he was making trouble for both Caiaphas and Pilate - and trouble for Pilate was still trouble for Caiaphas. Jesus was undoubtedly a threat; the public liked him, indeed they may have been paying more attention to Jesus than to the priests, and the public were listening to his condemnation of what he saw as wrong in the religious establishment. Jesus threatened the Temple's income |::|

“You don't get to stay High Priest without being able to take the tough decisions and follow them through. Caiaphas decided Jesus had to be stopped and he called a meeting of the chief priests. Matthew's Gospel tells us that Caiaphas told them that Jesus had to be killed. The priests weren't at all sure about this. If Jesus was killed, there might be riots. But Caiaphas got his decision and put it into effect at once. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The Temple guards arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane that night and he was put on trial before the High Court. We might disapprove of some of the self-interested motives behind Caiaphas' actions: protecting his income and his power-base; but it doesn't amount to a crime of any sort. Jesus was causing trouble in Jerusalem. He was a known rebel and he was endangering public peace at a time when large and volatile crowds were thronging the city. It was entirely reasonable to arrest him. |::|

Jesus Also Threatened the Temple Priests

According to the BBC: “The Temple apparatus brought in huge revenues for simple matters like purification and the forgiveness of sins. Archaeologists have discovered 150 mikvehs around the Temple. Mikvehs are ritual baths which Jews use in order to purify themselves before any act of worship. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Judas Returning the Thirty Silver
Pieces by Rembrandt
“Jewish people could only enter the Temple if they were ritually pure and almost everyone arriving in Jerusalem for Passover was deemed ritually unclean. They had to use a mikveh before they could fulfil their religious obligations. The priests controlled the mikvehs and charged people to use them. |::|

“There were so many regulations requiring ritual purification that control of the mikvehs was a way of making money. Jesus thought the whole thing was rubbish. He taught that the elaborate purity rituals were unnecessary - the Kingdom of God was available to everyone and they didn't have to go through these rituals or pay the money in order to get there. Bad news for the Temple apparatchiks. A quick way to raise a revolt was to tell people that they were being ripped off. This could cause a riot in the Temple if it got out of hand. |::|

“But there was worse. Jesus stormed into the Temple and accused the moneychangers and sacrificial dove sellers of extortion and of turning the Temple into a den of thieves. The ultimate challenge to any religious leaders: What you are doing is against God and God will destroy you and cleanse the whole religious apparatus. And God, as every Jew knew, had the power to do it - he'd demonstrated that many times before. Jesus was doing this in the Temple, in front of the crowds and without any fear or respect for Caiaphas and his staff. Caiaphas had to do something to show that he was still boss, and he had to do it quickly; Jesus was on a roll, and who knew what he was going to do next. |::|

Rigged Trial Against Jesus

According to the BBC: “At this point Caiaphas crossed to the wrong side of the law. He rigged the trial. Caiaphas took on the usually incompatible roles of chief judge and prosecuting lawyer. Scholars know the rules that applied to Jewish trials at that period and the trial of Jesus broke many of those rules: 1) It was at night - Jewish trials had to take place during the day; 2) It took place on a feast day - this was not allowed; 3) It took place in Caiaphas's house - it should have been conducted in the council chamber. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“The trial went wrong for Caiaphas. He needed to prove that Jesus had threatened to destroy the Temple, which would have been both treason and an offence against God. But the witnesses couldn't agree on what Jesus had said. So that charge failed. Caiaphas decided to see if he could induce Jesus to utter blasphemy. He asked Jesus, point blank, "Are you the Son of God, the Son of the Blessed? Are you The Messiah?" The Gospels vary a little, and only in Mark's account does Jesus answer that he is. |::|

“It's enough. Caiaphas announces that Jesus has spoken blasphemy. The rest of the Court agree. Jesus deserves the death sentence. Just one problem; the court didn't have the power to execute people. And that's where the Romans come into the story. Actually, there are two problems: blasphemy against the God of Jews was not a crime under Roman Law, and unless Caiaphas could think of something better, it might not be enough to persuade the Romans to execute Jesus. |::|

“Caiaphas's fate; He was removed from office soon after the death of Jesus and lived quietly on his farm near Galilee. |::|

Second Trial of Christ

Jesus brought before Pilate

The second trial was before a Roman secular court presided over by a minor prosecutor named Pontius Pilate, who asked Jesus a few cursory questions and ordered his crucifixion. After the sentencing Pilate famously washed his hands to show the fate of Jesus was no longer a matter of which he had any control over. Jesus was then mocked, spat upon and slapped around. He was taken away by Roman guards who harassed and tortured him the night before his execution.

Pilate was the only one with the authority to order a crucifixion. He originally did not see any reason why Jesus should be executed — his crime was never clarified and Pilate said "I find no crime in him” — but he was persuaded to give Jesus a death sentence due to pressure from Jewish authorities, who considered his refusal to submit to the High Priest of the Temple as a an offense punishable by death. Jesus accepted his death and did not deny the charges, despite being tempted to. All that he said was “he known and made known by God.”

The Romans found Jesus guilty of sedition not blasphemy — a civil crime not a religious one. The men that were crucified with him were identified in some translations as “thieves.” The word can also mean “insurgents.” Jesus' condemnation by Pontius Pilate is described Matthew 27:11-24; Mark 15:1-15; Luke 23:1-25; and John 18:28-19:16.

Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great. He is mentioned often in the New Testament. Pilate sent Jesus to him for questioning. Herod Antipas ‘set Him at nought, and mocked Him and arrayed Him in a gorgeous robe, and sent Him, again to Pilate.” Herod was also a central figure in the story of John the Baptist.

Pontius Pilate

Pilate was a cruel former-military leader who served as the Roman prefect for Judea for 10 years. Little is known about his life other than that he was born south of Rome, had difficulty dealing the Jewish priestly class and Jewish sects and had a reputation for cruelty. [Book: Pontius Pilate by Ann Wroe (Random House)]

Historians and scholars have generally much less kind to Pilate than the Gospels. According to Philo of Alexandria he was a man of “inflexible, stubborn and cruel disposition” and is on record for killing suspects without trial. He ordered his troops to carry imperial images of Caesa in The Temple and appropriated sacred Temple funds to build an aqueduct. He once surrounded a mob of several thousand people in a stadium and threatened to chop of their heads. On another occasion, he ordered his men to infiltrate a demonstration and beat up everyone they could their hands on. His career ended when he was recalled to Rome, presumably for excessive cruelty, after her ordered his cavalry to break up a gathering around a prophet in Samaria.

Pilate's interogation of Jesus

According to the BBC: “Pilate was the Governor of Judea, a province of the Roman Empire. He had 6,000 crack troops with him and 30,000 more on call in nearby Syria. Pilate was effectively a dictator; so long as he kept Rome happy, he had absolute power, including power of life and death. The case against Pilate is that he found Jesus not guilty, but had him executed in order to keep the peace. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

“We don't know what Pilate was like. The Bible story paints him as a weak but innocent man who didn't want to execute a man he believed innocent, but who gave in to political pressure. Some historians disagree. Philo, writing at the time, said that Pilate was calculating, cruel and brutal. He probably had a typical Roman's disdain for any other culture, thinking the Jews not nearly as civilised as the Romans. Pilate was well known for having executed prisoners even without trial, so it would not be out of character for him to be responsible for killing Jesus.” |::|

David L. Silverman of Reed College wrote: Quite apart from Pontius Pilate's complicity in the crucifixion of Jesus, there is ample evidence to show that he took a high-handed line to the government of his province. Christian writers noted that he had suppressed a riot by massacring a group of Galileans, and accused him of worse (Luke 13:1 "At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices"). For the Jews Pilate's worst offense was belittling the taboo against graven images by introducing military standards into the city, and depositing golden shields inscribed with the name of Tiberius, imperial cult objects in other words, in the palace of Herod. As Philo tells it, Pilate worried about the Jewish protest over the shields, because he feared that if they actually sent an embassy they would expose the rest of his conduct as governor by stating in full the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without a trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty (Philo Emb. 302). Indeed, an embassy to Tiberius eventually succeeded in procuring the ouster of Pilate, which shows continuing concern on the part of the imperial administration for keeping the Jews happy. [Source: David L. Silverman, 1996, Internet Archive, Reed College /+/]

Pilate's Role in the Death of Jesus

Message of Pilate's wife

Professor Paula Fredriksen told PBS: “Pilate was not a happy choice as Prefect of Judea. He had a reputation as a man who had sticky fingers. In a period where graft and corruption was the prerogative of a provincial official, he still had a high profile as somebody who was corrupt. He had a reputation for executing untried prisoners, for venality and theft.... He's not somebody you'd want to get on the wrong side of. Pilate occasioned riots in Jerusalem. He would get nervous when there were crowds of Jews. And of course he was legally responsible to be up in Jerusalem when it was the most crowded of all. He would leave this very nice, plush, seaside town in Caesarea, which was, you know, a nice pagan city. Plenty of pagan altars. All the stuff he wanted. And had to go up to Jerusalem where all these Jews were congregating and stay there for crowd control until the holiday was over. He was in a bad mood already by the time he got to town. And Passover would fray anybody's nerves. [Source: Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

“[And] remember in this period, government depends on spies. It's particularly [important] if you're an occupying power. You need to have spies to know what's going on. People reporting came back, "Lookit, there's somebody who's really getting people excited and agitated talking about a Kingdom of God." Pilate doesn't care about theological niceties. Pilate doesn't even care about legal niceties. This is why ... ultimately, he's fired for his corruption and incompetence. Hearing that somebody is a trouble maker would be enough. Boom. He's dead. I think that's probably what happened with Jesus....

Was Jesus guilty of his own death? According to the BBC: “Not in any sense of guilt that most people would understand. A soldier who goes on a mission that is certain to lead to death is a brave man, not a guilty one. Jesus was faithful to his vocation, even though it led to his death; but he was not guilty in the same sense that Caiaphas and Pilate are guilty. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Pilate Orders Jesus’s Death Without a Trial

Reza Aslan wrote in the Washington Post: “The Gospels portray Pontius Pilate as an honest but weak-willed governor who was strong-armed by the Jewish authorities into sending a man he knew was innocent to the cross. The Pilate of history, however, was renowned for sending his troops onto the streets of Jerusalem to slaughter Jews whenever they disagreed with even the slightest of his decisions. In his 10 years as governor of Jerusalem, [Source: Reza Aslan, Washington Post, September 26, 2013 /+]

“Pilate eagerly, and without trial, sent thousands to the cross, and the Jews lodged a complaint against him with the Roman emperor. Jews generally did not receive Roman trials, let alone Jews accused of rebellion. So the notion that Pilate would spend a moment of his time pondering the fate of yet another Jewish rabble-rouser, let alone grant him a personal audience, beggars the imagination. /+\

“It is, of course, conceivable that Jesus would have received an audience with the Roman governor if the magnitude of His crime warranted special attention. But any “trial” Jesus got would have been brief and perfunctory, its sole purpose to officially record the charges for which He was being executed.” /+\

Pilate Declares Jesus Guilty of Treason

Jesus's second interview with Pilate

According to the BBC: “Instead of leading with the conviction for blasphemy, Caiaphas claimed that Jesus was guilty of sedition. Jesus, Caiaphas said, thought himself, or his followers thought, or people said that he was the King of the Jews. This was a capital crime against Rome and Pilate had to deal with it whether he wanted to or not. The rumour raced round Jerusalem: Jesus of Nazareth was on trial for his life. Crowds began to gather, some of them probably a mob organised by the Temple authorities; just what a Roman governor hoping for a peaceful Passover did not want. |::|

“Pilate asked Jesus if he was calling himself King of the Jews. Jesus made little or no reply. Pilate read the reports that he had from his officials and saw that it was quite clear that Jesus wasn't leading a military revolution. There was simply no evidence against Jesus. |::|

“Pilate said, 'this man is innocent'. The crowd was angered by the verdict and began to shout for Jesus to be crucified. Pilate faced a dilemma: If he released Jesus there might be serious riots. But the alternative was to execute an innocent man. Pilate wanted a way out (he didn't need one - it was well within his authority to execute people on flimsy evidence) and he tried a masterstroke of lateral thinking. There was a Passover amnesty, which allowed the Roman governor to release a prisoner on the festival. Pilate offered the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas, a convicted murderer. |::|

“The crowd shouted for Barabbas to be released. There was no way out for Pilate, but he made a last attempt at saving his own reputation. Pilate declared that Jesus was innocent and condemned him to death by crucifixion. Then he symbolically washed his hands in front of the crowd, telling them he was innocent of Jesus' blood. |::|

Pilate's Motives?

Why did Pilate execute Jesus when he believed him to be innocent? “According to the BBC: “Pilate was desperate to keep the peace. His career in the Roman Empire depended on his running the province smoothly and efficiently. He had 6,000 soldiers on hand to keep the peace in a city bulging with 2.5 million Jews. The religious authorities, whose cooperation he needed for a quiet life, wanted him to execute Jesus and there was an angry mob baying for Jesus' blood. To release Jesus would have been likely to cause a riot; Pilate could have lost control of the city, and possibly the province.Pilate sacrificed Jesus to preserve Roman rule and his own career. [Source: BBC, September 18, 2009 |::|]

Crowning with Thorns by Titian

“No matter how little he thought of the people of Judea, Pilate could not get out of attending the major festival of Passover.The message of Passover was one that was certain to unsettle anyone who was trying to keep the Jewish people under their thumb, for it celebrated the time when God brought the Israelites out of Egypt into the Holy Land, shaking off foreign oppression. |::|

“So it's no accident that nearly all of the riots that we hear about in the first century took place at Passover. Pilate would have been anxious about any possibility of trouble breaking out, particularly trouble near the Temple, the heart of the Jewish community. And because trouble in that sort of situation is contagious, Pilate knew that he would have to be ruthless in stamping out any sort of disorder. |::|

“The Romans wouldn't have been able to rule without an extensive network of spies, so it's certain that Pilate knew all about Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem, his preaching and the havoc he'd caused in the Temple. But Pilate was probably unprepared for the problem that Caiaphas presented him with when he brought Jesus before him. |::|

“Pilate's fate: Pilate was recalled to Rome to be tried for his brutal treatment of Jews, but the Emperor Tiberius died, and Pilate was never brought to trial. He is thought to have committed suicide in 37 AD - not long after the crucifixion. There is a Christian tradition that Pilate and his wife eventually converted to Christianity. |::|

Pilate Inscription

The Pontius Pilate Inscription, an inscription found in Caesarea Maritima in 1961, confirmed that Pilate was the Roman prefect in Judea at the time of the crucifixion of Christ.The inscription is written in Latin on a slab of limestone 82 centimeters high and 65 centimeters wide. The four lines of writing are a Building Dedication withPontius Pilate as the Dedicator (praefect of Judea). It has been dated to approximately A.D. 26–37 and was discovered in Caesarea, Israel in 1961 by Antonio Frova and now is in the Israel Museum [Source: translation by K. C. Hanson & Douglas E. Oakman]

Pilate inscription

The inscription reads: [DIS AUGUSTI]S TIBERIEUM [. . . . PO]NTIUS PILATUS [. . .PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA[EA]E [. .FECIT D]E[DICAVIT] To the honorable gods (this) Tiberium Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, had dedicated

According to PBS: This inscription found at “Caesarea Maritima, which refers to Pontius Pilate, is one of the most important discoveries made in the archeological work of the last two decades. Precisely because it's the first piece of hard evidence of the existence of Pontius Pilate. Now, for Pilate, of course, we have a number of literary references, both in the Jewish historian, Josephus,and also among the Christian gospels. But this is the first piece of direct evidence from an archaeological source which actually gives us his name and tells us he was there as Governor. The city of Caesarea Maratima was actually the Governor's residence. This was the capitol city, from the perspective of the Roman political administration. So, it would have been where Pontius Pilate would have lived, where he would have had his court. [Source: Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

Paula Fredriksen of Boston University told PBS: “Pontius Pilate, is one of these first round of governors posted to the province of Judea, once it was given over to Roman military governorship. And the stone that we now have from Caesarea ... is very important. It gives us three pieces of information. First, it tells us that Pontius Pilate was the Governor. Secondly, it calls him a Prefect. That's what we see in line three of the text. Thirdly, and in some ways most interestingly, the first line tells us that Pilate had built a Tibereum. What that means is, a temple for the Emperor Tiberius, as part of the Imperial Cult. Thus, here we have, at Caesarea Maritima, a Roman Governor building a temple in honor of the Roman Emperor. [Source: “Paula Fredriksen, William Goodwin Aurelio Professor of the Appreciation of Scripture, Boston University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

Ancient Roman-Era Historian on the Trial and Execution of Jesus

Around 60 years after the death of Jesus the Jewish historian Josephus wrote: At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of astounding deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth gladly. He won a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. When Pilate, because of an accusation made by our leaders, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. Up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out. [Source: Testimonium Flavium, as edited in R. Joseph Hoffmann, Gerald A. Larue, Jesus in History and Myth, 1986 |::|

“The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in his Annals that: Christus, from whom their name [Christians] is derived, was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius... [Source: Tacitus, Annals] |::|

Who was Responsible for Jesus’s Death, the Jews?

Jesus in the House of Anas

The issue of who was responsible for Jesus’s death is a topic of dispute and controversy which has shaped the relationship between Christians and Jews: was it Pontius Pilate and the Romans or Jewish leaders or both? Jesus was viewed as a threat to both the Romans and the Jewish aristocracy. He criticized Jewish priests and prophesied the Jewish Temple would be destroyed. His following was small but committed. It was gaining new converts all the time and was beginning to be perceived as a threat to the status quo. Scholars say it is not surprising that the Romans and the Jewish aristocracy both condemned Jesus and tried to eliminate the threat he presented.

Traditionalist Christians have traditionally put most of the blame on Sanhedrin, which they say had selfish reasons to order Jesus’s death and pressured the Romans to hand out a death sentence. It has been argued that the Jewish high priests pushed for Jesus death to nip the upstart sect at the bud or use it as a scapegoat to take the heat off the entire Jewish community. In Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion” , Caiaphas and other high Jewish priests are made out to be conniving, ill-willed, petty despots.

Ordinary mobs rose up against Jesus. According to Matthew a Jewish mob demanded that Jesus be put to death, crying out, “His blood be on us and on our children.” When Pilate asked the mob what should be done with Jesus and “what evil hath he done?” The mob shouted, “Let him be crucified.” This episode of the Jesus story has been used back up the accusation that Jews were Christ killers and has been used to justify persecutions, pogroms and mass murder of Jews.

When analyzing these events it is important to take into consideration the time and place and the agenda of the Gospel writers, The Gospels were written a century to two centuries after the death of Jesus at a time when Christianity competed with Judaism for followers and the writers of the Gospel had reasons to portray Jews in the worst possible light.

Who was Responsible for Jesus’s Death, the Romans?

Other put the blame on the Romans because the Sanhedrin (Jewish authorities) acted under Roman authority. Pilate was the only one with the authority to order a crucifixion, a public event designed to be a warning to rebels. The Romans were also the ones who tortured Jesus before his death.

Caravaggio's Flagellation
The depiction of the Romans is less hostile than it could of been perhaps because the Gospels describing the events were written when Christians were under the Roman rule and they didn’t want to antagonized Roman authorities.

Some have suggested that Jesus’s refusal to defend himself in the trial gave authorities no choice but to crucify him. As time went on, the Romans were absolved of any guilt involving Jesus's death and the blame was placed on the Jews who handed him over to the Romans. Catholics say that everyone is responsible.

Asked why was Jesus killed, Professor Allen D. Callahan told PBS: “The Roman answer is good enough for me. He was causing trouble. He constituted a security risk and he was dealt with the way the Romans always deal with security risks in the provinces. This was a matter of not even so much politics, as policy. This is how the Romans handled trouble-makers, even if they didn't intend to make trouble. One of the questions that runs like a leitmotif in modern New Testament studies is whether Jesus was fomenting revolution, ... [whether] Jesus' self-concept had to do with being a revolutionary or being someone who was overturning the Roman establishment. For the moment anyway, I'm probably willing to leave that question unanswered. I think the Roman answer is the one that's important, and that is, whatever he was doing, it was considered dangerous enough that he'd be crucified for it. And, that's exactly what they did. [Source: Allen D. Callahan: Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 ]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860, IMDB

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible,; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; “Egeria's Description of the Liturgical Year in Jerusalem” ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, , Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frontline, PBS, “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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