Pilate – Why Did He Condemn Jesus To Be Crucified?

Pilate will be forever known as the Roman Procurator who condemned Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified.[1] Why he made this judgement defies logic considering Pilate himself and Herod the Tetrarch, son of King Herod, both found Jesus guiltless of any crime.

Politics often discard logic, even common sense. In the case of Pilate and Jesus, the politics were much deeper than conveyed in the Gospel accounts which primarily focused on the political pressures from the Jewish leadership.[2] Roman influences were just as much, if not more, a significant factor.[3]

Roman Empire politics were no different than they are today except perhaps the deadly end game objective with total elimination of the opponent, often by death – including Caesars.[4] Each government level official had to try to avoid the pitfalls that come with authority, quite commonly from blood relatives and spouses.[5]

Only two Procurators were sent to Judea by Tiberius Caesar during his 22-year reign. Gratus was first to be sent to Jerusalem where he served as Procurator for 11 years. One of his last actions was to appoint Joseph Caiaphas as High Priest. Pontius Pilate followed as the second Procurator sent to Judea by Tiberius and served 10 years.[6]

Knowing the thinking and behaviors of Tiberius Caesar – what was or not important to him, how he viewed the Empire, his temperament, how he reacted to various scenarios – is key to understanding what drove the actions and behaviors of Pilate.

Tiberius highly regarded the policies and decrees of his predecessor, Caesar Augustus, for ruling the Empire saying, “I who respect as law all his actions and sayings.”[7] Highlighting his regard for his predecessor, Tiberius was once observed sacrificing to the Divine Augustus.[8]

Jews were to be treated with moderation.[9] A decree by Augustus was chiseled into a pillar in the Temple of Caesar in Rome granting the Jews certain liberties – anyone who transgressed the decree was to be severely punished:[10]

“Cesar Augustus, High Priest, and Tribune of the people ordains thus: …the Jews have liberty to make use of their own customs, according to the law of their fathers, as they made use of them under Hyrcanus the High Priest of Almighty God; and that their sacred money be not touched, but be sent to Jerusalem; and that it be committed to the care of the receivers at Jerusalem; and that they be not obliged to go before any judge on the Sabbath-day, nor on the day of the preparation to it, after the ninth hour… And if any one transgress any part of what is above decreed, he shall be severely punished.”

Augustus indeed took such action after a complaint by the Jews against Ethnarch Archelaus, another son of King Herod. Augustus banished Archelaus to Vienna and took away his wealth for treating the Jews harshly against his command.[11] This had to be in the back of the mind of Pilate who knew Tiberius desired to follow the governing examples of Augustus.

As time went on, Tiberius became a ruthless ruler with the level of his depravity and cruelty on full display.[12] Tacitus called it a “cruel temper” surmising absolute power perverted the actions of Tiberius.[13] Josephus described Tiberius as having an “intractable” temper, a “tyrant.”[14]

Religious beliefs of the Jews were considered “superstitions” by Tiberius, banned from the city of Rome. Jews in military service were assigned “to provinces of a less healthy environment.”[15]

Walking a fine line, Pilate had to separate the superstition religion of Judaism from the treatment of the people of Judea. The risk – if a report got back to Caesar that Pilate had mistreated the people, bad things could happen to him. Thus was the profile of the ruler Pilate served.

Adhering to the view that Judaism was a superstition, Pilate treated the Jews accordingly. First, he provoked the Jews by moving his Roman troops from Caesarea to Jerusalem “to abolish the Jewish laws.” During the night, Roman ensigns with effigies of Caesar were brought into the city violating Jewish law prohibiting the images.[16]

A rebellion ensued among thousands of Jews who petitioned Pilate to remove the images.  In front of Pilate, Jewish zealots prostrated themselves on the ground pulling back their hair to expose their necks for the sword. Taken aback, Pilate removed the ensigns.

Next transgression, Pilate announced the construction of a Jerusalem aqueduct to be paid using the “sacred money” of the Jews. Triggering a protest by tens of thousands of Jews, they cast insults at the crier who made the announcement. Pilate himself took offense and had his Roman soldiers dress in disguise, mingle in the crowd and wait for his signal.[17]

Addressing the crowd himself, more aspersions were now hurled at Pilate. Giving the signal, the soldiers pulled out daggers wounding and killing and many of the unarmed protesters, exceeding Pilate’s instructions.

In the next sequence of incidents with the Jews, Josephus wrote, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man…” He goes on to write “…Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross…”[18]

With Pilate in Judea during the famed ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, it set the two on an inevitable collision course. After holding their own trial for blasphemy, the Jewish leadership brought Jesus to Pilate for judgement under the accusation of insurrection and tax evasion. As the Roman authority in Judea, the Procurator had little choice but to deal with the situation.[19]

According to Luke 3:1, Jesus began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius meaning that Pilate was entering his fifth year as Procurator when the ministry of Jesus began. After a 3-year ministry, it reckons that Pilate was about in his 8th year as Procurator when Jesus was delivered to him to be judged.

By now, Tiberius was a seasoned Caesar in his 18th year of rule when his cruelties were well-known. Pilate had a long track record to consider and ponder the risks that came with working for a ruler considered a tyrant feared by even the Roman citizens.

Directly asking Jesus if he is a king, Jesus admitted to Pilate he is a King, but not of this world. Perplexed, Pilate sent Jesus to be judged by Galilee Tetrarch Herod Antipas, who just happened to be in Jerusalem at that time. No fault was found by Herod Antipas who sent Jesus back to Pilate.[20]

Neither Tetrarch Herod nor Procurator Pilate found any guilt in Jesus for insurrection or incensus in spite of Jesus admitting to Pilate that he is a King. Pilate’s judgment decision in front of the Jewish crowd, who were shouting for Jesus to be crucified, compelled him to wash his hands of the contrivance saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.”[21]

Was Pilate’s illogical legal decision to crucify Jesus the result of political fears of the Jews and Tiberius Caesar as the Gospel of John alluded; or was it part of a divine Messiah plan where an innocent man was to be crucified – or both?[22]

Indeed, Procurator Pilate also became a victim of politics. About two years later, the Samarians lodged a complaint to Vitellius, Roman provincial governor of Syria, against Pilate for his abuses of them. Vitellius removed Pilate as Procurator sending him to Rome to be judged by Tiberius, but the Caesar was murdered while he was enroute.[23] Tradition holds Pilate, like Archelaus, was banished to Vienna by Caius, better known as Caligula.[24]

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews.  Trans. and commentary, William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XVIII, Chapter III.3. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>  Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. 109 AD. Books XV.44. <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Tacitus/Annals/15B*.html> Lucian of Samosata.  “The Death of Peregrine.” The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Volume IV. 1905. p 82. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm>
[2] Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18.
[3] John 19:12. CR Luke 23:24. Smith, Murray J. “The Political Context of the Gospels.” Academia. 2010.  pp 98-100. <file:///C:/Users/KIM_VO~1/AppData/Local/Temp/The_Political_Context_of_the_Gospels.pdf
[4] Tacitus, Gaius Cornelius. The Annals. Books I, VI.  “Julius Caesar.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020.
<https://www.britannica.com/biography/Julius-Caesar-Roman-ruler> “Tiberius.” Encyclopædia Britannica. 2020. <https://www.britannica.com/biography/Tiberius/Reign-as-emperor>
[5] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter XIII. 2, 5; Book XVIII, Chapter VI.6-7, 10. Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter 9.5  Tacitus. Annals. Books II, XV. Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius).  Suetonius (C. Suetonius Tranquillus or C. Tranquillus Suetonius). The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Tiberius, #50, 51, 52.< http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/home.html>
[6] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter II.2; VI.5 “Valerius Gratus.” Encyclopedia.com. 2019. <https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/valerius-gratusdeg>
[7] Tacitus. Annals. Book IV.  Strabo. Geography. 6.4. <http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0198:book=6:chapter=4&highlight=tiberius>
[8] Tacitus. Annals. Book IV.
[9] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter XIII. 2.
[10] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Book XVI, Chapter VI.2. n.d <https://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=Augustus&f=false>
[11] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVII, Chapter XIII. 2, 5.
[12] Suetonius. The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Tiberius, #49, 50, 55, 59, 61, 62, 66, 67.
[13] Tacitus. Annals. Book VI.
[14] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters II.4, VI.5.
[15]  Suetonius. “Tiberius.” #36.
[16] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapter III.1.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.3.  Calmet, Augustin. Calmet’s Great Dictionary of the Holy Bible. Pilate. 1813. <https://books.google.com/books?id=FgM2AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP305&lpg=PP305&dq=Pilate+banished,+Vienne&source=bl&ots=fIZ2ZHY3xl&sig=ACfU3U101WIrN_RVsnslwXcQIHIdEdILGw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiJxYrQpYbnAhUJOisKHZ5HB1gQ6AEwEHoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Pilate%20banished%2C%20Vienne&f=false>
[17] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters III.2.  Josephus. Wars. Book II, Chapter IX.4.  Calmet, Augustin. Calmet’s Great Dictionary of the Holy Bible. Pilate.
[18] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters III.3.
[19] Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18.
[20] Luke 26:6-12.
[21] Matthew 27:24-26; Mark 15:11-15; Luke 23:20-25; John 19:4-15.
[22] John 19:12. Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters III.1.
[23] Josephus. Antiquities. Book XVIII, Chapters III.3, IV.2.
[24] “Caius Caesar Germanicus.” Memidex. 2013. <http://www.memidex.com/caius-caesar-germanicus>  “Caius Caesar Agustus Caligula.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2008. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/caius-caesar-agustus-caligula>

Mary, the Only Witness to the Entire Life of Jesus

Who was Mary besides being the famed mother of Jesus? She was present throughout the exceptional life of her son from beginning to end to beginning.[1]

As a mother, every amazing detail about her son was memorable. In a distinguishing characteristic of Luke, twice before Jesus turned 13, the Gospel says Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.”[2] The author of Luke says the Gospel is based on witness accounts “from the beginning.”[3]

Mary’s remarkable life took a turn from ordinary to extraordinary in only a moment. As a girl who had become of marriageable age at 13 living in Nazareth, a town of about 2000 or less, Mary soon agreed to marry Joseph.[4] Her betrothal was no different than for any other Jewish girl…until Mary was visited by the Archangel Michael who announced she would be impregnated by the Holy Spirit and would give birth to the Messiah.[5]

Not telling Joseph her magnificent secret, Mary promptly left to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, the wife of a priest, Zachariah.[6] Merely a few days pregnant and otherwise not physically apparent even to Mary herself other than Gabriel’s message, Elizabeth confirmed Mary’s pregnancy as soon as she arrived.[7]

It was a perfect ice-breaker opening the door for Mary to confide her secret with someone who would understand. Aside from being cousins, they both had something in common – miraculous pregnancies.[8] Elizabeth had been married for many years but had been barren. Even her husband doubted the possibility of her becoming pregnant because of her age.[9]

When it was time for Elizabeth to give birth to her son who would become known as John the Baptist, Mary went back home to Nazareth, but she still didn’t tell Joseph of her private circumstance.[10] For how long she withheld her secret is not known, but “she was found” to be pregnant apparently not because Mary divulged it.[11]

Clearly Mary’s secret was difficult to handle, much more than because of the Jewish religious society’s negative view of pregnancy before marriage. When Joseph found out, knowing he was not the father, he considered a divorce which could have dire consequences for Mary. It is safe to assume it caused stress on both sides. Archangel Gabriel paid a visit to Joseph who then had a change of heart deciding that God’s divine plan trumped the difficult situation for himself.

As if things in Mary’s home life weren’t tough enough, a few months later as Mary was preparing to give birth any day, the town crier announced a family registration decree by Caesar August. On very short notice, it required Mary to travel to Bethlehem 90 miles away with her new husband, Joseph, who was of the royal lineage of David.[12] Making matters worse, the inns in Bethlehem were full and Mary was forced to give birth in a stable.

Joy overcame the difficult circumstances followed with more amazing events. Shepherds heralded by a choir of angels left their herds in the country to see her baby.[13] That was followed by Magi who came from a faraway country bearing expensive gifts including gold and they worshipped her baby![14] Events again took another dramatic turn for the worse – the King of Judea, Herod, wanted to kill her baby forcing Mary’s new family to escape to Egypt.[15]

Finally things settled down with the death of Herod and the three returned to Nazareth. Over the following years, Mary and Joseph raised a family of five boys and at least two girls.[16] A stark reminder that their 12-year old son, Jesus, was distinctively different from his siblings came when they lost him during their trip to Jerusalem for the Passover.[17] When they eventually found Jesus in the Temple, he declared, “Why is it that you were looking for Me? Did you not know that I had to be in My Father’s house?”[18]

Mary knew her son had special powers who could perform miracles. When a wedding party ran out of wine, she asked Jesus to turn the pots of water to wine. He appeared not to be ready to reveal his miracle capabilities, but in-spite-of being a grown adult, Jesus did as his mother asked performing the first recorded miracle.[19]

Before choosing his Disciples at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus moved to Capernaum. At his new home, Mary and her family tried to meet with Jesus after he had cast out demons and performed healing miracles that roused the crowd, but they could not reach him because the crowd was too dense.[20]

Next mention of Mary three years later was the most dreadful of scenarios, all the more horrifying for a mother, as she watched her tortured son being crucified.[21] What emotions she experienced can scarcely be imagined.

Great joy again returned when Mary saw her son alive again! She celebrated with those who saw Jesus ascend into Heaven 40 days after his Resurrection.[22]

Mary was the sole witness to the entire life of Jesus from her miraculous conception, the circumstances of his birth, his miracles, his crucifixion and his Resurrection. These events are corroborated by many sources as documented in the Gospels as well as those not so readily apparent outside of the Gospels.

Magi visiting Jerusalem, an entire city full of people could have refuted the conspicuous visit if it hadn’t happened – it wasn’t repudiated by those still alive when the original Gospels were made public. History confirms the registration decree of Caesar Augustus, the death of King Herod and other Roman, Jewish and history authorities during that same time. Judaism, historical accounts and all four Gospels corroborate the crucifixion of Jesus witnessed by Mary.

Much attention is made of  Mary Magdalene’s Resurrection encounter at the tomb…if anyone could confirm or refute that it was Jesus who was alive after his death on the cross, it was his own mother and family.

Joseph and Mary no doubt talked about their amazing experiences in their home and at private gatherings. If there were disparities, as adults family members would have been expected to expose them – they didn’t. Mary’s children became followers of Jesus costing Mary another of her own sons who became a martyr for his belief in Jesus as the Messiah:[23]

“…he [Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions.]  And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned…” – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews [24]

Considering Mary’s witness of a miraculous conception and seeing her son, Jesus, crucified and Resurrected – was Jesus the prophesied Messiah who was Resurrected from the dead?

 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

[1] Northcote, James Spencer. “The Life of Mary in the Gospels.” 1856-60. <https://www.salvemariaregina.info/SalveMariaRegina/SMR-182/LifeMary14.htm> “Who was With Jesus When He Ascended?” Pathos.com. 2017. <https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2015/12/15/who-was-with-jesus-when-he-ascended>
[2] Luke 2:51. NASB. NASB, NIV. Luke 2:19.
[3] Luke 1:2.
[4] “Nazareth.”  New World Encyclopedia. 2018. <https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/nazareth>  “Nazareth.” Jewish Virtual Library. 2019. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/nazareth> Kiddushin 3b.  Sefaria. <https://www.sefaria.org/Kiddushin.3b?lang=bi>  “Marriage.” Judaism 101. <http://www.jewfaq.org/marriage.htm>  “Majority.” Jewish Encyclopedia. 2011. <http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/10310-majority>
[5] Luke 1:26-35.
[6] Luke 1:39, 56.
[7] Luke 1:39-45.
[8] Matthew 1:18-19, 36-37, 58; Luke 1:36.
[9] Luke 1:8-25, 57-66.
[10] Matthew 1:56.
[11] Mathew 1:18. Net.bible.org. 2019. Greek text word “heurisko.” <http://classic.net.bible.org/strong.php?id=2147> Strong’s Concordance with Hebrew and Greek Lexicon. Eliyah.com. n.d. <http://www.eliyah.com/cgi-bin/strongs.cgi?file=greeklexicon&isindex=2147>
[12] Luke 2:1-6.
[13] Luke 2:8-20.
[14] Matthew 2:1-12.
[15] Matthew 2:13-17.
[16] Matthew 13:55; Mark 3:31-32, 6:3; John 2:12; Acts 1:14.
[17] Luke 2:41-51.
[18] NASB.
[19] John 2:1-11. CR John 4:46.
[20] Mathew 4:13; Mark 3:20-32; Luke 4:16-30.
[21] John 19:25. CR Luke 23:49.
[22] Acts. 1:3, 12-14.
[23] John 2:12; Acts 1:12-14.
[24] Josephus, Flavius. Antiquities of the Jews. Trans. and commentary. William Whitson.  The Complete Works of Josephus. 1850. Book XX, Chapter IX.4.  <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false