Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Could Pilate have been a good guy?

There is only one man named Pilatos mentioned in the Bible (or all of recorded history, for that matter) and that is Pontius Pilate, the infamous Roman governor of Judea at the time of the public life of Christ. His name occurs 55 times in the New Testament (see full concordance) but as simple as the literary character of Pilate tends to be summarized — to most and even serious commentators, Pilate was little more than the quintessential bad guy who let the Jews let the Romans kill Jesus — it's really phenomenally complex, and that in more ways than one. In fact, Pilate my actually have been one of the good guys.

When Pilate called out "See the man!" he didn't express evil disdain but concern and confusion. 

To start with, governors of the forty-plus provinces of Rome remained in office one to three years while Pilate stayed on for a decade. That had to have a reason. The tasks of these local governors were so mundane — basically maintaining a region's financial revenues and directing these to Rome — that the names of only very few of them are known to us today. That means that the literary coverage that Pilate enjoyed, by several non-Biblical first century authors, is no less than phenomenal (for more on Josephus, see our article on Dalmanutha). Also indubitably for a good reason.

Nearly sixty years after the event allegedly took place, the famous historian Josephus felt compelled to submit that Pilate had been reprieved and sent to Rome by the governor of Syria, to explain to the emperor his brutal suppression of a Samaritan uprising. For reasons we'll discuss below, this is so obviously a lie that we can only conclude that Josephus engineered a slanderous ruse about someone who should have been considered a minor player more than half a century earlier. Clearly, Pilate had not been a mere minor player and his influence was still felt in the 90's AD.

Secondly, traditional history has always told the story of the ages by stringing the stories of its superstars together. Nowadays, however, we realize that the influence of superstars on the course of human history is only minute, and the real story is told by what buzzes the common populace. Julius Caesar, arguably one of the most super of superstars and father of Roman imperialism — the familiar Christian phrase "Son of God" was originally applied to Augustus; Julius being the implied paternal deity — was besides a general and statesman a prolific writer who wrote about pretty much everything, sometimes in critically acclaimed poetry. But the bulk of Caesar's work — the "Word of God", so to speak — has been lost!

For some reason, the nameless scribes and scholars of the ancient world preserved for us scores of poems by Solomon and David, who were minor kings (politically speaking), but couldn't be bothered to preserve the musings of the Father of the Modern World. These same scribes, however, began to copy the gospels and letters of Paul on such an industrial scale that we have countless different versions (due to minor copy errors and editorials) that date back to mere years after their original inception.

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