Sunday, March 19, 2017

What is the Pilate inscription?

In 1961, while excavating an ancient Roman amphitheater near Caesarea-on-the-sea, Maritima, a limestone slab approximately 2’ x 3’, was found by the Italian archaeological team led by Dr. Antonio Frova. It is now housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The left half of the stone has been chipped away, probably as a secondary usage to fit the stone into a set of steps leading into the theater.
The following Latin words were chiseled into the stone:
            [ ]S TIBERIÉVM
[ [É[ ]
According to Craig A. Evans, Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, restoration of the partially preserved words in the second and third lines was not difficult:
Restoration of the first and fourth lines was more difficult. The entire inscription may have originally read “To the people of Caesarea, Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, has given the Tiberieum”. The Tiberium was a temple dedicated to Emperor Tiberius.

How significant?
This discovery is yet another one of many examples of archaeological evidence corroborating the Biblical accounts many centuries after the Bible’s completion. The stone’s inscription matches very well with the description provided by Luke, in which he not only mentions Pilate as the governor of Judea, but also mentions Emperor Tiberius. Also, as detailed in the citations below, many Biblical and extra-biblical accounts were written about Pilate. This does not prove in itself the reliability of the Bible, but added cumulatively with numerous other archaeological and documentary historical discoveries, builds a very compelling case leading to the conclusion that the Bible is factually trustworthy. And, if the Bible is consistently over time proven to be accurate in the details that are able to be verified, it is reasonable to conclude that the details as yet unverified should also prove to be accurate. 

Who was Pontius Pilate?
Pontius Pilate was the Roman procurator or prefect, from A.D. 26 – 36, of Judea, a region occupied by Jews. Philo of Alexandria (c. 20 B.C. – 50 A.D.), described as a Hellenized Jew, wrote:
“Pilate was one of the emperor's lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judaea. He, not more with the object of doing honour to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod, in the holy city; which had no form nor any other forbidden thing represented on them except some necessary inscription, which mentioned these two facts, the name of the person who had placed them there, and the person in whose honour they were so placed there.” [2]

Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records the initial appointment of Pontius Pilate:
“When Gratus had done those things, he went back to Rome, after he had tarried in Judea eleven years, when Pontius Pilate came as his successor. And now Herod the tetrarch, who was in great favor with Tiberius, built a city of the same name with him, and called it Tiberius. He built it in the best part of Galilee, at the lake of Gennesareth.”[3]
Josephus also mentions that Pilate was later ordered to appear before Tiberius in Rome to answer accusations of the murder of some Samaritans:
“…to answer before the emperor to the accusations of the Jews. So Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome, and this in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, which he durst not contradict; but before he could get to Rome Tiberius was dead.”[4]

Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 56 - c. 120), wrote:
“Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…”[5]
Others have disagreed with the designation, stating that Pilate was praefectus, not procurator.

Greek historian Eusebius mentions a letter allegedly written by Pilate to Tiberius:
“The story of the resurrection from the dead of our Saviour Jesus, already the subject of general discussion all over Palestine, was accordingly communicated by Pilate to the Emperor Tiberius. For Pilate knew all about Christ’s supernatural deeds, and especially how after death He had risen from the dead and was now generally believed to be a god. It is said that Tiberius referred the report to the senate, which rejected it.”[6]
However, as translator of Eusebius’ work, G. A. Williamson, notes on the same page, “It can hardly be doubted that Pilate sent such a report, but none of the various extant versions is regarded as genuine.”

Biblical references to Pilate
References to Pontius Pilate are made in six books of the New Testament, with some selected references here:
·         “…the chief priests with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, immediately held a consultation; and binding Jesus, they led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate.” (Mark 15:1)
·         “…all the chief priests and the elders of the people conferred together against Jesus to put Him to death; and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor.” (Matthew 27:1-2)
·         “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene.” (Luke 3:1) Notice the amount of detailed information in this verse, which is standard for Luke.
·         “…when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.” (John 19:13)
·         “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Your holy servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,” (Acts 4:27)
·         “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate…” (1 Timothy 6:13)

Dating of the historical records
The Biblical accounts were completed in the first century A.D., with Matthew writing around the 60s and Mark possibly as early as the 50s. Luke, Acts, and 1 Timothy were most likely written prior to A.D. 62.[7] John was probably the latest, written as late as the 90s. Philo wrote around 40 A.D. Other extra-biblical historical records mentioning Pontius Pilate were written after most of the Biblical accounts: Josephus wrote Antiquities of the Jews around 93 A.D. and Tacitus wrote Annals around 115 A.D. Other than Tacitus, the other writers were alive during the governorship of Pilate and their writings were close enough to the events to be considered reliable.

[Biblical references are from the NASB version.]

[1]Craig A. Evans, Bulletin for Biblical Research, “Jesus and the Ossuaries”, 13.1 (2003), 31-34.
[2]Philo Judaeus, On the Embassy to Gaius: The First Part of the Treatise on Virtues, translation by Charles Duke Yonge, XXXViii (299).
[3]Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 2, paragraphs 2-3.
[4]Ibid., Chapter 4, paragraph 2.
[5]Tacitus, The Annals, Book XV.
[6]Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, translated by G. A. Williamson, (New York, NY:  Dorset Press), p. 75.
[7]The Apologetics Study Bible, General Editor Ted Cabal, (Nashville, TN:  Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), pp. 1402, 1403, 1464, 1508, 1800. 

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