Thursday 28 September 2023

Quid Est Veritas?

Enough of the esoteric bollocks of philosophical thought, science, mathematics, and total unadulterated/unmitigated ferret's plop. Let us return to history and ponder one of history's most enigmatic characters.

"Pontius Pilate is not the governor of Judea he is a very naughty boy"

Beware, what follows is a bit 'rambly' (not a real word)

Jesus' Trial

Poor Pilate was just a humble administrator of Rome enduring his job in a far-flung portion of the Empire. He had the unenviable task of ruling the intractable and fractious Jewish population. One day, during his tenure, the High Priest and his minions brought forth a poor, itinerant/illiterate Rabbi from Galilee. They said he had caused a minor disturbance in the temple courtyard and for his naughtiness, he was deserved of death. Pontius was a fair man and after interrogating the prisoner he could find no fault that would warrant a sentence of death. And so, he sent the man to be questioned by the nominal/puppet Jewish ruler of Galilee, Agrippa. Again, no infraction of the law could be found that decreed the death penalty. Thus, he was returned to Pilate unmolested. And Pilate cried out: "I find no fault in this man". But the priests did mutter darkly of insurrection if he was released and hinted that great Tiberius Caesar himself would be displeased. Pilate got the message and although deep down he was a good man he had the prisoner before him flogged and beaten. For Pilate was a weak, vacillating man and wanted to appease the roiling mob (ecce homo). The piteous sight of a man so handled by his soldiery shocked Pilate but the Priests were implacable in their hate and the mob became frenzied and screamed: ''Nail him to a piece of wood". Poor Pilate could do no more and did as the Jews demanded.     

Basically, the above narrative is one we glean from the New Testament. Is that how the scene went down? First off, the gospels are not historical narratives in any modern sense. The motives of the various gospel writers were essentially theological. Primarily this diverse set of books is a testament to faith and any 'factual history' embodied/embedded is happenchance. We know this because the gospel narratives are disparate and contradictory and also, how could the apostles have known the proceedings emanating from Pilate's chambers or Agrippa's palace? It is not as if they were allowed to enter these hallowed enclaves and take dictation. Furthermore, the gospel accounts are not firsthand. The earliest gospel, Mark, was composed about 40 years after Jesus' death. John's Gospel, the last to be written, was put to word as late as 90-100 AD. Initially, the gospels were part of oral tradition passed on to believers throughout the vast Roman Empire. The apostles were illiterate peasants and could not have composed the narrative in the elegant Greek we find in the gospels. The gospel writers were not of the poorest strata of the Empire. They were well-educated and likely native Greek speakers and ignorant of the Aramaic language spoken by Jesus and his band of brothers.

Let us return to Pilate and his jesting remark: "What is truth?" Luckily, we have other contemporaries who wrote about this period and the man. We have a brief mention in the works of Tacitus and a more extensive narrative by two Jewish writers, Philo of Alexandria and most notably, Josephus. Josephus was a very interesting character indeed. I'll come back to him in a thrice, but first a little about Pontius Pilate, after all, he is the main/man character of the plot.

Pilate was of Equestrian rank (knight) and at the time of his appointment, by Tiberius, as Prefect of Judea in 26 AD, he was already a seasoned administrator and military man. His position was a junior one and he was subservient to the governor of Syria.  He ruled in Judea for 10 years, however, due to mounting complaints from the populace, he was recalled to Rome by Tiberius, for investigation. During his 10-year tenure, he proved to be insensitive to Jewish religious sensibilities resulting in unrest, rioting, and on at least one occasion a substantial loss of life. However, the Jewish population, and specifically the Jewish leaders (High Priest and Sanhedrin), had an ace up their sleeve. They were not totally helpless when confronted by a harsh ruler. They had the right to appeal to Tiberius himself.  Ultimately, the threat of redress was a means to prevent extreme depredation by a particularly rapacious governor. 

Josephus relates several stories concerning Pilates' insensitive and vicious nature. It seems that Pilate was not particularly receptive to Jewish religious norms. In fact, he deliberately and knowingly provoked the Jews, directly challenging their strict and exquisite obeyance to the rigid laws of the one true god, Yahweh.  

Tiberius died during Pilate's journey home and before he reached Rome the lovable rogue, Caligula had ascended the 'throne'. This is where Pilate disappears from the annals of history, although this did not stop Christians of later centuries from concocting fictitious accounts of his life after returning to Rome. I think it is probable that Caligula treated Pilate with leniency. During the early stages of his reign, the new Imperator was magnanimous and forgiving, bestowing benevolence with abundance and rampant abandon; this would change during the latter half of his divine rule- not the rampant abandon bit, though.      

Josephus was an aristocratic Jew who took part (a general, no less) in the ill-advised and doomed Jewish rebellion against Roman rule (66-70AD). Initially, the revolt achieved great success, and Romans throughout Judea were slaughtered. At that time, very few Roman troops were garrisoned in Judea, probably no more than 3,000, and in the event of serious trouble, the Romans relied on the two legions stationed in nearby Syria. I don't really want to go into detail concerning the 'Jewish War' although I will say this: the Roman response was swift and brutal. The war ended after the successful siege of Jerusalem, although the stronghold of Masada continued to hold out, for a little while afterward. During the war, Josephus was captured and was destined for a painful end. However, luckily fate intervened and he managed to ingratiate himself with the Roman general, Vespasian, soon to be Emperor. 

We also have the account of Pilate by the Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria. His description of Pilate is illuminating: "A man of inflexible, stubborn, and cruel disposition". This brief summation of Pilate's character seems very much at odds with the man described in the bible So, what are we to make of these discordant accounts? The gospel accounts containing the Pilate 'scenes' were composed after the Jewish revolt, perhaps with the exception of Mark. The gospel writers had an agenda. They were keen not to include material that in any way could be construed as 'Anti-Roman'. For obvious reasons, Jewish-Roman relationships following the war were a tad strained. Therefore, Christians were keen to distance themselves from Jews in general and to foster an air of acceptance of just Roman rule. From what we can discern from Pilate's character it is likely that he gave scant regard to saving Jesus' life and signed the death warrant without a second thought. In other words, the gospel accounts are fictitious screes of propaganda wantonly placing the blame for Jesus' death strictly on the Jews. A narrative that would have severe consequences for the diaspora culminating in the horror perpetuated by the Nazi regime in the 20th century.    

Pilates' position was unenviable and precarious. His remit from Tiberius was to maintain order and to ensure the efficient collection of tax revenue. Unlike most Roman provinces, Judea remained volatile after subjugation. A fine and delicate hand was required: don't upset the locals whilst maintaining the majesty and prestige of Rome and the Emperor- and don't forget the taxes. In addition, it was in Pilates' vested interest to maintain a viable working partnership with the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Ultimately Jews and Romans were fundamentally and mutually incomprehensible. Their cultures were so inherently divergent and incompatible that large-scale conflict was inevitable. Thus, Pilates' prefecture was doomed before he set foot in Judea. 



  1. Unforgetable his great geat great... grandson, Joseph! Pilates, inventor of Jane Fonda´s favourite mover, the Pilates Cadillac.

  2. A scrote of many colours. He/she was never the same/sane after the 2nd gyrating fetish video. The woman has no shame and should have been shot- and I'm not talking about being shot in colour.