Four years after he condemned an innocent man Pilate confesses to Caesar that he was visited by Death and taken to Hell, while longing to return to his wife, the powerful Oracle of Rome.
History, Reality & the Book
FOUR YEARS AFTER the resurrection, the man who condemned Christ mysteriously died. “The Witness” is a “what if” that takes place after an aging and ailing Tiberius Caesar has removed Pontius Pilate as Prefect of Judea. He is a man racked with guilt and at odds with his wife Claudia Procula. Caesar has been demanding a report from the former governor, which Pilate reluctantly writes. He informs Caesar that on the night of the crucifixion he was visited by Death, who escorted him to Hell, where he witnessed the one true Son of God conquer all. Through the eyes of Pilate, we see God’s merciful plan from before the Beginning.
Of course, this is fiction. It did not happen. Or if it did, it’s a matter outside our ability to confirm. It’s been crafted from spiritual inspiration, a lot of imagination, and a good deal of research. A lack of confirmation is something it shares in common with the historical Pilate. It wasn't long ago when many scholars were questioning the actual existence of a Roman governor by the name Pontius Pilate, the procurator/prefect who ordered Jesus' crucifixion. In June 1961 Italian archaeologists led by Dr. Frova were excavating an ancient Roman amphitheatre near Caesarea-on-the-Sea (Maritima) and uncovered an interesting limestone block. On the face is a monumental inscription which is part of a larger dedication to Tiberius Caesar which clearly reads: "Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea."
This may be the only known occurrence of the name Pontius Pilate in any ancient inscription. Visitors to Caesarea's theater today see a replica, the original is in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. It is interesting as well that there have been a few bronze coins found that were struck from 29-32 AD by Pontius Pilate.
Tiberius Caesar, who succeeded Augustus in AD 14, appointed Pontius Pilate as governor of Judea in 26 AD. Pilate arrived and made his official residence in Caesarea Maritima, the Roman capital of Judea. Pilate was the 5th procurator of Judea in the lifetime of Jesus. The province of Judea, formerly the kingdom of Archelaus, was formed in 6 AD when Archelaus was exiled and his territory transformed into a Roman province. Although it included Samaria and Idumaea, the new province was known simply as Judea or Judaea, from which the word “Jew” is itself derived. It generally covered the south half of Palestine, including Samaria. Judea was an imperial province (i.e. under the direct control of the emperor), and was governed by a procurator.
The procurator was devoted to the emperor and directly responsible to him. His primary responsibility was financial. The authority of the Roman procurators varied according to the appointment of the emperor. Pilate was a procurator cum porestate, (possessed civil, military, and criminal jurisdiction). The procurator of Judea was under the authority of the legate of Syria. Usually a procurator had to be of equestrian rank and experienced in military affairs.
Under the rule of a procurator cum porestate like Pontius Pilate, the Jews were allowed as much self-government as possible under imperial authority. The Jewish judicial system was run by the Sanhedrin and court met in the "hall of hewn stone", but if they desired to inflict the death penalty, the sentence had to be given and executed by the Roman procurator.
According to history Pilate made an immediate impression upon the Jews when he moved his army headquarters from Caesarea to Jerusalem. They marched into the city with their Roman standards, bearing the image of the "divine emperor" and set up their headquarters right in the corner of the Temple in a palace-fortress called "Antonia," which outraged the Jews. Pilate quickly learned their zealous nature and political power within the province and, according to Josephus, ordered the standards to be returned to Caesarea (Josephus Ant. 18.3.1-2; Wars 2.9.2-4).
Pilate made some other mistakes according to history before the time he ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. Once he placed on the walls of his palace on Mt. Zion golden shields bearing inscriptions of the names of various gods. Tiberius had to personally order the removal of the shields. Another incident Pilate used Temple revenue to build his aqueduct. There is another incident only recorded in the Holy Bible where Pilate ordered the slaughter of certain Galileans (Luke 13:1) who had supposedly been offering sacrifices in the Temple. Here are some details:
"On one occasion, when the soldiers under his command came to Jerusalem, he caused them to bring with them their ensigns, upon which were the usual images of the emperor. The ensigns were brought in privily by night, put their presence was soon discovered. Immediately multitudes of excited Jews hastened to Caesarea to petition him for the removal of the obnoxious ensigns. For five days he refused to hear them, but on the sixth he took his place on the judgment seat, and when the Jews were admitted he had them surrounded with soldiers and threatened them with instant death unless they ceased to trouble him with the matter. The Jews thereupon flung themselves on the ground and bared their necks, declaring that they preferred death to the violation of their laws. Pilate, unwilling to slay so many, yielded the point and removed the ensigns." (The Standards- Josephus, War 2.169-174, Antiq 18.55-59)
"At another time he used the sacred treasure of the temple, called corban (qorban), to pay for bringing water into Jerusalem by an aqueduct. A crowd came together and clamored against him; but he had caused soldiers dressed as civilians to mingle with the multitude, and at a given signal they fell upon the rioters and beat them so severely with staves that the riot was quelled." (The Aqueduct- Josephus, War 2.175-177, Antiq 18.60-62))
"Philo tells us (Legatio ad Caium, xxxviii) that on another occasion he dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod in honor of the emperor. On these shields there was no representation of any forbidden thing, but simply an inscription of the name of the donor and of him in whose honor they were set up. The Jews petitioned him to have them removed; when he refused, they appealed to Tiberius, who sent an order that they should be removed to Caesarea." (from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia)
Outside of the Passion in the canonical gospels scripture gives us no further information concerning Pilate, but Josephus, the Jewish historian, records that Pilate succeeded Gratus. According to Josephus (Ant, XVIII, iv, 2) Pilate held office in Judea for 10 years. Afterwards he was removed from office by Vitellius, the legate of Syria, and traveled in haste to Rome to defend himself before Tiberius against certain complaints. Before he reached Rome the Tiberius had died and Gaius (Caligula) was on the throne, AD 36. Josephus adds that Vitellius came in the year 36 AD to Judea to be present at Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. This would indicate that Pilate had already left for Rome.
Josephus (Ant, XVIII, iv, 1, 2) gives an account of what really happened to Pontius Pilate and his removal from office. A religious fanatic arose in Samaria who promised the Samaritans that if they would assemble on Mt. Gerizim, he would show them the sacred vessels which Moses had hidden there. A great multitude of people came to the "sacred mountain" of the Samaritans ready to ascend the mountain, but before they could they were attacked by Pilate's cavalry, and many of them were slaughtered. The Samaritans therefore sent an embassy to Vitellius, the legate of Syria, to accuse Pilate of murdering innocent people. Vitellius, who wanted to maintain friendship with the Jews, removed Pilate from office and appointed Marcellus in his place.
Pilate was ordered to go to Rome and answer the charges made against him before the emperor. Pilate set out for Rome, but, before he could reach it, Tiberius had died.
Eusebius (4th cent AD) tells us (Historia Ecclesiastica, II), based on the writings of certain Greek historians, that Pilate soon afterward, "wearied with misfortunes," had killed himself. (Hist. Eccl. 2.7.1).
Various apocryphal writings have come down to us, written from the 3rd-5th centuries AD, giving legendary details about Pontius Pilate becoming a Christian, and his wife, traditionally named Claudia Procula, was a Jewish proselyte at the time of the death of Jesus and afterward became a Christian.
There are other traditions mentioned in the false Gospels (non-canonical Apocryphal Gospels) concerning Pontius Pilate.
Church tradition once portrayed Pilate in very favorable terms. In the second century Gospel of Peter, Jesus is condemned not by Pilate but by Herod Antipas. Tertullian asserted that Pilate was a Christian at heart and that he wrote a letter to Tiberius to explain what had happened at Jesus' trial (Apology 21).
The fourth or fifth century Gospel of Nicodemus (which contains the Acts of Pilate), does not make Pilate a Christian, but depicts him as more friendly towards Jesus than any of the canonical gospels. Pilate was soon canonized by the Coptic and Ethiopic churches.
The circumstances surrounding Pilate’s death in circa 37 (some say 39) A.D. are something of a mystery and a source of contention. According to some traditions, the Roman emperor Caligula ordered Pontius Pilate to death by execution or suicide. By other accounts, Pontius Pilate was sent into exile and committed suicide of his own accord. In “The Witness” Pontius is murdered by Caesar’s Praetorian Guard, after the death of Tiberius, a very Roman tradition.
Other details do not come from credible sources. His body, says the Mors Pilati ("Death of Pilate"), was thrown first into the Tiber, but the waters were so "disturbed by evil spirits" that the body was taken to Vienne and sunk in the Rhône: a monument at Vienne, called Pilate's tomb, can still to be seen. As the waters of the Rhone likewise rejected Pilate's corpse, it was again removed and sunk in the lake at Lausanne. The sequence was a simple way to harmonize conflicting local traditions.
The corpse's final disposition was in a deep and lonely mountain tarn, which, according to later tradition, was on a mountain, still called Pilatus (actually pileatus or "cloud capped"), overlooking Lucerne. Every Good Friday the body is said to reemerge from the waters and wash its hands.
There are many other legends about Pilate in the folklore of Germany, particularly about his birth, according to which Pilate was born in the Franconian city of Forchheim or the small village of Hausen only 5 km away from it. His death was "unusually" dramatized in a medieval mystery play cycle from Cornwall, the Cornish Ordinalia.
Pilate's role in the events leading to the crucifixion lent themselves to melodrama, even tragedy, and Pilate often has a role in medieval mystery plays.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, Pilate's wife Claudia Procula is commemorated as a saint, but not Pilate, because in the Gospel accounts Claudia urged Pilate not to have anything to do with Jesus. In some Eastern Orthodox traditions, Pilate committed suicide out of remorse for having sentenced Jesus to death.