In 1961 an Italian excavation uncovered an inscription bearing the name Pontius Pilate. This was first physical evidence found outside of the Bible to confirm his existence.
The huge block of limestone which carried the inscription was found at the city of Caesarea and is engraved with the words:
S TIBERIEVM (Tiberieum)
. . [PO]NTIVS PILATVS (Pontius Pilate) [PRA]ECTVS IVDA[EA]E (Perfect Judea)
The first word, Tiberieum, probably refers to a temple dedicated to the emperor Tiberius.
Pilate's name was also recorded by the well-known Roman historian, Cornelius Tacitus, who mentioned that Pilate crucified Christ just as recorded in the Bible. Tacitus, who was born around 52 A.D. and became Governor of Asia in 112 A.D., wrote the following in his History:
"Nothing which could be done by man, nor any amount of treasure that the prince could give, nor all the sacrifices which could be presented to the gods, could clear Nero from being believed to have ordered the burning, the fire of Rome. So to silence the rumor, he tortured and falsely charged those who were called the Christians, who were hated for their large following. Christus, the founder of the name, was executed by Pontius Pilate, the Judean procurator, during the rule of Tiberius."
Some ancient writers also believed that Pilate sent a report back to Rome of the trial of Jesus. For example, around 150 A.D., Justin Martyr, writing in his defense of Christianity (First Apology) which he sent to the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius, directed him to Pilate's report which he believed existed somewhere in the imperial archives:
"The statement, "They spiked my hands and my feet" he says, are they not an accurate portrayal of the nails that were fixed in his hands and his feet on the cross, and after he was executed, those who crucified him cast lots and divided his clothing amongst themselves; these things did occur, and you may find them in the 'Acts' recorded under Pontius Pilate."
Later on he says: "At his coming the lame shall leap, tongue's that stammer shall speak clearly, the blind shall see, and the lepers shall be cleansed, and the dead shall rise and walk about. And you can learn that he did all these things from the Acts of Pontius Pilate."
According to other historians, Pilate is portrayed as being a very cruel man. Philo of Alexandria, who wrote around 40 A.D. and was a contemporary of Jesus, had this to say about Pilate in his work entitled "The embassy to Gaius 299-305":
"An official by the name of Pilate was appointed to be prefect of Judea. Rather then honoring Tiberius, he caused trouble amongst the Jews. In Herod's palace, in the Holy City, he installed gilded shields. They were inscribed with no image or anything that was forbidden, except for a small inscription, which stated two things, the name of the one in whose honor it was dedicated and the name of the person who commanded it to be installed.
But when this became widely known amongst the Jews, they appealed to the four sons of King
Herod, who were held in high respect and were treated as if they were kings. They urged Pilate to remove the shields, and not to violate their customs, as other kings and emperors had previously done.
Pilate was a proud man who was both stubborn and cruel, he refused their demands. But they cried out even louder: "Do not cause a war! Or a revolt by our people! Let the peace between us stand! To dishonor our long held traditions will bring no honor to the emperor. Do not insult our nation and bring dishonor to Tiberius. He does not approve of your doing away with our traditions. If you say that he does, show us some letter or decree, so that we may stop appealing to you and go to our master by means of an ambassador."
On hearing this, Pilate became frightened, for he knew that if they really went to the Emperor, they would also report on how he had been governing, fearing they would accuse him, and justly so, of cruelty, violence, thefts, assaults, executing prisoners without a trial, and many others.
Pilate then became angry and apprehensive, he did not know which way to turn, for he had neither the courage to remove what he had done, nor the desire to do anything which would please those under his rule. But at the same time he knew that Tiberius would not approve of his behavior. Pilate tried to conceal his emotions, but when the Jewish officials saw that he was regretting what he had done, they in return wrote a letter to Tiberius, pleading their case as forcibly as they knew how.
Tiberius was furious and wrote back to Pilate rebuking him with great threats! This was unusual, for he (Caesar) was not easily moved to anger but let his actions speak for themselves.
Immediately, and without delay, he wrote back to Pilate, using an untold number of harsh words to rebuke him for his arrogance and pride and ordered him to remove the shields at once and to have them sent back to the seaport of Caesarea . . . , there they were to be placed in the temple of Augustus. This was promptly done. In this way both the honor of the emperor and the policy of Rome towards Jerusalem remained in place.
Pilate's fear of a rebuke from Tiberius Caesar can also be found in the gospel of John chapter 19 verses 6-14:
Pilate said to them, "You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him." The Jews answered him, "We have a law, and according to our law He ought to die, because He made Himself the Son of God."
Therefore, when Pilate heard that saying, he was the more afraid, and went again into the Praetorium, and said to Jesus, "Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer.
Then Pilate said to Him, "Are You not speaking to me? Do You not know that I have power to crucify You, and power to release You?"
Jesus answered, "You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above. Therefore the one who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."
From then on Pilate sought to release Him, but the Jews cried out, saying, "If you let this Man go, you are not Caesar's friend."
"Whoever makes himself a king speaks against Caesar." When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus out and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, "Behold your King!"
Another historian, Flavius Josephus, also wrote an account which mentioned Pilate:
"On another occasion he caused a riot by spending the sacred treasure from the temple, without permission, on the construction of an aqueduct which brought water into the city from a distance of seventy kilometers away. Mad with rage at this proceeding, the crowd formed a ring around the tribunal of Pilate, who was visiting Jerusalem at the time, and attacked him with a violent outburst.
He foreseeing a revolt beforehand, had dispatched among the crowd a troop of his soldiers, disguised as civilians but armed, with orders not to use their swords but to beat any rioter who got out of hand. At the proper time he motioned to his men.
The Jews perished in large numbers, some from the blows which they had received, while others were trampled to death by the crowds who were trying to flee from the beatings. Frightened by the sight of the victims, the multitude grew silent." The Jewish War 2.175-177
It is possible that Jesus may have alluded to this event in the gospel of Luke 13:1-3 which says: "There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?"
"I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish."
The Bible in John 18:33-38 states: Then Pilate entered the Praetorium again, called Jesus, and said to Him, "Are You the King of the Jews?"
Jesus answered him, "Are you speaking for yourself about this, or did others tell you this concerning Me?" Pilate answered, "Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered You to me. What have You done?"
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."
Jesus answered, "You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." Pilate said to Him, "What is truth?" And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews, and said to them, "I find no fault in Him at all."
THE ANSWER OF JESUS CONCERNING WHAT IS TRUTH:
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the Truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him." John 14:6-7
Pilate said "But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews?"
Then they all cried again, saying, "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" Now Barabbas was a robber.
So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. Then they said, "Hail, King of the Jews!" And they struck Him with their hands.
Pilate then went out again, and said to them, "Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him."
Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, "Behold the Man!"
Therefore, when the chief priests and officers saw Him, they cried out, saying, "Crucify Him, crucify Him!" John 18:39-19:6
An example of the accuracy of this Gospel account can be shown in the customary practice of releasing one prisoner at the time of Passover as mentioned above and as well in Luke 23:17.
Historical records confirm that this was indeed a yearly event performed during Passover. The following Jewish writings from the Mishna, Pesahim 8:6 states: "They may sacrifice (a Passover lamb) for mourning the loss of his family, or for one that clears away a ruin; as well as for the one who has been promised to be released from prison."
Another example of the Gospel's accuracy can be found in how the Romans scourged and crucified their enemies. The historian Josephus gives us a glimpse into this barbaric practice.
"Forcing themselves into every home, they slew its occupants; so the citizens fled along the narrow paths, and the soldiers butchered those that they caught, and no method of plunder was overlooked; they also caught many of the common people, and brought them before Florus, whom he first punished with stripes, and then crucified. The entire number of those that were killed that day, including women and children, (for they did not even spare tiny infants), was about three thousand and six hundred. And what made this attack even worse was that Roman barbarism had reached to a new level of evil; for Florus did what no one had ever done before, that is, he had given orders that the men who were of equestrian nobility be whipped and nailed to the cross before his council; who, although they were by birth Jews, they were still looked upon as being Roman citizens." Jewish War, Book 2: chapter 14:9
The way in which Christ was treated and suffered during his trial was also not unusual for the culture during the times in which He walked the earth. History records that the surrounding nations mocked anyone who claimed they were a king of the Jews. The historian Philo mentions one such incident shortly after the time of Christ:
"Gaius Caesar gave Agrippa, king Herod's grandson, the third part of his family inheritance to rule over, which in the past was governed by his uncle Philip the tetrarch (Agrippa went to Alexandria) (But the men of Alexandria) were filled with an ancient and what I may call an inward hatred towards the Jews. They were furious at the thought of anyone becoming a king of the Jews they spent much of their time insulting the king in the schools, and planning all sorts of deeds to ridicule him There was a certain man named
Carabbas, who was afflicted with a gentle form of mental illness which came upon him from time to time; this man spent most of his days and nights destitute along the roads being harassed by the youth of the city; they drove this poor man against his wishes as far as the auditorium. There they set him up on a high place where everyone could see him. They then flattened out a papyrus leaf and put it on his head instead of a crown, and clothed the rest of his body with a mat as if with a royal cloak and instead of a scepter they put in his hand a small stick which they found lying by the roadside and gave it to him. And when he had been dressed and adorned to look like a king, the youth in the crowd took up sticks on their shoulders and stood at attention on each side of him pretending to be his bodyguards with spears. Then others came up and gave him a mock salute, while others came to him and pretended that they wished to consult with him concerning governmental affairs. Then a multitude of voices from the crowd yelled out the title Maris (Lord); which is the name by which they call the kings of Syria; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he governed over a great district of Syria."
If the nations could mock an earthly king in this manner, how much more would their hatred grow against the true King of the Jews?
Isaiah the prophet, in one of God's prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah, spoke of His suffering servant and described how He would be mocked and rejected by men.
"Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high.
Just as many were astonished at you, So His visage was marred more than any man, And His form more than the sons of men; So shall He sprinkle many nations. Kings shall shut their mouths at Him; For what had not been told them they shall see, And what they had not heard they shall consider.
Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him.
He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
He was taken from prison and from judgment, And who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.
And they made His grave with the wicked; But with the rich at His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was any deceit in His mouth.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, And the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.
He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, For He shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, And He shall divide the spoil with the strong, Because He poured out His soul unto death, And He was numbered with the transgressors, And He bore the sin of many, And made intercession for the transgressors.
During the second century A.D., in one of his ancient works, a Greek writer by the name of Lucian makes reference to Jesus. And although Lucian was a man who opposed Christ, and that is evident in his writing, he does acknowledge that Jesus was crucified, that Christians worship Him as God, that they do so based on faith alone, and believe that they have eternal life through Him.
Lucian writes: "As you are aware, the Christians worship the man to this very day - He being well known for establishing their unusual form of worship, and for that reason he was crucified . . . . You see, these men begin with the notion that they will be immortal for all eternity, which explains why they do not fear death and is why they give themselves over to his worship; and it was also taught by this lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the very second that they begin to follow him, and they turn their backs on the gods in Greece, and worship this crucified prophet, and live according to his commands. They believe all this purely by faith alone. As a result, worldly goods mean nothing to them and they treat it as property to be used among themselves for the common good."
MOSES FIRST WROTE CONCERNING THIS PROPHET:
"And the LORD said to me: 'What they have spoken is good. 'I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 'And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him."
THE GREATEST WORDS SPOKEN BY THIS PROPHET:
On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. "He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, "Truly this is the Prophet."
THE GREATEST PROPHECY GIVEN ABOUT THIS CRUCIFIED PROPHET:
My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? All those who see Me ridicule Me; They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, "He trusted in the LORD, let Him rescue Him; Let Him deliver Him, since He delights in Him!" I am poured out like water, And all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; It has melted within Me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, And My tongue clings to My jaws; You have brought Me to the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded Me; The congregation of the wicked has enclosed Me. They pierced My hands and My feet;
"I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them,
Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. You who fear the LORD, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, glorify Him, And fear Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; Nor has He hidden His face from Him; But when He cried to Him, He heard. My praise shall be of You in the great assembly; I will pay My vows before those who fear Him. The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! All the ends of the world Shall remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations Shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the Lord's, And He rules over the nations. All the prosperous of the earth Shall eat and worship; All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive. A posterity shall serve Him. It will be recounted of the Lord to the next generation, They will come and declare His righteousness to a people who will be born, That He has done this."
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