PILATE, PONTIUS: Known only as the fifth Roman procurator of Judea, under whose administration Jesus was executed. He probably succeeded Gratus 27 A.D. and ended his procuratorship early in 37; it is not likely that Pilate required more than a year for his return journey to Rome, whither he was summoned by Tiberius to give an account of his administration, and he arrived there after Tiberius' death, which took place Mar. 16, 37, and it appears that Vitellius, the legate of Syria, his accuser, was in Jerusalem in 36 as well as in 37, at the time of the Passover. Regarding the position of the procurator, see GOVERNOR. A copper coin struck in Cæsarea under Pontius Pilate is represented in DB, iii. 424-428. The judgment regarding Pilate's administration is chiefly based on the statements of Philo (Legatio at Caium, xxxviii.), who calls him inflexible and ruthless and reproaches him with venality, violence, peculation, ill-treatment, insult, the repeated infliction of punishment without trial, and with endless acts of cruelty--the well-known accusations brought by the Jews against every energetic Roman functionary. The only fact adduced by Philo, the setting up in the palace at Jerusalem of the golden shields dedicated to Tiberius, testifies only to the extreme sensitiveness of the Jews. Josephus (War, II., ix.; Ant., XVIII., iii.-iv.) judges more indulgently, although he charges the procurator with introducing into Jerusalem banners bearing the emperor's image, and with using the funds of the temple for the construction of an aqueduct. The fact that Pilate energetically repressed every revolt is also proved by the massacre of the Galileans (Luke xiii. 1) and of the Samaritans (Josephus, Ant., XVIII., iii. 1, iv. 1). It was on account of this latter act that Pilate was removed by Vitellius, who was very friendly toward the Samaritans as well as the Jews. It is quite natural that there were frequent disputes between the imperial procurator and the Jewish princes as to their respective fields of authority. Of the cause of the enmity between Pilate and Herod alluded to in Luke xxiii. 12, nothing is known. That Pilate was not an incompetent functionary is proved by the long duration of his rule under Tiberius.
In the trial of Jesus, Pilate acted from the standpoint of a functionary for whom public order was more important than the life even of an innocent man. According to Mark, the only question at issue was the confirmation of a sentence passed by the Sanhedrin. The fact that death occurred so quickly is the cause of his curiosity for the moment.
- In Matthew and in Luke various points are added which bear an apologetic stamp; Pilate's wife and he himself acknowledge the innocence of Jesus. In John, where the main action of the trial is transferred from the Sanhedrin to the proceedings before Pilate, he becomes almost a mediator between Jesus and the Jews. Subsequently, along this apologetic tendency, the responsibility for the death of Jesus is more and more laid upon the Jews, and Pilate is made a witness to his innocence. Later Pilate is even represented as a Christian; the Copts and the Abyssinians rank him among the saints; and the Greeks do the same for his wife Prokla. In the third century arose the legend of Pilate's suicide under Caligula, of which Origen knows nothing. After the fourth century the estimation of Pilate, especially in the west, became more and more unfavorable; but recent historians have been more just in their treatment.
- E. VON DOBSCHÜTZ.
Some interest attaches to the apocryphal account of the death of Pilate (Eng. transl., ANF, viii. 466-467). According to this the Emperor Tiberius was afflicted with a serious disease. Hearing that there was in Judea a wonderful physician who healed by power of a word, he sent to Pilate an order to have the physician come to Rome. To the messenger Pilate confesses that he has had the healer crucified because he was a malefactor. The messenger in returning meets Veronica, who sends by him the miraculous handkerchief (see JESUS CHRIST, PICTURES AND IMAGES OF, III., 1, §§ 1-2), by which the emperor was healed. So Tiberius was enraged at Pilate and had him brought to Rome, but was restrained miraculously from upbraiding him by the fact that Pilate wore the seamless coat of Jesus. In a second interview, the anger of the emperor dissolved in the same unaccountable manner. By impulse or on advice, Tiberius had Pilate deprived of the coat and then sentenced him to the most disgraceful death possible. To avoid this, Pilate committed suicide. His body was weighted and sunk in the Tiber, but the demons which inhabited the body caused the water to boil as if in a storm. The body was then raised and sent to Vienne in France (etymologized as Via Gehenn), where the phenomenon was repeated. The body was then sent to "Losania" (Lausanne or Lucerne?) and buried. Thus Pilate was brought into connection with Mont Pilatus, near Lucerne, the name of which is, however, rather to be derived from Mons Pileatus, "the hatted mountain," referring to the cloud cap which forms so often around the summit in midday.