• Rabbi Moshe Rothchild

Pontius Pilate: An Amazing Story that you Never Heard

Pontius Pilate is most famous as the Roman governor in the land of Israel who oversaw the trial of Jesus. He was appointed by the emperor Tiberius in the year 26 CE and served for a ten-year term.

In his position, he had the authority of supreme judge in the land which gave him the power to order the execution of a criminal. He also was in charge of tax collection and overseeing construction projects. Maintaining though law and order, was of course his most crucial task. He did so by any means necessary which meant that whatever he could not negotiate he achieved through force.

During a 1961 dig in Caesarea Maritima, Italian archeologist Dr. Antonio Frova uncovered a piece of limestone inscribed with Pontius Pilate’s name in Latin, linking Pilate to Emperor Tiberius’s reign.

All of that is pretty widely known but here is a story about Pilate that very few people know. It is dramatic and though it was about 35 years or so before the destruction of the Second Temple and Jerusalem, it definitely gives us a sense of the atmosphere that led to the destruction. Here it is:

Pontius Pilate arrived from Rome as the newly minted procurator (governor) of the land of Israel (Judea). Not long after his arrival, he ordered that statues of the emperor to be brought to Jerusalem even though Judaism strictly forbids the making of images.

Previous governors placed the symbols Rome in Jerusalem without the images of the emperor in order not to offend the local population. Pilate would have none of that---he was the governor and he was going to flex his muscles.

In protest, a large group of Jews gathered in the Hippodrome in Caesarea to demand the removal of the statues. Here are the words of Josephus in describing the dramatic encounter:

Pilate took his seat on his tribunal in the great stadium and summoning the multitude, with the apparent intention of answering them, gave the arranged signal to his armed soldiers to surround the Jews.

Finding themselves in a ring of troops, three deep, the Jews were struck dumb at this unexpected sight. After threatening to cut them down if they refused to admit Caesar’s images, Pilate signaled to the soldiers to draw their swords.

Thereupon the Jews, as by concerted action, flung themselves in a body on the ground, extended their necks, and exclaimed that they were ready rather to die than to transgress the law.

Overcome with astonishment at such intense religious zeal, Pilate gave orders for the immediate removal of the standards from Jerusalem.

Never before had Pilate seen such devotion to God and faith. The Jews were willing to give their lives for their God and principles. Even the cruel Pilate was moved and backed off on his insistence of the placement of idolatry in Jerusalem.

Forty years later, it was this continuing tension between the monotheistic Jews and the pagan Romans that would boil over in to The Great Revolt that ultimately led to the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem.

Though we have returned to our eternal homeland, nearly 2000 years later we are still mourning for this tragedy and await the day when Jerusalem and Israel will be fully restored to its glory.


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