Poor Pontius Pilate

Arthurchrist, dutcher, grace, Mormon 17 Comments

I usually post about music here, but this particular entry is something I’ve been considering for a couple weeks.

I remember when I was younger I often, for some reason, considered the case of Pontius Pilate.  I remember reading about him and perceiving him as a helpless, unwitting player in Christ’s death.  I saw him as innocent, washing his hands of the blood of Christ, wanting to help but not having the power to stem the relentless tide of the throngs of angry people wishing to put the Savior to death.  I remember one time in particular when I was very young, probably eleven or twelve, praying on my knees to ask God not to judge Pilate harshly.  It hadn’t entered my heart that I was not the first person to do this over the last couple thousand years.  I just felt closely connected to the story, and from what I read I saw him as mostly innocent.

Into my deconstructive teenage years, I read a bit more about Pilate’s life and realized that a great deal of evidence points to the idea that he may have been a cruel man, as many Roman leaders were, and that his life was anything but exemplary.  Christ was probably one of many men that Pilate sent to their death.  I saw myself as naive and almost embarrassed for thinking he was innocent.  Sometimes I think we get a strange kind of pleasure out of character deconstruction, especially historical figures, as Russ may tell you from his grad school history studies.

Yet popular opinion is as it usually is:  divided.  It’s a subject that has been explored countless times in countless places.  Certain Ethiopian Orthodox churches venerated Pilate as a saint.  Medieval European plays show him as a bureaucrat or a demon.  There are non-canonized writings that add much to the Pilate story, good and bad.

For me, I’ve found myself doing what many do:  projecting my own self onto a vacuum of evidence.  When something in history seems to have no answers, people tend to fill the void with their own agendas, and I’m no exception.  And thus we see that in some cases, when we judge the morality of others, we are actually looking at ourselves.  “Our people” I’ve noticed have somewhat of a love affair with judging the morality of those not within our stewardship (Richard Dutcher!  Brother Marriott!  Kirby Heyborne!  Emma Smith!).

In my life I have stopped wondering about the morality of others so much anymore, yet I still think of him now and then.  Thoughts on Poor Pontius Pilate?

Ecce Homo

Comments 17

  1. I used to feel sorry for Satan himself. I mean, he also wanted us to return back to our Heavenly Father. Was that such a bad thing? I understand that we couldn’t have learned much if we weren’t able to use our agency, but it sure would have been a lot easier for us. However, I’m grateful the way things turned out. And it’s quite handy for God to have opposition so we can learn.

    Pontius Pilate could have fought so hard against Jesus’s crucifixion that he could have lost his position, but he didn’t do it. However, I’m sure God is merciful and will think about all the factors.

    I often think of King Noah in the Book of Mormon as well. As you’ll notice in verse 11 of chapter 17, King Noah in was “about to release [Abinadi].” Then his darn priests complained until the king was mad again. Lame. Poor guy. If only he’d picked better priests.

  2. Arthur,

    A very good post. The reading during your “deconstructive teenage years” is impressive since you came to the conclusions you did. Pilate was at best “cruel” and if not for the anti-Semitic tone of much of the New Testament, the Christian pseudeponymous writings and Christian apocryphal writings Pilate would not have any sympathy in today’s world. I suggest Bart Ehrman for any one who wants a historical analysis of Pilate or any of the events and persons in the New Testament.

  3. I agree with Joe here, somewhat. the NT Gospels are written from a perspective that is critical of Jews to the almost exclusion of any other conspirators in Jesus’ death. The Roman Leaders including Pilate where equally culpable even if he thought he should stop it and did not. However, owing to Justin’s comments above, someone had to do it for the plan to be accomplished.

    After all, it was the roman form of execution used, not the Jewish form by stoning.

  4. “When something in history seems to have no answers, people tend to fill the void with their own agendas, and I’m no exception. And thus we see that in some cases, when we judge the morality of others, we are actually looking at ourselves. “Our people” I’ve noticed have somewhat of a love affair with judging the morality of those not within our stewardship (Richard Dutcher! Brother Marriott! Kirby Heyborne! Emma Smith!).”

    Amen. I find that tendency fascinating, and I really like how you wove these specific examples into the post about Pilate. (Would he and a wife/daughter/son have been the great Roman fitness trainers? Sorry.)

    I was addressing this tendency to judge “our own” differently, albeit in the case of my post the leniency we often use for our own, when I wrote the following last month:

    Love Thine Enemies

  5. Post
  6. “The author of this history feels degraded by the reflection that a humble governor of an obscure state who would otherwise be forgotten in a few years, stands a fair chance, like Pilate and Herod, by their official connection with the true religion, of being dragged down to posterity with an immortal name, hitched onto the memory of an imposter.”

    Thomas Ford, HIstory of Illinois, pg. 360

  7. Jorge Luis Borges wrote a thought-provoking story about Judas and how his betrayal of Jesus was actually the ultimate sacrifice, since he would not be redeemed. Disturbing but thought-provoking.

    Another tie-in: Pilatus, a Swiss peak, is known in local legend as the burial place of Pontius Pilate, who sought peace from his conscience, or something like that, in the remote Alps. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilatus_(mountain)

  8. Pilate participated in something that had to happen. I think at some level Jesus talks about this when he says, “offenses must come, but wo unto those by whom they come”.

    That said, I won’t cast the first stone – he did enough bad stuff without Jesus’ trial that he’ll have something to answer for.

    An even more conflicting character, IMO, is Thomas Sharpe, the editor of Warsaw Signal in Illinois 1842-1844 (1842 may be wrong, I haven’t the time to check). He was the main instigator of the violence towards the saints and Joseph in particular, and participated at least to some extent in the assassination. After the martyrdom and subsequent trials where he was predictably acquitted, he went back to a normal shopkeeper’s life, never publishing his thoughts after that. He was among those who started the Signal (that changed to another name for a while when there was conflict about the editorial policy) for the express purpose of agitating against the Mormons. (Granted, the analogy is lacking, since he was no governor.)

    Again, I’ll refrain from stone throwing…

  9. Arthur

    Great post- Not trying to thread jack here but on the same lines on JUDGING OTHERS knowing what we know about psychology. I wonder if Lehi would have treated his sons differently if he lived in our day? Maybe talk to them individually- not for all of their siblings and others to hear what a mess they were publicly.

    I personally believe it has a huge impact on us what is said about us publicly good or bad.

  10. Were I to compare the Pilate and JS stories, I would place Sharp as the character of the raging mob. He had no official authority of any kind, but spoke very loudly and could influence the powers-that-be (such as Ford).

  11. Stick with the issue at hand what was Pilates reaction to Jesus “I find no fault in this Man” and offered the Mob Barabbas instead but “They” choose Jesus and Pilate “Washed His hands of him” , come on people your looking for everything but the obvious , Its all there in black and white, why dont you give the Man the benefit of the doubt and take him on face value, this is what is written about him on this matter

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