Pontius Pilate in history and interpretation


Pontius Pilate in history and interpretation

By Helen Katharine Bond

PhD Dissertation, Durham University, 1994

Abstract: This thesis reconstructs what we know of the historical prefect of Judaea and looks at the way in which he is used as a literary character in the works of six first century authors: Philo, Josephus and the writers of the four gospels.

The first chapter gives a general introduction to the history and formation of the imperial Roman province of Judaea and the powers and duties of its equestrian governors with particular reference to Pilate. This draws upon Roman and Jewish sources, both literary and epigraphic. The next two chapters examine the references to Pilate in the Jewish writers Philo and Josephus. The apologetic and theological bias of each author is examined first before going on to consider how this bias has influenced each one’s portrayal of Pilate. After this, some consideration is given to the historical events behind the narratives.




The next four chapters deal with the portrayal of Pilate in each gospel in turn. After a consideration of the general themes in each evangelist’s passion narrative, each chapter gives a description of how each writer presents the prefect as a literary character, asking how a first century reader would have understood and interpreted Pilate’s actions. When this has been established each chapter asks what this portrayal shows about the author’s attitude towards the Roman state, symbolised by Pilate, and what kind of community found this useful. After all four Roman trial narratives in the gospels have been analysed, the possible historical events behind them will be discussed.

The conclusion distinguishes between the ‘historical Pilate’, the Roman knight sent by Tiberius to take charge of the province of Judaea, and the different Pilates of interpretation preserved in the writings of six first century Jewish and Christian authors.

Click here to read this thesis from Durham University

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