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Straight Dope
  Okay, so Rabbi Singer gave us the more religious and emotional side of this issue. Here is a link that succinctly gives the historical background:

This is what it said about Pilate, "Which brings us to Pontius Pilate. The New Testament describes him as prefect over Judea at the time of Jesus' death, and we have outside corroboration for this from several sources. As noted, Tacitus mentions Pilate but only incidentally, saying nothing about his character. However, the major Jewish historians of the period, Josephus and Philo, discuss Pilate at length. Philo, who was Pilate's contemporary, wrote an appeal to the emperor Caligula that included a description of Pilate. Philo wrote of "the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injustices, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the endless and supremely grievous cruelty" of Pilate's rule. Pilate was eventually dismissed from office because of complaints of his widespread and injudicious executions. We'll return to Pilate's role later."

This must have been the thing I had heard before...that Pilate was a cruel. murderous dictator. In fact, he was dismissed by Rome, so you can only imagine how brutal he had to be for Rome to remove him, since they ruled with an iron hand anyway.

The author continues, "Why did Pilate order Jesus' execution?

This is pretty straightforward. First, because the high priest recommended it, and second, because the accusation was serious. Jesus was being called king of the Jews, an intolerable political offense. Pilate presumably understood that Jesus was a would-be king with no army, and therefore made no effort to arrest and execute Jesus' followers. He may have regarded Jesus as a religious fanatic, a dangerous extremist, but the title "king" he understood in a political context as a threat to the Roman state. The notion of freedom of speech was still 1700-some years in the future.

The gospels, especially Matthew and John, want Jesus to have been condemned by Jewish mobs, against Pilate's better judgment. These gospels were being written at a time when the early Christians were trying to get along with Rome, so we find a little whitewashing of Roman authorities. Thus, the gospels report that Pilate was worried, that his wife told him to take no action, that he consulted the (mostly Jewish) mob and pleaded on Jesus' behalf, and finally, that he caved in to public pressure and ordered Jesus' execution.

This seems unlikely. The gospels' portrayal of Pilate as wishy-washy, reluctant, and weak-willed is incompatible with the descriptions of him in Josephus and Philo. He had served as prefect of Judea for over a decade; he would not have survived long in that political climate if he were as indecisive as the gospels depict. We can probably best explain this as Christian propaganda a few decades later--an excuse for Pilate's action to reduce tension between the growing Christian movement and Roman authority.

Weddig Fricke says, "Despite all the efforts to make the Jews look primarily responsible and to cast the Roman procurator in the role of an unwitting instrument . . . the biblical accounts make it quite clear that Pontius Pilate pronounced the death sentence . . . which was carried out by his legionnaires."

The most likely story is that Jesus was sent to Pilate by Caiaphas, flogged and briefly interrogated. Then, when Jesus' answers were not completely satisfactory, Pilate had him crucified without a second thought.


In summary, Jesus was killed because the Roman empire mercilessly put down any possible source of rebellion or riot. The empire's agents included the Roman prefect Pilate who ordered the execution, and the Jewish high priest Caiaphus and his council who initiated the process. Assigning responsibility to an entire group of people, whether the Jews or the Romans, is stereotyping, oversimplifying, and false."

And it gives these books as references:

Crossan, John Dominic, Who Killed Jesus? San Francisco, Harper Press, 1995
Fricke, Weddig, The Court Martial of Jesus, NY, Grove Weinfield Press, 1990
Meier, John P., Rethinking the Historical Jesus, NY, Doubleday, 1994
Sanders, E.P., The Historical Figure of Jesus, England, Penguin Books, 1993
Zeitlin, Solomon, Who Crucified Jesus? NY, Bloch Publishing Company, 1964.

I don't know how many people who come to give a hoot about any of this. But I hope I have brought some clarification to some people. This is an issue that has caused tension in the very core of Western culture for millennia. It is about time people faced it and came to terms with it.

Now, where did I put that mp3 of the bagpiper?
  Author: Von Cello
Eintrag from 31.03.2008
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