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Pontius Pilate and the Caesarea Inscription

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Archives / 1975 / April

 

 

Pontius Pilate and the Caesarea Inscription

James J. C. Cox
-an associate professor of New Testament at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University at the time this article was written

 

UNTIL RECENTLY our knowledge of Pontius Pilate, "governor" 1 of Judea, during whose prefecture Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, was drawn on the writings of the Christian evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the Christian apostle Paul, the Jewish scholar Philo,2 the Jewish historian Josephus,3 and the Roman archivist Tacitus.4

This knowledge has now been supplemented by a significant Latin inscription discovered at Caesarea Maritima.

It was found by an Italian archeological expedition during its third season (summer, 1961) while excavating the Roman theater, situated in the southwestern corner of the city.

Sometime between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36 it had been set in the wall of the "Tiberium," a public building (perhaps a temple) "given" or "dedicated" by Pontius Pilate in honor of Tiberius.5 Sometime later, probably in the fourth century, it was taken from the ruins of the "Tiberium" and employed as a landing for one of the stairways in the theater.

Unfortunately, in the process, the stone masons chiseled away almost one half of the inscription. However, enough remains for a rather certain reconstruction of most of the important details.

As it now stands, the inscription reads:

Line 1: ... STIBERIEVM

Line 2: . . . TIVSPILATVS

Line 3: ... ECTVSIVDA . . E

Line 4: . .' .

In the official publication, Antonio Frova6 suggests that it should be reconstructed as follows:

Line 1: [CAESARIEN] S(IBVS) TJBERIEVM

Line 2: [PONJT1VS PILATVS

Line 3: [PRAEFJECTVS IVDA [EA]E

Line 4: [D]E'[DIT] (or [D]E[DICAVIT]).

Translated into English this would read (literally):

Line 1: To the people of Caesarea a "Tiberium"

Line 2: Pontius Pilate

Line 3: Prefect of Judea

Line 4: has given (or has dedicated);

or (more idiomatically):

Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, has given (or has dedicated) to the people of Caesarea a public building (or temple) in honor of Tiberius.

There are some comparatively minor differences of opinion among the experts as to the correct reconstruction of some of the details; 7 but there is a clear consensus as to the accuracy of the reconstruction of the name [PONJTIVS PILATVS and the title [PRAEF] ECTVS IVDA[EA]E.

In the first century A.D. a Roman of rank normally had three elements to his name: praenomen, nomen, and cognomen. However, he was not infrequently referred to by either his cogno men alone or his nomen and cognomen. While Luke and Josephus, for example, when speaking of Pilate, usually employ his cognomen (Greek, Pilatos) alone, they both, at the point of their first mention of him, employ his nomen and cognomen (Greek, Pontios Pilatos). 8 The Caesarea inscription employs his nomen and cognomen, Pontius Pilatus.

In the period before Claudius (before A.D. 41) an equestrian governor, such as Pilate, normally carried the title praefectus, not procurator. It was only from the time of Claudius that the title procurator came into common usage. 9

Neither Matthew nor Luke, when referring to the equestrian governor of Judea, Pilate, employs either the technical Greek term eparchos (Latin praefectus) or the technical Greek term epitropos (Latin procurator), but the more general Greek term hegemon (governor).

The Caesarea inscription is undoubtedly accurate in employing the technical Latin term praefectus.10 When we read the more general Greek term hegemon in Matthew and Luke, with reference to Pilate, we should understand that its technical Latin equivalent would have been praefectus, not procurator. Tacitus, writing much later (about A.D. 115), undoubtedly read back into the pre-Claudian period a technical Latin title that did not come into common usage until the time of Claudius and his successors.

Prof. S. Sandmel, author of the article on Pontius Pilate in The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, after discussing the references to Pilate in the writings of Tacitus, Philo, Josephus, and the New Testament, writes: "The base fact that Pilate was procurator in Jesus' time, though it lacks direct corroboration, need not be doubted." 11 Archeology has now provided, in the discovery and reconstruction of the Caesarea inscription, the "direct corroboration" that Sandmel felt lacking.

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FOOTNOTES

1. Matthew 27:2, 11, 14f., 21, 27; 28:14, Luke 20:20, and Josephus, Anf_XVIII. 55, employ the general Greek title hegemon (governor) with reference to Pontius Pilate.

2. Leg ad Gaium, pp. 299ft.

3. Bell II. pp. 169ft; Ant XVlll. pp. 35, 55f., 59, 62, 64, 87ff., 177.

4. Ant XV. 44.

5. Cf. the temples built by Herod in honor of Augustus at Caesarea and Sebaste (Samaria).

6. "L'iscrizione di Ponzio Pilato a Cesarea." Rendiconti dell'istituto Lombardo, Accademia di scienze e lettere, 95 (1961), pp. 419-434.

7. For example, B. Lifshitz (Latomus, 22 (1963), pp. 783, 784) proposes the following reconstruction:

[Tlberio CAESare AUG.V? CON]Sule TIBERIEUM

[ca. 71. PONJT1US PILATUS

[PROCurator AUCusti PRAEF]ECTUS IUDA [EA]E

[DEDit DEDicavit]

8. See Luke 3:1 and Ant XVIII. 35.

9. So A. N. Sherwin-White, "Procurator Augusti," Papers of the British School at Rome, 15 1939), pp. 11-26; Roman Society and Roman Law in the New Testament, pp. 5ff.; A. H. M. Jones, "Procurators and Prefects in the Early Principate," Studies in Roman Government and Law, pp. 115ff.; et al.

10. So also A. N. Sherwin-White, review of A. Frova, "L'iscrizione di Ponzio Pilato a Caesarea," Rendiconti dell'istituto Lombardo, 95 (1961), pp. 419-434, in The Journal of Roman Studies 54 (1964), pp. 258, 259, and J. A. Fitzmyer, "The Languages of Palestine in the First Century A.D.," Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 32 (1970), p. 505f.

11. The Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, III, p. 812. The italics are supplied.

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