Why So Many Christian, and Pagan, Writers Sought to Preserve the Good Name of Pontius Pilate

April 6 2021

According to the New Testament, Pontius Pilate, the prefect who governed Roman-occupied Judea, was responsible for condemning Jesus to crucifixion. But a long tradition of Christian thought seeks to exonerate him from guilt, a tradition that has had no small impact on Jewish history. Nick Spencer reviews a recent book on this tradition:

David Lloyd Dusenbury’s The Innocence of Pontius Pilate . . . traces numerous readings of the trial from its canonical origins in the gospels, and highlights the various attempts to get Pilate off the hook. The best known of these are the Christian ones, motivated by the twin desires to exonerate Rome and (further) impugn the Jews. An innocent Pilate suited those who wanted to curry favor with the authorities (in the early centuries) or demonize society’s outsiders (in the later ones).

One retelling of the trial claims that it was [the not-quite-Jewish Judean king] Herod, not Pilate, who acted as Jesus’ judge.

Pilate is also pardoned, however, in many other traditions. Pagan intellectuals remembered, or rather reinvented, him as an innocent man and a just judge. A now lost Acts of Pilate forcefully made the governor’s case and was apparently taught by Roman schoolmasters, at least according to the historian Eusebius.

This is all interesting stuff but it is really part of a bigger and more important case that Dusenbury is making. . . . Exculpating Pilate left everything he stood for intact. Pilate was the representative of Roman political power that was also, by its own lights, divine. If he was simply and correctly discharging justice in his encounter with Jesus, all of that—Pilate, Tiberius, Rome, empire—remain authoritative. But if Pilate was indeed guilty, as the gospel writers, the mainstream tradition of the Church and, most influentially, St. Augustine insist, then all this quasi-divine political authority is undermined.

Of course, the desire to exonerate Pilate gave some all the more reason to blame the Jews.

Read more at Spectator

More about: Ancient Rome, Anti-Semitism, Augustine of Hippo, Christianity, New Testament

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount