History

The Romans were experienced at diplomacy. Throughout the New Testament we find, for the most part, a noteworthy even-handedness to their approach in settling local disagreements. Granted, some of their verdicts and subsequent sentences come across as brutish to our 21st century sensibilities; however, when ruling expansive, volatile and eclectic territories, their form of justice was better than most.

We now have Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. A bit about ‘ol Pontius. (I won’t bore you with too many details that only a former history major would find interesting). History records him as a Roman Prefect. In 1961 an archaeological team led by Antonio Frova discovered what became known as the Pilate Stone. In a wee bit of sycophancy it reads: To the Divine Augusti Tiberieum Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea, has dedicated [something, something]. Nothing like buttering up the old Emperor for a bit of job security. Over time, whatever edifice it adorned fell to ruin and this former cornerstone was repurposed. It was discovered in 1961 within a staircase located in a semicircular structure behind the stage house of the Roman Theatre at Caesarea.

A Roman Prefect and later, a Roman Procurator, were much the same office. When Judea came under complete Roman rule, with no tribal jurisprudence, the latter title became more common. Job one of the Prefect was to collect taxes. Rome loved its taxes. The second main assignment was to keep things calm. A Prefect who couldn’t apply the necessary pressure to keep the natives restful usually had a short career. They deferred, as much as possible to the locals, and in this case the Sanhedrin, to settle their internal disputes. However, Rome retained a sole proprietorship for capital punishment. Thus, we find Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate. The Sanhedrin wants a death sentence. However, they want the blood to be on the hands of Rome. It was clever. It was not that they had a strict fidelity to Rome’s prohibition against capital punishment. We need only remember the woman caught in adultery in John 8. Those lads had the rocks and they had the will to put her to death. But we must remember, Jesus had a significant following. Were they to be the primary instrument of death, they themselves might have to hike up their robes and hot-foot it out of town. And as we’ve mentioned, those robes were rather elaborate.