Tuesday, March 28, 2017


The book is Pontius Pilate by Aldo Schiavone, an Italian scholar of Roman law. I have not read the book yet, but I have read Randall Balmer’s review in The New York Times Book Review (Mar. 5). Assuming Balmer’s review accurately conveys the contents of this book, there is nothing new here, and most shockingly, it seems to avoid the Jewish historical context entirely. Balmer says Schiavone “provides a fresh perspective” and “offers new insights,” but nothing in the rest of the review confirms that. Schiavone and Balmer just give us the same old myth of Jewish leaders out to get Jesus and having to drag Pilate along with them.

The only things they get right are that there probably was no Jewish trial of Jesus and when Balmer calls this “a history still being contested all these centuries later.” That much is right, but he is wrong to claim that the Gospels suggest a trial. The accusation that Jewish leaders were the main conspirators against Jesus, with Pilate reluctantly dragged along in their plot, is a theological accusation that has little basis in any supporting evidence in either the historical context or in the Gospels.

The historical Pilate never played second fiddle to Jewish leaders, not ever, and never hesitated to kill any Jew even vaguely guilty of sedition against Rome. Moreover, ancient Jewish leaders never pressed any Roman governor to get rid of a Jewish troublemaker, nor did they ever assist Roman governors in such a task. The information on this from Josephus, the ancient Jewish-Roman historian, our main source for the historical context, is solid. Josephus even relates one case where Jewish leaders refused to comply with a Roman demand to turn over Jewish troublemakers. He also tells us that the priests would beg Jewish mobs to desist from antagonizing Rome, but they never arrested anyone nor threatened to arrest anyone. It simply was not done.

Apparently, based on Balmer’s review, none of this information is in Schiavone’s book. There is no Jewish historical context whatsoever.

The detailed evidence in the Gospels does not support the myth that the action against Jesus was primarily Jewish, but I don’t want to make this post much longer. All I will say here is that this Gospel evidence supports an informal procedure by Jewish leaders whose only purpose could have been to try to save Jesus from a Roman trial and execution. That theory makes sense of the evidence, the traditional allegation does not.

© 2017 Leon Zitzer

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