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Who is Pontius Pilate?

Niki Foster
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect, or governor, of Judea from 26 to 36 CE, best known for his appearance in the New Testament. He was officially responsible for condemning Jesus to crucifixion, though he "washed his hands" of the matter, passing blame onto the Jews. Little is known of him outside of his appointment in Judea, but a few legends exist.

According to biblical accounts, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish legislative body, arrested Jesus and turned him over to Pilate after questioning him, as they considered him a threat to the organized religion. According to the Synoptic gospels — Matthew, Mark, and Luke — Pilate did not consider Jesus a political threat after conducting his own trial. However, he offered the public the choice of a prisoner to be released, either Jesus or a man named Barabbas, and they chose Barabbas. Pilate then literally washed his hands in front of the crowd, claiming that he was not responsible for Jesus' execution, though the official decision was his. Different Christian groups today are divided over the prefect's responsibility in the matter.

A contemporary Jewish historical account of Pilate, by the author Josephus, tells that he was not well liked by the Jews and that he came into conflict with them a number of times over religious issues. Though he removed Roman war standards after a Jewish protest against them, he reportedly used Temple funds to build an aqueduct and violently quashed the resulting riot. He was so unpopular as governor that he was removed from the post after ten years.

Accounts of Pilate's life before and after his post as governor are varied. There is no consensus on where he was born or the circumstances of his death, though traditions abound. He is sometimes said to have committed suicide, and other times to have been executed by the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Some stories hold that bodies of water consistently rejected his corpse.

A well-known legend tells that Tiberius fell seriously ill and asked to see Jesus, about whose miracles he had heard. Pilate stalled, fearing to give Tiberius the news that Jesus was dead. A woman named Veronica then traveled to Rome with her kerchief, which exhibited a miraculous image of Jesus after she used it to wipe his face while he carried the cross. Tiberius was healed by the presence of Veronica's kerchief, but furious at Pilate. After he returned to Rome, Tiberius condemned him to death.

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Niki Foster
By Niki Foster , Writer

In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

Discussion Comments

By anon271429 — On May 26, 2012

How did Judas betray Jesus?

By anon145098 — On Jan 21, 2011

He did what God wanted him to do, just like Judas. If it werent for Pontius and Judas, the whole Jesus thing wouldn't have happened!

By anon145096 — On Jan 21, 2011

A very misunderstood man. He was the representative of Rome, but had his own beliefs, which was that Jesus was who he said he was. Pilate tried three times to set him free. It was the priests and the people who killed Jesus, not Pilate.

Niki Foster

Niki Foster


In addition to her role as a PublicPeople editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics...

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