Friday, March 9, 2012

Pilate the Gentile

The Easter season reminds us of the name. He was the Roman governor of Judea, a procurator. Now that title was predominantly associated with finance in those times—and in those times the money flowed the other way, thus the title made some sense. The conqueror extracted money from the conquered, and when the region the Romans called Judea came under their rule, it began as a tributary kingdom before, later, it was made into a province.  It was already a province under Pontius Pilate, whose full title was procurator cum potestate, thus a collector of tribute with power. He had full authority, was the top magistrate, hence the power to condemn someone to death was his, not of that of the more or less self-governing region he superintended. (Amusingly the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia uses the word porestate, which typo seemingly hundreds of people echo on the web and kept me shaking my head and searching my Latin dictionaries in vain.) Anyway. Pilate was a relatively low level official in Roman terms. Had there been media in his times, his appointment to Judea would have made the Roman television viewer say: Who? For a modern parallel, consider Paul Bremer, the governor of Iraq—indeed a distinguished person with stellar credentials, but who’d ever heard of him until his takeover of our conquest wearing boots under a suit. The big difference is that in our days the money flows the other way. Our conquests invariably mean the big outflow of billions—for which our only compensation, evidently, is a feeling of security. Things have changed in the Age of Oil.

Now this line of thought arose when Brigitte and I were looking at the Gospel reading for Wednesday, March 7 (Matthew 20:17-28) in which the following are the first three verses:

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, “Behold, we are going to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day.

That word, Gentiles, caught our eye. It occurs in all translations except for the Living Bible which renders it as “the Roman government.” Therefore my title here: Pilate the Gentile. The great wheel turns and what goes around comes around—with interesting minor changes like the direction of the flow of money. But all else has remained the same. The rest of that passage is worth perusing should the thought arise that we are not the gentiles of our day. No. We’re different. The passage suggests the contrary.


  1. The comparison of Pilate and Bremer is priceless, because one just knows that 2,000 years hence, people will view Bremer, Bush... and - I suppose - us citizens as hapless clowns like Pilate.

  2. Glad you liked that. Had a chuckle myself when the thought arose...


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