PONTIUS PILATE'S OWN STORY
By Thomas Cosmades
You have heard from many interpreters and commentators about me and the crucial decision I made, which has taken place in the annals of man's tumultuous history. Allow me to tell my side of the story, emanating from first-hand encounter.
The high priests and the rest of the religious establishment, thoroughly skilled in manipulating the masses, brought him before me with the resolute indictment that he had claimed to be God's Son. Having blasphemed he deserved death.
Let me begin my narration by telling who I am. During the years of 26-36, in future to be universally referred to as Anno Domini I was the fifth procurator of Judea, Samaria and part of Idumea. My responsibility was to retain peace in these regions which were under the direct control of the emperor. My procuratorship was concurrent to a very turbulent period in the history of the Jews. And indeed it ushered the culmination of turbulence.
Having been born of Roman nobility, I enjoyed the confidence of the Augustus. My authority on military, civil and judicial affairs was absolute. Many in Rome envied my position. If you ask me my governmental style, it had the reputation of being severe. I must confess meanness was one of my personality traits. Whenever my wily performances come to mind I am tormented.
On one occasion I was highly infuriated with some Jews who were sacrificing animals while celebrating a feast. I had a number of them arrested and executed. My ferocity knew no bounds: I gave the order that their blood be mingled with that of their sacrifices. Any death verdict passed by the Jewish Sanhedrin required my confirmation; a privilege I enjoyed.
My residence was at the palace of Herod in Caesarea. During the Jewish feasts I moved to Jerusalem to prevent any possible turmoil caused by Jewish extremists. The rise of numerous messiahs was a propensity among these people. Eventually they were attested to be false. I had to deal with several such exigencies. Little did I realise the forthcoming messianic quandary!
The clamorous event in the crux of history, to shape the rest of times occurred during my tenure. I was aware of having before me a salient trial, however not in the proportion of what it turned out to be. At the time I envisaged that the controversial nature of the case might have serious repercussions.
This unusual person was dragged before me in Jerusalem as being an active revolutionary, perverting the nation, forbidding people to pay taxes to Caesar and saying he was the Messiah, a king. He was stirring up the people. Besides the religious assumptions, the political implications of such amplitude baffled me. I was pressed to pronounce judgment on matters of both earth and heaven.
Immediately I sensed the burden of an undertaking far beyond my capability. Until this hour I had handled religious quandaries from a strictly mundane stance. My experience in dealing with supernatural matters was negligible. My impulse led me to ask him, "From where are you?" To my dismay there was no response. The thought flashed through my mind, "Could he really be the Son of God, as the Jews were furiously accusing him of pretending to be?" It should have registered in my evaluation that he actually was from above, while the rest of us were the worms of the earth.
I carefully examined his whole life and demeanor without finding a single case of any contravention. He had violated no article of the law which I was appointed to uphold. They carried him to me for trial, but in a few moments I was transformed from ruler and judge into a miserable captive. The detained person arrested my deliberation. His accusers must have had mixed feelings too. But they had cast the die and were dragging me with them.
When I asked, "What accusation do you bring against this man?" their petulant reply betrayed extreme hatred and prejudice, "If this man were not an evil-doer, we would not have handed him over!" Could it be that, after all, we were the evil-doers, whereas he was faultless, guiltless and sinless? I was sitting on the judge's bench in Gabbatha, known as the BYMA. In actuality my place was his, from where he could accurately judge all of us.
Annas, Caiaphas and other priests had not a spark of humanity in their souls. They were merciless, pitiless and by all accounts whitewashed captives. The perfect man who was in total command was engulfed by a company of iron-hearted entities. The flames of hatred and hell were spreading ferociously in all Jerusalem. And I, the judge and ruler, was selling truth, honor and justice.
Until then, both people and rulers were afraid of my iron fist. I could insult, intimidate or hold any of them in contempt. I did not bow to any person's whim. But what could be wrong on this occasion? I was helpless, swayed by their repulsive conduct. Why couldn't I exert my widely admired jurisdiction?
"He stirs up the people from Galilee even to this place!" was their persistent cry. Couldn't I have used my muscle and reprimand them, “It is you, senseless bigots, stirring up this ugly mob!" And with this rap throw them out of the Praetorium? That moment I sought an appraisal of mob mentality. What is a mob in reality? I would say many heads without a brain! Their fears are manipulated and weaknesses exploited by nefarious agitators who get them to do their job.
Looking at the irrationality of the whole process, I tried to pacify the mob. I was quite skilled in this technique. Once, when our emblem of worship — ensigns of the Roman eagle — aroused the wrath of the Jews, I tactfully withdrew them. And how successful I was! But this time the mob was beyond managing. I was being manipulated by a shrewd crowd whom I was expected to govern. O, me! I put politic above principle.
Why couldn't I display the moral stamina and prerogative to become master of the occasion? Why did I surrender to such a ruthless show? The fear entered my mind that if I did not play politics they may stone him to death! But since the religious establishment insisted on a Roman verdict I could have very well made that verdict a timeless act of courage. Instead, I saw the accused person the Master of the hour. The rest of us puny beings were under His silent sway, mortals against the immortal.
"For this I was born, and for this I came into the world,” he declared, "to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice." I had never encountered such an assured, composed, persuasive pronouncement.
I expressed the curiosity troubling the very core of my mind, "What is truth?" Again, he did not satisfy my query. No response! I should have known then and there that he was the embodiment of truth, assuredly testifying to the truth, whereas the rest of us lying rascals were totally alienated from the requirements of truth, with no element of truth in ourselves. Did I hear correctly? He once said to his hearers: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I wonder if they comprehended it! Obviously I was not a free person, since capitulating to truth was not one of my concerns. I was yet to discover that truth is eternal, but lie is invented.
As I had heard him put it once, we all are from our father the devil, determined to do our father's desires. The devil was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with truth, because there is no truth in him. He is a liar and the father of lies. Rulers of this earth, me included, are detached from commitment to truth. We can only treat truth with adroit manipulation.
I posed another question to him; "Are you the king of the Jews?" He asked me if this was my own inquiry or if I had heard it from elsewhere. No, His kingship was not of this world, as He confirmed in no uncertain terms. I should have known that I was standing before the King of kings and Lord of lords, who is to judge the living and the dead — kings, rulers and all. Why didn't I boldly declare, "Woe is me! My eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!" and wait for the consequences?
In my bewilderment I asked, "What have you done?" From all that I had heard, he went about doing good, helping the helpless, healing the sick and feeding the hungry. Spiritual and physical goodness. I thought I held the power to release him or to crucify him. But how miserably I was mistaken! Here I am, the fallible against the infallible, a captive to human caprices against him of perfect composure.
He reminded me that all my actions and deliberations during that crucial hour were foreordained from above long ago. I was merely an instrument of a will other than my own. I was guilty along with the religious leaders — though in lesser degree — for my part in the execution of the whole scenario. Was I a detail in a pre-planned drama? I could not conceive the workings of a sovereign design.
While at a total loss on how to handle this process, I was informed that Herod, the tetrarch of Galilee had also come from Caesarea on the occasion of the Passover. Jealous of each other we had been enemies for a long time. In an attempt to embarrass him, I decided to pass the onus on to my renowned adversary. He must decide on the verdict of this case since the accused was a Galilean. The prospect of extricating myself from such a quandary flashed before me. Gaining fame at others’ expense is part of the game.
But shrewd as he was, Herod would not submit himself to my scheme. He evaded his duties by expressing the desire to witness a miracle. He started asking light questions about the way he performed signs and how he drew the crowds. When Herod received no response, his temper flared. He joined the soldiers in a barrage of mockery and disgrace. To top it off, Herod put on him a colorful robe such as clowns wear and sent him back to me. By this Herod displayed the cynical mien of those who rule. Common folk cannot conceive the rulers' roguishness!
I resorted to the convenient game, if you can't beat him join him, and became friends with Herod. Our feud turned to truce, at least externally. I became an accomplice to the tricky Herod I had once heard described by the accused in very uncomplimentary language, 'that fox'. What foxes we all are! Contrariwise, the man Herod had beheaded introduced the arraigned as, 'The Lamb of God.'
While sitting on the judge's bench in Gabbatha, word reached me from Claudia Procula, my wife, "Have nothing to do with that man. He is innocent!" Then she explained a tortuous dream she had had in the night because of him. The Abyssinian Church in the meantime canonised her because of this bold stand. I could not even be as courageous as a woman! No canonisation for me.
What did I do? I ventured to appease the mob. There was a condemned criminal in bonds, Barabbas by name. I ordered the soldiers to bring him out. Placing him next to the innocent man I shouted, "Which of the two shall I release to you?" To my dismay when they responded with one voice, "Barabbas, Barabbas!" I lost another ploy. The verdict of the mob was to nail the condemned man to an ugly cross — invented by us Romans, standing as a monument of shame in the annals of capital punishment. What would future generations think about the cross?
In my anxiety, once again I was led to believe that I could prevent the infamous crucifixion. Let me flagellate him with extreme rage. The mob may be appeased with this rigorous affliction: Strips of leather with metal and bone chips attached. Repeated lashings on the bare body would rouse anyone's sense of pity. How far removed was I from any perception of reality, and how inept in decision-making!
After this malicious fustigation I declared 'ECCE HOMO!' (Here is the man!) I did not realise until that moment the extremity of man's vindictiveness and blood-thirstiness. No act or reasoning could pacify these delirious men. "Crucify him, crucify him!" was the constant hateful cry. I was helpless. Deep inside I lamented, "O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?" He who could have was going to die infamously.
My distress to secure his release was stretched to its limit, and they knew it. "If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar!" they screamed. At that moment they were dyed-in-the-wool Roman loyalists. They wanted to accuse me of treason. Fear gripped me. Tiberius the Emperor was a ruler to be feared. His cruelty knew no bounds. I had to retain my reputation before him. Isn't this the proper resort in politics? Appeasement is the name of the game.
Also I was afraid of that fox Herod, even though our enmity had turned into a friendship of convenience for a time. One could never tell what sort of strings he was capable of pulling. I badly wanted to retain my prestigious well-paying job with its numerous fringe benefits. You can understand the precarious tight-rope acrobatics of a politician. In addition to those already mentioned, there was fear of the Jewish religious establishment. Their machinations are beyond grasp.
Here was I in front of a mob stirred up by politico-religious extremists. Logic, reason, sensible thinking were all discarded. In this whole episode there was no person more miserable than I. Here was I, the very judge, swimming all alone in the ocean of irresistible hatred and determined vindictiveness, of which the basic elements were enmity and malignity.
When I proclaimed, "Here is your king!" they flew into a rage. Repeated demands for his crucifixion were resolute. They did not want this king. Their allegiance was to Caesar. Could I change their mind? I employed every scheme I could think of, but to no avail. In this depressing quandary of being left between Scylla and Carybdis — truly a person in the middle — I realised the plight of others like me, seeking to rule and to succeed at the same time. My own conscience induced me to believe in his innocence, but the overpowering interest of the Empire and the intimidating authority of the Caesar left me indecisive. Not once or twice, but three times I pronounced him innocent. All to no avail! I finally passed the notorious verdict unwittingly. It was neither to be understood nor accepted. The unbroken acrimonious panorama was beclouded with unending ironies and in the midst of all I wavered as a manipulated actor, playing the prime role in the execution of the innocent.
Resorting to a common practice of theirs I took some water, washed my hands and said, "I am innocent of this man's blood!" Here was a guiltless person sent for crucifixion. I committed the greatest of all injustices in an unjust judicial setup I am told that a prophet of theirs said, "Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands a far off" (Isaiah 59:14; Habakkuk 1:4). They were eager to take the guilt on themselves, even at the peril of their own offspring! What a daring pronouncement, I mused. With deep pain I released the criminal Barabbas in keeping with their unflinching demand, and delivered him for crucifixion. I washed my hands, but who will wash my painful heart?
I sacrificed conviction for concession, credence for convention, and justice for appeasement. Since I could not determine a sole specific disorderliness in his life or conduct, and all their accusations fell flat before me, I wrote the inscription fitting best to the occasion: JESUS OF NAZARETH, KING OF THE JEWS. Deep within I was determined to be candid. The chief priests again protested vehemently, insisting on altering this designation. But, I had enough of their shenanigans. This time I remained adamant. It was my turn to vex them a little.
I followed the progress of the drama with interest and awe. I heard he made a few statements as he hung on the cross. The most amazing of these was his first word: "Father, forgive them!" What a staggering climax! In spite of the chain of heinous injustices, he had malice toward none. Conversely, he touchingly pled forgiveness for his tormentors. I cannot think of anyone dying in this manner.
I had heard of people praying all varieties of prayer, but nothing like this had ever reached my ears before. This prayer included me also. Until then I was quite sure of myself and my abilities. We rulers and politicians are convinced that we know everything and can enlighten those we govern. In one stroke he was negating our vain notions. Certainly, I was among those who knew what we were doing in this crucial case. He prayed that my ignorance and injustice be forgiven. Who else could pray such an open and sincere prayer for me? How I wished I had appropriated that earnest intercession made on my behalf and been affected by its transforming touch. But I did not respond to it. I was just one of the many who would not admit having done wrong, and repent.
After this episode a rumor reached me: The religious establishment was offering quite a sum of money to the soldiers in order to conceal some unheard of developments about the dead body: “If this comes to the Governor’s ears we’ll satisfy him and keep you out of trouble”. These unprincipled men were lying in dejection and distress. Indeed, news reached me that the tomb he was buried in was found empty; but they had no more nerve to encounter me. No doubt, the covering up continues. Such people must always invent fresh lies.
Now, will you cast the stone of accusation at me? Let me pose a question: What would you have done on that crucial morning if you had been in my position? What will you do now? The sad events which were my share constitute a call and admonition to you to change. Don't remain in the stubbornness of your heart and mind. Don't repeat my transgression and end the way I did.