Pontius Pilate was the Prefect of Judea that condemned Jesus to death (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 18 and 19). He is mentioned 61 times in the New Testament. He governed Judea from A.D. 26 to 36.
The Pontius Pilate Inscription from Caesarea Maritima—now in the Israel Museum.
Pilate was facing at least two major problems when Jesus appeared before him to be tried. The first was that he needed to deal with any potential rebellion against Rome—what else would a “king of the Jews” do?
A second problem was how seriously should Pilate take the accusation that
John 19:7-8 . . . he [Jesus] must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this, he [Pilate] was even more afraid,
Why was Pilate “more afraid” when he heard this charge? Well, the dead “ascended” Augustus was worshiped throughout the Roman Empire as a deity. By the time that Jesus began his public ministry there were Imperial Cult Temples (namely those at Caesarea Maritima, Sebastia, and the one near Caesarea Philippi [= Omrit]) that had been in existence for over 40 years!
And in addition, Augustus’ son, and now Emperor(!), Tiberius, was worshiped as the “son of god” (that is, the son of the deified Augustus)! In this regard it is not often remembered that it was Pilate who built a temple for the worship of Tiberius as the “son of god” at Caesarea Maritima! How could there be a “son of God” to compete with the Imperial “son of god?” In addition Pilate was confronted with the potential accusation of the local leadership: “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar” (John 19:12). Pilate had a “lot on his plate!”
In light of this, I invite you to check out the following description and discussion of the “Pilate Inscription” from Caesarea Maritima.
In 1961 by an Italian expedition that was excavating the theater at Caesarea Maritima discovered a Latin inscription that actually mentions him.
The “Pilate” Inscription from Caesarea Maritima
When people comment on this inscription they usually emphasize that now there is actual archaeological evidence for Pilate’s activity in Judea and that his title was “Prefect.” This is fine, BUT what about the word “Tiberieum” in the first line? To what does “Tiberieum” refer?
This stone was used at least three ways. First, it was probably a dedicatory inscription in a temple called a “Tiberieum.” Pilate built this temple to honor the Roman Emperor Tiberius (A.D. 14–37)—the current “son of god”! This was then the second imperial cult temple in Caesarea—the first was the (probably much larger) Imperial Cult Temple that had been built by Herod the Great (37– 4 BC) for the worship of Augustus and deified Roma!
Thus it should be noted that at Caesarea Maritima the imperial cult founded by Herod the Great was still being practiced AND that Pilate as a good governor was also promoting the Imperial Cult—adding a structure for the worship of the ruling Roman emperor, Tiberius (14–37). All of this going on during the time of Jesus’ public ministry (ca. 26–30)!
Secondly, the stone was taken from the temple and used as part of a well–head—note the half-circle on the right hand side. Finally, it was used as a step in the fourth century Byzantine theater (where it was discovered).
Four lines of the Latin inscription are visible.
[_ _ _]S TIBERIÉUM
[_ _ PO]NTIUS PILATUS
[_ _ _ _ _ ] É [_ _ _ _ _ _ _] (Taylor, p. 564)
[. . .] Tiberieum
[. Po]ntius Pilate
[Pref]ect of Judaea
[. . .]e[. . .] (p. 565)
Joan E. Taylor translates the inscription as: “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judaea, [made and d]e[dicated] the Tiberieum for the (Augustan) gods” (p. 570).
For a detailed development of this topic please see Joan E. Taylor “Pontius Pilate and the Imperial Cult in Roman Judaea.” New Testament Studies 52 (2006): 555–82—especially pages 564–65.