Pontius Pilate - Prefect, not Procurator
Pontius Pilate is remembered in the gospels as the Roman ruler of Judea who caved into a lynch mob's demands and had Jesus crucified. For centuries, some scholars and skeptics argued that the gospel accounts were not historically accurate. Some suggested that Pilate was merely a mythical character, a fictional creation in the Jesus myth.
Apart from the gospels, the only early evidence that Pilate ever existed came from the Jewish philosopher Philo and the Jewish historian Josephus, along with a brief mention by the Roman historian Tacitus.
In the summer of 1961, however, Italian archaeologist Antonio Frova found a piece of limestone high in the ruins of an ancient theater in Caesarea. The stone bore a partial inscription which included the name of Pontius Pilate. The archaeologist had no trouble filling in the blanks. It read:
PONTIUS PILATE, PREFECT OF JUDEA, HAS PRESENTED THE TIBERIEUM TO THE CAESAREANS
This simple sentence marked the first archaeological evidence of the existence of Pontius Pilate, and added the following insight into the authenticity of the gospel writers' accounts:
Pontius Pilate's title was traditionally thought to have been "procurator of Judea" since the Roman historian Tacitus (writing in the second century AD) refers to him as such. However, the Pilate stone refers to him as "prefect of Judea". "Prefects" were governors in charge of parts of larger provinces.
As it turns out, it was not until the rule of the emperor Claudius (who governed from 41 to 54 AD) that the title of the Roman governors changed from "prefect" to "procurator". The gospel writers accurately label Pilate (who ruled from 26 to 36AD) as "prefect" (or "governor"), not "procurator".
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