To dispel the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits, and treated with the most extreme punishments, some people, popularly known as Christians, whose disgraceful activities were notorious. The originator of that name, Christus, had been executed when Tiberius was emperor, by order of the procurator Pontius Pilatus. But the deadly cult, though checked for a time, was now breaking out again not only in Judea, the birthplace of this evil, but even throughout Rome, where all the nasty and disgusting ideas from all over the world pour in and find a ready following.
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, for he was a performer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of such men as are happy to accept the truth. He won over many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the leading men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not forsake him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.
Philo described Pilate as “a man of inflexible, stubborn and cruel disposition.” But there was no archaeological evidence of Pilate’s existence until archaeologists discovered a slab of rock with his name on it in a theater in Caesarea in 1961. It reads in Latin:
This is literally translated:
To the honorable gods (this) Tiberium
Prefect of Judea,
A Tiberium was a temple used in the worship of Tiberius Caesar. Apparently Pilate had dedicated such a temple, and an inscription was made in the temple walls (or attached to the temple) to commemorate the event. Tiberius Caesar reigned from AD 14-37, so the inscription must have been created during that time. This fits the time-frame of the governorship of the Biblical Pilate.
There are two good reasons to think this stone refers to the Biblical Pilate. First, we only know of one man named Pilate who governed Judea, particularly during the reign of Tiberius. Secondly, the title ascribed to this Pilate is “prefect.” This is interesting because the title Tacitus gave to Pilate was “procurator.” We now know, however, that governors in Judea were called “prefect” during the time Herod Agrippa I was declared king of Judea: AD 6-44. After Agrippa’s death in AD 44 Judea reverted back to direct Roman rule, and the governors began being called “procurators.” Either Titus was unaware of this change in title, or he was intentionally speaking anachronistically for the benefit of his readers who may not be familiar with the pre-44 title. Either way, the fact that “prefect” appears on the Pilate Stone allows us to date this Pilate to AD 6-44, which fits precisely with the dating of the Biblical Pilate, as well as the extra-biblical information we have concerning Pilate’s rule.
- This find provides archaeological confirmation of the existence of Pilate.
The Pilate Stone is currently housed in The Israel Museum.