The Bible and Modern Discoveries (5): The Stele of Pontius Pilate

August 09, 2019

During excavations in the ruins of Caesarea of ​​Palestine in 1961, a stone was discovered bearing an inscription mentioning Pontius Pilate. Preserved at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, for a long time it was the only known piece of archaeological evidence to give the name of the one who condemned Christ to crucifixion.

Among the many attacks on the authenticity of the Gospels, the denial of the very existence of Pontius Pilate has been advanced at various times. It was argued that there was no mention of his name in the pages of ancient literature but actually, three authors speak of it: the Jewish historian Flavius ​​Josephus (c. AD 37-100), the Jewish philosopher Philon of Alexandria (20 BC-AD 45) and the historian Roman Tacitus (AD 58-120). But there was no archaeological evidence or trace left on any monument in Palestine.

The stone of Caesarea thus provides material proof of the existence of the one who conducted the investigation for the Roman trial of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, through skepticism and cowardice, ended up condemning Him to death.

The Stele Was Reused as a Step in the Tiers of a Theater

The stone was discovered in the city’s theater. Due to its being recycled as a step in a staircase in the fifth or sixth century, part of the inscription has been lost, but it could easily be restored.

The Latin inscription: …]S TIBERIVM …PON]TIVS PILATVS …PRAEF]ECTVS IVDA[EA]”—(S) can be translated as follows: Tibérium...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea... Tiberium refers to the Emperor Tiberius (AD 14-37), adopted son and successor of Augustus. In Latin, the different ending of the word, the “um,” shows that it may refer to a monument to which the name of the emperor had been given—just as Caesarea is derived from Caesar. It remains to be determined what type of monument it is.

It cannot be a temple that would be dedicated to Tiberius, because in Latin it would be the dative: Tiberio - to Tiberius. Therefore, it is probably a civil building. Pilate respectfully gave it the name of the emperor. Fr. Jean-Pierre Lemonon, author of a famous book on Pilate, suggests it may be a public square, an administrative building, or even a colonnade.

Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea

In addition to providing this material proof, the discovery also sheds light on Pontius Pilate’s official title in the province of Judea. The three authors cited above gave him the title of procurator, while the Gospel refers to him by the title of governor, which remains imprecise. But at that time, procurator was applied only to a limited authority. The title which corresponds to the functions he exercised in the New Testament is that of prefect. Now that is the one the inscription gives us.

Thus, we can translate this mutilated inscription: “For the inhabitants of Caesarea, a Tiberium...Pontius Pilate...prefect of Judea...dedicated.” [Or  “Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, has dedicated to the people of Caesarea a Tiberium.”]

Let us add that a ring, discovered 50 years ago, but having yielded its secret only last year, also bears the name of Pilate.

The reference to Pontius Pilate in the Gospels, even though his memory has been so little preserved by history, is a new proof of their veracity. No later author could thus have resuscitated the memory of a forgotten and despised man.