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pilateYou read that aright. To the Ethiopian Orthodox, Pilate is a saint, and to other Orthodox, so is his wife.

Our main sources for Pilate, apart from the Gospels, are the Jewish historians Flavius Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. Both portray Pilate as an autocratic tyrant. This may be, as some modern historians sepculate, because as Jews the two men had an agenda; but they should not forget that sometimes the simplest explanation is the best – that Pilate may indeed have been arrogant and condescending to the Jews.  Judea was not what the British Diplomatic Service would have called a first-class posting, indeed it was way down the pecking order. No Senator would have taken the post of Judea, and it may well be that Pilate was a ‘knight’; he would have been Prefect of Judea, not legate or proconsul. One of Pilate’s advisors was the hight priest, Caiaphas, and it is clear he relied heavily on him for local knowledge and support.

Josephus and Philo both have accounts of the difficulties Pilate’s attitude created, and to dismiss their accounts without good cause seems unwise in the presence of so little other evidence. Roman prefects were not there to spread goodwill and to serve – they were there to rnforce the will of Rome and to make money for themselves. We know that after 11 years Pilate was recalled. But that is not that. The early Christians took a lively interest in him.  Both Tertullian and Justin Martyr refer to the Acts of Pilate, which appear in the medieval Gospel of Nicodemus. None of these accounts is genuine. The Report of Pilate to Claudius is clearly based on the Gospel accounts. Eusebius records that not long after his recalle, Pilate was “wearied with misfortunes,” and he killed himself.

Pilate’s wife, Procula is mentioned in only one verse of the New Testament, Matthew 27:19: ‘When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.’ In his homily on Matthew, the second century theologian, Origen, suggested she became a Christian. The Ethiopian and Eastern Orthodox Churches both recognise her as a saint.

She, like her husband, became a repository for the hopes and fears of many gentile Christians. It clearly helped the early church to have the pair as converts, whether they were or not. It is interesting that the early stories have her converting, as that was certainly a common practice. The modern fuss about women and ordination ironically diverts attention from the fact that women were often the first converts and often hosted the house churches characteristic of the early church.

Pilate was a common enough figure in history. A small man faced with big events. He did his best, for himself, and ended, as many do, badly.

There one might leave it. But think what the result of Pilate not doing as he did would have been? Without the crucifixion there could have been no atoning sacrifice, and without that, no redemption. How else could we be made righteous in the eys of God? Pilate’s weakness played to the vast scheme of the redemption of mankind. We might think less harshly of him as a result.