Apologetics, Archaeology, Bible, Main, z114
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2,000-year-old ring discovered belonging to Pontius Pilate?

Pontius Pilate presenting Christ to the crowd by Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891)/Wikipedia

Pontius Pilate presenting Christ to the crowd by Antonio Ciseri (1821-1891)/Wikipedia

A copper alloy ring discovered 50 years ago during a dig at Herod’s burial tomb and palace between 1968-69 may have belonged to Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect who ruled Judea between 26 and 36 AD (CE).

The ring was part of hundreds of artifacts discovered at the dig. After being in storage for several decades, the Israeli Antiquities Authority had the ring cleaned and analyzed. Using a special camera, they discovered the words “of Pilate ” (Pilatus) engraved on the center of the ring around the image of a large wine vessel called a Krater.

Authority, drawing by J. Rodman/Israel Antiquities Authority

Pontius Pilate’s ring, Photo by C. Am, Israel Antiquities Authority, drawing by J. Rodman/Israel Antiquities Authority

Because of its discovery in the Herod excavation, there is speculation the ring belonged to Pontius Pilate, the man who ordered Christ’s crucifixion. The down side is the ring is not of great quality which caused some to question whether it would be a ring Pontius Pilate would have worn.

However, the best evidence that it belonged to Pontius Pilate is due to the name. While Pontius is common enough, the name Pilate was “extremely rare.” In fact, there have been no other individuals discovered from this time who had the name Pilate.

In an interview with the Israeli publication Ha’aretz, Danny Schwartz with Hebrew University commented:

“I don’t know of any other Pilatus from the period and the ring shows he was a person of stature and wealth.”

Despite its poor quality, archaeologists suspect it was a sealing ring used to stamp an impression in wax, sealing official documents. It could have been worn by a member of Pilate’s administrative staff or even Pilate himself during his day-to-day routine, that he would have replaced it with a more elaborate gold ring for public events.

The Caesarea Stone discovered in 1961 describing Pontius Pilate as Prefect confirming the Biblical record: Credit: Israel Museum

The Caesarea Stone discovered in 1961 describing Pontius Pilate as Prefect confirming the Biblical record: Credit: Israel Museum

There are several mentions of Pontius Pilate from historical records including the writings of Josephus and Philo (ancient Jewish writers) and Tactius, an ancient Roman historian. They have also discovered Pilate’s name carved into a large stone that was part of a building in Caesarea. Dated to 30 AD, despite its damage archaeologists confirmed that it read “Pontius Pilate Prefect of Judea.”

In an article in the Biblical Archaeology Review, author Lawrence Mykytiuk also elaborated on the rarity of Pilate’s name in relation to this stone block:

“Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus, which appears in full, and because only one Pontius Pilate was ever the Roman governor of Judae, this identification should be regarded as absolutely certain.”

The Bible also mentions Pilate several times through his role in Christ’s crucifixion.

Perhaps his most famous statement was made during Pilate’s questioning of Jesus when he asked the question “What is truth?” (John 18:38), implying that truth is what people want it to be.

The Jewish leaders had just given Christ to Pilate demanding he crucify Christ for treason claiming that He was leading an insurrection against Rome.

During the questioning Pilate had asked Christ if He was King of the Jews as claimed by the Jewish leaders. Jesus responded that He was a King, but not of this world, and added that He was speaking the truth to which Pilate responded with his infamous statement “What is truth.”

Though the Jewish people heralded Jesus as He entered Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders wanted Christ eliminated and put political pressure on Pilate to execute Jesus.

Pilate knew from his interrogation that Christ was not guilty of these accusations (Luke 23:14) and this was compounded by a dream that his wife received telling her husband, he was about to execute an innocent man (Matthew 27:19).

But when politics enters any discussion, the truth is quickly set aside, contaminated, twisted or compromised. It seems not much has changed over the past two centuries when issues become political.

Even at the end, Pilate tried to gain Christ’s release as he traditionally freed a Jewish criminal during Passover. When Pilate offered to release Christ, stirred up by the Jewish leaders, the crowd cried out for Barabbas instead (Matthew 27:20-21).

When Pilate sent Christ to be crucified in a gesture that was probably his last kick at the political pressure, he had the words “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” put on the cross, an action that frustrated the Jewish leaders (John 19:19-21).


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