home page links quotes statistics mission statement success stories resources Lighter Side Authors! Search Page
Posted February 22, 2007

Book: Who’s Who In The Age Of Jesus
Author: Geza Vermes
Penguin Reference Library. New York. 2006. Pp. 286

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

While the books of the New Testament are some of the most extraordinary documents ever created, they only give a partial picture of the world in which Jesus lived. Renowned biblical scholar Geza Vermes sifts through all the sources for the period to help us understand fully a rich and crowed Jewish, Roman and Hellenistic world. The result is essential reading for anyone wanting to know more about one of the most significant eras in world history.

– Contains biographies of all the major (and some minor) figures from Jesus’s era.

– Gives detailed portraits of Jesus, John the Baptist, Pontius Pilate, Herod and other key figures from the age.

– Provides full information on Jewish and Roman leaders often ignored in the Bible

– Includes a brief account of Jewish history from 63 BC to AD 135, chronological and geneological tables, a map of Palestine in the age of Jesus, comprehensive cross-referencing and a glossary to fully elucidate the complex links between people and stories.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Pontius Pilate is the best known of all the Roman governors of Judea. He held his office from 26 to 36 CE. A Latin inscription, discovered in 1961 in Caesarea, discloses that officially he bore the title ‘prefect’ and not that of ‘procurator’, as subsequent sources, including the Roman historian Tacitus, tells us. Pilate’s Judaean performance is assessed in some detail by Josephus and Philo, but his lasting notoriety is unquestionably due to the New Testament, that is, to the part he played in the condemnation to death and crucifixion of Jesus. His name even entered the Christian Creed. There exist two very different portraits of Pilate, one drawn by the first-century CE Jewish writers Philo and Josephus, and the other by the evangelists and the early Church. The two have manifestly little in common.

The Pilate of Josephus is a harsh, insensitive and cruel official who fully earned his dismissal from office by his regional superior Vitellius, the Roman governor of Syria in 26/7 CE. Apparently, soon after his arrival in Judaea, Pilate broke with the custom of his predecessors, who respected the religious sensitivities of the Jews, and commanded his soldiers to march into Jerusalem carrying Roman standards bearing the image of the emperor, thus unnecessarily causing provocation and offence. Next, he gave rise to a popular upheaval when he unlawfully appropriated the money called Corban (offering) from the Temple treasury and used it for the construction of an aqueduct bringing water to Jerusalem. Crowds of Jews protested. Though unarmed, many were slaughtered by the legionaries on Pilate’s order, while others were trodden to death in the ensuing tumult. The so-called Testimonium Flavianum, Josephus’ notice on Jesus, is inserted in this context of calamities. It refers to the cruicifixion of Jesus as one of the outrages brought about by Pilate. A further criminal act, which finally led to Pilate’s dismissal, was a murderous attack on a group of Samaritans. On the complaints lodged by Jewish notables, Vitellius relieved Pilate of his office and ordered him to appear before the emperor in Rome to account for his misdeeds. A further act of cruelty, unrecorded in Josephus but attested in the Gospel of Luke (13:1) relates to the massacre of Galilean Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem with their sacrificial offerings.

Philo, a contemporary of Pilate, has no personal testimony to offer, but quotes at length a letter of the Jewish king Agrippa I (37041 CE) to the emperor Caligula, in which Pilate is described as a stubborn, irascible and vindictive man. He is said to have been naturally inflexible, a blend of self-will and obduracy. As a governor he was guilty of insults, robberies, outrages and wanton injuries, in addition to accepting bribes; he was also responsible for numerous executions without trial as well as for numerous act of grievous cruelty. It would be hard to paint a darker picture.

In contrast, the Pilate of the New Testament is a totally different person. He appears as a fair-minded weakling, who found Jesus innocent of the charges leveled against him by the Jewish leaders. He sought to avoid the need to pass judgement by attempting to hand Jesus over to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, who happened to be in Jerusalem for the Passover festival. Only after Antipas had declined to get involved in the case and had returned Jesus to Pilate did the governor half-heartedly consent, against the advice of his wife, who had a nightmare about Jesus, to sentence him to crucifixion, not without further protesting his innocence by washing his hands of a righteous man’s blood.

As far as the respective characterization go, the Pilate of Josephus and Philo is irreconcilable with the Pilate of the evangelists. In support of the Gospel portrayal one may cite the usual reluctance of the Roman authorities to get involved in strictly Jewish matters (for instance, whether being the Christ-Messiah amounted to political rebellion). The Gospel of John brings this aspect of the affair to the fore with Pilate declaring that Jesus had broken no Roman law and suggesting that his accusers should judge him by their own rules and regulations.

Only their objection of questionable validity — namely, that Jewish courts had no right to execute Jewish criminals — provides ground in the Fourth Gospel for Pilate continuing the case against Jesus.

Another detail in the Gospel account which is intended to show Pilate’s sympathetic attitude towards Jesus is the anecdote of the so-called paschal privilege (privilegium paschale) connected with the Barabbbas episode. On the eve of the Feast of Passover it was the governor’s custom to liberate (or the Jews’ custom to ask for the release of) a prisoner. Pilate was holding a notorious criminal by the name of Barabass, who had been involved in murder in the course of an uprising. He offered the Jewish crowd the choice between the wicked Barabbas and the innocent Jesus. The crowd opted for the villain. However, the historicity of the story is debatable. No ancient document, narrative or legal, Jewish or Roman, attests a Passover amnesty.

It is often thought that the New Testament image of a kindly, hesitant and indecisive Pilate stems from the desire of the evangelists not to place full blame for the death of Jesus on the representative of Rome. However, the most convincing evidence for Pilate’s disregard for the law is the fact that it was on account of his cruelty that he was demoted from his office by the emperor and sent into exile.

Later Christian tradition developed two different pictures of Pilate. According to the negative version he was either executed by Tiberius or Nero, or he committed suicide and his body, accompanied by demons was transported to Vienne in Gaul. As the River Rhone spat out his corpse, it was finally transported to Switzerland and buried in a well on a mountain close to Lake Lucerne known as Mount Pilate or Pilatusberg. But there is also a favorable Christian of Pilate. Eusebius is credited a legendary report that Pilate informed Tiberius about the resurrection of Jesus and about the belief of Christians that he was God. The emperor referred the matter to the senate, which rejected the idea. The Latin Church father Tertullian believed that Pilate was a crypto-Christian at the time of the trial of Jesus, and the fourth-century legendary Acts of Pilate describes his dealings with Jesus in a favorable light. But the posthumous fame of Pilate reached its climax when the Egyptian Coptic Church decided to canonize the former prefect of Judeaea and venerate him as a saint.

Table of Contents:

Classified Lists (chronologically arranged)

Roman emperors and statesmen

Jewish/Herodian rulers

Roman governors of Judaea

Roman governors of Syria

Proconsul of Achaia

Jewish high priests

Leading women


Jewish charismatics and ascetics

Jewish revolutionaries


New Testament personalities

Genealogical Tables

The Hasmonaean family

The Herodian family