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Fathers of the Church

The Letter of Pontius Pilate which He Wrote to the Roman Emperor, concerning Our Lord Jesus Christ

Description

In this letter Pilate tells Emperor Claudius of the Jews' crime of killing their Savior, describes Christ's miracles, and relates that the Jews accused Him of being a magician. Pilate believed the accusation and allowed Jesus to be executed. However, the soldiers who guarded his tomb revealed that He had risen, even though the Jews bribed them to be silent. Pilate warns the Emperor of the deceptive nature of the Jews at the end of the letter. Included here are three versions, including the first and second Greek forms.

Provenance

When early Christianity was still struggling with Roman paganism, there was a widespread inclination to focus on Pontius Pilate's role in the Passion as the one representative of the Roman Empire who became involved. Many apocryphal works were composed during this time that exaggerated Pilate's weak defense of Christ into an apology for His innocent passion and death, Resurrection, and His Divinity. This letter in particular claims to be written by Pontius Pilate to Emperor Claudius. Tertullian and Justin Martyr seemed to refer to an account of Christ's Passion sent by Pilate to Rome, but critics conclude that Justin, at least, was making a guess on the basis of probability. Also, this spurious letter could have been composed afterwards as seemingly connected with these Fathers' references and thus gain credibility. Eusebius relates that during Maximin's persecutions in the fourth century, many spurious anti-Christian Acts of Pilate were composed in Syria, and this spurious letter was probably composed in response.

by Unknown in Fourth century. | translated by Alexander Walker, Esq., One of Her Majesty's Inspectors of schools for Scotland

Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar the emperor, greeting.

Upon Jesus Christ, whose case I had dearly set forth to thee in my last, at length by the will of the people a bitter punishment has been inflicted, myself being in a sort unwilling and rather afraid. A man, by Hercules, so pious and strict, no age has ever had nor will have. But wonderful were the efforts of the people themselves, and the unanimity of all the scribes and chief men and elders, to crucify this ambassador of truth, notwithstanding that their own prophets, and after our manner the sibyls, warned them against it: and supernatural signs appeared while he was hanging, and, in the opinion of philosophers, threatened destruction to the whole world. His disciples are flourishing, in their work and the regulation of their lives not belying their master; yea, in his name most beneficent. Had I not been afraid of the rising of a sedition among the people, who were just on the point of breaking out, perhaps this man would still have been alive to us; although, urged more by fidelity to thy dignity than induced by my own wishes, I did not according to my strength resist that innocent blood free from the whole charge brought against it, but unjustly, through the malignity of men, should be sold and suffer, yet, as the Scriptures signify, to their own destruction. Farewell, 28th March.

THE REPORT OF PILATE THE PROCURATOR CONCERNING OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST SENT TO THE AUGUST CAESAR IN ROME

FIRST GREEK FORM:

In those days, our Lord Jesus Christ having been crucified under Pontius Pilate, procurator of Palestine and Phoenicia, these records were made in Jerusalem as to what was done by the Jews against the Lord. Pilate therefore, along with his private report, sent them to the Caesar in Rome, writing thus:—

To the most mighty, venerable, most divine, and most terrible, the august Caesar, Pilate the governor of the East sends greeting. I have, O most mighty, a narrative to give thee, on account of which I am seized with fear and trembling. For in this government of mine, of which one of the cities is called Jerusalem, all the people of the Jews have delivered to me a man named Jesus, bringing many charges against him, which they were not able to convict him of by the consistency of their evidence. And one of the heresies they had against him was, that Jesus said that their Sabbath should not be a day of leisure, and should not be observed. For he performed many cures on that day: he made the blind receive their sight, the lame walk; he raised up the dead, he cleansed the lepers; he healed paralytics that were not at all able to make any movement of their body, or to keep their nerves steady, but who had only speech and the modulation of their voice, and he gave them the power of walking and running, removing their illness by a single word. Another thing again, more powerful still, which is strange even with our gods: he raised up one that had been dead four days, summoning him by a single word, when the dead man had his blood corrupted, and when his body was destroyed by the worms produced in it, and when it had the stink of a dog And seeing him lying in the tomb, he ordered him to run. Nor had he anything of a dead body about him at all; but as a bridegroom from the bridal chamber, so he came forth from the tomb filled with very great fragrance. And strangers that were manifestly demoniac, and that had their dwelling in deserts, and ate their own flesh, living like beasts and creeping things, even these he made to be dwellers in cities, and by his word restored them to soundness of mind, and rendered them wise and able and reputable, eating with all the enemies of the unclean spirits that dwelt in them for their destruction, which he cast down into the depths of the sea. And again there was another having a withered hand; and not the hand only, but rather the half of the body of the man, was petrified, so that he had not the form of a than, or the power of moving his body. And him by a word he healed, and made sound. And a woman that had an issue of blood for many years, and whose joints and veins were drained by the flowing of the blood, so that she did not present the appearance of a human being, but was like a corpse, and was speechless every day, so that all the physicians of the district could not cure her. For there was not any hope of life left to her. And when Jesus passed by, she mysteriously received strength through his overshadowing her; and she took hold of his fringe behind, and immediately in the same hour power filled up what in her was empty, so that, no longer suffering any pain, she began to run swiftly to her own city Kepharnaum, so as to accomplish the journey in six days.

And these are the things which I lately had in my mind to report, which Jesus accomplished on the Sabbath. And other signs greater than these he did, so that I have perceived that the wonderful works done by him are greater than can be done by the gods whom we worship.

And him Herod and Archelaus and Philip, Annas and Caiaphas, with all the people, delivered to me, making a great uproar against me that I should try him. I therefore ordered him to be crucified, having first scourged him, and having found against him no cause of evil accusations or deeds.

And at the time he was crucified there was darkness over all the world, the sun being darkened at mid-day, and the stars appearing, but in them there appeared no lustre; and the moon, as if turned into blood, failed in her light. And the world was swallowed up by the lower regions, so that the very sanctuary of the temple, as they call it, could not be seen by the Jews in their fall; and they saw below them a chasm of the earth, with the roar of the thunders that fell upon it. And in that terror dead men were seen that had risen, as the Jews themselves testified; and they said that it was Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs, and Moses and Job, that had died, as they say, three thousand five hundred years before. And there were very many whom I also saw appearing in the body; and they were making a lamentation about the Jews, on account of the wickedness that bad come to pass through them, and the destruction of the Jews and of their law.

And the fear of the earthquake remained from the sixth hour of the preparation until the ninth hour. And on the evening of the first day of the week there was a sound out of the heaven, so that the heaven became enlightened sevenfold more than all the days. And at the third hour of the night also the sun was seen brighter than it had ever shone before, lighting up all the heaven. And as lightnings come suddenly in winter, so majestic men appeared in glorious robes, an innumerable multitude, whose voice was heard as that of a very great thunder, crying out: Jesus that was crucified is risen: come up out of Hades, ye that have been enslaved in the underground regions of Hades. And the chasm of the earth was as if it had no bottom; but it was as if the very foundations of the earth appeared along with those that cried out in the heavens, and walked about in the body in the midst of the dead that had risen. And he that raised up all the dead, and bound Hades, said: Say to my disciples, He goes before you into Galilee; there shall you see him.

And all that night the light did not cease shining. And many of the Jews died, swallowed up in the chasm of the earth, so that on the following day most of those who had been against Jesus could not be found. Others saw the appearing of those that had risen, whom no one of us had ever seen. And only one synagogue of the Jews was left in this Jerusalem, since all disappeared in that fall.

With that terror, being in perplexity, and seized with a most frightful trembling, I have written what I saw at that time, and have reported to thy majesty. Having set in order also what was done by the Jews against Jesus, I have sent it, my lord, to thy divinity.

THE REPORT OF PONTIUS PILATE, PROCURATOR OF JUDAEA SENT TO ROME TO TIBERIUS CAESAR.

SECOND GREEK FORM:

To the most mighty, venerable, awful, most divine, the august,—Pilatus Pontius, the governor of the East: I have to report to thy reverence, through this writing of mine, being seized with great trembling and fear, O most mighty emperor, the conjuncture of the present times, as the end of these things has shown. For while I, my lord, according to the commandment of thy clemency, was discharging the duties of my government, which is one of the cities of the East, Jerusalem by name, in which is built the temple of the Jewish nation, all the multitude of the Jews came together, and delivered to me a certain man named Jesus, bringing against him many and groundless charges; and they were not able to convict him in anything. And one heresy of theirs against him was, that he said that the Sabbath was not their right rest. And that man wrought many cures, in addition to good works. He made the blind see; he cleansed lepers; he raised the dead; he healed paralytics who could not move at all, except that they only had their voice, and the joining of their bones; and he gave them the power of walking about and running, commanding them by a single word. And another mightier work he did, which was strange even with our gods: he raised up a dead man, Lazarus, who had been dead four days, by a single word ordering the dead man to be raised, although his body was already corrupted by the worms that grow in wounds; and that ill-smelling body lying in the tomb he ordered to run; and as a bridegroom from the bridal chamber, so he came forth out of the tomb, filled with exceeding fragrance. And some that were cruelly vexed by demons, and had their dwellings in deserts, and ate the flesh of their own limbs, and lived along with reptiles and wild beasts, he made to be dwellers in cities in their own houses, and by a word he rendered them sound-minded; and he made those that were troubled by unclean spirits to be intelligent and reputable; and sending away the demons in them into a herd of swine, he suffocated them in the sea. Another man, again, who had a withered hand, and lived in sorrow, and had not even the half of his body sound, he rendered sound by a single word. And a woman that had a flow of blood for many years, so that, in consequence of the flowing of her blood, all the joinings of her bones appeared, and were transparent like glass; and assuredly all the physicians had left her without hope, and had not cleansed her, for there was not in her a single hope of health: once, then, as Jesus was passing by, she took hold of the fringe of his clothes behind, and that same hour the power of her body was completely restored, and she became whole, as if nothing were the matter with her, and she began to run swiftly to her own city Paneas.

And these things indeed were so. And the Jews gave information that Jesus did these things on the Sabbath. And I also ascertained that the miracles done by him were greater than any which the gods whom we worship could do.

Him then Herod and Archelaus and Philip, and Annas and Caiaphas, with all the people, delivered to me to try him. And as many were exciting an insurrection against me, I ordered him to be crucified.

And when he had been crucified, there was darkness over the whole earth, the sun having been completely hidden, and the heaven appearing dark though it was day, so that the stars appeared, but had at the same time their brightness darkened, as I suppose your reverence is not ignorant of, because in all the world they lighted lamps from the sixth hour until evening. And the moon, being like blood, did not shine the whole night, and yet she happened to be at the full. And the stars also, and Orion, made a lament about the Jews, on account of the wickedness that had been done by them.

And on the first of the week, about the third hour of the night, the sun was seen such as it had never at any time shone, and all the heaven was lighted up. And as lightnings come on in winter, so majestic men of indescribable splendour of dress and of glory appeared in the air, and an innumerable multitude of angels crying out, and saying: Glory in the highest to God, and on earth peace, among men goodwill: come up out of Hades, ye who have been kept in slavery in the underground regions of Hades. And at their voice all the mountains and hills were shaken, and the rocks were burst asunder; and great chasms were made in the earth, so that also what was in the abyss appeared. And there were seen in that terror dead men raised up, as the Jews that saw them said: We have seen Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the twelve patriarchs, that died two thousand five hundred years ago; and we have seen Noah manifestly in the body. And all the multitude walked about, and sang praises to God with a loud voice, saying: The Lord our God that has risen from the dead has brought to life all the dead, and has plundered Hades, and put him to death.

All that night therefore, my lord, O king, the light ceased not. And many of the Jews died, and were engulphed and swallowed up in the chasms in that night, so that not even their bodies appeared. Those, I say, of the Jews suffered that had spoken against Jesus. And one synagogue was left in Jerusalem, since all those synagogues that had been against Jesus were engulphed.

From that fear, then, being in perplexity, and seized with much trembling, at that same hour I ordered what had been done by them all to be written; and I have reported it to thy mightiness.

Taken from "The Early Church Fathers and Other Works" originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. in English in Edinburgh, Scotland, beginning in 1867. (ANF 8, Roberts and Donaldson). The digital version is by The Electronic Bible Society, P.O. Box 701356, Dallas, TX 75370, 214-407-WORD.