Monday, May 2, 2011

The Minor, Trivial Biblical Stuff, Part 9: Pontius Pilate, Second Part

Later, on another occasion:

After this he raised another disturbance, by expending that sacred treasure which is called korbonas upon aqueducts, whereby he brought water from the distance of four hundred furlongs. At this the multitude had indignation; and when Pilate was come to Jerusalem, they came about his tribunal, and made a clamor at it.

Now when he was apprized aforehand of this disturbance, he mixed his own soldiers in their armor with the multitude, and ordered them to conceal themselves under the habits of private men, and not indeed to use their swords, but with their staves to beat those that made the clamor. He then gave the signal from his tribunal [to do as he had bidden them].

Now the Jews were so sadly beaten, that many of them perished by the stripes they received, and many of them perished as trodden to death by themselves; by which means the multitude was astonished at the calamity of those that were slain, and held their peace.

- Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2.175-177

But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do.

So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.

- Josephus, Antiquities 18.60-62

Korbanas: among the Jews the holy treasury. Pilate spent the holy treasury on an aqueduct and stirred up a riot. It brought in water from a distance of seventy-two kilometers. Bringing in his army, he killed many.

- The Souda, 'Korbanas'
The construction of the aquaduct - its length was twenty kilometers - had been ordered by Herod the Great. Pilate could not finish the building; it was inaugurated by Herod Agrippa, who reigned in Jerusalem from AD 41 to AD 44.

The treasury Josephus describes as korbonas is known from Jewish sources as qorban (cf. Matthew 27:6 "It is not lawful to put them to the korbanas"), and Jewish law permitted the use of money from this treasury for social welfare and public works (Mishna, Šeqalim 4.2). Granted, the Mishna dates from a later period, but it could be possible that a similar law was in force in the 1st century. Of course the Temple authorities, whose duty it was to administer the money, had to cooperate, but their consent - whether voluntary or coerced we do not know - is implied in the story. Had they refused, Josephus would have told us that Pilate stole the money and expressed horror that a pagan had violated the Temple.

It is unclear what Pilate did wrong, especially since the construction of an aqueduct was surely an undertaking that would have improved the inhabitants' standard of living enormously (and which it did, as Jerusalem's water supply was limited). It could be that he took the initiative, instead of allowing Caiaphas to take the credits. Or he could have completely drained the funds, which were primarily used for sacrificial purposes. Supposing that a law similar to that found in the Mishna did exist at that time, Pilate would have received surplus money from the treasury for use in the aqueduct's construction. Problem would have only arose when Pilate began to wantonly spend the money and demand more than the surplus for his venture from the priests. Building projects are after all notorious requiring more money than initially expected.

The demonstration seems to have taken place at a feast, because Pilate was staying in Jerusalem (the governor usually stayed here during feastdays to monitor the crowds and to check for potential unrest). It may have been during this festival that the soldiers "mingled the blood of the Galileans with their sacrifices" (Luke 13:1). The fact that Pilate's soldiers could be hidden among the populace may suggest that they were not Italians, but belonged to a locally-recruited unit (say, the Samaritan Ala I Sebastenorum or Cohors I Sebastenorum).

Not too later would come the most well-known incident in the life of Pilate, so familiar that I would step aside and let the authors do the talking.

And immediately in early-morning the chief priests, having made counsel, with the elders and scribes and the whole Council, having bound Jesus, carried Him off and handed Him over to Pilate. And Pilate questioned Him: “Are you the King of the Judaeans?” Now He, answering, says to him, “You say it.” And the chief priests were accusing Him much. Now Pilate again questioned Him, [saying,] “Do you not answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus no more answered anything, so that Pilate wondered.

Now at every feast he was releasing for them one prisoner whom they were asking. Now there was the one called ‘Barabbas’, bound with fellow-insurrectionists who had in the insurrection committed murder; and the crowd, having went up, began asking him to do as he was always doing for them. And Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want that I should release for you ‘the King of the Judaeans’?” (For he knew that because of envy the chief priests had handed Him over.)

But the chief priests stirred up the crowd that he should rather release Barabbas for them; and Pilate answering, again said to them, “What, then [do you want] me to do with [the one you call] ‘the King of the Judaeans’?” Now again they cried out, “Crucify Him!” Now Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil did He?” But they more exceedingly cried out, “Crucify Him!” Now Pilate, wanting to satisfy the crowd, released to them Barabbas, and handing over Jesus – having Him flagellated – that He might be crucified.

- Mark 15:1-15

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, (if it be lawful to call him a man;) for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews (and many of the Greeks. ?) (He was [the] Christ. = 'He was believed to be the Christ.' ?) And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; (for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.) And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

- Josephus, Antiquities 18.63-64

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians (sic) by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.

- Tacitus, Annals 15.44

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