Most of the evidence we have for the life and death of Jesus Christ comes from the Gospels and associated religious writings. However, archaeologists flipped the biblical script in the 20th century when they discovered a number of hugely important artifacts, including the fascinating Pilate Stone. This remarkable block of limestone records Pontius Pilate's dedication of a temple to imperial gods. Pontius Pilate and Jesus had a rough history, as Pilate was the one who condemned Jesus to death.
So, why is this stone so important? The crux is it provides independent, non-partisan historical evidence of Pontius Pilate, an important official in the province of Judea who famously "washed his hands" of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Thanks to the Pilate Stone we now know without a doubt that the man who ordered the crucifixion lived and breathed.
The Stone Was Discovered At The Site Of An Ancient Theater
The archaeological revelations began in 1961, when Italian archaeologists dug up a large block of limestone at a particularly special ancient site: Caesarea Maritima in modern Israel. This splendid spot was the brainchild of Herod the Great - you know, the big, bad king from the Gospels who allegedly tried to drown lots of babies. Located on the west coast of Israel, Caesarea Maritima boasted a beautiful palace that was the ultimate in ancient Roman luxury. Near the palace was a giant stadium, also commissioned by Herod. When scientists excavated, they found a damaged limestone chunk featuring the name of Pontius Pilate, inscribed in about 26 CE.
Apparently Pilate Liked To Show Off His Cash Flow
It would make sense for Pilate to build a temple to Emperor Tiberius. After all, it was Tiberius who appointed Pilate to his post of prefect in Judea. What better way to ingratiate oneself with the boss than to spend money by commissioning an expensive temple where people would honor them as a god?
Egyptian historian Philo of Alexandria even said Pilate sent some goodies to the Emperor Augustus's temple in Caesarea, so maybe there was a temple to Tiberius, Augustus's successor, there, too. Also, the Pilate inscription was in Latin, rather than the lingua franca of Greek. Perhaps Pilate did this to show off to Tiberius how much he loved Rome.
This Inscription Proves One Of Rome's Greatest Historians Wrong
One of Rome's greatest historians, Tacitus, wrote a bit about early Christians and their founder. When he discussed Jesus, he mentioned Pilate, saying:
"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 Pilate..."
Here, Tacitus stated that Pilate's official position in Judea was that of a procurator. However, the Pilate Stone informs us that Pilate was actually a prefect, another - but entirely different - magisterial job.
It's Not In Great Shape Because It Was Reused In A Staircase
Like many big blocks of stone, the Pilate Stone did not just have one use. It was easier for the ancients to knock down old buildings and reuse stone, rather than go to the effort of quarrying more. As a result, the Pilate Stone became part of a staircase when later Roman emperors rebuilt Herod's stadium in the fourth century C.E. It was not until Italian archaeologists excavated the newer stadium that they discovered the inscription on a part of the staircase.