Hearing the Passion Drama as read at St Barts yesterday prompted a few thoughts about Pilate as he is portrayed in the Gospels. See, here's the thing that stuck with me: there are two men in that room who know exactly what's happening. One of them is Jesus, of course.
Pilate's the other.
Think about it--he's depicted as passing the buck to Herod, trying to turn the crowd in Jesus's favor, and then, most famously, washing his hands of the whole thing (OK, that's in Matthew). He has the Cross inscribed "This is the King of the Jews." (In John, he is challenged on this, and delphically replies, "What I have written I have written.")
In the framework of the Gospels, he is described as vacillating; Josephus supports this in part, but also suggests a tougher, more authoritarian personality. It's a tough character to get a line on.
Robert Graves's King Jesus, which takes as one of its premises that Jesus was the Davidic heir, suggests that Pilate was aware of this, and hoped to use him to supplant Herod; in telling the Passion story, Luke writes,"before this they had been enemies." Graves postulates that Jesus's refusal to become a client "king" in Herod's place removed the basis for their enmity.
We'll never know, of course, what Pilate felt. Or why he, who could be ruthless, yielded to the crowd. Or even if he did--some scholars suggest that the whole story is inserted to let Rome off the hook, and make clear that Christians could be good citizens of the Empire.
But what he wrote, he wrote.
And thereby hangs a library's worth of speculation, hypothesizing, and theology.