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the roman question

25 March 2008 3 comments

So after the Easter homily is complete, I am left with two questions, one based on simple logic, and one based on deeper study of military customs of antiquity.

The first question: why would Pilate “wash his hands” of the affair and then turn around and apply his personal seal to the tomb? “Yeah, honey, I know you told me to have nothing to do with this, and that’s what I thought at first – but then I decided to pin the reputation of my governorship on it.”

Second question is more rhetorical: how much is your reputation worth? The priests go to the guards and persuade them (bribe them) to say that Jesus’ followers stole the body while the soldiers were asleep. How much do you charge for copping to dereliction of duty? In a Roman army where, after the Centurion has dealt with your action, your fellow soldiers (whom will have taken your lack of security rather personally) beat the living daylights out of you (a la “Full Metal Jacket“), no less. I imagine the priest, bags of silver in hand, approaching the soldiers – the response would likely be the guards tightening their grip around the grip of their gladii, a steel look into the eyes of the cleric and stating in true Laconian fashion: “we don’t fall asleep.”


  • Andy said:

    Hello Mr. Dan,
    I have an answer for your question about sealing the tomb with the governor’s calling card. I have been told that it was a maneuver of Roman assimilation all over the empire to seek out revolutionaries and coax a few into handing them over in order to give the option to the crowd in regards to the accuseds’ fate. Once the crowd chose the verdict after a few particular hecklers, the gov. would gesture or say, “I have nothing to do with this, his/her blood is on your hands.” This is perfect political strategy, knock off your enemies without everyone knowing it’s you that did it. Give them the guilt and you walk out smelling like a rose. Of course we know how the creed still reminds us of Pontio Pilato.

  • dan (author) said:

    Although I will stipulate to the logic of the initial act, I still disagree about the cause behind it. Herod might have wanted to placate the Jewish people, being a local, but Pilate had no such designs. And he had the incredibly nasty Tenth Legion there to back him up. The only thing he might have been doing is telling them “Your religion is of no concern to me, but if you’re accusing this man of sedition, then do with him what you will.” This was Roman Law since the establishment of the Republic; anyone who tries to set themselves up as king could be killed by anyone, at anytime, with no reprisal. But, I still maintain, Pilate would have been done with it. A dead guy is a dead guy. The “Christians” want the body, let them try to take it. To restate my second point; Roman soldiers don’t fall asleep on duty. He wouldn’t have needed to put his seal on the tomb.

    I think the notion of the “hand-washing” being a Provincial trick is based on Christian historical sources, and thus suspect with regard to finding out the truth. Nevertheless, a very good and logical point you have made – definitely as valid as my rebuttal could be. I am ambivalent, though, on whether the creed’s reference to Pilate regards culpablity or merely chronology.

  • Andy said:

    I’m reading a book by Henri De Lubac called the christian faith it’s about the creed, maybe i’ll run across jesuit interpretation of it. But the tenth legion being a derivative of ten…that’s numberwang!

    I also heard/dreamed/read/imagined/who knows that on palm sunday it is understood that Pilate was scheduled to make a triumphal appearance from the western? gate into Jerusalem and Jesus rode in at the eastern? gate. John Dominic Crossan would probably cringe at this idea but then again I cringe at him sometimes in like manner.