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Pontius Pilate

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Pontius Pilate.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Ann Wroe(Author)

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Pontius Pilate arrived in Judaea in the year 26, sent to collect taxes and oversee the firm establishment of Roman law. His ten-year term was a time of relative peace in this fractious new outpost of the Roman Empire, where violence was not uncommon. He was not loved and not quite feared, and might have vanished into obscurity had he not come to preside, with some reluctance, over the most famous trial in history.

In this brilliant biography, a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize and a masterpiece of scholarship and imagination, Ann Wroe brings Pilate and his world to life. Working from classical sources, she reconstructs his origins and upbringing, his career in the military and life in Rome, his confrontation with Christ, and his long journey home. We catch glimpses of him pacing the marble floors in Caesarea, sharpening his stylus, getting dressed shortly before sunrise on the day that would seal his place in history. What were the pressures on Pilate that day? What did he really think of Jesus? Pontius Pilate lets us see Christ's trial for the first time, in all its confusion, from the point of view of his executioner.

Pontius Pilate is a historical figure, like Cleopatra and Alexander, who has been endlessly mythologized through the ages. For some he is a saint, for others the embodiment of human weakness, an archetypal politician willing to sacrifice one man for the sake of stability. Each generation has pressed onto Pilate the imprint of its anxieties and its faith. He has haunted—and continues to haunt—our imagination. From the Evangelists and the Copts (for whom he was a saint, martyred himself on the Cross) to more recent philosophers, artists, novelists, and politicians, Pilate has been resurrected in different guises for two thousand years. Ann Wroe brings man and myth to life in a book that expands the possibilities of the biographical form and deepens our understanding of the mysteries of faith.

It has often been said that Pontius Pilate was fingered by God to carry out the divine plan of salvation, just as clearly as Christ was. Ann Wroe shows how, in his hesitation before God, in his skepticism, his anxiety to do his job and exonerate himself of guilt, Pilate's story is very much our own.

Pontius Pilate, by Ann Wroe, is beautifully written, imaginatively researched, and intricately structured. Most importantly, it provides readers with a valuable emotional experience: a chance to rediscover and redeem Pilate's famous question--"What is truth?"--in a spirit of humility and hope. A handful of small coins and one inscribed stone are the only physical evidence that Pilate existed. All of the textual sources that mention Pilate, Wroe notes, are "so wrapped in propaganda or agendas that it is difficult to detect what, if anything, may be true." But since Pilate "stands at the center of the Christian story and God's plan of redemption," Wroe persevered in her efforts to discern the profile of his life. "Without his climactic judgment of Jesus, the world would not have been saved. To have a faceless bureaucrat at the heart of all this drama was unacceptable: something had to be made of this man." The book's bold ambition, however, is not blind. "This is not a search for the 'real' Pilate," Wroe admits. "At best, all we have are glints and hypotheses." To learn about her subject, Wroe had to sacrifice most of her sympathetic impulses and shift her concentration to the elements of Roman life that she did not understand. And oddly enough, the passages in which Wroe describes her ignorance most clearly are where we begin to glimpse "a man actually walking on a marble floor in Caesarea, feeling his shoes pinch, clicking his fingers for a slave, while clouds of lasting infamy gather overhead." Wroe takes current trends in the genre of biography one step further in this eloquent yet frustrating book, offering a reconstructed life of the Roman official who, by ordering the execution of Jesus of Nazareth but otherwise serving with little distinction, managed to become simultaneously famous and obscure. Outside the Gospels, which each bring the governor on stage for a brief if highly charged cameo appearance, there are only a few references to Pilate in contemporary sources. Where other biographers would see a historical desert, Wroe sees the tantalizing mirages that have sprung up over the centuries, from the fourth-century Acta Pilati to medieval mystery plays. She weaves these nonhistorical speculations together with well-researched accounts of first-century Roman lives, producing a shifting but suggestive portrait of an ultimately very human functionary. The writing is both precise and rich (as one might expect from the American editor of the Economist), and the insights into human character ring consistently true, but Wroe's bibliography is alarmingly scant when it comes to historical research on Jesus (who, after all, presents similar problems to biographers). And unlike Jaroslav Pelikan in his masterful Jesus Through the Centuries, Wroe often forfeits the opportunity to show how Pilate's reimagining served changing historical situations, juxtaposing quotes from mystery plays and letters from Cicero with deliberate abandon. "What did he look like? However men imagine him," Wroe writes. Readers who know the satisfactions of more conventional history will find such equivocations disappointing, but those who take Wroe's project on its own terms will find much to ponder. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Book details

  • PDF | 432 pages
  • Ann Wroe(Author)
  • Random House; 1st edition (April 4, 2000)
  • English
  • 2
  • Biographies & Memoirs

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  • By propertius on April 11, 2015

    let us be frank. This is not a biography of Pontius Pilate,since as the author readily acknowledges and demonstrates there is little extent primary sources. What this book is a curiously entertaining reflection of WWWWW of the man's life and times. It may at times seem a bit too didactic but never pedantic. Nice to see that some who take Firsts do not forget us proles

  • By Diplocaulus on May 10, 2014

    Pontius Pilate is where the classical world meets the Biblical, a pagan European man in the monotheistic Middle East, the Imperial governor over a notoriously rebellious region, and a player in perhaps the most famous execution in history. "What is truth?" Pilate says in the Book of John, a retort to Jesus' claim, "The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth." I have often thought of that conversation, wondered what Pilate really thought, how he viewed Jesus, the Jews, his job. Who was this man? What is truth?Ann Wroe must have wondered the same thing, because this book is a 400-page exploration of Pilate in history, legend, and literature. Very little information about Pilate survives from his time: just the Gospel texts, some coins, an architectural fragment, and paragraphs from contemporary historians. To supplement this, Wroe pulls information from multiple other sources. She cites Pilate's colleagues to give an idea about what the life of a Roman governor was like. She quotes numerous texts from ancient gnostic, coptic, and early church legend books, as well as plays from the middle ages, to see how they embellished Pilate's tale. She references film and novels, and points out different locations in Europe that claimed to have a Pilate connection.All of these sources provide multiple lenses for seeing Pilate. He is a violent oppressor, a sycophantic bureaucrat, a machiavellian conspirator, a man in over his head, a drunk, a blowhard, even a deeply apologetic convert. He's a saint in Ethiopia. Spaniards forged long-lost documents by him. His "childhood pants" were long displayed in a small German town, and, on Fridays, his ghost haunted a lake in the Alps. Because so little of Pilate is actually known, people have projected their ideas, their fears, their hatred, their idolization on him for centuries.I was impressed with Wroe's ability to weave all these together. She takes Pilate's life, from birth to death, and explains how each text or legend describes those moments. She quotes these sources heavily, though Wroe's own writing is stylish, intelligent, and sometimes beautiful. The book does get long in the tooth in some spots, but whenever a lengthy quote from Cicero about the Roman idea of morality made my eyes glaze over, the next page featured a scene from a medieval play where Pilate steals the Holy Grail. By the end of the book, Wroe seems to take Pilate's question--"What is truth?"--and presents dozens of people's answers from throughout history, allowing us to decide.

  • By D. A. Grant on March 25, 2015

    Ann Roe is one of the deepest and most thorough historian who has ever existed. I've bought three copies of this book so far. There is so little known about Pilate but Ms. Roe manages to find an enormous amount of detail in widely-scattered cracks. Very readable...bordering on popular...but scholarly enough to make one pause and rehash in ones' mind every paragraph. One of my favorite two books by any author.

  • By Eleanor Takahashi iNSKIP on September 8, 2015


  • By David Aaron Gray on February 2, 2016

    A well researched biography of the multiple Pontius Pilates that have been created in the last two thousand years. The historical record of the real Prefect of Judea is scarce. There is little we know for sure about his life but the author does a first rate job painting a picture of the possible Pilate.

  • By Gio on March 24, 2010

    Out front: This is the most interesting study of Christianity -- yes, that's what I said! of Christianity! -- that I've read in a long time. It's deeper and more challenging than the forthright rejections of Christian dogmata by Dawkins and Harris, or the diffident correctives by Bart Erdman. What's at stake in this book is the credibility of belief, any belief, sealed in the culturally determined 'mentality' of the believers. To ask for the Truth about Pontius Pilate is to restate precisely Pilate's own reported question: What is truth? Farther out front: I am not a Christian believer. But the Roman playwright Terence spoke for me when he said "Nothing human is alien to me," not even the most baleful superstition.What would be the difference between a "conjectural history" and a "historical fiction'? Clearly both can be based on extensive research. Possibly there's spectrum, involving a certain amount of overlap, across which "explicit uncertainty" and "implicit certainty" are found in inverse proportion. Any biography of Pontius Pilate would have to be conjectural; the total documentation of the man's existence could be printed in full, in the original languages and translation, on a few pages. However, fear not! Ann Wroe's "Pontius Pilate" is NOT a conjectural biography, though it is replete with identified conjectures based on established knowledge of Jewish, Roman, and later European history. Rather, this book is a study of the representations of Pilate - the concepts of Pilate within Christian and non-Christian communities - from the divergent accounts given in the four canonic gospels, to that of Augustine, to the entertaining figure of Medieval Passion and Corpus Christi dramas, to the Pilate that intrigued 19th C philosphers, to the bathetic parody of Hollywood cinema. What Wroe reveals is that the representation of Pilate has varied immensely, and that each successive concept of Pilate has served its purpose in the paradigm of religious, as well as political, beliefs of the successive epochs. Pilate is, and has always been, what people need him to be.Wroe's respectful treatment of the Biblical portrayal of Pilate in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John will probably not be palatable to fundamentalist/evangelical Christians in America. First of all, it doesn't conflate them; instead it exposes their inconsistencies. Second, noting that all four accounts were written long after the events they purport to describe, Wroe (like Erdmann) uncovers the motivations of their authors, suggesting for instance that the Gospel of John, the latest to be written, set out explicitly to exonerate the Roman State, by making Pilate indecisive about Jesus's identity, and to 'pin the guilt' on the Jews. Of course, the Roman administration of a province like Judea reserved all control of executions to itself; historically, if anyone executed a man named Jesus by crucifixion, it was the Romans who did the deed. One can find some of the roots of virulent anti-Semitism is St. John's politically expedient evasiveness.There were, however, not only the canonic Biblical representations of Pontius Pilate in the earliest centuries of Christianity. In Apochryphal and Gnostic sources, there are tales of a repentant Pilate, a Pilate who achieves redemption and sanctity. Likewise there are accounts of Pilate's wife, after the crucifixion, performing acts of charity and penitence. That wife, Claudia Procula according to some, was designated Saint Procula by Eastern Orthodox believers.Some of the most astonishing representations of Pilate, and of Judas, come from much more recent sources, from the Corpus Christi dramas written in English, probably by local clergymen, in the 15th and 16th Centuries, and performed annually as pageants in various English towns, notably in York and Chester. Those dramas, full of low comedy and high theological pedagogy, rank alongside Chaucer's poems as the foundation of English literature. They are also extremely valuable sources of insight into the mindset - religious and social - of the English people in their formative era. Wroe has translated passage after passage into 'modern' English in order to delineate the Medieval perception of Pontius Pilate as a "corrupt ruler", a bad king if you will.Closer to our times, Wroe finds a subtler image of Pilate. Here she quotes British Prime Minister Tony Blair:"It is possible to view Pilate as the archetypal politician, caught on the horns of an age-old dilemma. We know he did wrong, yet his is the struggle between what is right and what is expedient that has occurred throughout history. The Munich Agreement of 1938 was a classic example of this, as were the debates surrounding the Great Reform Act of 1832 and the Corn Laws. And it is not always clear, even in retrospect, what is, in truth, right. Should we do what appears principled or what is politically expedient? Do you apply a utilitarian test or what is morally absolute?..." This is a passage that might well resonate in the minds of American politicians following the recent battle over universal health care. Pontius Pilate, we assume, chose the expedient utilitarian test. Nancy Pelosi and the other Democrats who chose the moral absolute of extending health care to all Americans can pride themselves on not emulating Pilate.There is another, far deeper question, which Ann Wroe probes gently but relentlessly, in the representation of Pontius Pilate within the Drama of God's Salvation of mankind. That's the ultimate theological paradox of God's omnipotence/omniscience versus human free will. What Christian thinker, since the Gnostics and Manicheans, has maintained that God did not intend the Crucifixion? Did not foresee and foreordain it? And in essence, execute the execution of Jesus Christ in order to fulfill His own Divine justice? But then, what "free will" did Pontius Pilate have? Was he a corrupt agent of a decadent despotism, as the Medievals imagined him? In that case, how can he be ascribed a will of his own? Wasn't he merely a 'fall guy" or a 'victim of entrapment? On the other hand, if he was a man of some conscience, who equivocated and tried to elude responsibility, to "wash his hands" of it, could he REALLY have chosen to liberate Jesus and thereby abort the divine plan of sacrifice? Of course not! God had the script in hand. Pilate was as much God's 'agent' in this schema as Mary, John the Baptist, or Peter. Or Judas, or Barabbas. Pontius Pilate stands as the embodiment of the inconsistency of personal guilt within a predestined eschatology. Beware, Christians! Pilate's dilemma is yours.The more determined any reader is to have a single declarative answer to the question "what is truth", the less that reader will appreciate Ann Wroe's methodology or comprehend Ann Wroe's (un)conclusions. Readers with a taste for subtleties will find this book immensely readable, enjoyable, informative, possibly even revolutionary. Readers deeply committed to an assurance of the eternal verity and unity of Christian faith will find the waters of this book extremely disturbing to walk on.

  • By A customer on May 1, 2002

    Although the first part of the book that deals with the different scenenios of Pilate's history is a bit tedious, as a whole, Ms. Wroe has done an excellent job in trying to get inside the head and heart of Pilate. Her style of writing is such that it causes one to see the humanness of a man struggling with his own sense of who he is and trying to please his emporer. This book is a delightful and insightful read.PLEASE don't skip ahead and read the epilog before you finish the'll be sorry if you do!

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