Pontius Pilate is typically cast as one of two types of individuals. Sometimes he is seen as the merciless person who sentenced Jesus Christ to a humiliating death on the cross. Remember the section on crucifixion? Other times he is seen a worker of the state, or governor, doing his duty by following local rules and sentencing someone to a death demanded by the local leaders. Remember he washed his hands of the whole incident and was innocent of Jesusí death? Actually this later approach is the more traditional one, which also ties into the mediaeval and even sometimes modern approach to blaming the Jews for Jesus death, which we will talk about shortly.
In actuality, or as much as we can talk about with limited evidence, both of these descriptions of personality describe Pilate. As governor of Judea, he would have had to be a very tough individual to stay in power. Israel had been under Roman control since the mid first century B.C., which is only about 50 years by the time Pilate became governor. It was an area of all types meeting: soldiers, merchants, Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, and Romans. It was an area in Pilateís time, as ours, of unrest. An unrest that could only be controlled militarily, with a strong presence, one that the Romans were willing to undertake.
The indigenous population was also an interesting mix. They practiced a religion with only one God! In fact, the Jews would later gain special permission to only worship one God, and only sacrifice to one God. It would be an ex post facto law. Since they had been part of the Empire before demands were made to sacrifice to the Gods, and Caesar, they would be allowed to worship one God as long as they sacrificed to their God for Caesarís health. This law would allow later Christians to hide and practice Christianity as a Jewish sect, until the Jews later pointed out that Christians were not Jews. This would begin Christian persecutions in the mid first century A.D. as Christians would not share this exemption. Christians would be forced to worship Caesarís and other Gods, under penalty of death. Their refusal to do so, because of the no other Gods before me clause would increase the persecution.
But back to Pilate. He would have been a tough military leader to gain the role as governor. He would have also been responsible for many deeds, some considered heinous by modern standards in order to keep the peace in the frontier land. So when a person called the son of God, or King of the Jews began traveling around Israel, he might have been seen as a threat. The threat would be because a charismatic individual could raise a rebellion against the Romans. The Romans were not averse to fighting, in fact they were quite good at it. However, with a growing empire, threats of rebellion caused fear in case troops or supplies could not be received in time and unnecessary deaths should occur.
When the local leaders captured Jesus and accused him of blasphemy, they needed the Romans to ďflex the penal arm.Ē Roman territories initially used local laws when dealing with locals, but the power over life and death was reserved for the Romans. So the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders, and Herod, the then titular King of the Jews, both saw Jesus as a threat to their power. They turned him over to the Roman governor, Pilate. The Bible tells us that Pilate interviewed Jesus, found no problems with him, and offered the populace a choice of freeing Barrabus, a murderer, or Jesus. The crowd called for Barrabusí release, sealing Jesusí fate. This was done because at the time of festival, Passover, the Romans would have release a prisoner. Jesus was sentenced to crucifixion, the death reserved for criminals and slaves. Pilate washed his hands of the incident.
Historically and culturally the blame is given to the Jews and not Pilate. However allow me a brief comment or two about Pilateís decision. A war hardened veteran, who worked his way up to governor of a frontier province, and made many hard decisions is probably not free of guilt. The fear of revolution would have arisen in Pilateís mind. The moniker King of the Jews and Son of God likewise would have caused fear. Ridding himself of yet another problem, or future problem would have been the easier alternative. Note, we donít know what happened to Barrabus, he may have been recaptured or murdered shortly thereafter. Pilate was ridding himself of yet another problem. Magicians and revolutionaries were not uncommon in Judea, and killing another threat would have been all in a days work.
But as Iíve mentioned history, culture, and tradition tells us that Pilate was doing his duty. In this vein Pilate is guilt free and someone needs to be guilty of Jesusí death. Note the situation that in order to receive forgiveness and salvation, Jesus had to die for peopleís sins. However, someone must be guilty or to blame for the death of the Son of God. In this case the Jews fit the bill. As I mentioned, Christians will hide behind the Jewish exemption of worshipping one God. However Jews and Christians will want to break this tie in the 60ís and 70ís A.D. The Jews will revolt against the Romans, to avoid the label of rebel the Christians do not want to be tied to them. The Jewish diaspora will also begin meaning moving to other areas of the Empire. The Jews, however, do not want to be tied to a religion in which they donít believe. A religion thought by some to involve group sex and cannibalism. Weíll talk about this in later sections. This break will occur beginning the belief in anti-Semitism.
The Romans will avoid the moniker of God killers, the Jews will not. From the 100 A.D.ís on tension will occur between Jews and Christians. After the 300 A.D.ís when Christianity becomes the official religion of the Empire, Jews will take a more inferior role. Remember, however, that Jesus was Jewish. The Jews were Godís chosen people. The Jews were the inhabitants of the Holy Land. However these facts will mean little in the mind of early Christians, and once something sticks in the mind, it is difficult to change the perception. Later factors will also add to the inferior status of Jews. They will be forced to live in their own section of towns, refused certain jobs, not allowed to own land. Over time Jews will specialize in certain fields such as medicine, law, and money lending. Christians will prohibit other Christians from lending money, because making interest off money is usury, and endangers oneís immortal soul. However Jews are allowed to lend money, being non-Christians the threat to the soul is unimportant. Jews will usually be proficient in several languages in certain areas. This is simply a function of speaking the local language and the religious language of Hebrew. In times of famine, war, lack of money, those who have money and live in groups together and separate from the rest of the populace will be examined critically. Life hasnít changed so much. If you donít have much money, or food, or a new car, and others do a little part of you is probably envious for a short period of time. Over a prolonged period of poverty or hunger, these periods of envy are prolonged, sometimes to extremes of bigotry, theft, murderÖ
A concept to touch upon which will come up again is the idea of closed communities. A closed community is a chosen group, or secluded group that live, work and trade together. If everyone in this community only buys shoes from the local cobbler and bread from the local baker then only those artisans in the community will make money and become wealthier. If some trade is done in the outside community and the money spent within the local community this will spread the wealth among the local community enriching the local community. This will occur within Jewish communities. It will occur in the 16th centuries in Calvinist communities, and the 18th century with Methodist communities. In Calvinist and Methodist communities the logic will go that God shows his pleasure with you and ultimate place in heaven by your worldly material success. As Calvinists and Methodists added members to their community they began doing business with the new members and spreading the wealth, showing Godís pleasure and later placement in heaven. Closed communities over time do become self sufficient and ultimately better off.
These closed Jewish communities will appear successful in time of famine and envy will grow in the larger world. One way to release this envy is to come up with other ways to attack the Jews. Blaming them with Jesus death will be the perennial claim, but this overall feeling will become a part of western culture. Anti-Semitism is not an idea that is new or one that dies quickly. Its roots date back to Jesusí trial, but years of envy and strife have made it a part of modern culture, not a better part.
Bad science in the 19th century will champion anti-Semitism with phrenology. Phrenology is the study of types or classes of humans by examining among other things the shapes of heads. The assumption is there is a hierarchy of types of people and you can tell this by the shape of the head. At the low end, the slave class, are those whose heads resemble monkeys. At the highest end, the leader class, are those whose skull has high check bones and forehead. Typically those at the high end had lighter hair and skin and bluer eyes. Those at the lower end had darker skin, dark hair and eyes. Phrenology and nationalism will mix for the worst in the early 20th century, culminating in World War II.
Anti-Semitism is actually a two-headed hatred. Judaism is a religion and a race. For instance remember Adam Sandlerís Hanukah Song. Depending upon the version, he talks about certain people who converted to Judaism, such as Sammy Davis Jr. That is simply a religious choice. Some people are hereditarily Jewish as are many of the others in Sandlerís song. This does not mean that they necessarily practice Judaism, some of Jewish heritage are agnostic, atheist, or members of Christian or Eastern religions. So this hatred in the modern world is aimed at Jewish heritage or Semitic peoples along with those who practice the religion as well. And of course in many circumstance these two groups overlap greatly.
Those who are anti-Semitic today have trouble explaining why they feel this way, but parts of past arguments will arise in their explanation, if they are able to articulate an explanation. Jesus killer, someone who steals or hordes money in times of financial woe, bad science, will usually play parts in the argument. Most of those espousing these feelings are usually members of religions which owe their own birth to Judaism: Christianity and Islam.