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The Innocence of Pontius Pilate: How the Roman Trial of Jesus Shaped History

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The gospels and ancient historians agree: Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman imperial prefect in Jerusalem. To this day, Christians of all churches confess that Jesus died 'under Pontius Pilate'. But what exactly does that mean? Within decades of Jesus' death, Christians began suggesting that it was the Judaean authorities who had crucified Jesus--a n The gospels and ancient historians agree: Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman imperial prefect in Jerusalem. To this day, Christians of all churches confess that Jesus died 'under Pontius Pilate'. But what exactly does that mean? Within decades of Jesus' death, Christians began suggesting that it was the Judaean authorities who had crucified Jesus--a notion later echoed in the Qur'an. In the third century, one philosopher raised the notion that, although Pilate had condemned Jesus, he'd done so justly; this idea survives in one of the main strands of modern New Testament criticism. So what is the truth of the matter? And what is the history of that truth? David Lloyd Dusenbury reveals Pilate's 'innocence' as not only a neglected theological question, but a recurring theme in the history of European political thought. He argues that Jesus' interrogation by Pilate, and Augustine of Hippo's North African sermon on that trial, led to the concept of secularity and the logic of tolerance emerging in early modern Europe. Without the Roman trial of Jesus, and the arguments over Pilate's innocence, the history of empire--from the first century to the twenty-first--would have been radically different.


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The gospels and ancient historians agree: Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman imperial prefect in Jerusalem. To this day, Christians of all churches confess that Jesus died 'under Pontius Pilate'. But what exactly does that mean? Within decades of Jesus' death, Christians began suggesting that it was the Judaean authorities who had crucified Jesus--a n The gospels and ancient historians agree: Jesus was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate, the Roman imperial prefect in Jerusalem. To this day, Christians of all churches confess that Jesus died 'under Pontius Pilate'. But what exactly does that mean? Within decades of Jesus' death, Christians began suggesting that it was the Judaean authorities who had crucified Jesus--a notion later echoed in the Qur'an. In the third century, one philosopher raised the notion that, although Pilate had condemned Jesus, he'd done so justly; this idea survives in one of the main strands of modern New Testament criticism. So what is the truth of the matter? And what is the history of that truth? David Lloyd Dusenbury reveals Pilate's 'innocence' as not only a neglected theological question, but a recurring theme in the history of European political thought. He argues that Jesus' interrogation by Pilate, and Augustine of Hippo's North African sermon on that trial, led to the concept of secularity and the logic of tolerance emerging in early modern Europe. Without the Roman trial of Jesus, and the arguments over Pilate's innocence, the history of empire--from the first century to the twenty-first--would have been radically different.

36 review for The Innocence of Pontius Pilate: How the Roman Trial of Jesus Shaped History

  1. 5 out of 5

    James Hogan

    This was a most fascinating book. I don't quite know if I should recommend it or not, as I hesitate to know whether it would be most people's cup of tea. Honestly, about half-way through reading this book, I didn't think it was my cup of tea! The author has a bit of a rambling style and at times I wanted to shout at him to just get on with it already! Especially early on, I rolled my eyes repeatedly as he would mention a point and then inform us that he would get to that point in detail in anoth This was a most fascinating book. I don't quite know if I should recommend it or not, as I hesitate to know whether it would be most people's cup of tea. Honestly, about half-way through reading this book, I didn't think it was my cup of tea! The author has a bit of a rambling style and at times I wanted to shout at him to just get on with it already! Especially early on, I rolled my eyes repeatedly as he would mention a point and then inform us that he would get to that point in detail in another few chapters. Let's just say the structure of this book could possibly have been improved upon to better the reading experience. But also possibly, let it be known that this book made me feel rather unintelligent and dull, as it's written at a level that I'm not accustomed to reading at. So perhaps this book isn't the problem, I am. Anyway. With that grand preface out of the way, what is this book actually about? That's something I struggled to articulate clearly during the early stages of this read, but I believe I can now point out that the author is attempting to prove the thesis that the trial of Jesus by Pontius Pilate and the subsequent understanding of this trial by later philosophers and political theorists had a not insignificant impact on the implementation of the separation of church from state. The author surely did not put it as crudely as that and I'm sure I lost quite a bit of nuance but that's my basic takeaway. I don't think the phrase "separation of church and state" was even mentioned in this book, but secularization isn't a word that has quite the same impact to the modern general audience. Anyway, while I found the beginning of the book a bit rough going (partly probably because the sources the author had to pull from were both more fragmentary and more dubious in reliability), I still appreciated the walk through the centuries in which the author attempted to portray the varying views of Pilate and the trial of Jesus. I always have been baffled by how the cry "the Jews killed Christ!" became a rallying point of anti-Semites down through the centuries and so I appreciated seeing the arguments of various scholars that both led to and reflected these racist attitudes. But for all my appreciation, the first half of this book did not overwhelmingly convince me that the trial of Christ actually had an impact on modern thought...instead, the book seemed to be a mere survey of the writings of scholars on this subject throughout the years. Once we hit Augustine though, things start picking up. And the last four to five chapters were worth the price of the book in themselves. Utterly fascinated seeing extracts from the various great minds of the day and understanding that their words did in actuality greatly influence the development of secularization in the West. Of course there were many other contributing factors. But the understanding of the meaning of Christ's words to Pilate "my kingdom is not of this world" did seem to be a foundational cornerstone in the transition to the modern West. I also have discovered during reading this book that I am not very well read and I have a great desire to read some more of these philosophers quoted in the last few chapters of this volume. Hobbes, Pufendorf, Thomasius, Hartnaccius, even Rousseau (whose intellectually honest treatment of Christianity in certain ways does him credit)...all these names and more wrote of and even forcefully argued as to how the events of Christ's trial should and ought influence the governance of the nation state. Again, I have not properly formulated the arguments that the author does in this book, but hopefully you can see that this book made me think more deeply on the history of Western thought and ponder more deeply how our present world has come to be. This book was a worthwhile read for me. And while I struggled to properly understand the author's thesis early on, he more than ably defends it by the end of the book and does a masterful job of both summarizing the many disparate views of Pontius Pilate's trial of Christ and then demonstrating the prevailing view's influence on even our modern ethos today.

  2. 5 out of 5

    John A.A.

    This is a well-researched book digging deep into the evidence. Some accounts, for instance, insist that Jesus died by stoning and others that a "body double" was crucified and Jesus escaped laughing. Some accounts insist that he was sentenced and crucified by a Jewish court and that Pontius Pilate was indeed innocent. The author explains how these accounts arose and that most of them are politically motivated. Most likely, he was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate and the sentence was carried This is a well-researched book digging deep into the evidence. Some accounts, for instance, insist that Jesus died by stoning and others that a "body double" was crucified and Jesus escaped laughing. Some accounts insist that he was sentenced and crucified by a Jewish court and that Pontius Pilate was indeed innocent. The author explains how these accounts arose and that most of them are politically motivated. Most likely, he was sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate and the sentence was carried out on his orders by his soldiers. This is an excellent work of historical research and if I have any criticisms to make it is that it is a little repetitive and long winded in places but better that than to oversee any significant piece of evidence. I am left with the thought that blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus is a hideous error that has echoed down history for reasons that are difficult to understand.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Graham Cox

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron DuPlissey

  5. 5 out of 5

    Steph White

  6. 5 out of 5

    Robbie

  7. 5 out of 5

    Nick Spencer

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sebastian Ferm

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alex Strohschein

  10. 4 out of 5

    Shaun Yong

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nick Mclean

  12. 5 out of 5

    George

  13. 5 out of 5

    Louis Abbott

  14. 5 out of 5

    CJ

  15. 4 out of 5

    James Perkins

  16. 5 out of 5

    John Fistikis

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Cox

  18. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Y

  19. 5 out of 5

    M

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emmet Clarke

  21. 5 out of 5

    Adam Barrett

  22. 5 out of 5

    Paul Cardwell

  23. 4 out of 5

    Dominic

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stella Beernink

  25. 4 out of 5

    mRizk

  26. 4 out of 5

    Toby Blake

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

  28. 5 out of 5

    James Robb

  29. 5 out of 5

    Paul Smith

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steve

  31. 5 out of 5

    Garth Bishop

  32. 5 out of 5

    Deb

  33. 4 out of 5

    Carlos

  34. 5 out of 5

    Emma

  35. 5 out of 5

    Georgia

  36. 4 out of 5

    James Baker

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