The Redemption of Pontius Pilate by Lewis Ben Smith

Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes

Pontius Pilate. Who is he and why should I read a book about him? Will this book add to my general knowledge of history and Roman history in particular? I know he’s mentioned several times in the Bible’s New Testament, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to be specific, and has a 2,000 year reputation as a bad guy. Is there more to know? The answer is yes, quite a bit, as I discovered.

I learned that the author did not have to create the story or characters out of whole cloth. Quite a lot is known about Pilate from the accounts of Flavius Josephus, Philo, the Jewish philosopher, who is openly hostile to Pilate, Tactitus’ Annals of Imperial Rome, the writings of several early Christian church fathers such as Tertullian, and Jewish archival records.

The characters of the story are known historical figures: Tiberius, the Emperor, Drusilla, his mother, Germanicus, his son, Sejanus, Tiberius’ confidant, Caligula, the future Emperor, Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilee, Caiaphas, Jewish High Priest, Jesus of Nazareth, healer and miracle worker, and several others.

I also discovered that Pilate and his wife Procula have been the subject of hundreds of books going back to the 1870’s. Apparently, there is a hunger to know more about Pilate and why he condemned Jesus to be scourged and crucified even though he personally could find no fault in him.

Lewis Ben Smith has connected all the dots and shown himself to be a masterful story teller! The Redemption of Pontius Pilate is a compelling, action-packed, and suspenseful tale of intrigue and betrayal. The book is filled with relatable characters and historical events that showcase his knowledge of Roman and Judean politics of the era. He has created a seamless and plausible account of the remarkable rise and devastating fall of Pilate, a Roman of high Equestrian status.

What went wrong with Pilate’s promising career? This is where Lewis Ben Smith really shines! The answer lies with Tiberius’ successor-to-be - Caligula! Tiberius protects Pilate from young Caligula’s wrath by posting him far from Rome in the least desirable region of the Empire, Judea, a small but troublesome area within the Syrian Province.

Once Pilate escapes from Rome, his main concern is to maintain the Pax Romana in Judea, prevent Jewish complaints about him from reaching Tiberius, hunt down the Jewish Zealots, collect the taxes, and maintain a bevy of spies to alert him to possible trouble. As a soldier, Pilate relishes combat with the Zealots and shows them no mercy when they are captured. Crucifixion is the punishment of choice!

Pilate is depicted as an honest governor, but has a cruel streak that he constantly battles to control. Twice he is reprimanded by Tiberius for offending the Jews and told to be more sensitive to their particular beliefs. Pilate then hears about a healer who is attracting huge crowds. His spies see and hear nothing to worry about, but the High Priest and Sanhedrin view the healer and miracle worker, Jesus, as a threat. Pilate refuses to do anything about him and continues to receive condensed versions of what the “trouble-maker” is saying and doing.

Meanwhile Pilate and his Legionaries capture the Zealot commander Bar Abbas who now has a date with the cross. About the same time, the Jewish police arrest Jesus for disturbing the peace and possibly upsetting Judea’s delicate relationship with Rome. The High Priest demands that Pilate have him executed on the grounds that Jesus has declared himself a King and is in competition with Caesar. Pilate steadfastly refuses to order the execution until the High Priest threatens Pilate with another written complaint to Tiberius. Pilate famously washes his hands of the whole affair and approves the execution.

Two years later, Emperor Tiberius dies and Caligula is proclaimed the new Emperor. At this point in the tale, Lewis Ben Smith reverts to the fictional aspects of his story. Caligula wants revenge against Pilate and the hunt is on! Caligula’s black clad Praetorians descend upon Judea and set the stage for an exciting conclusion. I genuinely liked the book and highly recommend it.

Thomas A. Timmes is the author of Legio XVII: Battle of Zama

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