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Hell Up In Judea

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…

Pitiless Pilate is let loose on turbulent province

A case can be made that history’s most infamous Roman is Pontius Pilate. It was Pilate who condemned Jesus, “The Son of God”, to the most cruel, most barbaric,  and most excruciating of deaths – crucifixion –  and cowardly at that as the gospels attest for us.

Yet the exact circumstances under which the crucifixion took place and what followed thereafter far from jells with what is familiarly known. The fact of the matter was that there was a lot of political wheeling and dealing and boldfaced corruption on the part both of the Jewish authorities and the Roman establishment in the person of Pontius Pilate.  In this article, we attempt to present a fuller photo of Pilate as the pivot of the whole machination.   

Pilate’s historicity is not in doubt. In 1961, an Italian archeologist unearthed a limestone block at Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast of Israel, which as of 6 AD was the Roman seat of government as well as the military headquarters. 

The block bore the inscription, “Pontius Pilate, the Prefect of Judea, has dedicated this temple to the divine Augusti” (that is, then Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar and his wife Livia).  Pilate also gets varying degrees of mention in the works of Roman senator and historian Cornelius Tacitus (56-117 AD); the Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and chronicler Philo of Alexandria (25 BC to 50 AD); and the legendary Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37-100 AD).  

Although his year of death (37 AD) is documented, his year of birth is a matter of conjecture. He came from the Pontii tribe (hence the name Pontius), a tough, warlike people. The Pontii tribe was of the equestrian class, the second-tier in the Roman caste system. Originally, the equestrians were those Romans with ample pocket power to bribe their way to Knightly ranks in the Roman army.

Pilate was born to Marcus Pontius, who had distinguished himself as a general in Rome’s military campaigns. Following one of his particularly sterling military exploits, Marcus was awarded with the Pilum (javelin), a Roman decoration of honour for heroic military service.  To commemorate this medal of valour, the family took the name Pilati, rendered Pilate in English and Pilatus in Latin.

The son, Lucius Pontius Pilate, also distinguished himself as a soldier in the German campaigns of Germanicus, a prominent general of the early Roman Empire. Thanks to his scintillating military profile coupled with   strategic connections in the hierarchies of the Roman government, Pilate was able to wend his way into the heart of Claudia, the granddaughter of Caesar Augustus, the founder of the Roman Empire and ruler from 27 BC to 14 AD.

Claudia’s mother was Julia the Elder, who was also the biological mother of the apostles John and James. When Claudia was about 13 years of age, Julia sent her to Rome to be reared in the courts of Emperor Tiberius Caesar, to whom she had been married from 11 BC to 6 BC. Although Tiberius was not the biological father of Claudius, he gladly acquiesced to being her foster father in deference to the memory of  her late grandfather Caesar Augustus.

Pilate arrived in Rome when Claudia was sixteen years of age. In AD 26, the two tied the knot. Needless to say, it was a marriage based not on love as such but on political opportunism.  

ASSIGNMENT JUDEA
The high-placed connection who facilitated Pontius Pilate’s smooth landing into the inner sanctums of Rome’s royalty and put him on a pedestal that saw him take pride of place in the cosmic gallery of rogues was Aelius Sejanus. Like Pilate, Sejanus came from the subordinate equestrian class, who would never be eligible for a seat in the Senate, the legislative council of ancient Rome.

Sejanus, however, had over time become Emperor Tiberius’s most trusted lieutenant and to the point where he was the de facto prime minister.  He had been commander of the Praetorian Guard, the elite Special Forces unit created by Augustus Caesar as a personal security force, which developed under Sejanus’s command into the most significant presence in Rome.

In AD 26, the emperor was not even based in Rome: he had confined himself to the 10.4 km2 island of Capri, about 264 km from Rome, and left control of Rome and the government of the Roman Empire to Sejanus. It was Sejanus who recommended the appointment of Pilate as prefect, or governor/procurator of Judea. The appointment was pronounced right on the occasion of Pilate’s nuptials with Claudius. Philo records that when the bridal party emerged from the temple where the marriage ceremony was celebrated and Pilate started to follow the bride into the imperial litter, Tiberius, who was one of the twelve witnesses required to attend the ceremony, held him back and handed him a document which he had taken from his bosom. It was the wedding present – the governorship of far-flung Judea – with orders to proceed at once to Caesarea Maritima to take over the office made vacant by the recall of Valerius Gratus.     

Pilate was notified by Sejanus that a ship was in fact waiting upon him to transport him to Palestine right away. The only disadvantageous aspect about the assignment was that Pilate was to leave the shores of Rome alone, without the pleasure of spending a first night in the arms of his newly wedded wife: by imperial decree, the wives of governors were not allowed to accompany them in their jurisdictions. Pilate, however, was a royal by marriage and so this prohibition was waived. By special permission granted by His Imperial Majesty Tiberius Caesar, Claudia soon joined her husband in Judea. The wily Pilate had calculated well when he married into royalty.     

A SADISTIC ADMINISTRATOR
The Judean perch was not prestigious though. The prefects of Judea were not of high social status. At least one – Felix, referenced by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles – was an ex-slave, which says a great deal on the low regard in which the province was held by Rome. Pilate was only secondarily sent to Judea on account of having married into royalty: his posting to the volatile province stemmed, primarily, from his being of a inferior social pedigree. Be that as it may, Pilate relished the posting in that it gave him the chance to exercise power, absolute power. Absolute power corrupts absolutely and in Pilate was the archetypal example.

Pilate’s brief was simple: to collect taxes, maintain law and order, maintain infrastructure, and keep the population subdued. Although he was born lowly, he positively had the power of life and death over his Jewish subjects. Let us listen to Josephus in his allusion to Coponius, Judea’s first Roman governor and who like Pilate was from the same subservient social class: “And now Archelaus’ part of Judea was reduced into a province and Coponius, one of the equestrian order among the Romans, was sent as procurator, having the power of life and death put into his hands by Caesar.”  

Pilate was callous to a point of being sadistic. He was scarcely the scrupling judge with the rare soft spot that we encounter in the gospels. Philo charges him with “corruptibility, violence, robberies, ill-treatment of the people, grievances, continuous executions without even the form of a trial, endless and intolerable cruelties.”  He further declares him to be a “savage, inflexible, and arbitrary ruler” who was of a “stubborn and harsh quality” and “could not bring himself to do anything that might cause pleasure to the Jews”. The essentially humane character of the Pilate who presided over the trial of Jesus as portrayed in the gospels may not be wholly fictitious but is highly embellished.

Why did Pilate have such a pathological hatred of the Jews? Sejanus had more to do with it than the spontaneous leanings of his own nature. According to Philo, Sejanus hated the Jews like the plague and wished “to do away with the nation” – to exterminate it. In AD 19, for instance, he forced the Jews in Rome to burn their religious vestments and expelled them from the city without much ado.

For as long as Sejanus was in power, Pilate could do pretty much as he pleased. He didn’t have to worry about compromising reportage reaching the emperor as everything went through the implacably anti-Jewish Sejanus. Sejanus was unrivalled in power: golden statues of the general were being put up in Rome, the Senate had voted his birthday a public holiday, public prayers were offered on behalf of Tiberius and Sejanus, and in AD 31 Sejanus was named as Consul jointly with Tiberius.

The Judea posting also gave Pilate a golden opportunity to make money – lots of it. The governors of the Roman provinces were invariably rapacious, greedy, and incompetent: this we learn not only from Jewish historians of the day but from contemporary Roman writers as well such as Tacitus and Juvenal. As long as the money skimmed from the provinces was not overly excessive, governors were allowed a free hand. It is said of Emperor Tiberius that, “Once he ordered a governor to reverse a steep rise in taxes saying, ‘I want my sheep shorn, not skinned’!” For those governors, such as Pilate, who had support from the very acmes of Roman power, they were practically a law unto themselves.    
PILATE’S WINGS ARE CLIPPED
Pontius Pilate was untrained in political office. Furthermore, he was a sycophant to the core who was prepared to go to any length in a bid to curry favour with and prove his loyalty to the powers that be in Rome.    Both these attributes gave rise to a series of blunders that brought him the intense hatred of the Jews.

The first abomination he committed in the eyes of the Jews was to set up a temple dedicated to Emperor Tiberius, which he called the Tiberieum, making him the only known official to have built a temple to a living emperor.  True, Roman emperors were worshipped, particularly after their death, but Tiberius was the one exception. According to the Roman scholar and historian Suetonius, Tiberius did not allow the consecration of temples to himself. Pilate’s act was therefore an overkill: it was not appreciated at all.

Throughout his tenure, Pilate had a series of run-ins with the Jews, some of which entailed a lot of bloodshed and one of which sparked an insurrection that paved the way to Calvary (see next week’s piece). Then it all began to unravel. On October 18 AD 31, his patron Sejanus was summoned to the office of Emperor Tiberius and an angry denunciation was read out to him. It is not clear what caused Sejanus’s fall from the emperor’s good graces but circumstantial evidence points to the perceived threat to the emperor’s power. As the ancient historian Cassius Dio puts it, “Sejanus was so great a person by reason both of his excessive haughtiness and of his vast power that to put it briefly, he himself seemed to be the emperor and Tiberius a kind of island potentate, inasmuch as the latter spent his time on the island of Capri.”  

Sejanus, hitherto the most powerful man in Rome, was thrown into a dungeon. That same evening, he was summarily condemned to death, extracted from his cell, hung, and had his body given over to a crowd that tore it to pieces in a frenzy of manic excitement. His three children were all executed over the following months and his wife, Tiberius’s own daughter, committed suicide.  The people further celebrated his downfall by pulling his statues over.  Meanwhile, Tiberius began pursuing all those who could have been involved in the “plots” of Sejanus.  

In Judea, Pilate, a Sejanus appointee, must have been badly shaken. Were his friends and family under suspicion? Would he be purged like others?  Imperial attitudes to the Jewish race seemed to have changed now with the riddance of Sejanus. Tiberius made sure this was the case by appointing a new governor for Syria (who went by the title Legate and to whom Pilate was obligated to report). The governor, Lucius Pomponius Flaccus, arrived in Rome in AD 32. Philo records that Tiberius now “charged his procurators in every place to which they were appointed to speak comfortably to the members of our nation in the different cities, assuring them that the penal measures did not extend to all but only to the guilty who were few, and to disturb none of the established customs but even to regard them as a trust committed to their care, the people as naturally peaceable and the institution as an influence promoting orderly conduct.”

So Pilate had lost his supporters at the top, his new boss was on his doorstep, and there had been a change of policy regarding the very people he was in charge of. Surely, he would have to watch his step. The fact of the matter, however, was that he hardly did so.  In November 32 AD, for instance, he provoked a mini-uprising by the Zealots led by Simon Zelotes, Judas Iscariot, and Theudas Barabbas. It was this revolt that culminated in those three crosses of Calvary that are indelibly etched on the mind of every Christian.

NEXT WEEK: JUDAS AND COMPANY RIOT AGAINST PILATE

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The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020
JEFF---Batswana-smoke-unit

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

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A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

POSITIVITY
Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”

UNDERSTANDING

Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”

COMMITMENT

Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.

ACCEPTANCE

Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)

COMPASSION, MUTUAL LOVE AND RESPECT

Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

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Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

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