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Matthew 27:24 KJV — When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.

Mark 15:15 — And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.

The Gospels indicate that Pilate commanded that Jesus be crucified because he did not want the Jews to get violent, and he wanted to appease them. Critics of the Gospels say that Pilate would not have done this, because he hated Jews and had no issue with killing them, as evidenced by the fact that he commanded a large group of Samaritans (who were not Jews ethnically but shared the culture and religion of the Jews, as far as one can tell) be slain for no clear reason. Josephus, moreover, says that Pilate was "naturally inflexible", and so it is unlikely that he would have changed his mind concerning releasing Jesus.

However, is it not possible that the Jews in the crowd demanding Jesus' death had weapons and were more numerous than the soldiers that Pilate had near him, and that, in an attempt to save his own life from the Jews (who almost certainly hated him personally at this point), he relented? According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, Josephus depicted Pilate as rational and practical. We know that there were soldiers at the trial, but is there any indication in the text of precisely how many soldiers there were? Is it possible that the number of soldiers at the trial was different (if so, presumably less) because the trial took place during the very early morning?

Thank you.

It's important to note, by the way, that there is no account of Pilate having killed large groups of Jews. In fact, he threatened to kill a large group of Jews who were protesting his bringing of images of Caesar into Jerusalem, but took the images out of the city when the Jews said that they would rather die than see Moses' Law broken and did not harm them. He did kill that large group of Samaritans, but, firstly, they were Samaritans, and, secondly, that was three to six years after Jesus' trial, if that is relevant. He is, however, said to have not respected the Jewish religion, which is much different than killing Jews, of course.

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  • Quenching rebellions and provoking them are two distinct things.
    – Lucian
    Jan 6, 2019 at 23:39
  • @Lucian I agree, but what in the question made you say this?
    – CMK
    Jan 7, 2019 at 1:42
  • The middle sentence of your first post-quotation paragraph.
    – Lucian
    Jan 7, 2019 at 16:19
  • Thanks. Do you believe that my suggestion in the question is plausible?
    – CMK
    Jan 7, 2019 at 16:56
  • 1
    I am familiar with Tektonics.
    – Lucian
    Jan 11, 2019 at 15:51

1 Answer 1

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The question probably is not so much whether Pilate had fewer soldiers than the number of the crowd at that particular time, but rather whether he would have had enough soldiers to quell any rebellion that would have broken out.

I think the answer is no. At the time of the First Jewish Revolt 30 years later, the then governors of Judea had to ask Nero to send troops to help. Since this was at a time of even more heightened difficulties with the Jews, we could imagine that even fewer troops were on hand for Pilate.


Josephus, in Book 2, Chapter 18 of The Jewish War, wrote:

But when the governors of the Roman provinces throughout the world heard of the revolt and the destruction of the Roman garrison, they were horrified and immediately dispatched reinforcements to Judea. The emperor Nero also sent Vespasian, a distinguished general, to the region with three legions of soldiers, while his son Titus was appointed second in command. These legions were the fifth, the tenth, and the fifteenth, each consisting of 6,000 infantry and 120 cavalry.

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