During what years was Pontius Pilate governor of Judea?
Historical information about Pontius Pilate can be found in all four gospels of the Bible, the writings of Flavius Josephus, the writings of Philo and archaeological findings. The purpose of this article is to determine when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea. The Roman governor over Judea, Pontius Pilate, appears for the first time in the Bible in Matthew 27:2.
. . . and they bound Him, and led Him away and delivered Him to Pilate the governor. Matthew 27:2 (NASB)
This brief statement is concerned with the trial of Jesus Christ. Here we are told that Christ is brought to Pilate. He is brought before Pilate for questioning since the religious leaders of Israel want Christ to be killed. The gospels tell us that Pilate ordered the crucifixion of Christ that same day. Therefore, we want to ask, “When was Pontius Pilate governor over Judea?” The answer will give us insight into the man himself and also help us determine the time of Christ’s death.
Pontius Pilate – Was Not Governor Until A.D. 26
It is commonly believed that Pilate was governor of Judea from A.D. 26. to A.D. 36. However, we can frequently find in the literature two different end dates of Pontius Pilate’s tenure as governor of Judea: A.D. 36 and A.D. 37. Pilate’s reign is believed to have started in the year A.D. 26. The length of his rule as governor has been based primarily on the writings of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, who reports,
So Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome, and this in obedience to the orders of Vitellius . . . 
By adding the length of his reign to A.D. 26, it is often reported that Pilate’s rule as governor ended in A.D. 36.
Pontius Pilate – Was Governor Until A.D. 37
However, P. L. Hedley contends that Pilate started his reign before A.D. 26. Paul L Meir documents convincing evidence that Pilate ended his reign in A.D. 37.
The record of Josephus sets the stage for what lay in store for Pilate after his citation to Rome, but, unfortunately, provides no part of the drama whatever:
And so Pilate, after having spent ten years in Judea, hurried to Rome in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, since he could not refuse. But before he reached Rome Tiberius had already passed away. The ten years, plus some months which Josephus ignored in offering a round number, extended from 26 to 36 A.D., and the very length of tenure may be one clue to Pilate’s competence as governor. One may well wonder if Tiberius, even with his predilection for retaining governors at their posts for long terms, would have allowed Pilate a whole decade of administration in Judea if he were such a blunderer. Of the fourteen prefects or procurators which Rome dispatched to Judea from 6 to 66 A.D., Pilate’s tenure was exceeded in length only by that of his predecessor, Valerius Gratus, who governed some months longer.
Pilate arrived in Rome sometime after March 16, A.D. when Tiberius died . . . The mathematics in the matter would seem to indicated, then, a mid- or late December, A.D. 36 departure for Pilate from Caesara, though any specificity, of course, is impossible. Josephus does not indicate how long after Tiberius’ death Pilate arrived in Italy or Rome, though the language would seem to connote a brief interval.
E. Mary Smallwood supports the view that Pontius Pilate ended his reign maybe as early as mid-December A.D. 36 or as late as the end of February A.D. 37. Vardaman & Tamauchi state,
Problems of chronology relating to Pontius Pilate are complex. The majority of New Testament and classical scholars date Pilate’s rule as procurator/prefect of Judea between A.D. 26 and 36. My contention is that the case for this traditional date of Pontius Pilate is not as airtight as its defenders believe, and that more and more scholars will reject this older chronology of Pilate for a better system as they study the problem more carefully. Daniel Schwartz of the history department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has already arrived at an earlier date for the start of Pilate’s career(A.D. 14/15), although he leaves Pilate in office as late as A.D. 37.
Kenneth Lönnqvist states the following about the end date of Pilate’s tenure as governor of Judea.
It is some sort of acceptable compromise that scholarship and sources agree that Pilate served as governor of Judaea for a minimum of ten years (26-36 A.D.). However, reading Josephus carefully reveals that Pilate had been appointed to serve in Judaea for much more than ten years. There is no evidence for that his period of office was in fact planned to end in 36 or 37 A.D., when it did.We know this from the strong evidence that Pilate’s normal term of office had not been terminated within the mandata that he had received from the Emperor Tiberius when the Syrian legate Vitellius arrived in Judaea towards the end of 36 A.D. Vitellius suspended Pilate from office and sent him to Rome either at the end of 36 A.D. or in the spring of 37 A.D., depending on how we interpret Josephus’ account (Jos. Ant. 18.89). Josephus claims in his statement that Pilate “hurried” to Rome but strangely he did not arrive there until April 37 A.D. According to Josephus, Pilate arrived to learn that Emperor Tiberius had passed away on March 16th 37 A.D. (Jos. Ant. 18.89). In the assumption that Pilate had immediately been dispatched by Vitellius to leave Judaea in 36 A.D., Josephus’ narrative implies that Pilate was en route to Rome from six to twelve months, which is simply not possible . . . A journey over land took a couple months at the most, disregarding that travel in antiquity was always a daunting ordeal with all the dangers and problems it entailed. Therefore, Josephus’ chronology of the end of Pilate’s tenure is certainly not accurate or precise. The events surrounding Pilate’s dismissal may actually have happened outside the normal Roman sailing season, indicating either that Pilate returned to Rome by land over Asia Minor in 36 A.D., or that Pilate de facto stayed on in Judaea after his suspension until March in 37 A.D. when the sailing season again began. This would explain why he arrived in Rome late in March or in April 37 A.D., assuming a normal sea voyage and assuming that Josephus was correct. 
Recent analysis of the historical data suggests that early A.D. 37 was most likely the time Pilate ceased to rule as governor of Judea. The conclusion that Pilate’s rule over Judea ended in early A.D. 37 is also supported by E. Mary Smallwood.
Recent studies of a wide range of historical data suggests two end dates are possible for Pontius Pilate’s rule as governor over Judea. The first date is A.D. 36 which is based on the work of Flavius Josephus. However, a more considered analysis strongly suggests that the date for the end of Pontius Pilate’s rule occurred in A.D. 37. However, certainty is not possible for either A.D. 36 or A.D. 37. Thus we concluded that the length of Pontius Pilate’s rule as governor is from A.D. 26 to A.D. 37. Since the birth date of Pilate is unknown, we must conclude that Pontius Pilate’s birth is unknown and his death was about A.D. 37.
1. Historical references to Pontius Pilate can be found in the following sources:
The Bible –
Matthew 27:2, 13-24, 58-65.
Mark 15:1-14, 43-44.
Luke 3:1; 13:1; 23:1-24, 52.
John 18:29-38; 19:1-38
Flavius Josephus –
Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. XVIII. 4. 2, 89.
On The Embassy of Gauis Book XXXVIII. pp. 299–305.
Archaeological Testimony –
The Pilate Stone contains an inscription referring to “Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judea.” The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 1995-2015. AE 1963. No. 104.
2. Emil Schurer. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ. Hendrickson Publishers. 1995.
3. Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. XVIII. 4. 2, 89.
4. P. L. Hedley. Pilate’s Arrival In Judea. The Journal of Theological Studies. vol. 35, No. 137. January, 1934. pp. 56-58.
5. Paul L Meir. The Fate of Pontius Pilate. Hermes. 99. Bd., H. 3 (1971), pp. 365-366.
6. Vardaman & Tamauchi. Chronos, Kairos, Christos: Nativity and Chronological Studies. Presented to Jack Finegan. Eisenbrauns. 1989. pp. 77-78.
7. Dr. Kenneth Lönnqvist. The Chronology and Tenure of Pontius Pilate: New Evidence for Re-dating the Period of Office. p. 3.
8. E. Mary Smallwood. The Date of the Dismissal of Pontius Pilate from Judea. The Journal of Jewish Studies. v. 1, 1954. pp 12-14, 19-21.
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