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§ 287. Pilate’s fruitless Efforts to save Jesus.—The Dream of Pilate’s Wife.

In honour of the Passover, and as a privilege to the Jews, pardon was granted every year to a criminal condemned to death. Pilate endeavoured to make use of this privilege in favour of Jesus; hoping thus at once to admit the validity of the decree of the Sanhedrim, and yet leave it unexecuted. In order to satisfy their hatred against Jesus to some extent, he proposed, not to free him from all punishment, but to mitigate it into scourging. But the multitude, always open to the impressions of the moment—the very multitude who, a few days before, 416had welcomed Jesus, with shouts of enthusiasm, as Theocratic King—were now, when their carnal expectations were deceived, blind instruments of the Sanhedrim, and obedient to every fanatical impulse of the Pharisees. They clamoured for the pardon of a murderer rather than of the false prophet (as they held him) who had deceived their hopes.

The procurator ordered Jesus to be scourged. It could not have cost the feelings of a Pilate much to inflict such violent pain and deep disgrace upon an innocent man. He thought that Jesus, as an enthusiast, who had already given so much trouble, deserved scourging; and he probably expected to appease the rage and excite the sympathy of the multitude by the infliction, and so, perhaps, to succeed in saving his life. With the cruel marks upon his body, the Saviour was brought out, in the attire which the soldiers had put upon him in derision, and set before the people; when Pilate, having declared that he found no guilt in him, said, “Behold the man!” (“Can it be believed that he would wish to make himself king?”) The sight only stimulated their fanatical rage; and, with unceasing clamours, they demanded his crucifixion. Full of displeasure, Pilate said to them, “Take ye him, and crucify him, for I find no fault in him.” The Jews knew well how to understand this; and, as their political accusation had failed, they had recourse again to the religious one: “We have a law, and by our law (confirmed by the Roman state) he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.”

Unsusceptible as Pilate was of all impressions from the higher life, unable to recognize the majesty that dwelt in that lowly form, he yet found in Christ’s demeanour under his sufferings something peculiar and inexplicable. Moreover, his wife,778778   According to the Apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (c. ii.), and later accounts (all of which, however, probably came from the same source), she was a proselyte of the gate, θεοσεβής, and was named Procla (Thilo, Cod. Apocryph., i., 520). Judaism had found its converts particularly among the female sex. troubled by fearful dreams, sent him a warning to “Have nothing to do with that just man.” And now, in addition to all this, he was told that Jesus had declared himself to be the “ Son of God,” a title which he interpreted according to the pagan conceptions of the “ Sons of the Gods.”


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