It's no surprise that, growing up, I did not hear much about the New Testament at my synagogue. I never heard much about Joseph of Arimathea, Judas, Paul, or, for that matter, Jesus. I did learn something about Pontius Pilate: that he was a very bad man—not because he killed an obscure carpenter from Nazareth, but because he was a coward. If he had handled Jesus' crucifixion with a little more courage, Pilate might have spared Jews centuries of grief, centuries of being labeled host-desecrating, blood-drinking Christ-killers.

Pilate's reputation may improve a tad, thanks to a biography and two novels of mixed quality.

British reporter Ann Wroe has garnered much acclaim on both sides of the pond for her elegantly written, engrossing study of Pilate. Pontius Pilate is not, as the dust jacket suggests, a biography of Pilate, about whom precious little is known: hard evidence amounts to an inscribed stone, a few coins, a few mentions by Josephus, a couple of pages on Philo of Alexandria, a sentence in Tacitus, and (of course) the Gospels.

Wroe's valiant attempts to reconstruct Pilate's life, therefore, are a little suspect. But her study of how Pilate has been remembered and imagined by writers, artists, and theologians for the last two millennia is striking.

Imagining Pilate's wife

One of the most fascinating passages in Pontius Pilate is about not Pilate but his wife, Claudia Procula. The Bible tells us little about Mrs. Pilate. Unnamed by Scripture, a la Lot's wife, she makes a brief appearance in Matthew 27:19: "While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, 'Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him' " (NKJV). That brief message, Wroe reminds ...

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December 4, 2000

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