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Just looking to find out if this alleged Letter of Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar is authentic or a later forgery? I don't care how it physically describes Jesus, just want to know how it was found and why it's claimed authentic or not. Thanks.

  • can you add a source to the alleged letter? – depperm Feb 17 '17 at 13:14
  • related question: christianity.stackexchange.com/q/15310/22319 see the first answer – depperm Feb 17 '17 at 15:19
  • I'm not entirely sure that a question about authenticating provenance for a [dubious] document is entirely on-topic here. But I'm not sure it's more on topic on History either. – Andrew Leach Mar 2 '17 at 8:51
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I would say probable forgery. First searching for the letter before a link/source was added revealed at least 3 letters, each is written differently:

  1. Letter of Pilate to Tiberius 1 - Unable to verify by finding an image of the original Greek manuscript
  2. Letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar - mentions Copies are in the Congressional Library in Washington, D.C. but initial searches reveal nothing, and some sites say mention:

    "The Library of Congress has received a number of inquiries over the years about a purported letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar concerning Jesus Christ. The Library does not have such a letter in its collections".

  3. Fraud by Pilate Letter - although this seems to be claiming the letter is false (I google translated it), the text of this letter is unique from the other two. This also mentions a fiction book, Letters of Pontius Pilate, published in 1928 which may be the basis for many of the supposed letters that mention Jesus
  4. Historic Letter written by Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar - mentioned in OP question mentions it is in the British Museum but searches on that site and of the British Museum Library reveal nothing

I've found a supposed response from the British Museum

There are no surviving original letters by Herod or Pontius Pilate, to each other or to anyone else. Any manuscripts of them which do exist are forgeries or much later copies. A Syriac MS in the British Library Oriental Collections (reference number Add. 14609) contains a 6th or 7th Century copy of the letters. Here is the catalogue description of the MS:

THE DOCTRINE Of St. Peter;-The life of St. Anthony, by St. Athan- asius;-Account of the Monks in Egypt;-Life of Serapion;- Letter of Herod to Pilate, and of Pilate to Herod;-The Recogni- tions of St. Clement. On vellum, of the vith or viith century. Quarto. [14,609.]

There are many modern texts and English translations of the letters, including the one on the website link you gave.

I hope this helps.

Yours sincerely,

Zoë Stansell 2

MSS Enquiries

In favor of the a letter from Pilate concerning Jesus is this book, Archaeological Writings of the Sanhedrin and Talmuds of the Jews by William Dennes Mahan, page 205. This and other sources might be considered pseudipigrapha and Apocrypha.

One to thing to remember is that Pontius Pilate was a Roman prefect for the province of Judaea under Empereor Tiberius Caesar. There probably was correspondences, reports, and/or letters between them.

To answer the second question there is an article talking about when one letter was discovered in Liverpool in 1964 and goes into detail on why he believes it to be a fraud.

Emphasis added by me

1 source is Ante-Nicene Fathers page 459, which is also in English

2 She appears to actually work at the British Library, see the author

  • Herod says in one letter his daughter Herodias was playing in a pool with ice when the ice broke and cut off her head. Really? When Jesus was crucified it was that cold for ice? – bob pinto Nov 11 '18 at 3:17
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I ran across mention of this letter and did some sleuthing. I have no idea where the claims to copies being in various libraries came from, but I did manage to track down its publication in English.

It's printed in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1916.) It's public domain; you can download it from Internet Archive. "Pilate's letter" may have been published earlier than the Ante-Nicene Fathers set, but this edition has the benefit of showing scholarly opinion on the matter - which is what we need here.

You'd think the inclusion of the letter of Pilate would give it the credentials of authenticity, but no - the letter is placed under the heading of Apocryphal Gospels. In the introductory notice to the Apocryphal Gospels, the translator writes: "The text is formed from four authorities, none of them ancient." (p. 353) So even in the late 1800s-early 1900s scholars doubted the authenticity of the letter, if they didn't reject it outright.

That bit about the dubious authorship clearly doesn't stick in the mind as well as the much-juicier title, perfectly suited for passing around on social media today.

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Being a Roman Prefect, I do not think Pontius Pilate would have had such a high, un apologetic, vindicating, regard for Jesus, as described in the letter, especially a letter that was to be sent to and read by Tiberius Caesar. Pontius Pilate vindicates Jesus in the letter as oppose to just relaying the facts about the events to Tiberius Cesar allowing him to draw his own conclusions about the events. I also think if Tiberius Caesar read the letter, he would have had Pontius Pilate removed from his position if for no other reason, to defend his own authority in the region, the authority of the Roman gods and the authority of Roman rule. Bottom line: Pontius Pilate vindicates Jesus in the letter to Tiberius Cesar as oppose to just relaying the facts about the events to Tiberius Cesar.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Hi Mark. Please support your answer with sources. Also, take the tour to see how Christianity.SE is different from a discussion forum. – KorvinStarmast Feb 18 at 15:37
  • And please see what makes a good supported answer. While your thoughts are valuable, thoughts supported by evidence and external sources are encouraged here. This question asked about the authenticity of an ancient letter, and your bottom line doesn't answer the question. – Alex Strasser Feb 18 at 17:46
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Clearly the politics of the day Is reflected beautifully! Its composition is magnificent In every sense of the word! But knowing how these things get edited throughout the years by multiple copyists, particularly in a Christian era, we definitely need more than one copy to affirm anything about its authenticity in part or in whole. Thank goodness we have over 5000 pieces No 6000 of the New Testament in 7 different families.

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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The letter would be explained authentic With the justification that Pilate was never at peace with the crucifixion of Jesus. The letter explains his turmoil and regret. Being it known that admitting this to Tiberius Caesar would have severe results and he was already planning his suicide. The letter to me when I read it was more of a testimonial and insight to his belief that Jesus was The Son of GOD

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • Hello and welcome to the site! Please provide sources and justification for your answer. See what makes a good supported answer. I hope you will explore other questions and answers to familiarize yourself with the site. – Alex Strasser Apr 29 at 8:13
  • For example, how do you know Pilate "was never at peace" with Jesus' crucifixion? How do you know he had turmoil and regret? Because without this letter, we have no basis for that but speculation. The letter could only justify this position if it is authentic, which is circular reasoning. – Alex Strasser Apr 29 at 8:15

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