Pilate’s Letter to Caesar: Actipalate
I came across this excerpt of Pilate’s letter to Caesar in Chuck Smith’s C2000 commentary on Matthew 27. I found it very interesting that if this IS Pilate’s letter to Caesar, then it gives insight into the heart & mind of one of the crucifixion’s main charaters. Below is Smith’s comments on Pilate’s letter to Caesar and excerpts that he provides from Pilate’s letter to Caesar.
Chuck Smith on Pilate’s letter to Caesar:
There is a document that was found in the Vatican library, that purported to be the letter that Pilate sent to Caesar (Pilate’s letter to Caesar), as he explained to him his part and the place of Rome in the crucifixion of Jesus. Pilate’s letter to Caesar is called the “Actipalate”, and it is an interesting letter. However, the authenticity is something that cannot be fully attested to, but it does make very interesting reading. I have a book called the Archaeological and Historic Writings of the Sanhedrin, and Talmud of the Jews, and in this book there is a copy of the Actipalate, Pilate’s letter to Caesar. I like to just read a couple of those segments out of it to you.
Pilate’s letter to Caesar:
“To Tiberas Caesar the emperor of Rome, noble sovereign greeting,
“The events of the last few days in my province have been of such character, that I will give the details in full as they have occurred, as I should not be surprised if in the course of time they may change the destiny of our nation. For it seems oblate that all the gods have ceased to be populous. I am almost ready to say, ‘Cursed be the day that I succeeded Dalarias Fascias, in the government of Judea’, for since then my life has been one of continual uneasiness and distress”. (Actipalate, Pilate’s letter to Caesar)
And in Pilate’s letter to Caesar, he goes on and tells of some of the problems that he had as he took over as the governor there in Israel. He said:
“I granted unto Jesus unlimited freedom. It was true that Jesus was severe on the rich and the powerful. And this was a political reason, in my opinion, for not restraining the liberty of the Nazarene. The scribes and the Pharisees, He would say to them, ‘You are a race of vipers. You resemble painted sepulchres. You appear well unto men, but you have death within you.’
“At other times He would sneer at the alms of the rich and the proud, telling them that the mite of a poor was more precious in the sight of God. And new complaints were daily made at the praetorium against the insolence of Jesus. I was even informed that some misfortune would befall Him, and that it would not be the first time that Jerusalem had stoned those that called themselves prophets. And if the praetorium refuse justice an appeal would be made to Caesar.
“However my conduct was approved by the senate, and I was promised reinforcement after the termination of the Partian War. Being too weak to suppress the sedition, I resolved on adopting a measure that promised to establish the tranquility of the city, without subjecting the praetorium to the humiliating concession. I wrote to Jesus requesting an interview with Him at the praetorium. He came. You know that in my veins there flows Spanish, mixed with Roman blood is incapable of fear; it is a peril emotion.
“But when the Nazarene made His appearance, I was walking in my baselic, and my feet seemed fastened with an iron hand to the marble pavement, and I trembled in every limb as a guilty colberet, for He was calm. The Nazarene was as calm as innocence itself. When He came up to me, He stooped, and by a signal sign He seemed to say to me, ‘I am here’, though He spoke not a word. For some time I contemplated with admiration and awe. This extraordinary type of man, a type of man unknown to our numerous painters, who have given form and figures to all the gods and the heroes. There was nothing about Him that was repelling in His character, yet I felt odd and tremulous to approach Him.
“‘Jesus” said I unto Him at last, and my tongue faltered. “Jesus of Nazareth I have granted you for the last three years ample freedom of speech, nor do I regret it. Your words are those of a sage. I know not whether you have read Socrates or Plato, but this I know there is in your discourses a majestic simplicity that elevates you far above these philosophers. The Emperor is informed of it and I as his humble representative in his country, I am glad of having allowed you that liberty of which you are so worthy.
‘”However, I must not conceal from you that your discourses have raised up against you powerful enemies, and neither is this surprising. Socrates had his enemies, and he fell victim to their hatred. Yours are doubly incensed against you, on account of your discourses being so severe against their conduct, against me, on account of the liberty I have afforded you. They even accused me of being indirectly leagued with you, for the purpose of depriving the Hebrews of the little civil power the Rome has left them. My request, and I do not say, ‘my order’, is that you be more circumspect and moderate in your discourses in the future, and more tender toward them, lest you arouse the pride of your enemies and they rise against you, this stupid populous, and compel me to employ the instruments of law.’
“The Nazarene commonly replied, ‘Prince of the earth, your words proceed not from true wisdom. Say to the torrent, stop in the midst of the mountain gorge, it will uproot the trees of the valley. The torrent will answer you that it obeys the laws of nature, and the Creator, God, alone knows whither flows the water of the torrent.
‘”Verily I say unto you, before the rose of Sharon blossoms, the blood of the just shall be spilt.’
“‘Your blood will not be spilt,’ said I with deep emotions. ‘You are more precious in my estimation, on account of your wisdom, than all of the turbulent and proud Pharisees who abused the freedom granted them by the Romans. They conspire against Caesar and convert his bounty into fear and pressing the unlearned, that Caesar is a tyrant, and seeks their ruin. Insolent wretches they are not aware that the wolf of the tiger sometimes clothes themselves with the skin of sheep to accomplish the wicked ends”‘. (Actipalate, Pilate’s Letter to Caesar)
And he goes on with his conversation there in Pilate’s letter to Caesar. And then the interesting part I feel is concerning the resurrection. Talking of the crucifixion in Pilate’s letter to Caesar he said,
“I returned to the praetorium, was pensive on ascending the stair, the steps of which was still stained with the blood of the Nazarene. I perceived an old man in a sibilant posture, and behind him several Romans in tears. He threw himself at my feet and he wept most bitterly. It is painful to see an old man weep.
“And my heart already overcharged with grief, wept, though strangers, mutually wept together. And in truth it seemed that the tears lay very shallow that day on many whom I perceived out of the vast concourse of people. I never saw such a complete division of feeling. Both on the extreme, those that betrayed and sold Him, those that testified against Him. Those that said, ‘crucify Him; we will have His blood’. All slunk off like cowardly cures, and washed their teeth with vinegar. As I am told that Jesus taught a resurrection and separation after death, if such should be the fact I am sure it commenced in this vast crowd.
“‘Father’, I said to him, after gaining control of my feelings, ‘who are you, and what is your request?’ ‘I am Joseph of Arimathaea’, he replied, ‘and I have come to beg of you upon my knees the permission to bury Jesus of Nazareth’.
“‘Your prayer is granted’, I said to him. And at the same time ordered Manleous to take some soldiers with him to superintend the Interment, lest it should be profaned. A few days after the sepulchre was found empty, His disciples published all over the country that Jesus had risen from the dead, as He had foretold. This last report created more excitement than the first. As to its truth I cannot say for certain, but I have made some investigation in the matter. So you can examine it for yourself and see if I am at fault as Herod represents me.
“Joseph buried Jesus in his own tomb. Whether he contemplated the resurrection, or calculated to cut himself another, I cannot tell. The next day after He was buried, one of the priests came to the praetorium and said that they were apprehensive that the disciples intended to steal the body of Jesus and hide it, and then to make it appear that He had risen from the dead, as He had foretold, in which they were perfectly convinced.
“I sent him to the captain of the royal guard, Malcus, to take Him, the Jewish soldiers, and placed as many around the sepulchre as were needed. And then if anything should happen, they would blame themselves, and not the Romans. And when the great excitement arose about the sepulchre being found empty, I felt deeper solicitude than ever. I sent for Malcus who told me, he had placed his Lieutenant Benishim with one hundred soldiers around the sepulchre. He told me Benishim and the soldiers were very much alarmed at what had occurred there that morning.
“I sent for this man Benishim, who related to me as near as I can remember the following circumstances. He said that about the beginning of the fourth watch, they saw His soft and beautiful light over the sepulchre. He had first thought that the women had come to embalm the body of Jesus, as was their custom. They could not see how they gotten through the guards. And while these reflections were passing through his mind, behold the whole place lighted up, and there seemed to be crowds of the dead in their grave clothes. All seemed to be shouting and filled with ecstasy, while all around and above was the most beautiful music he had ever heard. And the whole air seemed to be filled with voices praising God.
“And at this time there seemed to be a reeling and a swimming of the earth, that he turned so sick and faint, that he could not stand on his feet. And he said, ‘the earth seemed to swim from under him and his senses left him’, so he did not know what did occur. I asked him in what condition he was when he came to himself. He said he was lying on the ground with his face down. I asked him if he could not have been mistaken as to the light. Was it not maybe the day coming in the east? He said at first he thought of that, but only as stones cast away, it was exceedingly dark, and then he remembered it was too early for day.
“I asked him if his dizziness might not have come from being awakened, and getting up to suddenly. For sometimes it has that effect. He said he was not, and had he had not been asleep all night, as the penalty was death for him to sleep on duty. He said he had let some of the soldiers sleep at the time, and some were asleep then. I asked him how long the scene lasted. He said he did not know, but he thought nearly an hour. He said it was hide by the light of day. And I asked him if he went to the sepulchre after he had come to himself. He said ‘no’, because he was afraid, that just as soon as relief came, they all went to their quarters.
“I asked him if he had been interrogated by the priest. He said he had, they wanted him to say that it was an earthquake, and to say that they were asleep, and offered him money to tell that the disciples had come and stolen the body. But he saw no disciples. He did not know that the body was gone until he was told so. I asked him what was his private opinion of the priest that conversed with him. He said some of them thought that Jesus was no man, that He was not a human being, that He was not the son of Mary, that He was not the same that was born of the virgin in Bethlehem. That the same person had been on earth before, with Abraham and Lot, and at many times and places.
“It seems to me if the Jewish theory be true, these conclusions would be correct. For to sum up His life, it would be in accord with this man’s life, as is known and testified by both friends and foes. For the elements were no more in His hands than clay in the hands of a potter. He could convert water into wine. He could change death into life, diseases into health. He could calm the seas. Still the storms. Call up fish with a silver coin in its mouth. Now I say if He could do all these things which He did, and many more as the Jews all testified, and it was doing these things that created this enmity against Him. He was not charged with criminal offenses, nor was He charged with violating any law, nor of wronging any individual in person. All of the facts are known to thousands, as well as by His foes and His friends. So I am almost ready to say, as did Manilas at the cross, truly this was the Son of God.” (Actipalate, Pilate’s letter to Caesar)
So that is parts of the Actipalate, Pilate’s letter to Caesar. There are sources in here that try to attest to authenticity of it being Pilate’s letter to Caesar. We do not know. As I say, the early church fathers did say that Pilate wrote this letter to the Roman government to explain the circumstances. Iranias refers to the Actipalate (Pilate’s letter to Caesar), they said, and Justin Marter, and the early church historian Usiveus.
This excerpt of Pilate’s letter to Caesar and commentary is taken from C2000 by Chuck Smith. Smith includes these excerpts from Pilate’s letter to Caesar and it’s one of the only places where you can find the Actipalate (Pilate’s letter to Caesar) online.
Application for Pilate’s Letter to Caesar:
So, what do you think: Is this Pilate’s letter to Caesar? If it is Pilate’s letter to Caesar, what insight does it provide? What does Pilate’s letter to Caesar make you feel about Pontius Pilate? Jesus? Other characters and their roles?