Screen Pilates: Hristo Shopov

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Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began last year during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone and Barry Dennen may be read here, here and here.

Without a doubt the screen portrayal of Pilate seen by the most people around the world is that of Bulgarian actor Hristo Shopov in Mel Gibson’s hugely successful Passion of the Christ (2004).  That is good, because it is a superb portrayal.

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Shopov portrays Pilate as a coolly in charge Roman prefect in public, but in private he unburdens himself to his wife Claudia who warns him that Jesus is a holy man and he must not condemn Him.  Pilate repeats his query to Christ about truth to his wife.  His truth he tells her is that the Emperor has warned him that if there are any more rebellions in Judaea, he will pay for it with his own blood.  If he refuses to execute Jesus he fears that Caiaphas will lead a revolt, but that if he executes Jesus the followers of Christ might revolt.  I believe this was a key fear of the historical Pilate and he did not order the execution of Jesus until he decided that a revolt by the rent-a-mob of Caiaphas on Good Friday posed the far greater threat.

Prior to ordering the execution of Jesus Pilate washes his hands.  Note that the man does not need to be summoned but is already standing with a basin of water.  Pilate had obviously decided to make this gesture before hand, and perhaps divert the anger of the followers of Christ from him to Caiaphas.  Pilate of course made the right choice from his short-term perspective.  There was no revolt against Rome on Good Friday, and the peace was maintained and taxes would continue to flow to the Emperor.  Yet Shopov’s skilled portrayal of Pilate also reveals that the words that Christ speaks to him do have an impact on Pilate, and that Pilate is fascinated by this mysterious figure before him.  What should have been just another day’s work for Prefect Pilate in governing the always on the verge of revolt Judaea turned out to be not quite so cut and dry for Pilate, and Shopov conveys that well.  Pilate, a relatively unimportant functionary of a vast empire, had just had an ecounter with divinity and the world would never be the same again.  Shopov’s performance suggests that Pilate had an inkling of this, and it disturbed him greatly, as he was one of the first of the gentiles to ecounter the question, a question that has perplexed and inspired humanity for twenty centuries, from Christ:  Who do you say that I am?

22 Responses to Screen Pilates: Hristo Shopov

  • My vote goes to Rod Steiger.

    For what it’s worth I have never bought Pilate as reluctant executioner. His soldiers marched Jesus to Golgotha, they nailed him to the cross, he wrote the sign “King of the Jews”. HE must have given the order at some point.

    Would he have preferred Jesus be killed by a Jewish lynch mob or executed by Herod? I’m sure. But that doesn’t let him off the hook. I also suspect that since the Gospels were written as Christianity began being preached to the Roman world (and the Church’s breach from Judaism) maybe Pilate is painted a little better and the high priests even worse.

  • Both are very good portrayals, but I have to go with Steiger. Pilate might have had a qualm or two, but I think the way Stieger portrays it is more likely. Sort of a dsinterested bureaucrat who has to keep dealing with these crazy religious fanatics and their equally crazy prophets. He may have had a hint of something a little different about Jesus (especially after his wife’s dream), and personally thought him harmless, but then it passes and he gets back to buisiness as usual, and more important to him, politics as usual.

  • Claudia left Pilate and became a Christian. Pontius Pilate was supposed to be the Governor. No one could countermand his decress. “WHO is TRUTH?” Pilate knew. “BEHOLD THE MAN” “KING OF THE JEWS”. Pontius Pilate was filled with contempt, an arrogance so great, that even in the presence of God, Pilate could not humble himself. History gives us reasons for Pilate’s pride, self-preservation, Roman’s orders, the lack of and non-use of authentic authority, (a sin and crime of the High Priests). Jesus authenticated and empowered Pilate’s authority: “you would not have power over me if it had not been given to you from above” at this point Pilate could have assumed his authentic power given him from above and released Jesus and gone home and slept peacefully. Pilate could have given Jesus assylum, to prevent the High Priests from their crime, knowing that he was protected by heaven. The Romans did believe in gods. Our Creed says: “He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” The newer translation reads: “He suffered death and was buried”, leaving Pontius Pilate out. Pontius Pilate never assumed the sovereignty assigned to him.

  • The Romans did in 79AD, what Pontius Pilate ought to have done.

  • “For what it’s worth I have never bought Pilate as reluctant executioner.”

    I do. If Pilate had been concerned about Jesus he would not have had to have Caiaphas force his hand. The inscription on the Cross was a Roman custom of explaining why someone was being put to death. Rebellion against Rome was the only excuse that Pilate could think of to justify the execution. Having the inscription: “Innocent man executed so that the mob of Caiaphas does not revolt.” would not have gone over well either in Jerusalem or Rome. Caiaphas was doing this during Passover when Jerusalem was crowded with visitors and it wouldn’t have taken much to cause a revolt, and that was the main concern of Pilate.

    “My vote goes to Rod Steiger.”

    A fine performance although my vote goes for Richard Boone who portrays Pilate as a military man which I think is what he essentially was.

    “Claudia left Pilate and became a Christian.”
    A pious legend with no historical foundation.

    “Pontius Pilate was filled with contempt,”
    I think he was filled much more with incomprehension and “What is that sneaky rat Caiaphas up to now? What trap is he laying for me?”

    Of course one of the many interesting facts regarding Pilate is that his verdict was necessary for our salvation. I think that was what Christ was getting at in his refence to the power granted to Pilate. Pilate, a gentile, sentences the Jewish Messiah to death and thus unknowingly helps bring salvation to gentiles and jews.

  • I greatly admire Rod Steiger’s version, but I have to go with Shopov. I found the way that Gibson showed the duel between Pilate and Caiphas very effective. “He’s Herod’s subject.” But Herod sends him back. “OK, I might release Barabbas (think Charles Manson here, or any other mass murderer).” Caiaphas says, “Go ahead.” Then Pilate thinks, “OK, I’ll beat him half to death.” Then when he shows the much bloodied Jesus to the crowd, thinking that will surely be enough (it’s really bad, he’s nearly dead anyway, how could anyone want more?), Caiphas says “Kill him.” And Pilate has allowed himself to be pushed into a corner. He even tries the “Isn’t he your king?” path, also countered by Caiaphas with “We have no king but Caesar,” implicitly saying to Pilate, “Do you?” I though it was all brilliantly done. Many people were impressed by the courtesy Pilate shows Christ, but here I have to go with C. S. Lewis in “Screwtape”: Pontius Pilate was merciful, until it got RISKY. Pilate’s courtesy gains him nothing at all, and his cowardice loses him everything.

  • I liked Passion of the Christ for many reasons but two stand out for me. The scene of the resurrection at the end where the shroud is slowly deflating as the camera pans up to Jesus who so serenely walks out of the tomb. No flash light or roar of sound; just as if someone woke up. I think it must have been that way. God wouldn’t have needed showy effects.

    The other reason that stands out for me is the performance of Rosalinda Celentano as Satan, especially her scream of frustration when Jesus dies, signifying that our salvation is possible and Satan will now have to work for souls.

  • Donald R. McClarey:
    Having the inscription: “Innocent man executed so that the mob of Caiaphas does not revolt and taxes will no longer be sent to Rome.” Reads more like the truth.
    “Claudia left Pilate and became a Christian.”
    A pious legend with no historical foundation.
    Claudia was loving and supporting of Pilate when a centurion announced a rebellion. Pilate dumped Claudia and her dream and her truth and murdered an innocent man. I could live with incomprehension, but I could not live with a murderer of innocent blood. Pilate had Jesus before him, Pilate could have asked for pardon for himself. I go with the pious legend with no historical foundation, rather than believe that Claudia chose to remain with a murderer of innocent blood. Yuck. Can anyone imagine being touched by an unrepentant murderer?
    “Pontius Pilate was filled with contempt,”
    I think he was filled much more with incomprehension and “What is that sneaky rat Caiaphas up to now? What trap is he laying for me?”
    Pax Romana was a law that stated the everybody dies until peace is restored, irregardless of guilt or innocence. Perhaps, Pax Romana was how the Romans were enabled to crucify Jesus Christ. Pilate also had the authentic authority through Pax Romana to cleanse the temple of bloodthirsty rabble, the High Priests, the same way Jesus did and wipe out the Jews the way Rome did in 79A.D., long overdue. Pharisee has become another word for religious hypocrite.
    “Of course one of the many interesting facts regarding Pilate is that his verdict was necessary for our salvation.”
    Pilate, like Judas was free to exercise his free will, up until the day he, Pilate died. Judas, the Zealot, like Barabbas, wanted Israel free of the Romans. Pilate wanted to continue sending taxes to Rome. Wiping out the temple would have brought no taxes to Caesar. They all had a vested interest in seeing Jesus die.
    “ I think that was what Christ was getting at in his reference to the power granted to Pilate. Pilate, a gentile, sentences the Jewish Messiah to death and thus unknowingly helps bring salvation to gentiles and Jews.”
    I think Jesus Christ was establishing Pilates’ sovereign personhood, over himself, and his authority to rule, a source of complaint from Pilate. How Pilate ruled was all according to how Pilate exercised his free will and sovereignty. Even Scripture would have been written differently, if Pilate had used his free will and sovereignty to uphold Justice and respect an innocent man, Jesus Christ.
    Perhaps you have read it as it was in The Wanderer and can be found at JURISDICTIONARY website; a piece written by a judge who studied the trial of Jesus. It is called THE TRIAL OF JESUS. It, too, is very interesting.
    Say one Hail Mary for me, Donald, and thank you for this wonderful blog.

  • George Haberberger:
    The tear that fell from heaven was God mourning his only Begotten Son. God, Jesus Christ’s Father experienced every suffering and pain His Son experienced. “I and the Father are ONE. The Blessed Virgin Mary was there too, to receive all of God’s children into her heart before Christ descended into hell giving all mankind a choice: to stay with Mary or attend to hell with Jesus. Satan could not separate Jesus Christ from His Father to destroy the Triune God, which is what every evil doer ultimaltely is intent on doing.

  • “I go with the pious legend”

    People can believe what they wish Mary, but there is simply no historical support for that belief. Christianity is based in history, and I believe it is essential that we adhere to the historical record in this matter as in all matters.

    “Pax Romana was a law that stated the everybody dies until peace is restored, irregardless of guilt or innocence. ”

    Untrue. The Pax Romana, which was not a law, ultimately brought peace and prosperity to more people than any system before it, and more than most systems since it. A good book on the subject is Empires of Trust by Thomas Madden:
    http://www.amazon.com/Empires-Trust-Built-America-Building/dp/0525950745

    “Pilate also had the authentic authority through Pax Romana to cleanse the temple of bloodthirsty rabble, the High Priests, the same way Jesus did and wipe out the Jews the way Rome did in 79A.D., long overdue. ”

    First and only caution Mary. I am very sensitive to attacks on Jews. Any hint of anti-Semitism on the part of a commenter and I ban them. I do not believe that was your intent, but your words could be subject to that interpretation.

    The First Romano-Jewish War came to an end in 73 AD, so I am uncertain what your reference to 79 AD is. It was followed by two other wars involving rebellions by the Jews of Judaea in 115-117 and in 132-135. Jews always remained in Palestine so the Romans never succeeded in wiping them out, no matter how much they tried.

    “Pharisee has become another word for religious hypocrite.”

    The moral teaching of the Pharisees, and their belief in everlasting life and the resurrection, was the same as that of Jesus. Jesus attacked the Pharisees not for their teaching, but because they did not live up to it. Some Pharisees followed Jesus, most notably Nicodemus, who was also a member of the Sanhedrin. Jesus spares almost no time condemning the Saducees or the Romans, because they were so far from the Truth. The Pharisees were close to the Truth and hence the rebuke, as a father admonishes a cherished son.

    “Even Scripture would have been written differently, if Pilate had used his free will and sovereignty to uphold Justice and respect an innocent man, Jesus Christ.”

    Ah, but Christ had to die for our sins and He had already foretold his death. To what degree Pilate truly had free will in the matter, and to what extent he was merely, on this occasion, a tool in God’s hand is intriguing.

    “It is called THE TRIAL OF JESUS. It, too, is very interesting.”

    I believe I read it long ago Mary. The trial of Jesus is fascinating on any number of grounds: theological, historical, legal and many others.

    “Say one Hail Mary for me, Donald, and thank you for this wonderful blog.”

    Thank you for your kind words Mary. I have said a Hail Mary for you and I hope you will say one for me.

  • “The tear that fell from heaven…”

    I didn’t make that connection when I saw the movie but yes, it is a better metaphor than it just started raining.

  • I believe this was a key fear of the historical Pilate and he did not order the execution of Jesus until he decided that a revolt by the rent-a-mob of Caiaphas on Good Friday posed the far greater threat.

    I agree.

  • Donald: I am distressed that my words may be taken as anti-semitic. I have some Jewish blood in me. My words about Caiaphas are tempered by “to cleanse the temple of bloodthirsty rabble, the High Priests, the same way Jesus did.” Too many of my relatives perished in Poland helping the Jews. 73 AD it is. Historical facts only. God is before all ages and the Author of Holy Scripture. If Pilate had no free will, then Pilate would be innocent of Christ’s blood, but if Pilate was the only person who had the authority to have Jesus crucified…? The best thing I can say about Pilate is that his was a lost vocation. It is Good Friday and I am laughing trying to defend my ignorance of so much. I only ask for a Hail Mary as I am saying a Hail Mary for the petitioned.

  • George Haberberger: All rain drops are tears from heaven. The ocean is an ocean of God’s tears, but sometimes, the ocean is full of Our Lady’s tears. Mary was still walking the earth so this tear was God, the Father’s tear.

  • “Donald: I apologize”

    Don’t worry about it Mary. I do not, especially on Good Friday.

  • Donald: Thank you and a Happy Easter

  • Happy Easter to you and your family Mary!

  • I watch The Passion of the Christ at least once a year. I have seen it several times and am amazed what a fine piece of celluloid it is. It is not a script put to screen; it’s a meditation. It is tribute to classical Christian art.

    There are so many little details to appreciate in each scene, like the many visual connections between scenes. For instance, Jesus at The Last Supper pulling back the napkin to reveal the bread in the basket which will become his body. The scene cuts immediately to the soldiers pulling Jesus’ cloak off to reveal his body. And some of the easier ones to spot, like Jesus looking at the soldier’s sandal and thinking of the night he removed the sandals of the Apostles to wash their feet.

    Hristo Shopov did it just right. One thing I appreciated about his performance was his body language, especially facial expressions. It might be because the film was in a dead language, but his motions really added to the role. I don’t think Pilate was ho-hum disinterested; I believe he would have rathered not have had to deal with the hand he was dealt. But, he had to and so he did.

  • Hristo Shopov plays Pilate two times. The second time in the 2006 movie ‘The Final Inquiry’.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hristo_Shopov

  • Thank you RB2, I was unaware of that.

  • As my brother blurted out during The Movie on Good Friday evening, “Best Pilate EVAH.”
    I believe it may be the Coptic tradition that honors both Claudia and Pilate as saints. God’s mercy is an ocean I’d like to fall into.

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