Pontius Pilate

Report to the Emperor-First Draft

(I post this each year on Good Friday at The American Catholic.  Have a blessed Good Friday and Easter.)

I thank you Marcus for taking on the onerous task of acting as my secretary, in addition to your regular duties as my aide, in regard to this portion of the report.  The Greek, Aristides, is competent, and like most Greek secretaries his Latin is quite graceful, but also like most Greek secretaries he does not know when to keep his mouth shut.  I want him kept away from this work, and I want you to observe the strictest security.  Caiaphas was playing a nefarious game, and I do not think we are out of the woods yet.  I do not want his spies finding out what I am telling the Imperator and Caiaphas altering the tales his agents are now, no doubt, spreading in Rome.  Let us take the Jew by surprise for once!

Your first effort on this matter is rather good, but I think we can improve upon it.  Incidentally, tell the Greek in his portion of the report to work in a subtle reference to one of Tiberius’ victories with the legions.  Tiberius claims to despise flattery.  The old fraud, he loves flattery if it isn’t obvious, and I want him in a good mood when he is reading this report, probably the most important report of my career. Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Vincent Varconi

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Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas, Frank Thring, Stephen Russell, Greg Hicks and Cyril Ritchard may be viewed  here, here, here, here  here , here, here, here and here.

One of the earliest screen portrayals of Pilate was by Hungarian actor Vincent Varconi in Cecil B. DeMille’s silent screen epic King of Kings (1927).  We first see Pilate enthroned as the embodiment of Roman power before a huge imperial eagle.  Initially bored by the attempt by Caiaphas to have him execute Jesus, he refuses to look at a document that Caiaphas has prepared laying out the charges against Jesus, after he talks to Jesus he feels the power of the words and presence of Christ, and seeks to satisfy Caiaphas and his mob by having Jesus beaten. Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Greg Hicks

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Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas, Frank Thring and Stephen Russell may be viewed  here, here, here, here  here , here and here.

Greg Hicks portrays Pilate in the movie Son of God (2014) as concerned above all at protecting his position.  If he does not execute Jesus Caiaphas can tell Tiberius through his agents that Pilate is coddling a rebel against Rome and that would lead to the ending of Pilate’s procuratorship and perhaps his life.  That is more than enough reason for him to deny the request for mercy for Christ from his wife Procula, disturbed by her dream of Christ. Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Stephen Russell

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Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov, Telly Savalas and Frank Thring may be read here, here, here, here  here and here.

Stephen Russell portrays Pilate in The Gospel of John (2003) which is a straight forward no frills presentation of the Gospel of John.  As in the Gospel of John Pilate is shown in the film as first curious about Jesus and then sympathetic to Jesus.  He attempts to save Jesus by giving the mob a choice between Jesus and the bandit Barabbas.  When that fails he presents Jesus after He has been beaten and utters the phrase Ecce Homo, Behold the Man. Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Frank Thring

Frank Thring as Pilate

 

 

Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen, Hristov Shopov and Telly Savalas may be read here, here, here, here and here.

The late Frank Thring, an Australian actor, had the distinction of playing both Pilate and Herod Antipas in major films, Pilate in Ben Hur (1959) and Herod Antipas in King of Kings (1961).

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In Ben Hur we get a glimpse of the backstory of Pilate.  Thring portrays Pilate as an urbane Roman aristocrat dismayed that he is being sent to govern bleak and hot Judea.  At a party given by Arrius to anounce his adoption of Ben Hur, go here to view the video,  Pilate indicates his dismay at the prospect.  After Ben Hur wins his famous chariot race, Pilate cynically crowns Ben Hur as the “one true God” for the moment, of the people.  Go here to watch the clip. Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Telly Savalas

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Continuing our series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began in 2011 during Holy Week.    The posts on portrayals of Pilate by Rod Steiger, Richard Boone, Barry Dennen and Hristov Shopov may be read here, here, here and here.

Telly Savalas in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) gives a fairly stolid performance as Pilate.  He portrays Pilate as a world weary Roman functionary to whom Christ is merely a problem he does not need.  When he transfers Christ’s case to Herod, we see Jose Ferrer who gives a strikingly good portrayal of Herod Antipas.  Ferrer portrayed Herod as a man touched against his will by the words of John the Baptist.  Now however he has executed John the Baptist, and has given himself up for damned, taking refuge in drink. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Barry Dennen

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Continuing a series on screen portrayals of Pilate that I began last year during Holy Week.  The figure of Pontius Pilate has always intrigued me. The fifth Prefect of Judaea, Pilate looms large in the Gospels. His name Pilate indicates that his family was of Samnite origin. Pilate is mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus as having condemned Jesus. In 1961 a block of limestone was discoved at the site of Caesarea Maritima, the Roman capital of Judaea, bearing an inscription of Pilate dedicating a Roman theater there. That is almost all we know about Pilate outside of the Gospels, Josephus and Philo. Pilate today would be forgotten, instead of being the best known Roman who ever lived, but for his role in sentencing Jesus.

Last year we looked at Rod Steiger’s portrayal of Pilate in Jesus of Nazareth, here, and at Richard Boone’s in The Robe, here.  Next up is Barry Dennen in Jesus Christ Superstar (1973).

It would take many posts for me to detail how much I disliked Jesus Christ Superstar, which for me symbolized much of what was wrong in the world in the late sixties and the seventies.  Taking pride in being historically inaccurate and a mishmash of ancient and modern, the play and film was just as confused theologically and totally divorced from traditional Christianity.  Jesus is portrayed as petulant, weak and indecisive, a depiction which might be blasphemous if it had more thought behind it.  However, amidst all of the dross there are a very few high points, and Dennen’s performance  is the best of these.

The video at the beginning of this post depicts the sequence where Pilate has a dream about the upcoming trial of Jesus.  Historically, it was Pilate’s wife who had a dream about Jesus:  [19] And as he was sitting in the place of judgment, his wife sent to him, saying: Have thou nothing to do with that just man; for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him.   (Matthew 27:19)  Pilate in each of the Gospel narratives is portrayed as very reluctant to have Jesus executed, mystified as to why Caiaphas had Jesus brought to him, and wary that Caiaphas was seeking to shift the responsibility for the death of Jesus over to him.  The dream of his wife was just what Pilate needed to give him a foreboding that this was not merely a routine execution, but a matter of extreme importance that he could not fathom.  The song brings all of this out quite well. Continue reading

Report to the Emperor-First Draft

ecce-homo

 (I post this each year on Good Friday.)

I thank you Marcus for taking on the onerous task of acting as my secretary, in addition to your regular duties as my aide, in regard to this portion of the report.  The Greek, Aristides, is competent, and like most Greek secretaries his Latin is quite graceful, but also like most Greek secretaries he does not know when to keep his mouth shut.  I want him kept away from this work, and I want you to observe the strictest security.  Caiaphas was playing a nefarious game, and I do not think we are out of the woods yet.  I do not want his spies finding out what I am telling the Imperator and Caiaphas altering the tales his agents are now, no doubt, spreading in Rome.  Let us take the Jew by surprise for once!

Continue reading

Screen Pilates: Richard Boone

Richard Boone

 

The second of our series on screen portrayals of Pontius Pilate is Richard Boone in the film The Robe (1953).  ( The portrayal of Pilate by Rod Steiger in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), the first in our series, is reviewed here.)  Descended from a younger brother of Daniel Boone, Boone, a Navy veteran of the Pacific during World War ii, studied acting on the GI bill.  Boone assayed the role of Pilate only three years into his career, but he already had the three traits that made him stand out as an actor:  a commanding presence, a deep gravelly voice and an ability to suggest that a character he is portraying is not as simple as we think at first glance.  Boone went on to be a western television star in the hit show Have Gun Will Travel (1957-1963) in which he played Paladin, a West Point graduate who fought for truth and justice in the old West, as long as his $1,000.00 fee was paid.  Boone portrayed Paladin as a well-educated man who would often draw upon his knowledge of history to win the day.  It was the favorite show of a very small Donald McClarey and no doubt helped inspire a love of history in me.  Here is the Paladin theme song which could be sung by almost all schoolboys in the early Sixties:

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Alright, that is quite enough Memory Lane!  Back to the task at hand.   Go here to view the video clip of Boone as Pilate.  We see Pilate washing his hands.  Tribune Gallio, portrayed by Richard Burton, has been ordered to report to Pilate.  Gallio is being summoned back to Rome.  However, Pilate has one task for him to perform before he leaves.  A routine assignment, the execution of three criminals.  One of them is a fanatic, who has a following and Gallio is told by Pilate to bring enough men to deal with trouble.  Pilate gives these orders in a clipped military style, wasting not a syllable.

Then, the unexpected happens.  Pilate confesses, almost talking to himself, that he had a miserable night, bedeviled by factions and no one agreeing with anyone, with even his wife having an opinion. (“Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”). Pilate then shakes off his reverie, and wishes Gallio good luck.  He then asks a slave to bring water to wash his hands, and is reminded that he has just washed his hands. Continue reading

If You Want The Political Left To Run Governments, Look At What The Religious Left Has Done To Religion (Left It In Tatters)

There is a undercurrent in American society that somehow believes that if the mafia ran things, the country would be better off. There was one city (Newark, New Jersey) where the mafia once controlled much of the city. When their grip on power was done, the city was in tatters. The same could be said for liberals running religion.

Continue reading

Luke Live, Days Three and Four

I continue once again with my shameless promotion of Paulist Father James DiLuzio and his Luke Live performace, part 3, covering Luke chapters 17-24.

Over the last two days, the conversation we had (Father DiLuzio continually encouraged us to have a dialogue on the text, to reach deeper meanings) focused on two fairly notorious characters: Judas Iscariot, and Pontius Pilate.  Now, in general terms, these two have been condemned since the inception of the Church.  Judas, the betrayer, has classically been believed to be in Hell, and every week we recite in our creed:  He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.

Continue reading

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