New testament to history: Is this Pontius Pilate’s bronze ring?
Some archaeologists are convinced the artefact belonged to the Roman governor who presided over Jesus's trial
A 2,000-year-old bronze ring found near Bethlehem bears the name of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who, according to the Christian tradition, ordered Jesus Christ to be crucified, archaeologists have revealed.
The ring was found 50 years ago during an archaeological excavation at the site of a fortress built by King Herod, but was overlooked for decades and has only now been analysed properly.
Archaeologists discovered Greek writing that spells out “Pilatus” around the central image of a wine vessel, known as a krater. The writing emerged after the ring was given a careful clean and photographed using a special camera in a laboratory belonging to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
Pilate was prefect, or governor, of the Roman province of Judaea under the Emperor Tiberius from about AD26-36. One of the New Testament’s most infamous characters, he presided at Christ’s trial but was said to have washed his hands to symbolise that he abdicated responsibility for the crucifixion.
The ring was originally unearthed in the late 1960s at Herodium (also known as Herodian), a fortress and palace built by King Herod in the desert near Bethlehem. It was one of hundreds of artefacts that came to light, including glass objects, pottery and coins. A team of academics, including archaeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, think the ring belonged to Pilate himself.
“I don’t know of any other Pilatus from the period and the ring shows he was a person of stature and wealth,” Danny Schwartz, a professor of Jewish history, told the Haaretz newspaper.
Roi Porat, the director of a new phase of digging at Herodium, who ordered the detailed analysis of the ring, told The Times of Israel that while he did not want to jump to conclusions, “we have a ring inscribed with the name Pilate and the personal connection just cries out”.
But other scholars are not so sure, arguing that the ring is too plain and simple to have been worn by a Roman governor. It may instead have been used by members of his staff to seal letters and stamp documents with melted wax.
“Simple all-metal rings were primarily the property of soldiers, Herodian and Roman officials, and middle-income folk of all trades and occupations,” a team of academics wrote in the Israel Exploration Journal. “It is therefore unlikely that Pontius Pilatus, the powerful and rich prefect of Judaea, would have worn a thin, all-copper alloy sealing ring.”
The basic design of the ring suggests it was not made by a master craftsmen, they said. It may instead have belonged to a soldier or official under Pilate’s command, a freed slave working for him or a member of his family.
“There is no way of proving either theory 100% and everyone can have his own opinion,” said Porat. “It’s a nice story and interesting to wrap your head around.”
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited