Tertullian reference of report from Pilate to Tiberius

Steven Avery

Tertullian, Apology 5, ANFIII: 22; cf. chapter 22.

Rome: an early persecutor of the church? (1982)
Samuele R. Bacchiocchi (1938-2008)

It was customary for governors to report to the emperor any new developments in their provinces, 2 and according to Tertullian (about A.D. 200), Pilate sent Tiberius a report. 3 Tertullian's account, as well as various forgeries purporting to be letters from Pilate to Tiberius, pictures Pilate's report as dealing not only with the trial and condemnation of Jesus but also with subsequent events indicating His divinity. 4 On the basis of this report, Tertullian says, Tiberius proposed to the Senate the consecrate) of Christ—His inclusion among the deities of the Roman pantheon and His admission to the cult of the empire.

Some scholars have rejected the historicity of Tertullian's account, primarily because they believe that Christianity could hardly have attracted imperial attention at such an early date (about A.D. 35). 5 Recent studies, however, have argued in its favor. 6 The existence of such a report is presupposed by Tacitus' accurate knowledge of Pilate's condemnation of Christ as well as by Justin Martyr's reference to the Acts of Pilate and by the various apocryphal versions of the same Acts produced at a later date. Moreover, Tertullian could hardly have fabricated the story of Pilate's report and of Tiberius' proposed consecratio of Christ, when he mentions these events incidentally and when he urges magistrates to "consult" their records to verify his account (Apology, 5). Pilate's report and Tiberius' proposal are dated by Eusebius in his Chronicon to A.D. 35. 7 The violent anti-Christian persecution, which, according to Acts, was stirred up at that time in Palestine by the Sanhedrin, could explain why Pilate deemed it necessary to inform Tiberius about the events that led to the establishment of Christianity and its conflict with Judaism.

3 Tertullian, Apology 5, ANFIII: 22; cf. chapter 22. Justin Martyr, in his Apology, twice (chaps. 35 and 48) appeals to the "Acts of Pontius Pilate" to substantiate his account of Christ's crucifixion. It is hard to believe that Justin would challenge the Romans to verify his account by reading the Acts of Pilate, if such a document was not in existence or not readily available. The existing versions of the Acts and Letters of Pilate are an obvious Christian forgery, but probably they are based upon a genuine historical tradition.

4 Speaking of the darkening of the sun at the time of Christ's crucifixion, Tertullian says, this account "you yourselves [Romans] have. . . still in your archives" (Apology 21, ANF III: 35). Eusebius also explicitly says that Pilate "gave an account also of other wonders which he had learned of him [Christ], and how, after his death, having risen from the dead, he was now believed by many to be a God" (Church History 2, 2, 2, NPNF 2nd Series I: 105).

5 For example, J. Beaujeu, in his article "L'incendie de Rome en 64 et les chretiens," Latomus 19 (I960): 33ff., rejects the historicity of Tertullian's account, treating it as a pious Christian fabrication of the late first century. E. Volterra at first rejected but then accepted the authenticity of Tertullian's account (see, Scritti in onore di C Fezzini [Milan, 1947], vol. I, pp. 471ff.). F. Scheidweiler believes that the letter from Pilate to Tiberius mentioned by Tertullian must have been "an apocryphal Christian document" that was known to the writer ("The Gospel of Nicodemus," in New Testament Apocrypha, ed. Edgar Hennecke [Philadelphia, 1963], I, p. 444).

6 An extensive and cogent discussion is provided by Marta Sordi in "I primi rapporti fra lo Stato romano e il Christianesimo," Rendiconti Accademia Nazionale Lincei 12 (1957): 58-93; and "Sui primi rapporti deli'autorita romana con il Christianesimo," Studi Romani 8 (1960): 393-409; and II Christianesimo e Roma, Institute di Studi Romani 19 (Bologna, 1965), pp. 21-31. Marta Sordi argues convincingly in favor of the historicity of Tertullian's account regarding Pilate's report and Tiberius' proposal to the senate. She views the negative decision of the senate as the juridical basis of the later persecution of Christians. Vincenzo Monachino defends basically Sordi's view in Le persecuzioni e la polemica pagano-cristiana (Rome, 1974), pp. 21-24. SeealsoO. Papini, II Cesare della crocifissione (Rome, 1934), pp. 40ff; C. Cecchelli, Studi in onore di Calderini e Paribeni (Milan, 1956), pp. 351ff.

7 Eusebius, Hieronymi Chronicon, in Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller 47, ed. R. Helm (Leipzig, 1956), pp. 176-177. Eusebius' Chronicon is used by the seventh century Byzantine author of the Chronicon Paschale to establish the consular A.D. 35 date for Pilate's report, under the consulate of Gallus and Nonianus (Chronicon Paschale, ed. L. Dindorf in Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae [Bonn, 1832], p. 430).

Steven Avery

Truth in the Details: The Report of Pilate to Tiberius as an Authentic Forgery
Anne-Catherine Baudoin

Justin of Neapolis and Tertullian, on whom I would now like to focus. Indeed, both Justin and his keen reader, Tertullian, allude to a document put out under Pilate’s authorship: Justin mentions “acts recorded under Pontius Pilate” (1stApol. ch. 35; cf. ch. 48) that his readers may consult, and Tertullian claims that Pilate announced to Tiberius the events happening in Judea (Apol. ch. 21 par. 24; cf. ch. 5 par. 2). Those testimonies echo two canonical characteristics of Pilate: he is a citizen of Rome and he is a governor (ἡγεμών, cf. e.g., Matt. 27.2); he is thus the most suitable person to represent a link between Judea and Rome. In the Gospel of John (19.19–22), he is said to have written the tablet placed over the cross (titulus), which makes him one of the few characters in the Gospels who engaged in the process of writing. Moreover, among the Jewish testimonies about Pilate are mentioned a letter sent by four princes of Judea to Tiberius after Pilate had re-fused to put down the golden shields hanged in Herod’s palace (Philo, Leg. 303) as well as Tiberius’s answer addressed to Pilate (Leg. 304–305). The correspondence of the governor Pliny with the emperor Trajan as an example of communication between the representatives of the Roman power also frames the plausibility of a written exchange between Pilate and the emperor.

However, the designation of Jesus as “Our Lord Jesus Christ” points to a forgery.,,, the manuscripts of the second family have ἐπιστολή, “letter,” instead of the more precise ἀναφορά, and that the word is more or less followed by the same elements, except for the mention of “our Lord Jesus Christ.”

his phrase may resonate with the well-known allusions of Eusebius of Caesarea to “[those] having forged records of Pilate and our Saviour” in book 9 of the Historia Ecclesiastica (ch. 5, par. 1: πλασάμενοι [...] Πιλάτου καὶ τοῦ Σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ὑπομνήματα); those writings are said to be “full of all blasphemy against Christ” (ch. 5, par. 1: πάσης ἔμπλεα κατὰ τοῦ Χριστοῦ βλασφημίας) and are called, a few lines later, “the records forged in wantonness” (ch. 7, par. 1: τὰ ἐφ’ὕβρει πλασθέντα ὑπομνήματα). It is likely that Eusebius alludes to the same work in book 1, where he denounces “the forgery of those who recently spread the records against our Saviour” (ch. 9, par. 3: τὸ πλάσμα τῶν κατὰ τοῦ Σωτῆ-ρος ἡμῶν ὑπομνήματα χθὲς καὶ πρῴην διαδεδωκότων) and “those who forged the records against them” (ch. 11, par. 9: τοὺς τὰ κατ’αὐτῶν πλασαμένους ὑπομνήματα). It would be tempting to argue that the author of the opening lines of rec. A of the Anaphora took inspiration from Eusebius to describe the records as being done “against Christ.” However, Eusebius insists that those forged records against Christ are recent, whereas the Anaphora opens with the state-ment that the records were done at the time of the crucifixion—that is, the au-thor would not have consistently followed his source.


The study of two miracles retold in the Anaphora confirms both hypotheses built earlier in this paper: 5th century A.D. seems a likely date of composition and the geographical origin of the text put in Palestine and Phoenicia is con-firmed by New Testament details such as the probable mention of Paneas and the expression of the distance between this city and Capernaum, if one of the propositions of emendation has convinced the reader.


I shall conclude by underlining that this text, though presented as a “report” of Pilate about Jesus, is actually a true testimony on the cults of a specific Christian community. The real forgeries attached to this text are actually the 19th and 20th century attempts to correct in the trans-lation the difficulties of the Greek text. All of that cries for a new, complete edition of the Anaphora Pilati that would also take under consideration versions other than Greek.


Earl Doherty (mythicist)

A Letter from Pilate to Tiberius about Jesus?

Ah, yes. Pilate's letter to Tiberius on his execution of Jesus, and the ageing emperor's championing of Christ and his divinity before a hostile Senate at Rome. This is reported around the year 197 by Tertullian in his Apology (5): "Tiberius . . . having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ's divinity, brought the matter before the Senate, with his own decision in favor of Christ."

Any scholar today who would suggest that this is anything more than a piece of naive nonsense would be laughed out of the halls of academe. In Hennecke's 2-volume New Testament Apocrypha, the reviewer of the literature of this sort surrounding Pilate (vol. 1, 444-84) considers that Tertullian had access to a recent, forged Christian document under Pilate's name. In fact, several different versions of such a letter have survived, cast in such pious language on the part of Pilate that Tertullian could suggest that the Roman governor had been converted to the faith! Such things only serve to illustrate the shameless and ludicrous invention (not to mention the church Fathers' own credulity!) which we know abounded throughout the entire documentary career of early Christianity. To claim that the same kind of invention did not extend into those documents chosen for the canon is itself a piece of astonishing naivete.

In one version of Pilate's letter, the governor enlightens the emperor on the wondrous state of Lazarus' body as he emerged from the tomb, gives an account of the darkness over the whole world during the crucifixion (which Tiberius himself, along with the rest of the empire, had presumably experienced), and recounts the words of Jesus at one of his post-resurrection appearances. Pilate also records events the evangelists overlooked, including the swallowing up of various Jewish leaders and even whole synagogues in a series of earthquakes, as punishment for their role in the killing of Jesus.
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