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Pontius Pilate

3.62  ·  Rating Details ·  194 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
The foil to Jesus, the defiant antihero of the Easter story, mocking, skeptical Pilate is a historical figure who haunts our imagination. For some he is a saint, for others the embodiment of human weakness, an archetypal politician willing to sacrifice one man for the sake of stability. In this dazzlingly conceived biography, a finalist for the Samuel Johnson Prize, Ann ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published March 6th 2001 by Modern Library (first published 1999)
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Oct 15, 2015 Antigone rated it liked it
While the publishers call it a biography, and some critics a study, I'd go a little further to describe this book as a meditation on Pontius Pilate - one of the critical figures in the framework of the Christian religion. Pilate is largely a cipher, not as a symbol but as a human being, due to the meager amount of evidence we possess of his existence. Ann Wroe, through great research and even greater thought, has pressed herself into providing context for the man who played such a fundamental ...more
Nicholas Whyte[return][return]So little is known about the historical Pilate that Ann Wroe has bulked out the book considerably with stories told about him (the Copts seem to have had a lot). A couple of points I hadn't realised - the image of the emperor on Roman coins made them unacceptable for use in Temple rituals, which adds extra point to "Render unto Caesar" and also explains what the money-changers were doing at the Temple. But most of the book reflects on the sto ...more
Benjamin Chandler
May 11, 2014 Benjamin Chandler rated it really liked it
Pontius Pilate is where the classical world meets the Biblical, a pagan European man in the monotheistic Middle East, the Imperial governor over a notoriously rebellious region, and a player in perhaps the most famous execution in history. "What is truth?" Pilate says in the Book of John, a retort to Jesus' claim, "The reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth." I have often thought of that conversation, wondered what Pilate really thought, how he viewed Jesus, the ...more
Jun 26, 2010 Nathan rated it it was ok
I approached this book with a fair amount of ambivalence. Speculative history is generally not something I have any interest in. Wroe does her share of grasping at straws and makes no excuse for the necessity to conjecture, surmise, even fabricate. Every solitary detail is noticed and given some significance, from the political climate to the type of thorns that Jesus wore. What saves her, and what made the book sort of grow on me, was her willingness to let the importance of the story carry the ...more
Aug 16, 2009 Cappy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
This book tries to navigate twenty centuries' worth of contradictory (and mostly imaginary) stories of Pilate's life - struggling, at times, to articulate a plausible one of its own.

"We do not even know [Pilate's:] praenomen, the name his mother and wife and friends called him by." (pg. xii)

"To have a faceless bureaucrat at the heart of [The Passion:] was unacceptable: something had to be made of this man." (pg. xii)

"But biography is often more specualtive, more selective - even more fictional -
Apr 14, 2009 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent book, precisely, and absolutely, as its title says, the "biography of an invented man". Who was Pilate? He could, as Wroe suggests, be any one of three individuals: born of the tribe of Pontii, the Samnite nobility in the ancient Roman empire, relative of Gavius Pontius; a Spaniard, born in Seville, whose "residents had the right of Roman citizenship", "saturnine and ingratiating, [who:] hung around Rome, and especially round the court of the emperor; or, thirdly, A German, ...more
Knot Telling
May 01, 2013 Knot Telling rated it it was amazing
Saint Pontius Pilate? Ever since I learned that Pilate is venerated as a saint in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the figure of Pilate has intrigued me. On the one hand, bad man! Bad, bad man! On the other - wait a minute. Wasn't he a key figure in the working out of our salvation? After all, he sent Jesus to the cross, where in one explosive moment zenith became nadir became zenith, where the suffering and exhausted "it is finished" became words of triumph.

So it was with great curiosity and exci
Oct 21, 2007 Lesley rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: exceptionally patient religious historians
Shelves: couldnt-finish
I really, really wanted to like this book, but I couldn't get past the first 30 pages. Ann Wroe was all, "Maybe Pontius Pilate did this. Maybe Pontius Pilate did that. Maybe Pontius Pilate did a little bit of this and a little bit of that." Snoresville.

Maybe I'll try to read it again someday. Maybe I won't.
May 26, 2014 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: my-books
Oh, how I wish more historical biographies were written to be so engaging! I would love to see Ann Wroe try her hand at a similar biography of Judas Iscariot.
Leif Erik
Sep 07, 2007 Leif Erik rated it liked it
Recommends it for: people who ponder the meaning of betrayal.
Shelves: religion
This is more of a history of an idea of what is Pilate than a biblical study ala Pagels or Armstrong. Interesting stuff, but not groundshaking.
Zachary Fletcher
"There was indeed, as far as we can see, nothing remarkable in Pilate; he was one of the most common characters to be met with in passing through life; a timid, time-serving man, with just conscience enough to make himself uncomfortable, and with just integrity enough to ruin the best of causes, and even to increase, as he obviously did, the suffering of Him whom he desired to save."
- Rev. Henry Blunt, 1835

Anyone who grew up going to church or has any familiarity at all with the Easter story kno
Apr 07, 2016 Mitchell rated it really liked it

This is a beautifully written mosaic of the life and times of the world's most famous equivocator. Ann Wroe paints this moasic by artfully using all the classical resources at hand - biblical, apocryphal, legend etc. All the while, she has fun with it, and by doing this, she challenges the reader to think of the possiblities and draw their own conclusions. Ultimately, she weaves this into a tale that is both entertaining, moving, educational and masterfully written.

To write a biography of P
This led me a bit off my chosen trail, away from Coptic and gnostics, much, much closer toward mainstream Christianity. It's not history either; it's closer to literature, shuffling together nearly every story or historical source the author could to create one long narrative. Some would say a much too long narrative. Several of the passages are quite beautiful: her comparison of two disparate figures who flew too close to the sun, for example. She is so well read in the Classical tradition it's ...more
Mar 15, 2009 Carrie rated it it was amazing
A really lovely and thought-provoking of the little we know about Pilate for sure and the huge amount of legend and myth surrounding him. Wroe explores a wide variety of sources, from ancient Roman documents to medieval mystery plays, to investigate why certain versions of Pilate have appealed to people at various times in history. She also does a wonderful job setting the scene in Judaea and explaining the core conflicts between the Roman governors, the established Jewish leaders, and Jesus's ...more
John Cain
Aug 20, 2011 John Cain rated it liked it
Anne Wroe is a fine writer and historian. She brings new life into the Passion of Christ by looking at it from the prespective that Pntius Pilate might have had. The book discusses the medival passion plays and the various interpertations of Pilate.

In some Copic churches he is a saint. The views of Pontius Pilate range from sainthood to the devil's helper by way of being mere tool of the Jews and an ineffective representative of Rome.

Perhaps the greatest question is how would the reader act if
Margaret Sankey
Dec 31, 2014 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
After carefully reconstructing what we can know about the real life of Pilate from Roman fragments and the context of the work and training of Roman governors and politics in Judea, Wroe gets to the really interesting stuff--a kind of historiography of Pontius Pilate and how he served the needs of writers and theologians from the cartoon villain of medieval mystery plays to inspiring weary sympathy on the part of Anglican British colonial administrators.
[Name Redacted]
This book is a fine example of what you get when a non-academic tries to seriously engage an academic subject. That is to say, a mess. It's main appeal is the exploration of the traditions and beliefs which emerged surrounding the figure of Pontius Pilate in popular Western Christian culture over the centuries -- in that respect, it is interesting and rather fun. But as a serious examination of the historical figure of Pontius Pilate it is a large failure.
Mar 09, 2009 Alicia rated it really liked it
Recommended to Alicia by: Rebecca McCullers
Shelves: biography
Combining historical truth and speculation was never this interesting in college. Both the content and the writing were enjoyable.

P. 230 of the book speaks to Pilate's appeal: "...people continue to cling to Pilate as the great equivocator. Like an audience at a show, they love to watch him teeter, struggle, almost save himself, and fall. In some sense, they feel they are watching themselves."
Sep 27, 2015 Michael rated it liked it
this is an interesting read with a ton of fascinating color not only in the time of Pilate but also throughout the centuries of Christian depictions of him. That being said, for having very little primary material, this book felt too long by half. There was endless speculation based upon many many writers and theologians' apocryphal versions of the Passion without much critical analysis of what is most likely.
Andy Alexis
Feb 17, 2015 Andy Alexis rated it liked it
Shelves: christianity
This is a little bit of a frustrating book; there is little hard data on Pontius Pilate, so the author adds a lot of folk history of Pilate's role in religion and culture through the ages. It is very interesting, and she fills in the details pretty convincingly, but her writing style is such that she loops through wild flights of fantasy sometimes and it is convoluted enough that it never fails to put me to sleep.

Still, it is worth reading.
May 02, 2013 Joshua rated it liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting examination of Pilate as an historical figure, how he fits into the Bible, and the many different ways he has been interpreted and presented through history from medieval German Passion plays to Communist Cuba.
Mary Kovarik
May 26, 2015 Mary Kovarik rated it really liked it
It was surprising that Anne Wroe could write the story of Pontius Pilate. It really held my interest. She combined historical sources to weave an engrossing account of Jesus of Nazareth's trial. She went further to describe Pilate's governorship of the backwater area known as Judea.
Jun 06, 2013 Julia rated it did not like it
Shelves: book-club-reads
I tried to read this book for book club and could get no further than the first few pages. To me it was like reading a text book.
Sam Berner
Sep 12, 2014 Sam Berner rated it it was amazing
Brilliantly written psychological novel of a man we detest and a man we revere.. the wit leaves one's mouth wide open.
Robert Wechsler
Mar 21, 2013 Robert Wechsler rated it really liked it
A fascinating history notof a man (he may not have even existed), but essentially of a literary character who became very important to many religious and racist myths.
Jun 30, 2014 Daniel rated it really liked it
Took a long time to read, but so glad I did. Highly recommended to folks interested in Christianity and theology.
Apr 30, 2010 Tarotemp rated it it was ok
A plodding, ponderous read, to be sure. So dry I half expected the very same Galilean sand Jesus trod upon while preaching the gospels to spill forth from the book each time I opened it up.
An attempt to write the history of a man with an unknown history. Interesting but I couldn't keep my interest sustained. Gave up. (Nominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize.)
Jun 04, 2016 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Absorbing, well-written, and awesomely detailed attempt to put into shape the life of a man known to most people only as the Roman governor of Judea who allowed Christ to be crucified.
Pretty good from a historical perspective. This clears up any misunderstandings that might have been intuited about this very roman citizen who was capable of and performed some good works.
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Ann Wroe is a journalist and author - working as Briefings and Obituaries editor of The Economist. She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, the Royal Society of Literature and the English Association.
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