(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

As James R. Mills points out in the “Editor’s Note” that precedes his novel, Pontius Pilate was not a major figure in Roman history. During the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pilate was appointed governor of Judea, Samaria, and Idumea by the emperor’s chief prefect, Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Pilate held that post for ten years. However, after the aging Tiberius turned on Sejanus, denounced him, and had him and his entire family executed, Pilate became vulnerable. Eventually he was arrested on a charge of murder by his new superior, Lucius Vitellius, and sent to Rome to be tried before Caligula, the successor of Tiberius. The outcome of that trial was not recorded, though according to tradition, Pilate was found guilty and exiled to Gaul, where he later drowned himself.

Pontius Pilate is now remembered only because of his involvement in the death of Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, Pilate is shown as an indecisive man, superstitious enough to be swayed by his wife’s premonitions but too timorous to chance a political misstep. Mills chose to take a different approach to the question of Pilate’s character. In his novel, he imagines how Pilate would have seen his situation and how he would have remembered the Jewish prophet he allowed to be crucified. As a historian, Mills understands the political environment in which these events took place; as a Christian, he believes that Pilate must have been at least profoundly stirred by his encounter.

Except for the brief “Editor’s Note,” which sums up the historical facts, Memoirs of Pontius Pilate is a first-person narrative, written by Pilate in his later years. In the “Prologue,” Pilate explains that during his long years of exile, he has often thought about Jesus of Nazareth, and with Nero now resolved to exterminate the Christians, it seems even more important to tell the carpenter’s story. This section is followed by the “Introduction,” excerpted from a history of modern Palestine that Pilate began at the suggestion of his wife but laid aside after her death. Pilate’s comments on...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Bond, Helen K. Pontius Pilate in History and Interpretation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. This revisionist study argues that Pilate was a highly competent official with a talent for compromising. Map and bibliography.

Duncan, Melanie C. Review of Memoirs of Pontius Pilate. Library Journal 125 (April 1, 2000): 84. Mills’s book shows Pilate as a man who remained fascinated with Jesus but was determined to avoid accepting responsibility for his death.

Winner, Lauren. “Three Books Dig for Insights into the Shadowy Ruler and His Wife.” Christianity Today 44 (December 4, 2000): 87-88. Compares Mills’s book, which ends with Pilate’s being drawn toward Christianity, to Ann Wroe’s biography and to a novel by the poet H. D. Lawrence.

Wroe, Ann. Pontius Pilate. New York: Random House, 1999. After extensive research, concludes that Pilate was a nervous politician, fearful of offending those in power and thus losing his office and probably his life. Bibliography and index.