HISTORY OF PONTIUS PILATE
The name Pontius Pilate provides two valuable clues to his background and ancestry. The family name, Pontius was that of a prominent clan among the Samnites, hill cousins of the Latin Romans. They had almost conquered Rome in several fierce wars. The Pontii were of noble blood, but when Rome finally absorbed the Samnites, their aristocracy was demoted to the Roman equestrian or middle-class order, rather than the higher senatorial order. It is Pilate’s personal name Pilatus that proves almost conclusively that he was of Samnite origin.
Pilatus means “armed-with-a-javelin.” The pilum or javelin was six feet long, half wooden and half pointed iron shaft, which the Samnite mountaineers hurled at their enemies with devastating results. It’s hardened iron tip could pierce shields and body armor. The Romans quickly copied it, and it was this pilum in fact, during the Late Republican period that made the Roman Empire possible.
By the way, the picture above is called Ecce Homo, “Behold the Man.” It depicts Pilate gesturing to Jesus in the gospel narrative from the Latin Vulgate translation of John 19:5 and is by Italian painter Antonio Ciseri. It hangs in the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy where I saw it there on an Easter Day many years ago. We know of Pilate in the Bible from the four New Testament Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, and First Timothy. He is described in several later apocryphal writings. Roman historian Tacitus talks about Pilate, as well as Jewish writers Philo of Alexandria, and Josephus.
HISTORICAL CLIMATE OF EASTER
As we begin Passion Week this weekend, what was the historical climate of Easter Week almost 2,000 years ago surrounding the last week of the life of Jesus of Nazareth? This was a man born to die, not just in the normal sense, but in some special sense. Jesus entered Jerusalem amidst a torrent of turbulence: religious, political, military, social, and economic. The events in Palestine at that time are rarely linked to the larger context which controlled the province: the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, the culmination of Jesus’ career was a tale of two cities – both Jerusalem and Rome. In this series on Easter we’ll discuss:
- Palm Sunday: what was the climate of the city when Jesus entered?
- The Trial: what took place during the trials, what laws were involved?
- The Crucifixion: what was involved on Good Friday?
- The Resurrection: what do we know about it?
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HISTORY OF THE SPRING
In Colorado we have a saying, we begin the first day of Spring in the same way we began the Fall: with snow. This symmetry is relevant as both the beginning of Spring and Fall coincide with the Equinox. This word is made up of two Latin root words aequus and nox meaning “equal night” referring to the fact that daylight and night time are equal in duration.
This year, the vernal equinox (Spring) occurs on March 20 at 10:28 am UTC. This means Temps Universel Coordonne, or Coordinated Universal Time if you don’t speak French, roughly equivalent to Greenwich Mean Time if you’re British, or Zulu Time if you’re a pilot. The Autumnal Equinox occurs 6 months later. Since each equinox occurs at the same time whether in the northern hemisphere as the southern hemisphere, though the seasons are reversed, it is becoming common to call the (northern) vernal equinox the March Equinox and the Autumnal Equinox the September Equinox.
HISTORY OF EASTER
The most joyous of Christian festivals and one of the first celebrated by Christians commemorates the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is set on the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox. The English word “Easter” corresponding to the German “Oster,” reveals the association of many Easter customs with those of the Teutonic tribes of central Europe. When Christianity reached these people, it incorporated many of their “heathen” (of the heath) rites into the great Christian feast day. Easter month, corresponding to our April was dedicated to Eostre, or Ostara, goddess of the spring. There was in common the time of spring and the triumph of life over death.
The practice of eating eggs on Easter Sunday and giving them as gifts to friends and children probably arose because, in the earlier days of the church, eggs were forbidden food during Lent (the 40 days before Easter) and were therefore always eaten on Easter Sunday. But the custom of coloring eggs goes back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians, who practiced this custom during their spring festival.
HISTORY OF ST. PATRICK’S DAY
Although much of the life of the patron saint and Apostle of Ireland is shrouded in legend, St. Patrick was probably born around the year AD 389. Stories are told of the many contests Patrick had with Druids, pagans, and polytheists, as well as the well known but unlikely story of him driving the snakes from Ireland. More on that later. What we do know about him comes from his memoir, Confessio, which he wrote near the end of his life. It begins,
“I, Patrick, a sinner, most uncultivated and least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, who was of the village of Bannavem Taberniea.”