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Pilate Before the Committee

Character list

PONTIUS PILATUS: Former prefect of the Roman province of Judea. Late middle age or older.

COMMITTEE MEMBER: Unseen person asking questions.

Synopsis

In 36 A.D. PONTIUS PILATE was recalled to Rome by Emperor Tiberius to answer questions about PILATE’s handling of an attempted uprising in Samaria. Tiberius died before PILATE arrived in Rome. Historians such as Josephus portray PILATE as having a large ego and inconsistent standards. This play shows PILATE appearing before a government committee to answer questions, using a modern setting to make the staging easier.

PROPS

Briefcase

Folder with papers

Microphone (real or prop)

SCENE 1

(There is a lectern or a table with a single chair on stage. There is a microphone [real or prop] but nothing else present.

PILATE enters. He is dressed as a modern businessman or politician would when appearing before a government committee. He is carrying a briefcase, which he opens and removes a folder with a large number of sheets of paper. PILATE either seats himself or takes position behind the lectern. He makes a show of straightening up the papers in the folder.)

MEMBER

Welcome, citizen. Thank you for coming.

PILATE

Of course.

MEMBER

Citizen, please state your name for the record.

PILATE

Pontius Pilate, prefect of the province of Judea. Correction — former prefect of Judea. I was relieved of my position and ordered to appear here in Rome.

MEMBER

Citizen, do you know why you are here?

PILATE

My presence was… requested by the emperor Tiberius last year. He has questions about my actions as prefect.

MEMBER

The emperor Tiberius is dead. Gaius Augustus Germanicus is now emperor.

PILATE

Ah, yes, I heard of Caligula’s promotion on my way to Rome. I was naturally… saddened to hear of the late emperor’s passing.

MEMBER

There are still questions.

PILATE

Of course. Before we begin, I would like to read a prepared statement.

MEMBER

Proceed.

PILATE

(opens his folder and removes a paper)

Senators and citizens! During my ten years as prefect of Judea, I was faced with the administration of a difficult and restive area that was always on the verge of rebellion. My predecessor turned over an office that was lax in its enforcement of Roman laws and imperial prerogatives, and I was forced to impress upon the people of Judea that they are now part of the greater glory that is Rome. If, at times, my treatment of certain groups seemed more harsh than some here in the city felt was necessary, I can only point to the fact that there were no uprisings or widespread turmoil, and that the collection of taxes increased significantly without requiring an increase in the local garrison. My suppression of the Samaritans, while admittedly bloody, was totally within my powers as prefect, and prevented a revolt that would have resulted in even greater death among the local population, and certainly saved the lives of numerous citizens and Roman soldiers. I realize that my reputation in Rome, among certain politicians who never leave the capital, is one of an overly harsh administrator, but I believe that my results speak for themselves and that my ten years of service in Judea are deserving of plaudits rather than condemnation. I was a good prefect.

(puts down his paper)

I am ready to answer your questions now.

MEMBER

Thank you, citizen. We would like to hear your version of events regarding the execution of a Judean resident referred to as “Jesus of Nazareth.” What can you tell us about him?

PILATE

(confused; this is not the line of questions he expected)

I’m sorry. Who?

MEMBER

Jesus of Nazareth, sometimes styled as the King of the Jews. He was executed by your administration in the 16th year of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, for attempting to incite rebellion amongst the people of Judea.

PILATE

Ah. My apologies, I will need to consult my notes.

(shuffles through his paperwork, finally finds what he was looking for)

Very well. Yes. I remember it now. An unfortunate incident.

MEMBER

Can you tell us, in your own words, what happened with Jesus of Nazareth?

PILATE

Of course. The locals were celebrating some sort of annual feast commemorating some historical event in their long but obscure history. Tensions were high, as they usually were around that time of year, so I had moved my residence from Caesarea to Jerusalem to keep an eye on the local garrison. Emotions had been running high within the Jewish high priest council after a local holy man had come to Jerusalem because of the festival, and apparently the mob in the streets had greeted him with some sort of celebration that made the high council nervous.

(pauses, checks his notes)

You should understand that this sort of thing goes on all the time in Judea. You don’t know these people like I do. You cannot throw a rock in the desert without hitting some mad holy man who claims to speak for this god or that god, or predicts some coming disaster, or performs magic tricks like healing the sick or raising the dead. One fellow just a few years earlier had claimed to clean all sins from his followers just by dunking them in the river. Apparently his holy words were a magical substitute for soap.

(smiles wryly)

So I was not overly worried about yet another madman coming to Jerusalem. My greater concern was that the high council would over-react and cause the mob to riot.

MEMBER

It was the high council that brought Jesus to you, was it not?

PILATE

It was. They had seized him and interrogated him, and probably meant to kill him themselves, but then they lost their nerve and brought him to me instead. They told me that he had tried to make himself king in Jerusalem and had urged the people to stop paying taxes to Caesar.

MEMBER

And had he?

PILATE

I had heard about this Jesus the previous year. He had persuaded Zacchaeus, my chief tax collector in Jericho, to quit his post, so naturally I had him investigated to determine if this was part of a pattern to undermine the tax collectors throughout Judea. One of my agents reported that, on the contrary, Jesus had, during a lesson, made a point of holding up a sesterce with the image of Caesar, and saying that those things that are Caesar’s should be given in tribute to Caesar. As Judeans go, this makes him a model servant of the empire! So I knew the tax charges were false. If anything, rather than preaching rebellion he preached peace, and as prefect I liked my people peaceful.

MEMBER

And what about him being “King of the Jews”?

PILATE

I never heard him claim that. I asked him point blank, “Are you king of the Jews, as these people here say you as supposed to be?” He answered, “So you all say,” which I took to be an evasion to avoid being beaten even more by the Jewish guards. Certainly the high priests became furious with him when he failed to confess in front of me. Frankly, I was astonished that he did not agree to everything that was said about him; it has been my experience that subjects of torture tend to say whatever will make their torturers happy, just to stop the pain, and Jesus seemed to be in a great deal of pain.

MEMBER

So what was he guilty of?

PILATE

Nothing! Absolutely nothing! He was — I hate to use the word “innocent,” because no man is truly innocent, but his eyes were those of a man who had committed no crimes. But the high council, they —

(starts to become agitated)

They went crazy! They kept yelling that he was a traitor to Rome! These people, they — You have to understand, the high council could have whipped together a mob that could have stormed the palace and overwhelmed the garrison before I could get reinforcements. You don’t know these people like I did! The situation could have exploded at any moment!

(calms down)

Suddenly I realized there was an out. One of my predecessors had started a tradition of setting free one of the political prisoners during the annual feast. The selection was made by popular acclaim. I thought I could tilt the balance by giving the people Jesus. The high council certainly could not deny the will of the people! And we had a prisoner who was perfect as the other choice. Not actually a political prisoner at all, he was a notorious murderer that the Jerusalem guard had recently captured. He was due to be executed, and no one had lifted a finger to ask for mercy. I brought him and Jesus out to the balcony to show to the crowd.

(looks away, remembering)

The crowd demanded the murderer be released. This man had killed their children. Jesus had preached peace. But they yelled that Jesus should be crucified. Why? What had he done to make them hate him so much?

(pauses)

Anyway, my plan worked against me. Now I had the mob of people I feared outside the palace gates, yelling for blood. I had no choice. I had to keep the peace. I sentenced Jesus to be crucified until dead.

MEMBER

And then you washed your hands?

PILATE

I washed my hands as a symbol, a metaphor. Judeans like metaphors. It helps them understand things. They needed to understand. They didn’t understand. I… didn’t understand. They wanted him dead, when he had done nothing to deserve death. I had no choice, none at all if I wanted to keep the peace, but I wanted them to see that this was not my doing.

MEMBER

Did you even try to change the minds of the high council?

PILATE

Over and over. Jesus was no help. I looked into his eyes, trying to find out what was in his mind, but he was staring at nothing. Or maybe he really was a holy man, and he saw his future, and his future was going to end, very soon.

(pause)

I have confronted plotters and conspirators and rebels before in my career, but Jesus was none of those things.

MEMBER

So you say he was innocent?

PILATE

No man is innocent. Everyone is guilty of something. But what Jesus was guilty of… I don’t know. Nothing that a prefect of Rome could find in judgment.

MEMBER

But you failed in your duties as prefect.

PILATE

Failed? I kept the peace. I kept the taxes coming to Rome. I was a good prefect.

(shouts)

I WAS A GOOD PREFECT!

(pause)

MEMBER

So you say.

(pause)

These are all the questions we have for now, citizen. We thank you for appearing here to answer them. Or answer them as best you can. On your way out, you will find a basin of water. You may want to wash your hands. We understand that blood can be very hard to get out of the skin, especially certain kinds of blood. Or if you wish, just think of it as a metaphor.

(PILATE slowly puts his papers back in his folder, puts the folder back in his briefcase, and then slowly exits)

CURTAIN

I wrote this for a Lenten service at our church. Acting in it was easier than finding time for rehearsals with someone who could actually act.

Alas, Medium does not support anything remotely resembling a script format; my apologies.

Copyright ©2015 by Jack Herlocker. All rights reserved, although if you want to take the script and either use it or play with it, I have no problems with that. Just let me know. (And if you perform it, please send me a link!)

Written by

Husband & retiree. Developer, tech writer, & IT geek. I fill what’s empty, empty what’s full, and scratch where it itches. Occasionally do weird & goofy things.

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