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Has the Ring of Pontius Pilate Been Found?

Pontius Pilate ring
Has this ring discovered near Jerusalem more than 50 years ago belonged to Pontius Pilate?

A 2,000-year-old ring that was unearthed 50 years ago near Jerusalem may well have been worn by Pontius Pilate the man who was the Roman prefect of Judea in the years A.D. 26 to 37.

Pilate served as the fifth prefect for the Roman province of Judaea under the Roman emperor Tiberius during the probable lifetime of Jesus.

The ring bears an inscription that reads “Pilato” (ΠΙΛΑΤΟ) in Greek letters and was discovered in 1968–1969 during excavations at Herodium, an ancient palace and fortress in Israel.

It is made of copper alloy and depicts a krater, a large vessel used for holding wine. The inscription is positioned around the krater, forming a single word resembling “Pilato.”

The intriguing artifact was one of many items found in Herod’s burial tomb, but only recently have archaeologists tried to interpret the curious inscription. Was this ring worn by Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus Christ to death?

Ring of Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate condemns Jesus Christ to death. Public Domain

Doubts are raised over Pontius Pilate’s ring

The discovery of this ring sparked much excitement and speculation among historians and archaeologists, as it was seen as the first physical artifact that could definitively link Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect of Judea during the time of Jesus, to a specific object. However, the interpretation of the inscription has been met with some debate.

Some scholars believe that the ring is indeed an authentic artifact that belonged to Pontius Pilate himself. They argue that the inscription is a clear reference to the prefect’s name, and the simple copper alloy construction is consistent with the rings typically worn by Roman officials of his rank.

Other scholars have raised doubts about the authenticity of the ring. They point out that the inscription could also be interpreted as two separate words, “PI” and “LATO,” which could refer to other individuals or concepts unrelated to Pontius Pilate. They also argue that the ring’s design and craftsmanship are not consistent with those of Roman prefects’ rings.

In 2023, a new study published in the journal “Atiqot” further challenged the authenticity of the ring. The study analyzed the inscription and ring’s composition and concluded that the inscription could be read differently, suggesting that it refers to a quarry or the stonecutting profession.

This interpretation would make the ring more consistent with the archaeological context of Herodium, where quarrying and stonecutting were prevalent activities.

The incised inscription and central motif indicate the ring functioned for stamping bulla (clay seals) with an official insignia, although Romans typically preferred affixing wax rather than clay, says G.W. Thielman writing in The Federalist.

Analysis of the ring indicates its manufacture was likely by a smith in Jerusalem. Its common ornamentation and lack of precious gem suggests its original use by someone a name similar to the Roman governor’s, or as a low-level official acting on Pilate’s behalf, rather than the prefect himself, Thielman opines.

Others say that would be very unusual for a high-ranking Roman prefect to use Greek for an administrative inscription.

Regardless of how Pilate’s ring is understood, the historical evidence for a Roman prefect by the name of Pontius Pilate is substantial, says Nathan Steinmeyer.

In the end, the evidence in support of Pilate’s existence is more substantial than for most first-century provincial governors, even without Pilate’s ring.

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