April 05, 2008


The nonviolent toppling of dictators and repressive regimes has gotten a good deal of attention in recent years. The use of strategic nonviolence is even frequently studied by military personnel.

While many people sometimes think of nonviolent action as something invented by Gandhi and practiced by others such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in reality it has been practiced without fanfare in many places since ancient times.

Believe it or not, it was even tried with success on the Roman procurator of Judea Pontius Pilate. Yeah, that Pilate--the one who presided over Jesus' crucifixion. The incident occurred when Jews protested the presence of images from Roman military standards in the city of Jerusalem.

According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, writing in the Jewish Antiquities (18.55-59)

Now Pilate, the prefect of Judea, when he brought his army from Caesarea and removed it to winter quarters in Jerusalem, took a bold step in subversion of the Jewish practices, by introducing into the city the busts of the emperor that were attached to the military standards, for our law forbids the making of images.

It was for this reason that the previous prefects, when they entered the city, used standards that had no such ornaments. Pilate was the first to bring the images into Jerusalem and set them up, doing it without the knowledge of the people, for he entered at night.

But when the people discovered it, they went in a throng to Caesarea and for many days entreated him to take away the images. He refused to yield, since to do so would be an outrage to the emperor; however, since they did not cease entreating him, on the sixth day he secretly armed and placed his troops in position, while he himself came to the speaker's stand. This had been constructed in the stadium, which provided concealment for the army that lay in wait.

When the Jews again engaged in supplication, at a pre-arranged signal he surrounded them with his soldiers and threatened to punish them at once with death if they did not put an end to their tumult and return to their own places.

But they, casting themselves prostrate and baring their throats, declared that they had gladly welcomed death rather than make bold to transgress the wise provisions of the laws. Pilate, astonished at the strength of their devotion to the laws, straightway removed the images from Jerusalem and brought them back to Caesarea.

Who'd have thunk it?


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