Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The 'Pilate Stone' in Israel's Caesarea-by-the-Sea

(by Daniel Peterson 5-3-18)

Until the summer of 1961, absolutely no archaeological evidence existed that would demonstrate that Pontius Pilate, a pivotal figure in the New Testament gospels, ever really existed. Some literary sources mention him — including a few brief allusions in Jewish material (e.g., Josephus) and in late Roman chronicles (e.g., Tacitus) — but no administrative records survive from him and no genuine letters of his have been preserved. Plenty of Roman ruins exist in Israel, but none bears his name, and a historical Pilate isn’t required to account for them.

He has loomed large in subsequent Christian thought and legend. One thinks, for example, of the memorable opening line of Sir Francis Bacon’s early 17th-century essay “Of truth”: “What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.”

But did he really even exist? Critics eager to dismiss the New Testament Gospels as imaginative fiction (along with their accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ) were only too happy to point to the lack of evidence for Pilate as support for their broader dismissal.

In June 1961, however, while working in the Mediterranean seaside ruins of Caesarea Maritima, a team led by the Italian archaeologist Antonio Frova found a sizable piece of limestone — slightly more than 0.8 meters wide and somewhat less than 0.7 meters high — that bears the name of “Pontius Pilatus.” The Latin inscription read as follows:

To the Divine Augusti (this) Tiberieum
... Pontius Pilate
... prefect of Judea
... has dedicated (this)

Pontius Pilate most likely made his headquarters at Caesarea Maritima, travelling up to Jerusalem only when he had to do so. (From a cynical Roman leader’s point of view, Jerusalem was a virtually ungovernable den of incomprehensible religious fanatics, while Caesarea possessed and still retains the charm that could easily have made it the site of a beautiful coastal resort.)

The inscription says that Pilate had built a “Tiberieum” — evidently a temple in or near Caesarea dedicated to the then-reigning Roman emperor, Tiberius, who ruled from A.D. 14 to A.D. 37. Plainly, as others also did, Pilate was seeking to flatter the emperor. (Herod Antipas, the son of Herod the Great, had founded the important city of Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, in Tiberius’ honor sometime around A.D. 20.)

This fact perhaps explains the power over Pilate of the implicit threat from Jesus’ Jewish accusers, as recorded in John 19:12: When Pilate wanted to release Jesus, “the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend.”

The so-called “Pilate Stone” is historically significant because it dates to Pilate’s own lifetime. It is contemporary evidence. Yet — powerfully illustrating the distinctly random nature of archaeological discovery — the excavators could easily have missed it, simply discarding it as rubble. By the fourth century, it had been incorporated into a set of stairs in Caesarea’s Herodian theater. There, the inscription faced downward — fortunately, because that position preserved it from being worn away.

The “divine Augusti” to whom the dedication refers are the late (deified) Augustus Caesar (reigned 27 B.C. to A.D. 14) and his wife Livia, who were, respectively, the stepfather and the mother of Tiberius. The inscription identifies Pontius Pilate as the “prefect” of Judea, a title that seems to connote not only a governmental or administrative role but a military one — which seems to fit the brief literary references to his career.

A replica of the “Pilate Stone” stands directly to the east of Caesarea’s “Palace of the Procurators” — a place of enormous New Testament interest in its own right, where the apostle Paul was imprisoned for over two years under the Roman governors Felix and Festus (Acts 23:31-35; 24:27) and where he made his famous speech before Festus and Agrippa (as recorded in Acts 26) — while the original stone itself is located at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, where it is protected from erosion and other damage.

It is, quite simply, no longer tenable to argue that Pontius Pilate never existed. And, while Pilate’s demonstrable reality certainly doesn’t prove that Jesus rose from the dead or atoned for our sins, or that he merits our devotion as our divine Lord, it constitutes an important part of a cumulative case for the reliability of the gospel accounts — which do, in fact, assert all of those things. In answer to Pilate’s question “What is truth?” (John 18:38), the New Testament declares that Jesus himself is (John 14:6).


LDS leader explains why everyone should care about religious freedom

(by Kelsey Dallas 5-3-18)

Everyone has a stake in ensuring the freedom of religion or belief, whether or not you believe in God, according to an international religious leader speaking in London this week with other U.S. and U.K. leaders.

During a May 1 address to the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints emphasized the role religious freedom plays in building safe, happy and successful societies. This value is foundational to other civil rights and enables people of faith to contribute to the great good of their communities, said Elder Christofferson, a member of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"Today a substantial amount of the social welfare delivered to vulnerable communities comes from the freewill offerings of religious entities and religious people. They give food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless and jobs to the unemployed," he said.

Elder Christofferson's comments come at a time when the concept of religious freedom is increasingly maligned, said Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership. These days, religious freedom is linked with controversial lawsuits and legislation, rather than the people and faith groups it's protecting around the world.

"People have come to judge (religious freedom) through the lens of their political preferences," he said.

In this political climate, it's important to remember the value of religious freedom in countries where members of a dominant faith group can silence or imprison nonpractitioners, including atheists, said Nick Fish, national program director of American Atheists, an organization that works to protect the civil rights of nonbelievers around the world.

"In nations where apostasy is a crime, and I'm talking primarily about nations where there is an official state religion, people who leave the faith or are in any way critical of it are imprisoned, put to death and subject to brutal punishment for their beliefs," he said.