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Biblical Archaeology Review 48:1, Spring 2022

Epistles: What’s in a Name?: Pontius Pilate

Biblical Archaeology Review

Pontos = “sea” | pontios = “of the sea” |

pilum = “javelin” | pilatus = “armed with a javelin”

Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea (26–36 C.E.) who presided at the trial of Jesus. In his native Latin, the name was spelled Pontius Pilatus. The Greek form, attested in the New Testament (Luke 3:1; Acts 4:27), reads Pontios Pilatos (Πόντɩος Πɩλᾶτος). English translations preserve the Latin form in Pontius but transform Pilatus into Pilate. In the Roman system of names, Pontius was a tribal name (nomen gentilicium) that identified a person with a specific tribe or extended family (Latin: gens) and was thus hereditary. It derives from the Greek word for sea (pontos) and means “belonging to the sea” or “of the (high) sea.”

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