Cameraphoto Arte, Venice/Art Resource, NY

Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, ponders what to do about Jesus, in an anonymous 16th-century portrait from Venice, Italy. Jesus’ accusers have demanded his execution, but Pilate can’t find that the man has done anything wrong. After reluctantly ordering Jesus flogged and crowned with thorns, Pilate brings the accused before the angry mob: “Behold the man” (John 19:5), he announces. These words, in Latin (Ecce Homo) scroll around Pilate’s staff in this painting, now in Venice’s Museo dell’Accademia.

Although today Pilate is usually seen as an indecisive coward, his reluctance to execute Jesus made him a hero in the early church. In the accompanying article, Robin M. Jensen shows how Pilate was not only celebrated but, in some traditions, even made a saint for recognizing Jesus’ divinity as well as his innocence.