Magyar Nemzeti Galeria, Budapest, Hungary/Bridgeman Art Library

Pontius Pilate presents the accused, Jesus, to the crowd and asks them, “What should I do with Jesus, who is called the Messiah?” (Matthew 27:22). In the Gospels, Pilate is nothing worse than a coward. In this 1985 painting by the Hungarian artist Tamas Galambos, Pilate seems to have a darker side.

According to ancient historians, Pilate was in fact ruthless, cruel, corrupt and totally self-serving. In the accompanying article, Stephen J. Patterson suggests that the pro-Roman, anti-Jewish spin in the gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial are propaganda, not history, reflecting the growing strife between Jesus’ followers and other Jews in the latter part of the first century C.E. In reality, Pilate, as an agent of Rome, would have been eager, not reluctant, to execute the peasant agitator Jesus.