Pilate and Herod - where are they?

Bruce N H

Active Member
Hi guys,

I fell asleep during last night's discussion, so missed my chance to ask this during the malabolge containing the hypocrites, so I'll ask it here. In this circle we get Caiaphas, Annas, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, eternally trampled for their part in the crucifixion of Jesus. I know, it's specifically here because they were hypocrites in turning Jesus over to be killed for their own political expediency, but they are certainly getting a special punishment apart from the other hypocrites. Of course (spoiler alert) we'll see Judas down below as one of the chief traitors in circle 9. But we never see either Pilate or Herod Antipas facing any punishment for their roles in Jesus' trial and execution. I did a search on all three books of the Comedy and Pilate gets one mention - in Purgatorio he compares Philip the Fair of France to Pilate because Philip condemned Pope Boniface VIII just as Pilate condemned Jesus. Googling finds a reference that some scholars see an allusion to Pilate in the vestibule of Hell as the shade who committed the "great refusal" (since Pilate wouldn't take a stand on Jesus and left it up to the crowd), but most scholars think those lines are referring to Pope Celestine V who resigned as Pope (an act not repeated until Benedict a few years ago). I see no direct reference to Herod at all. This just seems odd to me, since aside from unknown Roman soldiers who actually put Jesus on the cross (also the whipping before hand), these are the other named participants in the whole trial and crucifixion.

I found this odd because it's the flip side of a question I always had growing up. Pilate gets specifically called out in the Apostles' Creed (also the Nicene, but my church when I was a kid regularly recited the Apostles' Creed): Jesus was "born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead." We go straight from his miraculous birth to Pilate - no, for instance "he was betrayed by Judas and tried by the Sanhedrin", not to mention any mention at all of Christ's miracles or his teaching. It's also notable that the only non-God characters named in the Creed are Mary and Pilate - no Adam, no Abraham, no Moses, no David, or any other people you might expect. I always wondered why Pilate got pointed out for specific condemnation in the creeds.

Back to Dante. I wonder if this is just an instance of his pro-Roman-Empire bias (root, root, root for the home team!). Pilate and to a lesser extent Herod were essentially the representatives of Rome in first century Israel, while the Sanhedrin represented the Jewish power structure. The flip side could also be true for the early church - at least in the first couple of centuries the Roman Empire were the antagonists and they saw themselves (at least very early on) as an extension of Judaism and Israel, so they might have been more quick to point out the Roman role in Christ's crucifixion. Of course by the time of the Council of Nicea the relation of the Church to the Empire had gone through a massive transformation, so I don't know if that holds.