The Letter of Pilate to Tiberius about Jesus

--[ 5 MIN READ]

One item that floats around the web is the Letter of Pilate to Tiberius.  It first appeared in an English translation of the Ante-Nicene Fathers vol. 8 (here), and from there to all sorts of other places.  Another translation appears online in The Lost Books of the Bible, 1926. (Copied from the Cowper translation of 1867.  The introductory words may be found on Cowper, p.389, here.)

Here is the ANF translation:

The Letter of Pontius Pilate
Which He Wrote to the Roman Emperor, Concerning Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar the emperor, greeting.

Upon Jesus Christ, whose case I had dearly set forth to thee in my last, at length by the will of the people a bitter punishment has been inflicted, myself being in a sort unwilling and rather afraid. A man, by Hercules, so pious and strict, no age has ever had nor will have. But wonderful were the efforts of the people themselves, and the unanimity of all the scribes and chief men and elders, to crucify this ambassador of truth, notwithstanding that their own prophets, and after our manner the sibyls, warned them against it: and supernatural signs appeared while he was hanging, and, in the opinion of philosophers, threatened destruction to the whole world. His disciples are flourishing, in their work and the regulation of their lives not belying their master; yea, in his name most beneficent. Had I not been afraid of the rising of a sedition among the people, who were just on the point of breaking out, perhaps this man would still have been alive to us; although, urged more by fidelity to thy dignity than induced by my own wishes, I did not according to my strength resist that innocent blood free from the whole charge brought against it, but unjustly, through the malignity of men, should be sold and suffer, yet, as the Scriptures signify, to their own destruction. Farewell, 28th March.

So what is this item?  The ANF introductory notice is very unhelpful.  New Testament Apocrypha does not mention it at all.  Fortunately I have on my shelves a copy of J. K. Elliot’s The Apocryphal New Testament and this has a section on the apocryphal Pilate literature.  Our item appears on p.206-8.

The work is written in renaissance Latin, probably in the 16th century.“, Z. Izydorczyk, The Medieval Gospel of Nicodemus, Arizona, 1997, p.8, gives the following description: “Epistola Pilati ad Tiberium: Pilate reveals that he sentenced Christ partly through his own weakness but partly through his loyalty to the emperor. This letter, which again presents Pilate in a positive light, was written in Renaissance Latin, probably in the sixteenth century.” and Geerard, Clavis no. 68; Starowieyski, Apokryfy, 476″. Online here.

The letter cannot be traced any earlier than the renaissance” , Elliot, p.206.

It was composed in Latin“, Elliot, p.207.

Tischendorf printed the Latin text, (Tischendorf, Evangelia Apocrypha, Leipzig, (2nd) 1876, p.lxxvi-lxxviii, p. 433-4. Online here.) Based on four witnesses, which he claims he learned from earlier publications. However many scholars and lay-historians consider Tischendorf as a great conman. That all of his “findings” such as his Codex Sinaiticus to be nothing more than a hoax.
The Great Bible Hoax Of 1881: Is The Text Mistranslated? | Bridge To Babylon

The text had previously been edited by Fabricius (J. A. Fabricius, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamenti, 4 vols, Hamburg, 2nd ed., 1719. p.300-1.);
Thilo (J. C. Thilo, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamentum, vol. i, Leipzig, 1832, p.801-2);
and Giles (J. C. Thilo, Codex Apocryphus Novi Testamentum, vol. i, Leipzig, 1832, p.801-2).

B.H.Cowper, The Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents relating to the History of Christ, Edinburgh, 1867, p.398-9.  Cowper tells us, p.xx, that he is translating Tischendorff.  There is no introduction to the “Epistle of Pontius Pilate” in Cowper.

Note that the Letters of Pilate and Herod exist in a Syriac version of the 6-7th century (Texts and Studies, 5, p.xlviii.[/ref] but the Letter of Pilate to Tiberius is not  one of these.The first English translation was made in 1867 by B.H.Cowper, followed by that of Walker in the ANF in 1870 (A. Walker, Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and RevelationsAnte-Nicene Christian Library vol. 16, Edinburgh, 1870.  The Ante-Nicene Fathers series is a rearranged and pirated US edition of the Edinburgh series.) Another translation appeared in 1915 from A. Westcott, The Gospel of Nicodemus and Kindred Documents, London, 1915, p.119-20. Westcott has the same reputation as Tischendorff, both men are very corrupt and should be viewed with great skepticism.

A Google search reveals an “Epistola Pilati” is contained in the British Library ms. Cotton Titus D. xix, on f.88-89, but this is probably the epistola Pilati ad Claudium. A catalogue online here, where the work follows the Gospel of Nicodemus.  Compiled by Nigel Ramsay, who gives a bibliography including, “The Gospel of Nicodemus. Gesta Salvatoris, ed. H.C. Kim (Toronto, 1973), chapter xxviii.

There is also a Letter of Tiberius to Pilate, in Greek (Epistola Tiberii ad Pilatum. Edited in Texts and Studies, second series, vol. 5, 1893.  Introduction on p.xlix-l; Greek text on p.77-82). This also is a late production, not earlier than the 11th century.  This takes an unfavorable view of Pilate and alludes to a journey by Mary Magdalene to Rome to accuse Pilate. (

The Conclusion

News about this letter is “old news”, appearing from time to time even in different variations. The most important thing is that the “The Letter of Pilate to Tiberius” not associated with historical reality. It furthermore contradicts scripture,

For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; He has no form nor comeliness that we should look upon Him, nor beauty that we should desire Him.  He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from Him, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
~Isaiah 53:2-4

In 1928, British journalist William Percival Crozier (1879-1944) issued the “Letters of Pontius Pilate: Written During His Governorship of Judea to His Friend Seneca in Rome”, presenting a fantastic fictional idea of what could have been written by Pilate regarding Jesus, based on the facts described in the Gospels. He notes that the first to make reference to an “invisible” letter of Pilate regarding Jesus was the -would be, Catholic apologist Tertullian in the 3rd century A.D. (obviously based on the references made in the apocryphal work “Acts of Peter and Paul”).

It is worth mentioning that internet users seeking answers regarding the reliability of the text of Pilate about Jesus, contacted the Library of Congress in the U.S., from whom they received the following answer:

“The Library of Congress has received a number of inquiries over the years about a purported letter from Pontius Pilate to Tiberius Caesar concerning Jesus Christ. The Library does not have such a letter in its collection”


Get notified of New Posts ONLY on Thursdays at 1:00 central time

Select list(s):

We will never spam you, unsubscribe at anytime (One click within the email)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments