Archaeologists in Israel have found new evidence that an ancient finger ring could have belonged to the man who judged Jesus prior to his crucifixion, pointing to the authenticity of the biblical record.
The Times of Israel reports the 2,000-year-old copper alloy ring was dug up 50 years ago. It bears the inscription “of Pilatus,” and it may be the second artifact proving that Pilate actually existed. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Pilate was the Roman prefect who washed his hands before condemning Jesus to death.
“When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.”
Pilate ruled the Roman province of Judea from 26 – 36 AD.
Recently, the ancient ring was cleaned and given a second look by a team of researchers. The artifact was found with hundreds of others in 1968-69 in excavations led by archaeologist Gideon Foerster at a section of Herod’s burial tomb and palace at Herodium that was used during the First Jewish Revolt (66–73 AD), according to The Times of Israel.
The analysis of the ring was published in the Israel Exploration Journal.
At the center of the ring is an engraved krater (a large wine vessel), which is encircled by tiny “partly deformed” Greek letters spelling out “of Pilatus.”
Archaeologist Roi Porat, the current excavation director with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said all of the various explanations regarding the ring published in the article are possible, but for him, one thing stands out.
“It was important to publish a careful scientific article,” he told The Times of Israel. “But in practice, we have a ring inscribed with the name Pilate and the personal connection just cries out.”
However, some of the researchers who studied the ring say there’s nothing in its design in the center of the ring that points to it being noble or elite. It bears the symbol of a vessel that is common in Jewish sealing rings, they wrote.
So could it really be Pontius Pilate’s ring?
Researchers say while the name Pontius was a common name for Romans during the period of the Second Temple, Pilate was not.
There’s only one other artifact that memorializes the life of the Roman prefect. Known as “The Pilate Stone,” it’s a massive stone block unearthed by archaeologists in 1961 at a theater or arena in an area known as Caesarea Maritima.
The block has four lines of text engraved on it that read, “[Po]ntius Pilate … [Pref]ect of Juda[ea].” According to a September 2017 Biblical Archaeology Review article by Lawrence Mykytiuk, “New Testament Political Figures Confirmed,” the carving on the stone dates between 31 and 36 AD. Citing the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Mykytiuk also pointed out “the family name Pontius was common in central and northern Italy during that era, but the name Pilatus was ‘extremely rare.'”
“Because of the rarity of the name Pilatus, which appears in full, and because only one Pontius Pilatus was ever the Roman governor of Judea, this identification should be regarded as completely certain,” Mykytiuk wrote.
Yet some researchers remain skeptical about the ring. They say it’s too simple in design for a rich and powerful Roman to wear.
But Porat has another possibility in mind. What if Pilate had a gold ring for ceremonial duties and another similar copper ring for everyday work?
Whatever the explanation, for now, now scholars have more evidence that could validate the historical record of the Scriptures.