By Mark Ellis –
While reading through one of my favorite Christian commentaries recently, I was struck by this comment:
“Claudia Procula, the daughter of Augustus, had married Pontius Pilate. History not only tells us she had converted to Judaism, but also that, following this event, she became a convert to Jesus Christ.”
The event in question, follows the dramatic arrest of Jesus, when the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people plotted against Jesus to put Him to death. And when they bound Him, they delivered Him to Pontius Pilate, the governor.
Jesus was largely silent when he faced the accusations hurled against him. Pilate offered to release one prisoner, Barabbas, or Jesus Christ. Then Pilate’s wife sent an urgent message to her husband:
While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent to him, saying, “Have nothing to do with that just Man, for I have suffered many things today in a dream because of Him.” (Matthew 27:19)
According to the Orthodox Church of America, Claudia Procula is the name of Pilate’s wife. While she is not identified by name in the canon of Scripture, the author of the apocryphal Acts of Paul says that she converted and received baptism from the Apostle Paul.
Other apocryphal sources reference this mysterious woman. “In the apocryphal Gospel of Νikόdēmos she is called Procla (ancient Greek), or Procula (Latin). Beginning in the late fourth, or early fifth century, she became known as Claudia Procula…After her husband’s death, Claudia Procula is said to have embraced Christianity. After living her life in the utmost goodness and piety, she surrendered her soul in peace. There are other accounts, however, which say that she was a martyr.”
The earliest references to Procula’s conversion to Christianity date from the second-century Christian apologist Origen, according to scholars.
Seizing on these traditions, she is venerated as a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Eastern Catholic Church, the Coptic Church, and the Ethiopian Church.
Conversely, Pilate and his wife did not receive such veneration in Western churches and were even reviled. Martin Luther thought her dream was inspired by the devil, seeking to thwart God’s plan of salvation through Christ’s atoning death on the cross.
On the other hand, Augustine, Jerome, and Calvin, argued for a divine origin of the dream, but did not consider her a saint.
In the early sixteenth-century, François de Bivar suggested, based on Pilate’s wife’s name in later tradition, that the Claudia mentioned by Paul in Second Timothy (2 Timothy 4:21) might have been Pilate’s wife, according to Rene Mouterde, the French Jesuit priest and archaeologist.
But was Pilate’s wife in Caesar’s lineage? According to the Chronicle of Pseudo-Dexter, Claudia Procula was a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, the illegitimate daughter of Caesar Augustus’s daughter Julia the Elder. Julia had been married to Tiberius, but he divorced and exiled her due to her unrestrained lifestyle. While in exile, Julia gave birth to Claudia Procula, who was legitimized by Tiberius after Julia’s death.
Nummius Dexter, a historian and friend of Jerome, was the supposed author of the Chronicle, but most scholars now conclude it was a forgery by Jerónimo Román de la Higuera’s (1538–1611), who published a collection of false documents in 1594.
As late as the nineteenth century there were still references to the Chronicle as genuine, which may have led to the mistaken citation in the commentary I referenced.
The character of Pilate’s wife has intrigued observers throughout history. On the one hand, she is portrayed as a virtuous and compassionate woman who is deeply disturbed by the events surrounding the death of Jesus.
Why would a woman of wealth and privilege — married to a powerful man — be so concerned about the fate of a poor Galilean carpenter being tried for treason, unless she was moved by a powerful dream?
Some argue her compassion and concern for Jesus were the result of deep spiritual conviction, while others have said her actions were motivated by political considerations.
In conclusion, it needs to be emphasized that the authenticity of the apocryphal texts related to Procula are not universally accepted, and they are not considered to be reliable historical sources. As much as the notion may appeal to my sensibilities, there is no solid evidence confirming that Pilate’s wife became a Christian or was in the lineage of Caesar.
ChatGPT contributed to this article