She warned, he didn't listen
She was not named in Matthew's gospel because naming a person makes them real and individual, and that was not the purpose of the gospel writer. To him she was a symbol or a literary device rather than a real person - though she obviously existed.
The writer of Matthew's gospel wanted his listener/reader to focus on the incident and what it showed about Pilate, rather than on the person who was Pilate's wife.
Main themes in this incident
The story in Matthew's gospel
During the trial of Jesus, Matthew mentions the wife of Pontius Pilate. We know very little about her except that she was high-born, Roman, well-educated and wealthy - and the wife of the Roman governor at the time of Jesus' death.
On the morning of the trial of Jesus, she sent an urgent message to her husband: 'I had a troubling dream. Do not have anything to do with this man.' Pilate ignored his wife's advice and condemned Jesus to death, making his name infamous.
He was a very political man, always concerned about Rome's opinion of him. His patron in Rome was Sejanus, who virtually governed Rome after the Emperor Tiberius retired to his villa at Capri. Pilate would keep his job only as long as he delivered relative peace and stability in the province he governed.
Judea was a difficult, rebellious part of the Roman Empire, and Pilate's job was far from easy. Commentators call him cruel and oppressive, but this fails to take into account the turbulence of Jerusalem, especially at a time of one of the great festivals, when the city was jam-packed with hundreds of thousands of pilgrims. Rebellion was a constant threat, and Pilate no doubt saw Jesus of Nazareth as a potential rebel, who must be neutralized as quickly as possible.
What was Pilate's relationship with his wife?
He travelled constantly, keeping an eye of each area of Judea. It seems that his wife travelled with him. This may show something of the closeness of their relationship, since life in the administrative center of Caesarea would certainly have been more comfortable for her.
Perhaps he was accustomed to seek out her advice on difficult matters; educated Roman women were often quite powerful figures behind the scenes - think of Livia's relationship with her husband Augustus. Pilate's wife is the only person recorded who appealed the decision to condemn Jesus.
You can read the verse in Matthew's gospel in a negative way, seeing Pilate's attitude as dismissive, patronising, impatient.
But is could also show a man who was affectionate, tring to reassure his wife in what was a combustible situation that everything would be alright. Who knows with a husband and wife?
Messages in Dreams and Omens
When she did appeal her husband's decision, she quoted a terrible dream she had the previous night. This dream frightened and bewildered her so much that she felt impelled to act on it.
Dreams were given great significance in the ancient world, more so than they are now. Usually they were seen as warnings against some danger, or as prompts sent by God to persuade a person to take a particular course of action.
The New Testament records several dreams that changed the course of history:
All of these dreams appear in the gospel of Matthew, who was writing for a Greek, Jewish and Christian audience. In his own way he knew about the promptings of the subconscious.
So why is the incident even mentioned?
Perhaps her dream is a warning to Pilate from someone he knows and trusts. He ignores it, and therefore the gospel implies that, coming from her, he was at fault when he took no notice of it. In much the same way, Calpurnia is supposed to have warned Julius Caesar not to go to the Senate on the Ides of March. Both stories show a man who will not even take advice from a tursted person. The sin of pride is therefore worse.
Keep in mind that the gospel writers were going out of their way to present the Roman authorities in a good light. This was sensible political policy at the time, since the gospels were written down not long after the disasterous rebellion against Rome, in which a good proportion of the Jewish population were annhilated. It was sensible (if you wanted to survive) to present the Roman authorities at the time of Jesus' death in a good light, and cast the blame on the Jewish hierarchy. This was only prudent. But even so, the gospel writers would not concede that Pilate was blameless. They refused to exonerate him from guilt.
Firstly, his hands — a woman's. Softer than mine,
Bible study activities and questions
Present these descriptions and responses in the form of a journal entry, or tell the group or a learning partner about your imagined experience.
Women in films
Dozens of extra ideas at Activities for Bible Study Groups and Schools
RELATED SITES - stories, pictures, ideas
Clothes she wore, houses she lived in - CLOTHES AND HOUSES
Crucifixion - ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE
What rich women wore - ANCIENT JEWELRY
Trial of Jesus - CAIPHAS' PALACE
Read about more fascinating women of the Bible
|Bible Study Resource, Women in the Bible: Wife of Pontius Pilate, the trial, her dream, her warning|