The death of Pilate: a text and some notes on the “Cura Sanitatis Tiberii”

A correspondent enquired whether I knew of a translation of a text named the Cura sanitatis Tiberii.  Never having heard of this text, I looked into it.  Here is what I found.

In the medieval Greek and Latin manuscripts, there are preserved a whole cycle of fictional stories known as the Gospel of Nicodemus, the Acts of Pilate, and various other texts connected to Pilate, including letters, and accounts of his death.  Both J.K. Elliot in his Apocryphal New Testament[1] and W. Schneemelcher[2] group this material together, rather hopelessly; and those who read through it, to get an overview of the corpus, will find their patience strained.  The texts were all published originally Tischendorff[3] and both Elliot and Schneemelcher refer to the pages of his edition using abbreviations like “Ea.”

The literature contains three different accounts of the death of Pilate, taking different views of his attitude to Christianity.  All are medieval.  Schneemelcher mentions them on p.530 and 532-3.

The first of these is the Paradosis or Handing over of Pilate (text in Ea. pp. 449-455), which is found appended to another text, the Anaphora, which itself is an appendix to the Acts of Pilate.  The Paradosis treats Pilate as a saint, and has an eastern origin.  It is translated by Schneemelcher (p.530-532), and Elliot (p.208-211) with an extensive list of other translations.

The next account is the Mors Pilati or Death of Pilate (text in Ea. pp.456-458).  In this the Emperor Tiberius is sick.  He sends out an envoy, Volusianus, and is cured by the Veronica.  Pilate is punished.  This is a very late western text, based by Tischendorff on a 14th century manuscript.  Elliot (p.216-7) gives only a summary plus a list of editions and translations.  The English translations are: Cowper, 415-19[4]; Walker, 234-6[5]; Westcott, 131-5.[6]

The final account is, so Schneemelcher says, the Cura sanitatis Tiberii or Cure of the illness of Tiberius (text in Ea. 471-486), and summarises it (p.532-3).  But at this point confusion creeps in.  For there are two texts involved here, related but different.  For Schneemelcher also refers to the Vindicta Salvatoris or Vengeance of the Saviour, as if it was the same text.  This is also discussed by Elliot, but without reference to the Cura.  Elliot gives a summary and translation of the Vindicta (p.213-6), and lists the modern translations as Cowper, 432-47; Walker, 245-55; Westcott, 146-59; and M.R. James, 159-60 (summary).

A real modern critical edition of the Latin Cura sanitatis Tiberii is to be found in E. Dobschütz, Christusbilder: Untersuchungen zur christlichen Legende (Leipzig, 1899)[7], in the second volume with the curious page numbers 157**-203**.  Examining this, it is clear that the text translated by Walker is not the same work as that published by Dobschütz.

The text edited by Dobschütz is based on a range of manuscripts, from th 8-15th centuries.  He dismisses the 14th century date – for obvious reasons – and suggests that this text is in fact the earliest witness to the legend of the Veronica, the piece of cloth with which Christ wiped his face while carrying his cross.  He states that the Vindicta is not the same text; and that Tischendorff simply ignored the Cura, in favour of the Vindicta and the Mors, which he discovered and described as older.[8]

An edition of the Cura was given by Schoenbach in Anzeiger für deutsches Altertum II 1876 (= Zeitschrift XX) p.173-180, based on a younger manuscript.  Dobschütz sneered at this edition for using a smoothed, modern text, rather than grappling with the difficulties of 8th century Latin and reproducing its orthography.  (I confess, after OCRing Dobschütz’s effort, so that I could read what the text said, I found myself short of sympathy for his point of view).

I thought that I would end by giving the Latin text, as best I could, from Dobschütz, stripped of his apparatus.  Here it is:

Anybody fancy making a translation?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that a paper on the Cura sanitatis Tiberii and the Vindicta Salvatoris is accessible online: Remi Gounelle, « Les origines littéraires de la légende de Véronique et de la Sainte Face: la Cura sanitatis Tiberii et la Vindicta Saluatoris », dans A. MONACI CASTAGNO (éd.), Sacre impronte e oggetti « non fatti da mano d’uomo » nelle religioni…., Turin, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2011, p. 231-251.  It’s good stuff!

  1. [1]J.K. Elliot, The Apocryphal New Testament, Oxford, 1993.  The “Pilate cycle” begins on p.164.  See esp. p.216.
  2. [2]W. Schneemelcher, Tr. Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1, 1991.  The material of interest to us begins on P.501 ff.  See esp. p.530, 532.
  3. [3]C. Tischendorff, Evangelia Apocrypha, Leipzig, 1876.
  4. [4]B. H. Cowper, The Apocryphal Gospels and Other Documents relating to the History of Christ (Edinburgh and London, 1867).
  5. [5]A. Walker, Apocryphal Gospels, Acts and Revelations (Edinburgh, 1870) (= A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (eds.),Ante-Nicene Christian Library 16).  This is the ANF translation.
  6. [6]A. Westcott, The Gospel of Nicodemus and Kindred Documents (London,1915).
  7. [7]Online here.
  8. [8]Giving as reference the Ea., 2nd edition, 1876, p.LXXXII and seq.

13 thoughts on “The death of Pilate: a text and some notes on the “Cura Sanitatis Tiberii”

  1. Two questions:

    (1) Veronica is already in the Acta Pilati. So why would Dobschütz believe that the Cura contains the earliest form of the Veronica legend? Does he have a theory why it’s older than the mid-4th century?

    (2) How do we know that the Paradosis is medieval? Schneemelcher only says that it’s much later, but “comparatively old”. We know that the Anaphora is ancient (4th or 5th century). How do they explain their theory that the Paradosis isn’t?

  2. I read Dobschütz a little bit now, and he probably means the actual legend with the imago Christi. The original in the Acta Pilati doesn’t have the imago yet, and it’s only the woman touching Christ’s toga, which is an incursion of Mk 5:27 (cf. Mt 9:20 sq.) into the passion, for whatever reason. I wonder if the sudarium in Jn 20:7 later also played a role in the development of the “veil” of Veronica.

    As for the medieval argument, a thought: Are Byzantine Greek texts medieval in the western sense? Or are they rather a continuation of classical culture?

  3. I think there’s been some work done about this by the folks who take an interest in the Veil of Manoppello, the Shroud of Turin, and the Eastern squared off thingie I can’t remember the name of.

    Don’t ask me to remember anything about it, though. I am out of it today!

  4. I looked into the book by Izydorczyk, and on page 7 it says that the Paradosis is from the 5th century, and so is the Anaphora. So the Paradosis is ancient, not medieval, as I always suspected. And I guess we can rule out that they were simply created as fiction out of nothing; there were surely earlier traditions that their authors used.

  5. In Greece we do not consider Byzantine Greek texts and Byzantine culture to be Medieval. True, this is often a rather ideological position but the idea is that considering that the Byzantine Empire was a far more centralized and learned place than the West, it was not Medieval no more than China was at the time Medieval. We usually attach the word Medieval to texts and works originating in the short lived Latin states that emerged after the 4th crusade, such as the Chronicon of Moreas which originates in the Principality of Achaia. Ironically though these are for the most part text written in spoken Greek, pretty close to what is modern Greek spoken today, rather than what came out of Constantinople and its system which was almost exclusively in Archaizing Greek if not downright imitation of Attic. Just my two cents

  6. Interesting – thank you.

    Although I think this involves using the word “medieval” as if it means “bad”, rather than as referring to a period of history. I don’t think we should do that.

Leave a Reply