14th February 2017


Joseph Caiaphas, High Priest (18 C.E.-36 C.E)

Joseph Caiaphas was the high priest of Jerusalem who, according to Biblical accounts, sent Jesus to Pilate for his execution.

As high priest and chief religious authority in the land, Caiaphas had many important responsibilities, including controlling the Temple treasury, managing the Temple police and other personnel, performing religious rituals, and–central to the passion story–serving as president of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council and court that reportedly considered the case of Jesus.

The high priest had another, more controversial function in first-century Jerusalem: serving as a sort of liaison between Roman authority and the Jewish population.  High priests, drawn from the Sadducean aristocracy, received their appointment from Rome since the time of Herod the Great, and Rome looked to high priests to keep the Jewish populace in line.  We know from other cases (such as one incident in 66 C.E.) that Roman prefects might demand that high priests arrest and turn over Jews seen as agitators.
Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, high priest from 6 to 15 C.E. and head of a family that would control the high priesthood for most of the first century.  Annas is also mentioned in Biblical accounts.  It is possible that he, as a high priest emeritus, might have served at the side of Caiaphas in the Sanhedrin called to resolve the fate of Jesus.
Although little is known of Caiaphas, historians infer from his long tenure as high priest, from 18 to 36 C.E., that he must have worked well with Roman authority.  For ten years, Caiaphas served with Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.  The two presumably had a close relationship.  It is likely that Caiaphas and Pilate had standing arrangements for how to deal with subversive persons such as Jesus.
Caiaphas’s motives in turning Jesus over to Pilate are a subject of speculation.  Some historians suggest that he had little choice.  Others argue that Caiaphas saw Jesus as a threat to the existing religious order.  He might have believed that if Jesus wasn’t restrained or even executed that the Romans might end their relative tolerance of Jewish institutions.
High priests, including Caiaphas, were both respected and despised by the Jewish population.  As the highest religious authority, they were seen as playing a critical role in religious life and the Sanhedrin.  At the same time, however, many Jews resented the close relationship that high priest maintained with Roman authorities and suspected them of taking bribes or practising other forms of corruption.

In the year 36 C.E., both Caiaphas and Pilate were dismissed from office by Syrian governor, Vitellius, according to Jewish historian Josephus.  It seems likely that the cause of their dismissal was growing public unhappiness with their close cooperation.  Rome might have perceived the need for a conciliatory gesture to Jews whose sensibilities had been offended by the two leaders. Josephus described the high priests of the family of Annas as “heartless when they sit in judgment.”
Unlike other Temple priests, Caiaphas, as a high priest, lived in Jerusalem’s Upper City, a wealthy section inhabited by the city’s powers-that-be.  His home almost certainly was constructed around a large courtyard.
Archaeologists discovered in 1990 in a family tomb in Abu Tor, two miles south of Jerusalem, an ossuary, or bone box, containing on its side the name of Joseph Caiaphas, written in Aramaic.  The ossuary is assumed to be genuine.

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