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Questions & Answers

Who was Caiaphas?

Francisco Varo

Tags: Doctrine, Easter, Holy Week
Caiaphas (Yosef bar-Kayafa) was High Priest in the time of Jesus. There are several references to him in the New Testament (Mt 26:3; 26:57; Lk 3:2; 11:49; 18:13-14; Jn 18:24, 28; Acts 4:6). The historian Flavius Josephus says that Caiaphas acceded to the high priesthood around the year 18, appointed by Valerius Gratus, and that he was deposed by Vitellius in about the year 36 (Antiquitates Iudaicae, 18.2.2 and 18.4.3). He was married to Annas’s daughter. According to Josephus, Annas had been High Priest between the years 6 and 15 ( 18.2.1 and 18.2.2). From these dates, which fit with the Gospel accounts, Caiaphas was High Priest when Jesus was condemned to death by crucifixion.

His long continuance in the office of High Priest is yet another indication that he maintained cordial relations with the Roman administration, including that under Pontius Pilate. Josephus refers several times to Pilate’s contempt for Jewish national and religious identity, and names specific individuals who protested against him.
The absence of the name of Caiaphas, High Priest at the time, from the list of those who complained about Pilate’s abuses, shows on what friendly terms the two men must have been. His closeness to and collaboration with the Roman authorities is also reflected in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ trial and condemnation to crucifixion. All the Gospels say that after questioning Jesus, the chief priests agreed to hand him over to Pilate (Mt 27:1-2; Mk 15:1; Lk 23:1; and Jn 18:28).

Significant to the early Christians’ understanding of the death of Jesus is John’s account of the discussion that led to his condemnation. “One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.’ He did not say this of his own accord,” explains the Evangelist, “but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn 11:49-52).

In 1990 two ossuaries were discovered in the Talpiyot necropolis at Jerusalem. One of them bore the inscription “Yosef bar Kayafa”, the name attributed to Caiaphas by Josephus. It was a first-century ossuary and the remains within it could well be those of the Caiaphas who figured in the Gospels.

- Bruce Chilton, “Caiaphas”, in Anchor Bible Dictionary vol. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1992): 803-806; Zvi
- Greenhut, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem”, ’Atiqot 21 (1992): 63-71.