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During the trial that led to his crucifixion, at one time or another Jesus stood before four men. Taken together, they represented Jewish political and religious authority as well as the power of Rome. Today we begin a four-part series devoted to The Men Who Tried Jesus. We begin with Annas ben Seth. Although he is mentioned in all four Gospels, John alone tells us that upon his arrest Jesus was first taken to Annas. “First they led him to Annas; for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.” John 18:13
ANNAS COMES TO POWER
Annas, in Hebrew Hanan, was born in 22 BC, making him about 18 years old when Herod the Great died. After their father’s death, Herod’s sons, Herod Phillip and Herod Antipas were made tetrarchs and another son, Herod Archelaus, was made ethnarch of Judea. Archelaus turned out to be a particularly inept ruler and was deposed and exiled in 6 AD by Caesar Augustus. From that point forward the Romans appointed all High Priests and the office became more a political plum than one of religious authority.
Following Archelaus’ dismissal, Quirinius, the Governor of Syria, removed the High Priest Joazar ben Boethus from office. He appointed Annas ben Seth in his stead. We know little about Annas’ family and background prior to his becoming High Priest. The family name could indicate ties with Antioch, which had a large and influential Jewish population. He held the High Priesthood for nine years before being ousted by the Prefect Gratus “for imposing and executing capital sentences which had been forbidden by the imperial government.”
CAPO DEI CAPI — THE BOSS OF THE BOSSES
Annas lived during one of the most tumultuous periods in Jewish history, and the House of Annas continued to influence the course of history throughout the time when the Romans ruled Jerusalem. He lost the High Priesthood for ordering the stoning of a young Sabbath-breaker. This action gives us insight into his temperament and approach to problem solving and explains why he dealt with Jesus the way he did. In the years after his removal from office, Annas became a sort of Capo dei Capi, pulling strings and controlling affairs through his sons and son-in-law.
The House of Annas controlled the High Priesthood, and with it Jerusalem and the Jews, throughout most of Annas’ lifetime. Consider the following list of High Priests:
Annas ben Seth (6–15) Father
Eleazar ben Hanon (16–17) Son
Joseph ben Caiaphas (18–36) Son-in-Law
Jonathan ben Hanon (36–37) Son
Theophilus ben Hanon (37–41) Son
Matthias ben Hanon (43) Son
Ananus ben Hanon (63) Son
By 63 AD the Temple and Jerusalem politics were in chaos and the country was hurtling toward the outbreak of the Great Jewish Revolt which culminated in the destruction of the Temple and the sacking of Jerusalem by the armies of Vespasian and Titus.
HATED AND CURSED IN HIS OWN LIFETIME
In his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alford Edersheim says the House of Annas was cursed in the Talmud as “wealthy, unscrupulous and corrupt leaders of the priesthood whose presence defiled the sanctuary.” Annas was a leading member the First Century Judean aristocracy and known as arrogant and ambitious. He used his enormous wealth to maintain political control. The Talmud records a popular rhyme of the era which described the House of Annas: Woe to the house of Annas! Woe to their serpent’s hiss! They are High Priests; their sons are keepers of the treasury, their sons-in-law are guardians of the temple, and their servants beat people with staves.” (Pesahim 57a)
Pharisaism was the predominate sect of Judaism in the First Century, yet all High Priests of the House of Annas were Sadducees. This alone set up a conflict between the ruling class and those under them. Unlike the Pharisees, the Sadducees didn’t recognize the Prophets as authoritative representatives of God. Therefore they did not believe in things such as the timing of the coming of the Messiah found in Daniel’s prophecy of the weeks, Daniel 9:24-27, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, or even a bodily resurrection.
THE SOURCE OF THE FAMILY FORTUNE
The family gained much of their wealth from the four booths of the sons of Annas, which were market stalls located on the Mount of Olives. They also had other market stalls inside the temple complex in the Court of the Gentiles. Through these, they maintained a monopoly on the sale of sacrificial animals, as well as the exchange of foreign money into temple coins for the offerings. This enabled them to charge exorbitant prices, effectively amassing wealth through the exploitation and oppression of the poor.
When Jesus cleansed the Temple, he effectively declared war on the House of Annas. He raised their ire by striking at the source of their wealth and like a typical Mafia chieftain, Annas responded with violence. “And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he taught, and said to them, ‘Is it not written, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”? But you have made it a den of robbers.’ And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and sought a way to destroy him; for they feared him…”
John briefly records the trial before Annas with few details. Annas interrogated Jesus about his teaching and Jesus was struck on the mouth for challenging the way the trial was being conducted. Although Annas does not appear to play a leading role in the trial of Jesus, he most likely was the one responsible for his arrest, trial and crucifixion. True to form, he would have let others do the dirty work while he remained behind the scenes pulling strings and directing events.
Though he did everything in his power to stamp it out, Annas lived long enough to see Christianity rise and flower. He died in AD 66 at age 88 when the First Jewish Revolt was in its earliest stages. Fittingly, he was assassinated by members of the radical Secarii party when he advocated for peace with Rome.
STRIKING DOWN THE BISHOP OF JERUSALEM
In another interesting historical quirk, his son, Annas ben Annas known as Annas II, was High Priest when James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem was killed in AD 62. Josephus describes him as “a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who were rigid in judging offenders.” Josephus Ant 20:199 Annas II (most probably at his father’s command) made a last, desperate strike at the Christians following the death of the Roman Procurator Festus. He lodged accusations against James before Festus’ replacement arrived. James was subsequently stoned to death. The citizens objected and Herod Agrippa I removed him from office, replacing him with Joshua ben Damneus. And so, fifty-seven years of domination by the House of Annas finally came to an end. Josephus Ant 20:200-203
Next time we will look at the second man in this deadly chain of events, Annas’ son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas.
Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.
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