Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Hello My Friend and Welcome. 

We continue our study of The Men Who Tried Jesus with a look at the High Priest, Joseph Caiaphas. There are several things that need to be clarified going in. First, Caiaphas was the High Priest at the time of Jesus’ death, not Annas. The Bible refers to Annas as the High Priest in an honorary way just as Presidents of the United States are still addressed as Mr. President even after they leave office. That, of course, does not deny the fact that Annas remained the power behind the throne. This would be especially true in the case of Caiaphas since he was married to Annas’ daughter. Though we know little of Caiaphas’ background, we can assume he must have come from a wealthy and prominent family to have been considered worthy to enter the House of Annas via marriage. 

The word Caiaphas, like all Greek and Hebrew words, is a transliteration. Joseph is generally called by his Greek name Caiaphas in the Bible, which indicates this was probably how First Century Jews referred to him. That the High Priest should be known by a Greek rather than a Hebrew name is another example of the extensive Hellenization of Jewish society at that time. The name Caiaphas has never been adequately translated. Some have speculated that it is a family name. Others have suggested it means rock or depression. It is clearly not a translation of Kepha, or Peter, but it could be Kayapha, Kaipha or Kaiphah. The Mishnah names him Kayaph which Edersheim suggests means, He who is at the top. There are also references to the Chaldean word for Israelite, Cajepham. The point is, we really don’t know. 

What little we do know of the man indicates he was a thug and a brute who ignored established rules whenever expedient…definitely not someone with high moral standards or a commitment to fairness. As we said when discussing his father-in-law, Annas, with the coming of the Romans the office of High Priest became decidedly political. And, if nothing else, Caiaphas appears to have been the consummate politician. During the era of the Herodians and Romans —a period spanning 107 years— no one held the office of High Priest longer than Caiaphas. He was High Priest for 18 of those years while the average term in office was less than 2 years 9 months. 

Caiaphas was there when Pontius Pilate arrived and didn’t leave until both he and Pilate were dismissed by the Syrian governor, Vitellius. Pilate’s removal was instigated by his ordering troops into Samaria to attack a peaceful assembly of Samaritans. The contentious relationship between Jews and Samaritans is well known. There are indications that Pilate was mislead as to the nature and intent of this gathering making him a tool the Jews used against their Samaritan enemies. There is no way to know whether or not Caiaphas had a hand in this scheme. However, for Vitellius the possibility of Jewish involvement provided sufficient grounds for him to remove both the Prefect and the High Priest. 

Caiaphas has a principal role in the Passion narratives in all four Gospels. John tells us that after Annas questioned Jesus he was taken to Caiaphas’ home. This action begins a long series of violations of Jewish law that occurred during the trial of Jesus of Nazareth. He was taken at night from the Garden of the Gethsemane even though arrests and trials were forbidden at night. Jesus was also bound while the law stipulated only a condemned prisoner could be bound. The private interrogations conducted by both Annas and Caiaphas also ran counter to established law. Jesus was tried the day following his arrest, the day of preparation for the Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach ―the Sabbath during the feast of Passover― the most sacred Shabbat of the year. Once started, a trial could not be adjoined for longer than overnight. And, since a trial could not be held on the Sabbath, no trials were allowed to begin on the day before the Sabbath…Friday. 

The most blatant example of Caiaphas’ disregard for the Law occurs in Matthew 26:63-64. “And the high priest said to Him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, that you tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has blasphemed!’” Jewish Law, like the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution, protected a person from self-incrimination. Caiaphas had no right to try to extort a confession or to force a defendant to admit guilt, yet this was how he finally convicted Jesus. 

The Bible and the history of the Jews is filled with Prophets and Prophecy. The phenomenon of Israelite prophecy ended with the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. Who was Israel’s final prophet? It was not Malachi. Strangely enough, it was Joseph Caiaphas. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this event is that Caiaphas, in stating a simple fact never realized he was also prophesying. But as Peter 1:21 says, “…no prophecy ever came from man's own initiative.” 

John explains: “ 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, 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. So from that day on they took counsel how to put him to death.” John 11:49-53 

It is also interesting to note that this last prophecy occurred under the Old Covenant. It was at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the New Covenant. Ironically, Caiaphas’ action of killing one man to save many ultimately led to Jerusalem’s destruction. As Jesus says in Luke 19:43-44: “The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you. 

The Caiaphas Ossurary

In 1990 an ornately decorated limestone ossuary (bone box) was found in Jerusalem's Peace Forest. Inside the ossuary were the bones of two babies, a adolescent child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60years of age. Inscribed on the ossuary were the words Yehosef bar Kayafa,” which translates to Joseph, son of Caiaphas. 

Many scholars have concluded that the bones of the elder man belonged to the famous Caiaphas, High Priest in Jerusalem at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion. The bones were reburied on the Mount of Olives. Excavator Zvi Greenhut of the Israeli Antiquities Authority recovered the artifact, which is now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. 

After Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin finished with Jesus, his trial moved from the religious arena into the political one. Next time we will examine the Roman Prefect who will always be remembered for his actions that day and is immortalized in the phrase, “…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” 

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings. 

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