Caiaphas Biography

(High priest)

Born: 14 BC

Born In: Israel

Joseph ben Caiaphas, better known as Caiaphas, is a biblical character from the New Testament. He has been mentioned in the gospels as the high priest who conspired to kill Jesus and sent him to the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, to be executed. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, the high priest. Caiaphas succeeded his brother-in-law Eleazar ben Ananus, to be the high priest in 18 A.D. He continued to reign as the high priest for 18 years. Caiaphas finds mention in a huge number of films, books, and other works of art. His hurried indictment of Jesus was later explained by scholars as a politically motivated move so as not to involve all the members of the priestly council.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Joseph ben Caiaphas, Joseph Caiaphas

Died At Age: 49

Born Country: Israel

Spiritual & Religious Leaders Ancient Roman Men

Died on: 36

place of death: Crete, Greece

His Story & Origins

Joseph ben Caiaphas (14 B.C.–46 A.D.), who is better known as Caiaphas, is a biblical character from the New Testament. The gospels mention him as the Jewish high priest who conspired to kill Jesus. He headed the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus Christ. Caiaphas’s family name is said to have meant “basket maker” in Hebrew, “as comely” in Aramaic, and “a depression” in Akkadian.

However, not much is known about Caiaphas’s life. His story is not documented anywhere else apart from the New Testament and the works of Jewish historian Josephus.

Josephus mentioned that Caiaphas was appointed as the high priest in 18 A.D. by the Roman prefect Valerius Gratus. Valerius was the predecessor of Pontius Pilate.

The Gospel of John mentions that Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas, the high priest. Annas is at times thought of as the same as Ananus, the son of Seth, and finds mention in the writings of Josephus. Following Augustus’s death, Annas was deposed. However, he had five successors who served in the position of high priest. Of these high priests mentioned, the most prominent was Caiaphas, who appears as Joseph, son of Caiaphas (18–36/37), and as someone who had married Annas’s daughter (John 18:13). In fact, Caiaphas had succeeded Eleazar ben Ananus, one of Annas’s five sons and his brother-in-law.

Annas served as the high-priest from 6 to 15 A.D. and was an influential man. Annas and Caiaphas were perhaps supporters of the Sadducees, a religious movement based in Judaea, which mostly had affluent, elite Jewish members.

The Gospel of John (John 11) mentions how the high priests called a meeting of the Sanhedrin as a reaction to Jesus’s miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead.

Caiaphas discussed with "the Chief Priests and Pharisees" about the next course of action. They were baffled by the growing influence of Jesus and wanted to contain it. They were afraid that if Jesus became any more influential, the Romans would turn rebellious and attack the entire nation.

The Gospel of John (John 18), states how Jesus was taken to Annas first and was questioned by him. Annas asked him about his teachings and sent him to Caiaphas. Caiaphas decided that it would be better if “one man” died for “the whole nation.”

Soon, Jesus was taken to the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Pilate, however, was initially reluctant to judge Jesus’s fate and asked the high priests to do so instead.

However, the high priests stated that they did not have the authority to judge Jesus. After questioning Jesus, Pilate found no evidence against him. He thus asked the crowd (that had gathered at the site) to decide which prisoner should be released, as part of an ancient Passover tradition. The crowd chose a criminal named Barabbas instead of Jesus, and Jesus was thus crucified.

The Gospel of Matthew (Matthew 26:56-67), describes how Caiaphas and others had interrogated Jesus and tried to frame him by looking for false evidence.

While Jesus was mostly silent throughout the interrogation, when Caiaphas asked him whether he was the Messiah, Jesus responded saying "I am: and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." Caiaphas then tore his clothes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses?” and sentenced him to capital punishment.

Caiaphas is said to have died in 36 A.D. (46 A.D. according to some) in Crete, Greece, and was buried in Peace Forest, Jerusalem, Israel.

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Criticism & Political Explanation

It is believed that Caiaphas ruled as the high priest for 18 years and had the longest reign among the high priests back then. The Jewish rulers in those times were concerned about a Zealot rebellion to oust the Romans from Israel.

The Romans did not execute anyone over violations of Halakha. Thus, Pilate would not have been bothered by the charge of blasphemy imposed on Jesus. Caiaphas thus wished to prove that Jesus was not only guilty of blasphemy but was also claiming to be the Messiah, an act that was linked to the probable return of the Davidic rule. This was an act of sedition, and that was a strong enough reason for a Roman execution.

Stories also claim that the apostles Peter and John had healed a crippled man and were questioned by Caiaphas and Annas about the source of their miraculous power. To this, Peter had said that Jesus of Nazareth had been the source of their miraculous healing power.

Caiaphas and the other priests decided to tell the apostles not to spread the news of Jesus’s miraculous powers, as that would cause political repercussions. Peter and John, however, refused to do so.

According to customs, following Jesus’s arrest by the Temple guards, he should have been locked up in the Temple premises until the entire council of priests (the Sanhedrin) could hear his case. Peter, John, and the other apostles faced the same after they were arrested. However, in Jesus’s case, he was taken to Caiaphas’s home in Jerusalem.

This was a suspicious act for several reasons. Jesus had been arrested on the eve of Passover, a holy night for Jews, when the priests were expected to celebrate with their families.

Moreover, Caiaphas’s house was not big enough to hold all the 72 Sanhedrin members. The meetings of the council were usually held in a hall called the Lishkat La-Gazit (“Chamber of Hewn Stones”), situated in the Stoa of the Temple. Similarly, the priests were less likely to have reached Caiaphas’s house at such a short notice.

The indictment of Jesus (as described in Mark’s account and later narrated in the other gospels) was hasty, which suggests that the entire council was not involved.

One reason attributed to Caiaphas’s hurried act of indicting Jesus was that he probably wanted to end Jesus’s attack on the money changers (which, if unchecked, could have led the Roman forces to retaliate).

Caiaphas probably also expected the Pharisee sect of the Sanhedrin (council) to defend Jesus. The gospels state that Sanhedrin members Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus both sympathized with Jesus.

Archaeological Proof

In November 1990, a limestone tomb was excavated during the construction of a road in the Peace Forest in Jerusalem. An Aramaic inscription on it read "Joseph son of Caiaphas." However, later, researchers stated the tomb was too simple to be Caiaphas’s and also did not mention him as the “high priest.”

In June 2011, researchers from the Tel Aviv University and the Bar-Ilan University announced they had dug out stolen remnants from a tomb in the Valley of Elah. The text on it mentioned "Miriam, daughter of Yeshua, son of Caiaphas, Priest of Ma’aziah from Beth ‘Imri.”

Art & Culture

In Dante’s Inferno, Caiaphas was punished as a hypocrite, in the eighth circle of Hell. Caiaphas finds mention in the works of William Blake, in Oscar Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol, in Bob Hostetler's novel The Bone Box, and in Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita.

Caiaphas is portrayed by Rodolfo Wilcock in Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1964 movie The Gospel According to St. Matthew, by Martin Landau in George Stevens's 1965 movie The Greatest Story Ever Told, by Anthony Quinn in the 1977 TV miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, by Mattia Sbragia in Mel Gibson's 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ, by Adrian Schiller in the 2013 TV miniseries titled The Bible, and by Richard Coyle in the NBC miniseries A.D. The Bible Continues.

See the events in life of Caiaphas in Chronological Order

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