What does the Bible Say about Caiaphas? Matthew 26:3-4

Matthew 26:3 says, “the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas.” At this meeting these leaders plot to secretly arrest Jesus and have him willed. What do we know about Caiaphas?

The first century Jewish historian Josephus refers to him as high priest several times. Joseph Caiaphas was appointed high priest about AD 18 by Valerius Gratus and removed from office by AD 36 by Vitellius (Ant 18.33-35). His father-in-law Annas was appointed high priest by Quirinius around AD 6 and deposed by Valerius Gratus in AD 15. Because a high priest is appointed for life, Luke 3:2 refers to the “the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.”

The Romans deposed high priests to limit the power of the office. That Caiaphas was high priest from 18-36 implies he “knew how to get along with the Roman authorities” (Nolland, Matthew, 1047). Caiaphas presided over Jesus’s execution (along with Annas, John 18:12-14). He will also oppose the apostles (Acts 4:6, members of the “high-priestly family”). Acts 4:1 may imply Caiaphas and Annas were Sadducees.

Did he really live in a palace (ESV)? The word αὐλή refers to a courtyard surrounding by open sky (BDAG), or possible a complex of buildings (a “compound”).

There are at least two reputed large homes excavated around Mount Zion which claim to be the home of Caiaphas. First, Church of St. Peter Gallicantu (rooster’s crow in Latin) on Mount Zion sits on the traditional site of Caiaphas’s home. The modern church was built 1928-1932 on the site of a sixth century monastic church and was used by the Crusaders. Second, The other “house of Caiaphas” near the Dormition Abbey in the Armenian quarter.

Caiaphas Gallicantu

Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu

The Wohl Archaeological Museum is an example of a palatial mansion (6458 square feet, with a ground floor and a basement) with a large hall (33×21 feet) on the western slope of the Herodian quarter overlooking the Temple Mount. The home a mikveh as well as a pool and cistern, along with household goods which imply it was owned by an aristocratic priestly family. Nahman Avigad suggested this was the home of Annus, Caiaphas’s father-in-law (see Schnabel, Jesus in Jerusalem, 121).

It is impossible to prove that he lived in these traditional locations, but these are homes of wealthy priests living within walking distance of the Temple. If Caiaphas did not live in the house under Church of St. Peter Gallicantu, it is at least a useful illustration of the type of home a man who served for many years as the high priest would own.

In 1990 a highly decorated ossuary was discovered inscribed with the name “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” (Ronny Reich, “Caiaphas’ Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes,” BAR 18.5 (1992): 40–44). The name is crudely scraped into the end of the ossuary, probably with a nail after the box was sitting on a shelf. A coin from the reign of Herod Agrippa was found in the tomb (AD 42/43). Although it is not certain this box belonged to the high priest Joseph Caiaphas, it does come from a wealthy family from about the time of the biblical Caiaphas.

Caiaphas Ossuary

The Caiaphas Ossuary (Jerusalem Museum)

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