‘When Jesus had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck him, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?”‘ – John 18:21-23
Who was Caiaphas?
Caiaphas plays a large role in our gospel accounts. He was the “high priest that year” (John 11:49) Jesus was crucified. Jesus, being seized, was taken to Caiaphas (Mark 14:53, Matthew 26:57, Luke 22:54) where he “questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching” (John 18:19). Caiaphas is undoubtedly one of the chief villains of the gospels who played a large role in the plot to kill Jesus. According to Matthew, Caiaphas and others “plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him” (Matthew 26: 4).
Like Pilate, Caiaphas is a well attested figure of history. Within the first century he is attested in all our canonical gospels Mark, Matthew, Luke & John, thus making him a central character in the unfolding narrative. In the trial recorded by our gospels he and the other priests were interrogating Jesus and trying to falsely accuse him of certain deeds. After Jesus’ certain reply in Matthew 26:64 Caiaphas tore his clothes and accused him of blasphemy. The book of Acts, also written by Luke’s author, tells us that Caiaphas was “gathered together in Jerusalem” with others of “high-priestly descent” (4:6). On this occasion John and Peter were taken before him after having healed a crippled man. He is furthermore attested to by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius who tells us that it was a tumultuous time when he became a high priest (Antiquities of the Jews 18.33-35). It is also held that Flavius’ account is based on an older source that dates much earlier than when he was writing around 96 AD. Flavius tells us that Caiaphas was appointed in AD 18 by the prefect Valerius Gratus, while several other details are also recorded. According to one lecturer in New Testament Studies at the University of Edinburgh in England, Helen Bond, “our most valuable source for Caiaphas is the Jewish writer Flavius Josephus” (1).
Another important piece of evidence is the Miriam ossuary, a stone chest made of limestone for storing human bones. In 2011 a team of Israeli archaeologists announced that they found a stolen ossuary from a tomb in the Valley of Elah believed to have belonged to the family of Caiaphas. It was deemed authentic by the Israel Antiquities Authority (2). According to Professor Ronen, “Beyond any reasonable doubt, the inscription is authentic.” (3)
In concluding we can be certain of the historicity of the high priest Caiaphas as we have both textual and archaeological evidence in his favour. Archaeologically we have the Miriam ossuary that once belonged to Caiaphas’ family. On top of that we have him widely attested to within our four canonical gospels, the book of Acts, and by the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius.
1. Bond, H. 2004. Caiaphas: Friend of Rome and Judge of Jesus? p. 18.
2. Welsh, J. 2011. Ancient Burial May Reveal Home of Biblical Figure. Available.
3. Ronen, G. 2011. House of Caiaphas Ossuary is Authentic. Available.