Priests of the Bible 16 Caiaphas

Priests of the Bible 16 Caiaphas

According to Wikipedia: “Joseph ben Caiaphas … was the Jewish high priest who, according to Josephus was high priest of the Jews during the years of Jesus’ ministry, and according to authors of the Gospels, Matthew, Luke and John, was organizer of the plot to kill Jesus. He famously presided over the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. The primary sources for Caiaphas’ life are the New Testament, and the writings of Josephus. Josephus records that he was made high priest by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus after Simon ben Camithus had been deposed”.

In most Christian traditions, Caiaphas, unlike Zacharias who we looked at previously, was considered to be one of the bad guys. Before we look at the Bible record, we need to consider the question: “Was Caiaphas a Descendant of Aaron?” With the exception of Melchizedek, all the other 14 priests considered thus far were. From around the Maccabean period, around 160 BC, we find that the priesthood had been compromised and corrupted. One article, interestingly titled “Was Caiaphas a Descendant of Aaron attempts at providing an answer. It begins: “the office of high priest became politicized in the Maccabean period, and by the time of the New Testament the position of high priest was treated like a political appointment. According to Josephus, Herod the Great appointed no less than six high priests”.

The writer continues to set the scene: “Caiaphas himself was appointed by the Roman procurator Valerius Gratus. Josephus describes Valerius Gratus as follows: “This man deprived Ananus of the high priesthood, and appointed Ismael, the son of Phabi, to be high priest. He also deprived him in a little time, and ordained Eleazar, the son of Ananus, who had been high priest before, to be high priest: which office, when he had held for a year, Gratus deprived him of it, and gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus; and, when he had possessed that dignity no more than a year, Joseph Caiaphas was made his successor. When Gratus had done those things, he went back to Rome, after he had stayed in Judea eleven years, and Pontius Pilate came as his successor” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:34-35)”.

The writer helpfully points out the recent discovering of ossuaries containing the remains of Caiaphas and members of his family. Ossuaries were boxes carved from a block of limestone, intended to hold the bones of the deceased in a rock-cut tomb. One such ossuary contained an inscription that identified Caiaphas as coming from the priestly course of Ma’aziah. Ma’aziah was the 24th and final priestly family appointed by David for service in the temple (1 Chronicles 24:18) (we have earlier identified Zacharias as coming from the eighth course). In another article, based on these same archaeological finds, the author posed the question “Did Caiaphus Regret Killing Jesus? – Mysteries Of The Bible Unlocked – Caiaphas Good Guy Or Bad Guy”. In Caiaphas tomb were found two nails, of the sort used to hang people being crucified to the cross. He concludes that maybe he did and the nails gave the evidence. We will not know this side of eternity if that was so, but in any case, as we are about to find from considering the Gospel narrative, it was evident that Caiaphas was motivated more by religious and political considerations than by truth and justice.

There were two persons referred to as High Priests, at the time Jesus was brought to trial and eventually executed: Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas. According to Josephus, Caiaphas was the High Priest at the time and central to the plot to bring Jesus to trial, presiding over it and calling for his death. (This video from the film “Passion of the Christ” is helpful.) While the charges were Jesus had committed blasphemy, the real reason for wanting Jesus out of the way were political. Not only were the religious establishment keen to hold onto power, they were afraid that a popular leader, which Jesus was, would come to the attention of the Romans who could (and eventually did) destroy the Temple. Caiaphas continued as High Priest for a short time following Jesus death and oppose this new Way. We read: “And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem” Acts 4:6.

Before we close, not just concerning Caiaphas but also regarding the 16 named significant priests we earlier identified, it is worth pondering some his words, recorded (only) in John’s Gospel. What Caiaphas spoke was truth of the most profound kind. The tragedy is he did not follow Him who is The Truth, and the someone that he more than any would have known of – Israel’s promised Messiah.  


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