Caiaphas

Joseph Caiaphas was the High Priest of the Temple at the time of the Crucifixion.

He is traditionally portrayed as one of the villains of the Passion story; a man determined to see Jesus executed.

Caiaphas was an established figure in the Judean hierarchy, holding the post of High Priest for around 18 years - longer than most others.

Was Caiaphas responsible for Jesus' death?

The case against Caiaphas is that he arrests Jesus, tries him in a kangaroo court and convicts him on a religious charge that carries the death penalty.

Find out more from BBC Religion & Ethics - The case against Caiaphas

What we know about Caiaphas

Very few facts are known about Caiaphas:

  • Appointed Jewish High Priest around 18 or 19CE by Gratus, the fourth Roman Prefect of Judea
  • Son-in-law of Annas (High Priest 6-15 CE); five of Annas' sons, and one grandson, also became High Priest
  • Member of the aristocratic priestly family of Zadok
  • Probably a Sadducee like the rest of Annas' family
  • Removed from office in 37 CE shortly after Pilate left the Holy Land

The job of High Priest

The High Priest carried out several roles.

He led the ceremonies on the Day of Atonement:

  • In these ceremonies the High Priest acted as intermediary between God and the people of Israel
  • The ceremony involved atoning for the sins of Israel
  • This included transferring all the sins of Israel onto a goat (a 'scapegoat') who was then driven out into the wilderness
  • This role is the only one specified by Jewish law for the High Priest (Leviticus 16 provides more information on the ceremonial requirements)

He supervised festivals, especially Passover, ensuring that all the religious rules were scrupulously obeyed.

He was Chief Executive of the Temple organisation.

He also acted as a priest.

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