CAIAPHAS
(kay' uh fuhs) GREEK: KAIAPHAS
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As high priest, Caiaphas presided over the first trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish court. The historian Josephus twice notes Caiaphas's life and career, but he is named nowhere else outside the New Testament. Josephus first mentions Caiaphas's appointment as high priest by Valerius Gratus, the Roman governor of Syria, about A.D. 18. Josephus later reports that Caiaphas was deposed by the Roman procurator Vitellius in 36/37 and was replaced by Jonathan, son of Annas. Caiaphas's 18-year tenure brought rare stability; when appointed, he was the fifth high priest in four years.

The Gospel of John introduces Caiaphas shortly after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The excitement caused by the miracle drove the worried members of the Sanhedrin to pressure Caiaphas: "What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on thus, every one will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." Then came Caiaphas's famous rejoiner: "You do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish" (John 11:47-48, 50).

All four Gospels make the trial a preliminary hearing, before Jesus is bound over to Pilate. After Caiaphas heard the accusations against Jesus and noted his silence, he ordered Jesus to say whether he claimed to be the Son of God. The Gospel accounts of the reply vary: "You have said so" (Matthew 26:64); "I am" (Mark 14:62); "You say that I am" (Luke 22:70).

Did Jesus actually claim to be the Son of God or did he attribute the claim to others? If the latter, how could it be construed as blasphemy? And if Jesus was charged with blasphemy, how would Pilate be expected to agree, since it was not a crime under Roman law? Some scholars consider the first and third answers as proof of an illegal trial; others point to the apparent inconsistencies as the varying emphasis intended by each Gospel author. Regardless, the official reaction was the same: Jesus had uttered blasphemy, a capital offense according to Mosaic Law. In keeping with a pious custom on hearing blasphemy, Caiaphas ritually tore his garment.

Questions remain about Caiaphas. Why does Matthew name him as high priest yet Mark does not do so, while John presents a trial before Annas, but not Caiaphas? Other curiosities: Why were Annas and Caiaphas linked as high priests during the time of John the Baptist, while years later, when Peter and John were arrested, Annas is called the high priest but Caiaphas is not? Outside records that may have clarified such puzzles were lost in the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

{E2 Dictionary of Biblical People}

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