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Matthew, Luke, and John record the role of Caiaphas the high priest in the trial and death of Jesus (Mt 26:3, 57; Lk 3:2; Jn 11:49, 18:13, 14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6).  Recently, we discovered his “coffin.”

In 1967, following the Six Day War, the Jerusalem Peace Forest was constructed to link the eastern and western parts of Jerusalem together.  In 1990, a project was undertaken to build a water park in the Peace Forest.  While digging, they hit the ceiling of an ancient room, and it collapsed.  Archaeologists were called in to investigate.  Upon investigation they determined that the room was an ancient tomb.  They found 12 ossuaries (little boxes used to store the bones of the deceased).  Ossuaries were only used by Jews between ~50 BC and AD 70, so they knew these ossuaries probably dated to the 1st century.[1]

Two of the ossuaries bore the name “Caiaphas.”  One just bore the name “Caiaphas” alone, and had very little ornamentation.  It contained the bones of five individuals.  The other ossuary[2] was very ornate, and on the side it contained the following inscription: yhwsp br qp’.  Translated, this reads “Joseph son of Caiaphas.”[3]  This ossuary contained the bones of six people: two babies, a young child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a 60 year old man.[4]

Could this be Caiaphas the high priest who presided over Jesus’ trial?  At first blush it would appear that the answer is no since the inscription identifies the man as the son of Caiaphas.  But Josephus identified the man who presided as high priest in Jesus’ day as “Joseph Caiaphas.”  Josephus said he held this office from AD 18-36 (Jewish Antiquities, 18:35).  Later, Josephus refers to him as “Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood” (Jewish Antiquities, 18:95).  Apparently Caiaphas was the high priest’s surname, which became his nickname.  This is similar to the Herod family.  “Herod” was the surname by which multiple sons of Herod were identified.

Significance:

  1. This is tangible evidence of the existence of one of the key players involved in the crucifixion of Jesus.  It’s not often that we are able to find the burial chamber of a significant Biblical figure, yet alone his very bones!

Caiaphas’ ossuary is housed in The Israel Museum in Jerusalem.


[1]The discovery was not announced until 1992.
[2]This ossuary measured 14.6” high and 29.6” long.
[3]Alternatively, “Joseph of the Caiaphas family.”
[4]Unfortunately, the bones were re-buried in the Mount of Olives due to Jewish qualms about digging up the bones of the deceased.

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