Monday, March 20, 2017

Caiaphas tomb

In 1990, workers widening a road in Jerusalem’s Peace Forest uncovered a burial chamber revealing 12 ossuaries (limestone bone boxes). They were in good condition and unmolested by grave robbers, as attested by coins found in the crypt. Archaeologist Zvi Greenhut, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, conducted the excavation, during which it was determined contained the bones of about 63 individuals. One of the ossuaries contained the bones of six persons and one of those was determined to be those of a male approximately 60 years of age. This one box was ornately decorated, indicating it likely belonged to a more prominent individual or family. The Aramaic inscription on the side is translated as “Iosef bar-Caiapha” or Joseph, son of Caiaphas. 

Who was Caiaphas?
Joseph Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest from A.D. 18 - 36, appointed by Valerius Gratus, the Roman governor of Judea who preceded Pontius Pilate.[1] Annas was the high priest from A.D. 6 – 15 and was the father-in-law of Caiaphas. Though deposed, Annas continued to command great respect and was involved in the case against Jesus.[2] Well known Jewish historian Flavius Josephus referred to the High Priest as Joseph Caiaphas:
“Valerius Gratus … procurator of Judea … gave the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus; and when he had possessed that dignity no longer than a year, Joseph Caiaphas was made his successor.”[3]

Biblical references to Caiaphas
The books of Matthew, Luke, John, and Acts specifically mention the High Priest Caiaphas and his role in the plot to crucify Jesus Christ. Mark mentions the “high priests”, but not Caiaphas specifically.
·         “Then the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas” (Matthew 26:3)
·         “Those who had seized Jesus led Him away to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were gathered together” (Matthew 26:57)
·         “So Annas sent Him [Jesus] bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (John 18:24)
·         “Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.” (Acts 4:6)

But, wasn’t there another high priest?
An astute biblical scholar may notice that another person is mentioned as the high priest at that time, Annas. Does this mean the references to Caiaphas are inaccurate? Is this a contradiction in the Bible? Luke, the consummate historian, addresses this issue:
“in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” (Luke 3:2)
This verse describes the situation with the high priest during the time of Jesus’ birth. Annas and Caiaphas were both holding that position similar to co-reagents. John then mentions this at the time of Jesus crucifixion, 33 years later:
“and led Him to Annas first; for he was father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year.” (John 18:13)
Eusebius, writing in The History of the Church, mentions both Annas and Caiaphas as high priests during the ministry of Jesus. Translator of this work, G. A. Williamson, makes this observation:
“… though Caiaphas had as a political expedient been appointed by the Romans to replace him [Annas]. The situation was exactly the same at the end of our Lord’s life, as we see from John xviii. 13-24, where the writer informs us that He was examined by Annas before being sent to Caiaphas, and within the compass of five lines refers to each as the high priest.”[4]

Was this the same person?
The Israeli archaeologist who personally was present during the excavation, Zvi Greenhut, apparently believed these bones are those of Caiaphas, the same person mentioned in the Bible.  Greenhut described what he saw at the cave and stated, “So it was that we discovered the final resting place of the Caiaphas family, one of whose priestly members presided at the trial of Jesus".[5] The priest’s full name was likely Joseph Caiaphas, who was simply referred to by the latter, as archaeologist Ronny Reich elaborates:
"A person named Joseph with the nickname Caiaphas was the high priest in Jerusalem between 18 and 36 A.D. The New Testament provides only his nickname in the Greek form: Caiaphas (see Matthew 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49, 18:13-14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6). Josephus [the first-century Jewish historian] gives his proper name as well: Joseph Caiaphas, or elsewhere, 'Joseph who was called Caiaphas of the high priesthood.' In short, we are explicitly told by Josephus that Caiaphas was indeed a nickname".[6]

Dr. J. Randall Price, PhD, University of Texas, Austin, has taught Biblical Archaeology at the University of Texas and has excavated sites in Galilee and Qumran. Price identified the bones of the 60 year old man found in the ossuary as “most likely Caiaphas”. He further stated, “Whether or not the place identified as Caiaphas’s house today in Jerusalem is the actual site, we now have discovered the actual remains of the high priest in his ossuary within his family tomb.”[7]

Reasons it may not be the same person
Three primary reasons these bones may not be those of the High Priest Caiaphas have been enumerated by Dr. Craig A. Evans, Acadia University. First, the crypt was too plain to have been that of the son-in-law of Annas, the most influential high priest of the first century. His true burial chamber would have been more ostentatious. And, the inscription was poorly etched and not professional, possibly done by a relative who placed the bones in the box. Second, the Aramaic spelling of Caiaphas may give a different name if the second letter is a waw rather than a yod. The “yod and waw are notoriously difficult to distinguish in the Hebrew script of this period” and, according to Evans, this second letter is probably a waw. If this is the case, the inscription would refer to “"Joseph, son of Qopha," or "Joseph, son of Qupha." It may even be rendered as "Qeypha" or "Qiypha."[8] Third, Josephus does not refer to the high priest as “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”, but simply as “Joseph Caiaphas” and “Joseph called Caiaphas”. These may be inconsequential differences and Evans concludes by stating, “Although the high-priestly identification is not conclusively ruled out, the difficulties are such that it is probably wise to leave the question open.”[9]

The bottom line
Two key questions need to be asked regarding this discovery:  Are the bones those of the same Caiaphas mentioned in the Bible and, if so, how significant is that. It may be impossible to determine with complete certitude one way or the other. At the very least, if these bones belong to another person, the find still validates:
·         the use of the same name during the time of Jesus
·         the fact that this person was obviously a prominent and/or wealthy member of Jewish society, and
·         the location, very close to Jerusalem, which is consistent with the Biblical account
At best, the significance of this find is that it is another in a long line of discoveries that continue to corroborate the historical accuracy of the Bible. The Bible is corroborated by outside historical information, such as that of Josephus, mentioned above. If the Bible is determined to be true regarding matters that have been verified, then it is more likely to be trustworthy in those matters that have not yet been verified.

[Biblical references are from the NASB version.]

[1]J. I. Packer, Merrill C. Tenney, and William White, Jr., Nelson’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Bible Facts (Nashville, TN:  Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995), 172.
[2] Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 1993), 306-307.
[3]Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XIII, Chapter 2, Paragraph 2.
[4]Eusebius, The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine, translated by G. A. Williamson, (New York, NY:  Dorset Press), p. 62.

[5]"Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family," Biblical Archaeological Review, September-October 1992, pp. 29-30, quoted in “The Bible and Archaeology:  Jesus Christ's Arrest, Trial and Crucifixion”, The Good News magazine, by Mario Seiglie, May/June 2000 issue.

[6]Ibid, p. 41.
[7]Randall Price, The Stones Cry Out, (Eugene,OR:  Harvest House Publishers, 1997), p. 305.
[8]Craig A. Evans, “Jesus and the Ossuaries”, Bulletin for Biblical Research 13.1 (2003), p. 39.

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