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The Archaeology of Caiaphas, the High Priest who Interrogated Jesus

Once captured, all the Gospels state that Jesus was questioned by the high priest. Two of the Gospels (Matthew and John), mention the high priest by name – Caiaphas.

Thanks to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, we know that his full name was Joseph Caiaphas, and that he was in position, of high priest, between 18 and 36 AD.

But are there archaeological sites that relate to Caiaphas and where he questioned Jesus?


Petrus in Gallicantu

Catholic tradition argues that Caiaphas’s estate was on the eastern slopes of Mount Zion, in an area known as Petrus in Gallicantu (Latin for “Peter of the Cockcrow”).

Visitors to the site are presented with a set of underground caves, one of which is arguably the pit where Jesus was kept while Caiaphas interrogated him. Discovered in 1888, thy found 11 crosses engraved on the walls. Prompted by the dungeon-like appearance, it seems that early Christians identified the cave as the location of Jesus’ imprisonment.

However, from an archaeological point of view, this “prison” seems to really be a first century CE Jewish ritual bath (miqveh), which was later deepened and turned into a cistern.

The other finds from the site indicate the landlord was wealthy, but there is no conclusive evidence to suggest he was a high priest, nor that the pit was used to detain anyone.


The Unfinished Armenian Church

Furthermore, Byzantine sources describe Caiaphas’s home as being elsewhere. It’s supposedly on the top of Mount Zion, near Hagia Zion Church, whose remains were found when constructing the Dormition Abbey.

armenian unfinished church

Remains of a wealthy residential area from the first century CE were recovered close to the ancient Hagia Zion Church in the 1970s, on the Armenian Church’s property. Sadly, they did not bear any finds suggesting this was necessarily the estate of the high priest. Nevertheless, the Armenian Church sanctified it as such, and made plans to build a big church of it. To this day, this church has not been completed to this day. Within the Armenian Quarter, the Armenians sancitfied another spot as the home of Annas, the Father-in-law of Caiaphas.


Another Location on Mount Zion?

In 2007 a new area was uncovered by an archaeological expedition led by Dr. Shimon Gibson and Dr. James Tabor. These excavations uncovered, among others, remains of a wealthy estate. Could this be the mansion of Caiaphas? To quote Prof. Tabor – “Although we haven’t found proof for such a possibility, the circumstantial evidence is in favor of such an understanding.”


Perhaps Caiaphas Lived in the Jewish Quarter?

Herodian mosaic After the Six Days War, in 1967, intensive excavations were carried out in Jewish Quarter, before rebuilding and repopulating it. Among other things, the archaeologists uncovered the remains of a luxurious house in the area called The Herodian Quarter. Covering 6,500 sq. feet, it wass designed like a Roman villa, with its rooms set around a central courtyard. Some of its walls and floors were lavishly decorated with colorful frescoes and mosaics. Imported clay and glass kitchenware also attest to the unusual wealth of the residents of this house. 3 inkwells also suggested the family had a significant administrative role. The archaeologist labeled this property as a “palatial mansion”.

Is this where Jesus was Interrogated?

Herodian Quarter Jerusalem The many ritual baths set in the basements of this big property, the purity stone vessels, the lack of figurative art in any of its decoration, and the evidence of the extreme wealth of its inhabitants, led some of the archaeologists to suggest this property was owned by one of the high priests of the first century CE.

Furthermore, in two archaeological sites just next to this mansion, two stone weights were uncovered, inscribed in Aramaic, “..Kathros”. Kathros was a known wealthy family of priests. One of them was the brother of Caiaphas. If so, it is quite possible that the two related priestly families resided close to one another.

The most intriguing discovery in the palatial mansion is a room resembling a reception hall in its western wing. It is exceptionally big and decorated with molded clay (stucco) on its walls and even its ceiling. Perhaps Caiaphas, the high priest, summoned the Sanhedrin in this location to interrogate Jesus? While having no proof of this, it does remain a fascinating possibility.



The Caiaphas Ossuary

Clearer archaeological evidence of Caiaphas surfaced by surprise in 1990, during a salvage excavation on a mountain ridge, south of the old city of Jerusalem. As a new road was being constructed in that area, an ancient burial cave was accidentally discovered. Archaeologist Zvi Greenhut, of the Israel Antiquities Authority, was called to the scene, and was able to recover from the cave 12 secondary burial bone boxes (ossuaries).

caiaphas ossuary One of the ossuaries was very ornate and bore two inscriptions on its side, both saying “Yoseph of Caiapha” (Aramaic for “Joseph of Caiaphas”). Inside the ossuary, among others, were the bones of a male in his sixties. Being so, it seems possible that this was the ossuary used for the secondary burial of Caiaphas, the high priest who questioned Jesus. Today, this ossuary today is on permanent display in the Israel Museum.

The Caiaphas Granddaughter Ossuary

(C) Boaz Zissu

One would not expect the find of another ossuary that could be connected to Caiaphas, but archaeology has its surprises! Another ossuary related to Caiaphas was purchased by the State of Israel. It is less ornate than Caiaphas’s ossuary, but is inscribed as belonging to “Miriam, daughter of Yeshua.“. Her grandfather, according to the inscription, is – “[Priest] CAIAPHAS.“.


Touring the Caiaphas Sites

Petrus in Gallicantu is a Catholic complex that is open every day except Sunday. The “unfinished” Armenian Church is not open to the public. However, upon request, special arrangements can be made to visit the place.

The Caiaphas Ossuary is on permanent display in the archaeological wing of the Israel Museum. The Ossuary of the Caiaphas’s grandaughter is stored by the Israel Antiquities Authority.


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