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Yosef Bar Kayafa (Hebrew יוסף בַּר קַיָּפָא, pronounced ) (which translates as Joseph, son of Caiaphas), also known simply as Caiaphas (Greek Καϊάφας) in the New Testament, was the Roman-appointed Jewish high priest between AD 18 and 37. In the Mishnah, Parah 3:5 refers to him as Ha-Koph (the monkey), a play on his name for opposing Mishnat Ha-Hasidim. According to two New Testament gospels, Caiaphas is involved in the trial of Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemanemarker.

The Gospels of Matthew and John (though not those of Mark and Luke) mention Caiaphas in connection with the trial of Jesus. Because he was the high priest, Caiaphas was also chairman of the high court. According to the Gospels, Jesus was arrested by the Templemarker guard and a hearing was organized by Caiaphas and others in which Jesus was accused of blasphemy. Finding him guilty, the Sanhedrin took him to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, where they further accused him of sedition against Rome.

In the New Testament

Matthew: trial of Jesus

In Matthew , Caiaphas, other chief priests, and the Bet Shammai dominated Sanhedrin of the time are depicted interrogating Jesus. They are looking for "false evidence" with which to frame Jesus, but are unable to find any. Jesus remains silent throughout the proceedings until Caiaphas demands that Jesus say whether he is the Christ. Jesus replies "I AM", and makes an allusion to the Son of Man coming on the clouds with power. Caiaphas and the other men charge him with blasphemy and order him beaten.

John: relations with Romans

In John , Caiaphas considers, with "the Chief Priests and Pharisees", what to do about Jesus, whose influence was spreading. They worry that if they "let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation." Caiaphas makes a political calculation, suggesting that it would be better for "one man" (Jesus) to die than for "the whole nation" to be destroyed.

In John , Jesus is brought before Annas and Caiaphas and questioned, with intermittent beatings. Afterward, the other priests (Caiaphas does not accompany them) take Jesus to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judeamarker, and insist upon Jesus' execution. Pilate tells the priests to judge Jesus themselves, to which they respond they lack authority to do so. Pilate questions Jesus, after which he states, "I find no basis for a charge against him." Pilate then offers the Jews the choice of one prisoner to release — said to be a Passover tradition — and the Jews choose a criminal named Barabbas instead of Jesus.

Political implications

For Jewish leaders of the time, there were serious concerns about Roman rule and an insurgent Zealot movement in Beit Shammai to eject the Romans from Israelmarker. The Romans would not perform execution over violations of Jewish law, and therefore the charge of blasphemy would not have mattered to Pilate. Caiaphas' legal position, therefore, was to establish that Jesus was guilty not only of blasphemy, but also of proclaiming himself the messiah, which was understood as the return of the Davidic king. This would have been an act of sedition and prompted Roman execution.

Acts: Peter and John refuse to be silenced

Later, in Acts , Peter and John went before Annas and Caiaphas after having healed a crippled man. Caiaphas and Annas questioned the apostles' authority to perform such a miracle. When Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, answered that Jesus of Nazareth was the source of their power, Caiaphas and the other priests realized that the two men had no formal education yet spoke eloquently about the man they called their savior. Caiaphas sent the apostles away, and agreed with the other priests that the word of the miracle had already been spread too much to attempt to refute, and instead the priests would need to warn the apostles not to spread the name of Jesus. However, when they gave Peter and John this command, the two refused, saying "We cannot keep quiet. We must speak about what we have seen and heard."

Caiaphas in other sources

Caiaphas' term in office was recorded by the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. He was appointed in AD 18 by the Roman prefect who preceded Pilate, Valerius Gratus.

In 1990, two miles south of present day Jerusalemmarker, 12 ossuaries in the family tomb of a "Caiaphas" were discovered. One ossuary was inscribed with the full name, in Aramaic of "Joseph, son of Caiaphas", and a second with simply the family name of "Caiaphas". After examination the bones were reburied on the Mount of Olivesmarker.

Caiaphas is mentioned in the 16th verse of The Ballad Of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde

"He does not stare upon the airThrough a roof of little glass;He does not pray with lips of clayFor his agony to pass,Nor feel upon his shuddering cheekThe kiss of Caiaphas"

Caiphas is mentioned throughout the works of William Blake as a byword for a traitor or Pharisee.

Fictional portrayals

Caiaphas was portrayed by Mattia Sbragia in Mel Gibson's controversial 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, by Anthony Quinn in the television miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and by Bob Bingham in the 1973 film Jesus Christ Superstar.

Caiaphas and his ossuary are the subject of Bob Hostetler's book The Bone Box (Howard Books, 2008).


The name Caiaphas has three possible origins:

  • "as comely" in Aramaic
  • a "rock" or "rock that hollows itself out" (Keipha) in Aramaic
  • a "dell", or a "depression" in Chaldean


  1. Metzger & Coogan (1993) Oxford Companion to the Bible, p97.
  2. The Babylonian Talmud (Yavamot 15b) gives the family name as Kuppai, while the Jerusalem Talmud (Yevamot 1:6) mentions Nekifi.
  3. Acts 4:20 NCV


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