[key-uh-fuhs, kahy-]

Yosef Bar Kayafa (Hebrew יוסף בַּר קַיָּפָא, ) (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 18 and 37 AD (CE). 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 some parts of the New Testament, Caiaphas is involved in the trial of Jesus after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Because he was the high priest, Caiaphas was also chairman of the high court. Jesus of Nazareth was arrested by the Temple guard and a hearing was organized by Caiaphas and others in which Jesus was accused of blasphemy. Jesus was handed over to Roman authorities who, under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, though charged with treason for claiming to be the Messiah (King of the Jews), Pilate found Him guilty of nothing and ceremonially washed his hands to demonstrate that he had nothing to do with the sentence of death, placing it firmly on the heads of the Jews. The Jews accepted his disavowal and their responsibility, saying, "His blood be on us and on our children." (Matthew 27:25) It was only through the machinations of the chief priests that Barabbas, the murderer, was released and Jesus was crucified.

The Gospels of Matthew and John (though not those of Mark and Luke) mention Caiaphas in connection with the crucifixion of Jesus.

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 implicitly declares he is the Christ 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 is spreading. The concern is 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 Judea, 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 terrorist 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 Israel. They would have feared any religious reformer or leader who either denied their own legitimacy to rule or who suggested rebellion against the Roman occupation. The Romans would not perform execution over violations of Jewish law, and therefore the charge of blasphemy would not have mattered to Pilate. Caiaphas's 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. Pilate initially wished for Herod Antipas to deal with the matter, whereas Zealots in the Sanhedrin under Caiaphas might have wished for a Roman execution to galvanise insurgence.

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." (Acts 4:20 NCV)

Caiaphas in other sources

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

In 1990, two miles south of present day Jerusalem, 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 Olives.


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




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