Lent Reflection: Caiphas

By David Morson

Another major character of Holy Week is the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas.

Although the High Priest was considered to be the spiritual leader of Judaism, he was appointed by the Roman Procurator. Joseph Caiaphas was given his position as High Priest by Pilate’ s predecessor Valerus Gratus. He was the Son in Law of Annas the previous High Priest and generally the appointment of High Priest came from a few elite families. Because of this relationship, the High Priest had to be somewhat conciliatory to the Roman authorities, but as we saw yesterday, the Roman Procurator had the task of keeping the peace whilst not antagonising the Religious Authorities. So, it is likely that Pilate and Caiaphas met regularly to discuss matters relating to their joint concerns.

Caiaphas is remembered for handing Jesus over to Pilate for execution following a mock trial.

The High Council or Sanhedrin consisted of 70 members who judged cases of religious contention. In theory they could pass the death penalty by stoning for extreme cases, but this power had been taken away from them by Rome.

There is no doubt that Trial of Jesus was illegal as it contravened the following rules of the Sanhedrin:
– A prisoner could not be tried at night
– The Trial could not take place in the House Of The High Priest
– All Members of the Sanhedrin should be present
– False witnesses would receive the same punishment as the accused
– Two independent witnesses had to agree their evidence before it could be used
– If the accused was found guilty and warranted the death penalty then there should be a further 24 hour period before any action was taken
– No prisoner should be subject to violent maltreatment

None of these conditions were followed in the Trial of Jesus. Caiaphas was determined that as he said “it is better that One Man should die for the sake of the Nation”. The climax of the proceedings came when Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God”. When Jesus replied that He was. Caiaphas ripped his garments as a sign that blasphemy had been committed, But, he knew that Pilate would not pass the death penalty for such a charge, so the next morning he presented Jesus as a political threat to Rome.