Archeological Evidence For The Caiaphas Ossuary


In the winter season of 1990 while doing some archeological evidence work in the Peace Forest just underneath the Haas promenade (in Hebrew called the tayelet) workers discovered a burial cave comprised of 4 holes (called loculi), rectangle-shaped areas about 6 feet deep and 1.5 feet wide, cut in the limestone bedrock.


Caiaphas Tomb


Given that many burial places have actually been found in the Kidron and Ben Hinnom valleys around the Old City it was not a surprise to find this burial cavern. Inside were discovered 12 ossuaries, 6 scattered about suggesting that the cave had been robbed in antiquity however 6 in their original places. Zvi Greenhut, the IAA archaeologist called to the site, recognized it as a Jewish burial cave from the Second Temple period. At this time, burial for those who can afford a family tomb, the body was laid out in a recess chiselled in the wall of the cavern and shut off. A year later, after the flesh had actually decomposed, the family members came back, opened the loculus and gathered up the bones and transferred them in a cavern with earlier bones. 


That’s the explanation of the expression in the Bible “to be gathered up with his forefathers” and why it is a custom to revisit the grave after a year. Later it ended up being customary to put the bones in an unique limestone box and to write the name of the deceased on the outside– this coincided with the increase in belief of a physical resurrection at the End of Days.


Caiaphas as depicted in Mel Gibson's "The Passion" movie
Caiaphas as depicted in Mel Gibson's "The Passion" movie


From the name written on two of the ossuaries the cave appears to be the family burial place of Qafa, in Greek Caiaphas, a name understood to us from the New Testament and writings of Josephus, among whom was the high priest who presided at the trial of Jesus. Among these ossuaries is decorated wonderfully in a rare and complex pattern of two circles, each made up of 6 whorl rosettes, surrounded by a pattern of palm branches. Inside were found bones from 6 different people, 2 infants, a child between 2 and 5, a young kid around 13 and 18, an adult woman and a male of about 60.


On the undecorated end is inscribed “Joseph bar Caiaphas” not necessarily “the son of”– here Caiaphas is a nickname which ended up being a sort of family name.


Caiaphas Ossuary
Caiaphas Ossuary
Caiaphas Ossuary Side Inscription
Caiaphas Ossuary Side Inscription Translation


A coin found in among the ossuaries was minted by Herod Agrippa (37– 44 C.E.). This would help us date the two Caiaphas ossuaries; possibly as early as the start of the century. The archeological evidence suggests that we may have recovered the burial box (ossuary) and even the bones of the high priest Caiaphas who handed Jesus over to the Romans!


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