"Come and See": A Web Commentary on the Gospel of John: Section 13 The Last Supper and Farewell Discourses

13.2 Questioning before Annas and Caiaphas (Jn 18.13-27)


Annas, son of Seth (whose name is a shortening of the Greek form of the Hebrew "Ananiah"), had been appointed as high priest by the Roman legate Quirinus when the Romans annexed Judaea and the rest of the territory ruled by Herod the Great's son Archelaus in 6 CE.1 He was deposed in 15 CE by Valerius Gratus, the governor of Judaea who preceded Pontius Pilate. Although no longer in office, Annas seems to have had great influence over the Roman authorities in the appointment of high priests, as over the next 48 years five of his sons and one son-in-law followed him in office. Caiaphas, properly Joseph Caiaphas, was Annas' son-in-law, and served as high priest 18-36 CE. 'Caiaphas', though technically part of an patronymic, actually functioned as a surname in the case of the Caiaphas family. He was appointed by Valerius Gratus but continued in office throughout the term of Pontius Pilate as governor. When Pilate was recalled by Rome, Caiaphas was replaced.2

On the basis of Jn 18.13 and 24, we can infer that the high priest that John refers to in the intervening section (Jn 18.13-24) was Annas. It is not unheard of to refer to someone as high priest, as John does here, after he had been removed and replaced by the Romans. Both Josephus and the Mishnah attest to the practice of referring to a former high priest by that title. Possibly one reason for continuing to call Annas high priest is that the Book of Numbers suggests that the high priest should hold office for life (see Num 35.25 and 28). So by some he may have been viewed as continuing in that status. It is clear, however, that John considers Caiaphas to be high priest at the time of Jesus' death, to the extent of attributing to him a divinely-inspired prophecy by virtue of his holding that office (see the two comments on Jn 11.51-2). Thus, when John refers to Annas as high priest, it is likely that he is showing respect for Annas as a former holder of the office, rather than intending to imply that another could not hold that office in Annas' lifetime.

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As we have discussed previously in the Introduction, this is most likely a reference to the Beloved Disciple, the evangelist. I speculated there that the fact that he was known to the high priest and had such ready access to the high priest's house may show that he came from a priestly family. However, we cannot be sure.

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This courtyard was, of course, part of the high priest's house. There are at least two sites in Jerusalem which scholars have identified as the high priest's house, also known as Caiaphas' house. Josephus, in describing some of the rebel activity in the city during the Jewish Wars, speaks of the burning of the house of Agrippa II (the last Herodian ruler) and his sister Berenice and that of the high priest Ananias. This would be Ananias (or Annas) ben Annas, the last son of Annas ben Seth to serve as the high priest. It is not unreasonable to think that this house might have served as the residence of the earlier high priests of this family, and to have been the house to which Jesus was brought by the Temple attendants and others. Unfortunately, from what Josephus says, we can only deduce that the house was in the Old City, and hence on the southwest ridge of Mt Zion, and that it was probably near the royal house. The oldest traditions (witnessed in accounts from early pilgrims) suggest that the high priest's house was about 165 feet north of the traditional site of the Last Supper (the Cenacle) at the site now occupied by an Armenian Orthodox chapel.

An alternative site, based on Crusader-era traditions, is under the church of St Peter in Gallicantu ("at the cockcrow"). The present church was built in 1931 as a rebuilding of a Crusader-era church, which was itself a rebuilding of a fifth-century Byzantine shrine. Beneath the lower level of the church are two pits or caves that some have identified as a guard room and a prison cell, both connected with Jesus' arrest. It was not unusual, however, for Roman-era buildings to use caves and rooms excavated from the rock as water cisterns or cellars.3

An archaeological dig in the 1970s in the Old City of Jerusalem revealed another candidate for the high priest's house, a palace, known as the "Palatial Mansion", on the eastern slope of the Old City near the southwest corner of the Temple Mount. Some scholars identify this as a high priestly family home (see Bauckham, "Caiaphas", p 27 n86), while the archaeological architect, Leen Ritmayer, who participated in the dig, has offerred a tentative identification of this palace as that of Annas, and hence the house whose courtyard is referred to here (see https://www.bibleplaces.com/blog/2012/08/ritmeyer-on-house-of-high-priest-in/ (accessed 2020/07/09)).

The gospel text in any case indicates that the high priestly house to which Jesus was taken was designed with a central courtyard, from which there was access to multiple wings of the house and vice versa.

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John again used the word 'world'(Gk kosmos) in a generally positive sense here, where it indicates 'everyone', 'the whole world'. Here it underscores Jesus' claim in his own defence that he has not tried to conceal his teachings. See the comments on Jn 1.9.

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We have seen already that John was likely written with readers of Mark in mind, as a part of John's audience (see Bauckham, "Readers"). With the sending of Jesus to Caiaphas, the Markan and Johannine accounts come back into sync, and John leaves out the details of the proceeding before Caiaphas, since his narrative makes sense without it and Mark provides it. What he provides as a supplement and correction to Mark is details of the interrogation by Annas, which none of the others described. It is clear from the power that Annas continued to exert over appointments to the office of high priest after he himself had been removed from office that he had both power and influence within the ruling aristocracy and the Council. For that reason it seems quite probable that Annas would want to question Jesus and that Caiaphas would wish to facilitate that.

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1 From the time of Solomon, Israelite kings and other rulers exercised the right to depose and appoint high priests (eg 1Kings 2.35/1Chronicles 24.2-3). The Hasmonean rulers (of the dynasty founded by the Maccabees) even named themselves as high priests as the family was originally priestly. Herod the Great had exercised the power to appoint high priests and the Romans simply followed his example.

2 Annas ben Seth (the Annas named here) was high priest 6-15 CE; his son Eleazar ben Annas served 16-17 CE; son-in-law Joseph Caiaphas served the longest of any one in the family, 18-36 CE (see Bauckham, 'The Caiaphas Family' for more information about Joseph Caiaphas). Another son of Annas, Jonathan ben Annas, served 36-7 CE and 44 CE. During the interval, Jonathan's brothers, Theophilus ben Annas and Matthias ben Annas, were high priest in 37-41 CE and 43 CE, respectively. The last son of Annas to serve as high priest was Annas ben Annas, who served in 63 CE.

3 See W. Harold Mare, The Archaeology of the Jesusalem Area (Wipf and Stock, 2002), 168-71, 244-5.