Caiaphas, the High Priest, is mentioned 9 times in the Gospels and is one of those before whom Jesus appeared before being condemned to death by Pilate (Matthew 26; John 18). A few years ago a “bone box” (ossuary) was found, along with 11 others, in a Second Temple tomb located two miles south of Jerusalem on a hill that today is called “the hill of Evil Counsel” (John 11:49–50). On it the name “Joseph “son” of Caiaphas” was inscribed!
The Joseph “son” of Caiaphas Ossuary. In the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download. See below for the inscription.
The ossuary has a slightly curved cover that is etched with designs. The front of the soft limestone ossuary is beautifully carved with rosette and leaf designs. Note the red paint is still visible in some places.
The bones of six(!) individuals were found inside of the ossuary: 2 infants, 1 child, 1 teen aged boy, 1 adult woman, and a man—approximately sixty years old.
View of one of the Aramaic inscriptions on the Ossuary [bone box] of “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”
On one of the short sides, and on the back, the name Caiaphas had been etched into the stone with a nail—see the image. It is evident that the ossuary was prepared in a workshop, but then when the bones were placed inside the name was inelegantly scratched on to it.
The Aramaic inscription on this side of the ossuary reads “Joseph the ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”
יהוסף בר קפא
Most scholars believe that the Caiaphas mentioned here is the same one that is mentioned six times in the New Testament as well as in Josephus. Ronny Reich argues that the person was named “Joseph” and had a nickname “Caiaphas.” Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 to 36 CE and was the one before whom Jesus was tried and is famously quoted in John 12:50
For an accessible discussion of the name Caiaphas, plus others appearing on ossuaries, see Reich, Ronny. “Caiaphas name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (September/October 1992): 38–44.
It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals. In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child.
This is a replica of a right heel bone of a 28 year old man who was crucified in Jerusalem prior to its in AD 70. This replica is presented in the Israel Museum.
A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone of the man. A piece of wood was placed on each side of the heel prior to the pounding of the nail to affix the person to a cross.
The skeletal remains of the man with the nail in his heel bone were found in this ossuary that was discovered north of Jerusalem.
Clearly visible is the Hebrew writing of the name “Yehohanan son of Hagkol.” Note the two clear lines. Above and to the right of the name “Yehohanan,” in the first line, is another faint inscription (click on image to enlarge to view inscription).
A diagram in the Israel Museum.
The above picture represents a scholarly reconstruction of how Yehohanan son of Hagkal was crucified. Note how his arms are tied to the cross—no nails were found in his hands or wrists. In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth’s hands were nailed to the cross—Thomas wanted to see the “mark of the nails in his hands” (John 20:25).
Revision — In a PBS program on Jesus, (aired 4 April 2017) the heel bone with nail were taken out of a small storage box located in a huge warehouse. Thus, it does not appear that the original comment (deleted) regarding its “location” was correct.
For a convenient description of this find see pp 318–22 in Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.
In recent days there has been a lot of discussion about the James Tabor’s new book The Jesus Discovery (see the web site The Jesus Discovery). In particular the etching on an ossuary, that some have thought was a fish with Jonah in it mouth—a symbol of early Christianity, is being discussed.
Stone Monument (sarcophagus?) in Konya Museum with a depiction of Jonah and the Fish — Lower portion of the object
In the center note the laurel wreath that surrounds an anchor in the shape of a cross with two fish at its base. Below it is a depiction of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish—a Christian symbol associated with the resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 12:40).
Besides being interpreted as something similar to the above, the etching on the ossuary has been interpreted as part of a tomb (a nefesh) or a vase of some type (Gordon Franz). Todd Bolen (Wednesday 29 February 2012) has collected many of the major articles that feature in this discussion.
For more details on the object above Click Here.