Trial Of Jesus – Fate Decided By A Handful Of Characters

The Trial Of Jesus Was Presided Over By Annas, Joseph Caiaphas The High Priest Of Jerusalem And Later By Pontius Pilate

Joseph Caiaphas

According to Biblical accounts, Caiaphas sent Jesus to Pilate for his execution. As high priest and chief religious authority in the land, Caiaphas had many important responsibilities, including controlling the Temple treasury, managing the Temple police and other personnel, performing religious rituals, and – central to the passion story – serving as president of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council and court that reportedly considered the case of Jesus.

The high priest had another, more controversial function in first-century Jerusalem: serving as a sort of liaison between Roman authority and the Jewish population. High priests, drawn from the Sadducean aristocracy, received their appointment from Rome since the time of Herod the Great, and Rome looked to high priests to keep the Jewish populace in control. High priests were also expected to arrest and hand over to the Romans, Jews they considered to be agitators.

Annas and Caiaphas

Although not much is known about Caiaphas because of his long tenure as high priest – from 18 to 36 C.E – it can be reasonably concluded that he must have had a good working relationship with the Roman authorities. Of his total tenure as high priest Caiaphas served for ten years when Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect. In all likelihood the two seemed to have had a close relationship. It is also reasonable to presume that Caiaphas and Pilate had a fixed understanding about how to deal with rebellious persons such as Jesus.

Caiaphas’s motives for turning over Jesus to Pilate are suspect. Some historians think that he had no other alternative. Others however are of the opinion that Caiaphas was convinced that unless Jesus was brought under control or probably even eliminated that he would possibly upset the relationship that the high priest had with the Romans and that could in turn lead to Roman intolerance of Jewish institutions and traditions.

Because of the balance that high priests had to maintain in their relationships with the Jews and the Romans they were both respected and reviled by the Jewish population. Jews respected their high priest for the highest religious role they played and as the head of the Sanhedrin. However they were despised for the close relationship they were required to maintain with the Romans. Some high priests were even suspected to have taken bribes from the Romans for favors rendered (1).

Caiaphas lived in Jerusalem’s Upper City just south of the present Jaffa Gate, which was occupied by the city’s rich and powerful. In this way he differed from the other high priests. Judging by his lifestyle and the way in which he carried out his functions it can be reasonably guessed that his house was built around a huge courtyard. The gate facing the street must have led to the large courtyard where soldiers assembled and sometimes lit a fire. It is also likely that the house was part of a complex where other families also lived. It is this that leads one to conclude that Caiaphas and Annas lived in the same complex (2).

Caiaphas’ house itself must have been a large villa, being the official residence of the high priest. Since Jesus was first taken to the residence of Annas first, before being taken to the residence of the high priest, it is further reason to believe that the two lived in the same complex. Caiaphas’ house would presumably have been an extensive “villa,” the official residence of the high priest and his family. This is also proof that Annas still wielded a lot of power and was in fact the unofficial high priest.

Matthew 26:57–68 states that the Sanhedrin had gathered where Caiaphas the High Priest was located. One can infer from this that the meeting of the Sanhedrin was at the home of Caiaphas (3).


The trial of Jesus was first presided over by Annas. Although Annas was not the high priest during the trial of Jesus, he was the high priest from A.D. 6 to 15. Even though he was removed from office by the Romans Annas was still a powerful man merely because he was a Sadducee and the father-in-law of the then high priest Caiaphas. Annas was eventually succeeded by five of his sons as high priests.

In the Gospel of John Annas questioned Jesus about his disciples, and his teaching before Jesus was sent to Caiaphas.

Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect (governor) of Judea, a sub-province of Syria. It was he who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus.

As prefect, Pilate had multifarious responsibilities. He commanded Roman military legions, sanctioned construction works, organized the collection of imperial taxes, and adjudicated on civil and criminal cases.

During his ten-year term as prefect, Pilate had several disagreements with his Jewish subjects. According to Jewish historian Josephus, Pilate’s act of bringing effigies of Caesar into the holy city of Jerusalem “by night and under cover” annoyed Jews who considered the effigies idolatrous. Jews went to Caesarea which was Pilate’s base and protested. Even though Pilate threatened them of dire consequences, the protesting Jews showed that they preferred martyrdom to accepting Pilate’s idolatrous act. Seeing their conviction, he relented. On another occasion, according to Josephus, Pilate angered his Jewish subjects when he diverted Temple funds to construct an aqueduct. Based on past experience, it was expected that the trial of Jesus would be another cause for Jewish unrest in Jerusalem.

Not only did Pilate not have adequate concern for Jewish sentiments, according to Philo writing in CE 41, he was also said to be cruel and corrupt. Philo recorded that Pilate’s tenure was fraught with “briberies, insults, robberies, outrages, wanton injustices, constantly repeated executions without trial, and ceaseless and grievous cruelty.” Although Philo may have been a little imaginative in his accusations there is nothing to say that he was anything but what was said about him by Philo, maybe to a lesser degree.

While it is known that Pilate spent most of his time in the coastal town of Caesarea, he however came to Jerusalem for significant Jewish festivals. When he visited Jerusalem it is said that he stayed in the praetorium which could have been either the palace of Herod the Great or a fortress that was located near the northwest corner of the Temple Mount (4).

According to the accounts of the followers of Jesus, Pilate did not play a decisive role in the trial of Jesus. He was not the one that decided that Jesus should be given the death penalty by crucifixion. And even if he did it must have been a reluctant one under duress. Some scholars say that early Christians played down the role of Pilate in the trial and execution of Jesus in order not to alienate Roman audiences. It must be noted that Jesus was given the most horrible punishment possible even though the Roman prefect had a choice of options such as flogging, handing the matter back to the Sanhedrin, or to refer the case to Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee.

Pilate was aware that previous messianic claims had led to civil unrest. It is therefore reasonable to suppose that he would have willingly acceded to the request of the Temple priests to hand down the severest punishment to Jesus. Jesus was a potential threat to the relative peace that prevailed then. He had stated publicly that he is the “King of the Jews.” This was undoubtedly a threat and Pilate must have felt it expedient to remove this threat. It must be noted that execution by crucifixion is a Roman form of capital punishment and therefore Jesus was deemed to have violated Roman law and not Jewish law.

It does not seem that Pilate’s troubles with the Jews ended with the crucifixion of Jesus. It would appear that his problems continued till he was removed from office in 36 CE by the Syrian governor Vitellius. Subsequently Pilate was exiled to Vienne in France (5).

Although Pilate was responsible for the final act of his conviction Jesus blames him to a lesser extent, putting the blame squarely on the shoulders of the high priest. John 19:11 records Jesus as saying “You would have no authority over me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” Some have interpreted this to mean that Jesus was blaming the Jews as a whole. However, it is clear that Jesus blamed the chief priest as he referred “to a singular person as “he” or “the one” who was responsible.” (6)

Different groups of scientists have fixed the year of the trial of Jesus as CE 33.
While we will never know for certain how willing Pilate was to condemn Jesus to death there is a single sentence by Matthew relating to Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula. The lady is supposed to have written the following to her husband while Pilate was judging Jesus, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him.”

Pontius Pilate's wife
Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula

Other early Christian writers have also referred to the sympathy that Pilate’s wife had for Jesus. “In the 3rd century, Origen suggested in his Homilies on Matthew that the wife of Pilate had become a Christian, or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert.”

“Pilate’s wife is mentioned in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (probably written around the middle of the 4th century), which gives a more elaborate version of the episode of the dream than Matthew.”

“Procula is recognized as a saint in two churches within the Eastern Christian tradition: the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, she is celebrated on 27 October. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Pilate and Procula together on 25 June.” (7)

Joseph of Arimathea

Joseph of Arimathea is said to have lived for an unknown period of time in Arimathea, also called Arimathaim by the Septuagint, and referred to as Amartha by the Historian Josephus. That is the reason for his name. The ancient town of Arimathea is the present day Ramallah which is eight miles North of Jerusalem. Joseph of Arimathea is believed to have been a wealthy man with tin mines in Cornwall, England. Because of his business he was said to have been acquainted with British kings Beli, Lud, Llyr and Arviragus (8). Joseph of Arimathea was also referred to as Joseph de Marmore since he lived in Marmorica in Egypt before he shifted residence to Arimathea.

According to the Talmud, Joseph of Arimathea is said to be the uncle of Mary the mother of Jesus, which made him Jesus’ great uncle and presumably an old man. Much of what is said about Joseph of Arimathea is not verifiable except that he was a wealthy man. Some say that he even took Jesus on some of his business trips to England, India, and South America.

Although Joseph of Arimathea was not one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, he was his disciple – albeit a secret one – and an important person of that time. He was also considered significant enough to early Christianity that he should have been mentioned in all the four Gospels – (Matthew: 27:57-60; Mark 15:43-46; Luke 23:50-55; John 19:38-42). He is also mentioned in Jewish and Christian books called the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha (which include the Book of Jubilees, the Psalms of Solomon, the Fourth Book of Maccabees, the Book of Enoch, the Fourth Book of Ezra and the Apocalypse of Baruch) which are not included in some versions of the bible. Joseph of Arimathea was a respected Jewish councilor and a member of the Sanhedrin. However he was not one of the members that wanted the death penalty for Jesus, it is generally presumed that Joseph of Arimathea was not one of those who voted to condemn Jesus. Luke (23:50) states that Joseph of Arimathea was a good and just man. And Luke 23:50 says that he was not one of the members of the Sanhedrin who condemned Jesus.

Even though he wanted to keep his affection for Jesus a secret, when the need arose, he put caution aside and went to Pilate to request for the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea, according to some sources was a close friend of Pilate and is said to have paid him a huge bribe to obtain permission to bury the body of Jesus. Although Pilate acceded to his request, not being a family member of Jesus, he earned the displeasure of both the Romans and Jews and eventually spent time in Jail for his actions.

Joseph of Arimathea must have known the consequences of his actions. It would become apparent that he was a disciple of Jesus and as a result he would not only lose his reputation but also his social standing. It was also likely that he may not be able to continue his metals business in this part of the world (9).

Other sources claim that Joseph of Arimathea accompanied the apostle Phillip, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, and others sometime during A.D. 37 to A.D. 63. After the others had gone in different directions Joseph of Arimathea sailed around the southern tip of England with the intention of meeting old business acquaintances. When he ran aground at Glastonbury, he is said to have gone to the countryside where he built a church. There is also another claim that Joseph of Arimathea hid the cup in which he had collected the blood and sweat of Jesus at the bottom of a deep well referred to as ‘Chalice Well’ or the ‘Blood Well.’ It is said that about 25000 gallons of red-tinted water pass through the well everyday. The explanation for the red-tint is said to be the high iron content in the well’s water.

Although Jerusalem was not the hometown of Jesus, the fact that he was buried in the tomb of a local wealthy man shows that he enjoyed the status of a charismatic leader who was respected even outside the inner circle of his disciples. Joseph of Arimathea is himself said to be a “rich man” according to Matthew 27:57 and a man of some standing as otherwise he would not have been granted an audience with Pilate nor would not have received permission to bury Jesus in spite of the fact that he was not related to Jesus who was considered a crucified criminal (10).

(1) The Trial of Jesus: Key Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from

(2) The Trial of Jesus: Key Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from

(3) Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. (2012). Retrieved (2011), from

(4) The Trial of Jesus: Key Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from
(5) The Trial of Jesus: Key Figures. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from

(6) Sanhedrin trial of Jesus. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from


(8) Joseph of Arimathea. (2002). Retrieved 2011, from

(9) The Amazing Burial of Jesus, Part 1, Matthew 27:57-61. (2012). Retrieved 2012, from

(10) Gibson, Shimon. (2009) The Final Days of Jesus, The Archaeological Evidence, Harper Collins Publishers Inc. New York

Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) Annas and Caiaphas

(Fig 2) Pontius Pilate’s wife Claudia Procula’s_wife.jpg


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