An Elaborate Bone Box for a High Official

Date- 18-36 CE

Current Location- Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel

Language and Script- Aramaic, alphabetic

Biblical Verses- Matt. 26-57-66


Ossuary of Caiphus


Inscription on the back of the ossuary

Inscription on the side of the ossuary


Side of the ossuary

General Information-

• In 1990 two burial caves were discovered on a hill immediately south of Jerusalem. They contained twelve loculi (Hebrew kokhim) and four ossuaries. Two of the ossuaries were inscribed with forms of the name Qayapa’, or Caiaphas, a family name familiar from the New Testament and from the first-century historian Josephus. One member of the Caiaphas family served as high priest from 18 CE to 36/37 CE; he was in office during the public career of Jesus and presided at his trial. Though the New Testament refers to him only by his family name, his personal name, Joseph, is mentioned by Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18.35). He had a long-standing association with the part of Jerusalem in which the tomb was discovered. According to Matthew 26-3-5, the leading priests and elders gathered in “the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,” when they conspired to have Jesus put to death. Tradition located this house of Caiaphas on the rise of Abu Tor, and in Crusader times it was given the name “The Hill of Evil Counsel.”

• One ossuary, bearing the name qp’ = “Qapa’,” or Caiaphas, contained the remains of five individuals. The other Caiaphas ossuary is highly decorated with an intricate pattern of rosettes enclosed in circles. On the undecorated long side is the family name, qyp’ = “Qayapa’,” with a slightly different spelling, but the narrow, decorated side shows the name of an individual- yhwsp br qp’ = “Yoseph bar Qapa’,” or Joseph of the Caiaphas family. Although this ossuary contained the remains of six people, one skeletal set is of a 60-year-old man. It seems quite possible that this man was Joseph Caiaphas, the high priest in the time of Jesus. The identification is not certain, but the name and historical period fit perfectly, and the beautiful, ornate limestone ossuary seems well suited to such a high-ranking individual.

Circumstances of Discovery and Acquisition-
In November 1990, during the construction of a recreation park in the Peace Forest near the Abu Tor neighborhood of southeast Jerusalem, workers discovered an artificial cave cut out of the soft limestone that contained four loculi with four ossuaries. Word of the Peace Forest discovery was brought to Zvi Greenhut of the Israel Antiquities Authority, whose investigation led quickly to the discovery of eight more ossuaries. The use of ossuaries for Jewish burial became common, at least for ranking citizens, during the Herodian period (37 BCE-70 CE) in conjunction with the development of belief in resurrection of the body.