Believe it or not, the discovery of a bath tub in an ancient building in Jerusalem has archaeologists wondering if they stumbled upon the house of the High Priest Caiaphas. Caiaphas and his home played a major role in Jesus’ crucifixion. The find occurred during a dig on Mount Zion by a team of archaeologists from the University of North Carolina.
During the excavation, the group came upon a large palace-type home. Its size plus other features suggest it housed a significant player in Jerusalem’s ruling class in Jesus’ day. They estimate the mansion had upwards of 20 rooms over several floors.
Oddly, one of the clues that sparked this conclusion was the discovery of an indoor bathroom complete with a bathtub — a rarity for this time. To this point, only four other buildings during this period were found with indoor bathrooms and two of them were located in palaces of Herod.
The discovery of a Mikveh or ritual pool beside the bathroom was evidence of Jewish ownership. The Mikveh was used for cleansing prior to the Sabbath. This combination of bathroom/Mikveh was also found in another home from this period. An inscription in that building revealed it belonged to a Jewish priest. The intricate design of the two bathrooms was so similar, archaeologists speculated they were built by the same contractor.
The home’s location is also significant. Shimon Gibson — a co-director of the dig — said:
“The building we are excavating is in the shadow — immediately to the southeast — of the very, very large palace of Herod the Great, his compound and the later seat of the Roman governors (praetorium).
Whoever lived in this house would have been a neighbour and would have been able to pop into the palace.”
It was just a stone’s throw from Herod’s palace indicating the owner had significant political pull. During the Roman occupation, the High Priest was selected by Rome. So as a religious leader of the Jews and a puppet of Rome, Caiaphas certainly qualified for this neighbourhood.
The archaeologists also said the location of this building agrees with records from the Byzantine era that placed Caiaphas’ residence in this area of Jerusalem.
If this proves to be Caiaphas’ house, it is a significant find as the building served as a major staging area for the capture and crucifixion of Christ.
Caiaphas and his house of sedition
High Priest Caiaphas was the son-in-law of the previous High Priest Annas. The two are often mentioned together in the Bible suggesting Annas still wielded influence (Luke 3:2). It’s entirely probable the two families lived in the same home, a common practice for this period. And certainly the discovered mansion could easily handle this.
At a meeting of the chief priests and pharisees called to discuss Jesus (John 11: 47-53), Caiaphas — fearing Jesus’ growing fame — said He might have to die for the sake of the nation, a notion John said prophetically foretold Jesus’ sacrifice (v 51). However, the Jewish leaders in attendance had a slightly different interpretation. They understood this to mean the High Priest had ordered a hit on Jesus and began plotting His death (v 53).
Though the location of this meeting is not mentioned, it was likely held in Caiaphas’ home as the follow-up meeting and trial were held in the High Priest’s residence.
In Mathew 26: 3-5, we read of a second meeting with the elders of Israel. This one took place at Caiaphas’ mansion just prior to the Passover where they finalized their plans to deal with Jesus. Though they initially decided to subtly apprehend Jesus after the festival, that all changed when Judas made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
After Jesus’ capture, He was taken first to the Annas’ home and then later to Caiaphas residence (John 18:24) — probably a different area in the same mansion. Annas held Jesus until the Sanhedrin arrived at Caiaphas’ quarters, which then set the stage for the impromptu trial of Jesus. It appears, the meetings and trial were held in the inner courtyard of the High Priest’s palatial home.
At the trial, Caiaphas called for false witnesses to testify against Jesus. After the testimony of these false witnesses, Caiaphas ripped his clothes and accused Jesus of blasphemy (Mathew 26:57). A short time later, the Sanhedrin turned Jesus over to the Romans for execution.
It was also at Caiaphas’ house that Peter denied the Lord after the rooster crowed (Mathew 26: 72).