The Ossuary of Caiaphas

An ossuary is a stone box used to place the bones of deceased family members. The above box, about 15 inches tall by 30 inches long, is believed to contain the bones of the Jewish High Priest, Caiaphas.

To commemorate the unification of Jerusalem after the 1967 year, the Jerusalem Peace Forest was planted to link the city’s eastern and western parts. Years later in December, 1990, a new park was being constructed within the Peace Forest. As the workers dug into the earth, the ceiling of an ancient burial chamber collapsed, revealing a 1st century tomb.

A tomb from that time period included an area where the body of the most recent deceased family member would lay on a chiseled-out rock bench. Jesus’ body would’ve laid on such a bench shortly after his death (John 19:42). About a year after the death, a family member would move the bones from the bench into an ossuary to make room on the bench for the next deceased family member.

The ossuary is an interesting chance discovery but not something to rock the archaeological world. Around 2,000 ossuaries from around the time of Jesus have been found around Jerusalem. The inscription in Aramaic on the outside of this ossuary makes this a unique find. The inscription reads, “Joseph son of Caiaphas”. Inside this ornate ossuary were found the bones of two babies, an adolescent child, a teenage boy, an adult woman, and a man about 60 years of age.

Matthew, Luke and John each identify Caiaphas as the high priest that presided over the arrest and trial of Jesus. According to the Jewish historian Josephus, Joseph Caiaphas was the Jewish high priest during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Mysterious Nails

What adds even more intrigue to this archaeological find is the discovery of 2 Roman nails which went missing for almost 20 years. They were not measured, sketched or photographed, and nowhere to be found in the Israel Antiquity Authority’s vast collection. The IAA’s inventory states that one nail was found on the floor of the tomb, or cave, and another was found inside an ossuary. The documentary The Nails of the Cross brought the long lost nails back to light and posed the provocative question, “Are these the nails that held Christ to the cross?”

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