The office of High Priest, established by God, was meant to be a lifelong position filled by those in the bloodline of Aaron (Exodus 29:9, 29). Jewish religious leaders, when death required them to act, would select someone to serve in this important responsibility based on a variety of factors.
What we find, however, as we approach and enter into the time of the New Testament, is that the position of High Priest began to be treated far as a political appointment rather than a solemn duty of heredity.
Herod the Great, who began to rule over Judea as the "king of the Jews" just before the New Testament era, started the trend of replacing High Priests at his own pleasure. The Romans, after his death, would continue this practice.
Herod's first appointment to the position of High Priest was a man named Ananelus (Ananel), whom the Jewish historian Josephus describes as "an obscure priest out of Babylon" (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 15, Chapter 2, Section 4).
In 36 B.C., Herod makes Aristobulus III, who was only 17 years old at the time, the High Priest. In less than a year, however, he has him murdered through drowning (Book 15, Chapter 3, Section 3). He then reappoints Ananel to the position he once held. Herod will end up appointing four other High Priests up to the time when the New Testament record begins.
Only two High Priests, Annas and Caiaphas, are mentioned by name in the New Testament (Luke 3:2). They were both alive during Jesus' ministry and were instrumental in causing his murder (John 11:51, 18:12 - 14, 24, etc.). Caiaphas was also instrumental in the persecution of Christians after Jesus' resurrection (Acts 4:6, 5:17, 21). He aided a young Saul by granting him authority to persecute Christians in foreign lands (9:2). Years later, one of the High Priests presided over a council that tried the Apostle Paul (22:5, 23:4).
High Priests from Herod the Great
to the temple's destruction
Appointed by Herod the Great
37 to 36 B.C.
|Aristobulus III||36 B.C.|
Ananel (Hananeel) (reappointed)
36 to 30 B.C.
|Jesus, son of Phabes||30 to 23 B.C.|
Simon, son of Boethos
23 to 5 B.C.
|Matthias, son of Theophilos||5 to 4 B.C.|
Joazar, son of Boethos
Appointed by Archelaus
Eleazar, son of Boethos
4 to 3 B.C.
|Jesus, son of Sie||3 B.C.|
Joazar, son of Boethos (reappointed)
? to 6 A.D.
Appointed by Quirinius
Ananus (Annas), son of Seth
6 to 15 A.D.
Appointed by Valerius Gratus
Ishmael, son of Phabi
15 to 16 A.D.
|Eleazar, son of Ananus||16 to 17 A.D.|
Simon, son of Camithos
17 to 18 A.D.
| Joseph (Caiaphas) |
son-in-law of Ananus
(condemned Christ to die)
|18 to 36 A.D.|
Appointed by Vitellius
Jonathan, son of Ananus
36 to 37 A.D.
|Theophilos, son of Ananus||37 to 41 A.D.|
Appointed by Agrippa I
Simon Cantheras, son of Boethos
41 to 43 A.D.
|Matthias, son of Ananos||43 A.D.|
Elionaios, son of Cantheras
43 to 44 A.D.
Appointed by Herod of Chalcis
Jonathan, son of Ananus (reappointed)
|Joseph, son of Cainus||44 to 46 A.D.|
Ananias, son of Nedebaios
46 to 52 A.D.
|Jonathan||52 to 56 A.D.|
Appointed by Agrippa II
Ishmael, son of Phabi (reappointed?)
56 to 62 A.D.
|Joseph Cabi, son of Simon||62 to 63 A.D.|
Ananus, son of Ananus
|Jesus, son of Damnaios||63 A.D.|
Jesus, son of Gamaliel
63 to 64 A.D.
|Matthias, son of Theophilos||65 to 66 A.D.|
|Phannias, son of Samuel||67 to 70 A.D.|