Ananus The Younger

© 2007 Dr. Barbara Thiering

Ananus the Elder, appointed high priest by the Romans in 6 AD, had five sons, all of whom were made high priests during the 1st century AD. In the unstable political climate of that century, they usually lasted in office for only a short time. The whole family were Sadducees, committed to co-operation with Rome, very much opposed to the militancy of Pharisees and Magians. While working in the ascetic mission for the conversion of pagans, they adopted the methods of persuasion through peaceful evangelism. The youngest son, Ananus the Younger, appears in the pesher under many pseudonyms.

Josephus' account of his death gives a useful insight into his significance in the history.

In 66 AD active war between the Jews and the Romans broke out, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Between 66 and 68 the effective leaders in Jerusalem were the priests Ananus the Younger and his deputy Joshua (Jesus), both very much aware of the Roman strength and the hopelessness of resistance. Both made speeches to try to bring the people to reason. But the Idumeans, militant zealots from Masada, were motivated not only by frenzied nationalism but by hatred of their king Agrippa II, who believed that God was on the side of Rome. Ananus, a member of Agrippa's court, was accused of complicity with Rome. Josephus describes the murder and defilement of these two priests, and adds an encomium:

"The fury of the Idumaeans being still unsatiated, they now turned to the city, looting every house and killing all who fell in their way, But, thinking their energies wasted on the common people, they went in search of the chief priests; it was for them that the main rush was made, and they were soon captured and slain. Then, standing over their dead bodies, they scoffed at Ananus for his patronage of the people and at Jesus for the address which he had delivered from the wall. They actually went so far in their impiety as to cast out the corpses without burial, although the Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset.

"I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city began with the death of Ananus; and that the overthrow of the walls and the downfall of the Jewish state dated from the day on which the Jews beheld their high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem.

"A man on every ground revered and of the highest integrity, Ananus, with all the distinction of his birth, his rank and the honours to which he had attained, yet delighted to treat the very humblest as his equals. Unique in his love of liberty and an enthusiast for democracy, he on all occasions put the public welfare above his private interests. To maintain peace was his supreme object. He knew that the Roman power was irresistible, but, when driven to provide for a state of war, he endeavoured to secure that, if the Jews would not come to terms, the struggle should at least be skilfully conducted. In a word, had Ananus lived, they would undoubtedly have arranged terms -for he was an effective speaker, whose words carried weight with the people......

"They who but lately had worn the sacred vestments, led those ceremonies of world-wide significance and been reverenced by visitors to the city from every quarter if the earth, were now seen cast out naked, to be devoured by dogs and beasts of prey." (Jewish War 4, 314-325)

These words, written about Ananus after his death, in the style of a funeral oration smoothing over imperfections, contrast with what Josephus had written about Ananus at the time of his dismissal as high priest in 62 AD. In the heat of political conflict, Josephus was strongly aware that Ananus had tried to expel him from his command in Galilee. Josephus was a Pharisee and Ananus a Sadducee, and there could be both philosophical and class barriers between them. Josephus wrote at that time:

"The younger Ananus, who had been appointed to the high priesthood ...was rash in his temper and unusually daring. He followed the school of the Sadducees, who are indeed more heartless than any of the other Jews...when they sit in judgement....King Agrippa (II) , because of Ananus' action, deposed him from the high priesthood which he had held for three months" (Antiquities 20; 199, 203). He was subsequently called "high priest" only as an honorary title.

The rash action for which he was deposed was the murder of James the brother of Jesus.

"Ananus thought that he had a favorable oportunity because Festus was dead and Alibinus (the new procurator) was still on the way. And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgessed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. Those of the inhabitants of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and who were strict in observance of the law were offended by this". (Antiquities 20, 200). (The murder of James is described more fully by the Christian writer Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 2, 23. He was placed on the summit of the temple, thrown down and stoned to death. He was buried on the spot, and a pillar erected there in his memory.)

It was because of this more negative image that Robert Eisenman, author of James the Brother of Jesus (Faber & Faber, 1997) maintained that Ananus was the Wicked Priest of the Qumran pesharim. Eisenman had become convinced that James, called the Just or Righteous One, was the Teacher of Righteousness from the same source. Since Ananus had killed James, and could be disliked by some, he must be the Wicked Priest who had attacked the Teacher (1QpHab 11: 4-8). Eisenman maintained his identifications only by omitting a great deal of the relevant evidence for both James and the Wicked Priest. He gained attention because of his strong and well-justified emphasis on the anti-Semitic elements in the New Testament. But while that is a fact, it cannot be supported by such incomplete arguments about these two individuals.

One of the pseudonyms of Ananus the Younger was Demas, from the Greek dēmos, the "people", giving the word "democracy". On the occasion of the collapse of Agrippa I in March 44 AD, while making a grand appearance in silver garments on a rooftop in Caesarea, Acts 12:22 reports that the dēmos cried out, "A voice of a god and not of a man." Agrippa, having obtained the Herodian monarchy, was following the style of his grandfather Herod the Great, claiming messianic status. Ananus the Younger as Demas was a loyal monarchist, a member of the courts of both Agrippa I and II. He led the crowd in adulation of Agrippa I. But the king had been poisoned by his eunuch Blastus, under the direction of Agrippa's enemy Simon Magus. After five days of agony he died, and his young son succeeded him when he came of age.

It was in the role of a servant of Agrippa I that Ananus the Younger had acted as one of the guards at the caves of the "resurrection" in March 33 AD. A young man at that time, he had been given the position of the Merari, the lowest of three levitical officers described in 1 Chronicles 6:16. With him was the other guard, the Gershon, a title given to the Chief Therapeut Theudas. The two guards patrolled at the caves according to the system illustrated in 'Guard Duty' in "Locations" in Section 7 Complete Pesher of the Resurrection, Theudas on the east on the hour and at the west on the half-hour, with Merari in the opposite positions on the half-hour. Merari's duty was actually to guard Simon Magus, the leader of the three who were crucified, the main enemy of Agrippa I. Theudas' duty was to guard Judas Iscariot, the second in rank of the three who were crucified. It was thought that Jesus, placed in the western cave, was already dead and did not need guarding. When it was found that he was still alive, both guards were willing to help in the manoeuvre to rescue him, for Jesus had been friendly to both and had saved the life of Theudas-Barabbas by taking his place as the third man.

Another duty of the Merari was to act as a human clock during the sacred meal, recording the successive minutes from the platform above the Qumran meal chamber. (See Merari on platform " in Section 6 Complete Pesher of the Crucifixion).

The role of jailer to a prison remained that of Ananus the Younger as the Merari. In Philippi in 50 AD he was the jailer who imprisoned Paul and his associate (Acts 16:23-34). With him was "Earthquake", (v. 26) a title of the Chief Therapeut, the other guard, arising from the Exodus-Holy War imagery of the Therapeuts. At that stage he was Apollos the successor of Theudas. The crisis of the night of Paul's imprisonment, depicted as an earthquake that opened the doors, was actually the recognition by Ananus that he and Paul were on the same side, both members of the court of Agrippa II, with Ananus' acknowledgement that Paul's teaching was acceptable in the royal court.

When Paul in Rome in 63 AD heard that Ananus-Demas had put James to death in Jerusalem the previous year, he wrote "Demas has deserted me, having loved (agapēsas) the present aeon". (2 Timothy 4:10). Ananus had sailed to Rome with them as the servant of Agrippa II, a witness in the trial of the corrupt governor Felix. En route, when they landed on Malta, Ananus figured as Publius, the Latin equivalent of Demas (Acts 28:8). At the end of the court hearing, held in June 61 AD, Agrippa and Ananus returned to Jerusalem, where Ananus was briefly appointed high priest in 62 AD. He used the opportunity to remove James from leadership of the Jewish Christians. James and Paul were opponents within the Christian party on the question of law. Paul in 63 found it necessary to repudiate his connection with Ananus-Demas.

In Luke 19:1-10 Zacchaeus appears, as the man who was too short to see Jesus and so climbed up a sycamore tree. He was a chief tax collector, admitting to being a sinner who might have misused tax money. The Clementine books- a major source of solutions to the pesher - throw a great deal of light on Zacchaeus, who appears in the Clementine Homilies 2, Chapter 1 and Chapter 21. He also was Ananus the Younger. Putting the sources together, the two brothers James-Niceta and John-Aquila, illegitimates born into a Roman imperial family, had been educated in Syria by Simon Magus and Helena, then had transferred their loyalty to Zacchaeus. They left the Magian anti-Agrippa political party and joined the court of Agrippa I, where they became useful to him in regaining the monarchy under Caligula. The story in Luke 19 plays on terms from the pesher, showing that Zacchaeus was the opposite of Helena the anti-Herodian teacher of Gentiles. He was like a bird up a tree, so a member of the Annas family under the Eagle Sariel. He was at "Jericho", a name from "Moon". Helena was called the "Moon" to Simon Magus' "Sun". She was also a "hen" with her "chickens" the Gentiles, in the imagery referred to in Luke 13:34. Zacchaeus was both "crippled" and "blind", as a member of the class that also included the "poor" and "lame", all four appearing as the village class in Luke 14:21. He belonged on the lower grade of the village class, so his duty was to instruct the lowest kind of Gentile, the married men of the order of Asher. As the servant of Agrippa I he handed taxation money from the mission over to him, which Agrippa misused in his ambitious plans for his own elevation.

Ananus also appears in Athens as Dionysius, the name of the god of wine (Acts 17:34). As the lowest levite in charge of Gentiles, he was superior of the Greek provinces of Achaia and Macedonia, the outposts of Rome assigned to Gentiles. In Macedonia, reached first from the province of Asia, he figured as the Philippian jailer, and in Achaia with its capital Athens he presided at a sacred meal of bread and fermented wine, the initiation symbol used by Gentiles. They were attacked for it by the Qumran ascetics who used only new wine, accusing them of drunkenness (Luke 7:34; Acts 2:13, 15; Jude v. 12).

According to Luke 19:9 Jesus said to Zacchaeus, "Today salvation has come to this house". The subsequent history of Ananus is more complex, showing that his commitment to Christianity was variable. Nevertheless, he was one of the major figures within the most critical period of all in Jewish political history.

Continue to next entry in Biographies: Pontius Pilate or click title above to return to menu.
(if you are using the "without frames" entry, please return to previous page containing the menu via the "Back" browser button.)

Information from this page is subject to copyright at:
The Pesher Technique web site (with frames)
(without frames)