🔼The name Annas in the Bible
Annas was a former high priest in Jerusalem and the father in law of Caiaphas, the high priest by the time Jesus was tried (Luke 3:2, John 18:13) and Peter addressed the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:6). He is mentioned by name a mere 4 times in the New Testament; see full concordance, but references to him and his temple business are much more prolific:
Annas had been high priest from 6 AD to 15 AD but even after his formal deposition, he ran the joint like a cartel, with the sole aim of acquiring wealth, which he and his cronies did with great skill. He had five sons and one son in law, who all at some point or other were the official high priest, but Annas remained the obvious godfather of the outfit.
The gospel of John makes mention of Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:1-44). It seems very obvious that the literary character of Lazarus represents a historical figure or movement, possibly even the belief in resurrection as a concept (which marked the main difference between the theologies of the Pharisees, namely Annas and co, and the Sadducees, namely later high priests, see Acts 4:2, 5:17 and 23:6-8). Without an initial belief in and understanding of the principle of resurrection, a specific belief in the risen Christ is impossible unless of course one's belief in the risen Christ automatically brings about one's belief in Jesus' resurrecting Lazarus (Philippians 3:10-11, 1 Peter 1:3).
What was going on in the temple of Jerusalem may have been similar to the doings of the papacy in the late middle ages, namely winging folks out of their money by linking generosity in this life to comfort in the next. When Jesus raised Lazarus, many Jews "went away [from Annas and his cartel] and were believing in Jesus" (John 12:11). And hence, the chief priests convened and tried to figure out how to murder Lazarus, that is the belief in resurrecting-for-free (John 12:10).
The gospel of Luke tells the same story but in another way, and depicts Lazarus as a poor beggar at the gates of an unnamed rich man (Luke 16:20). This rich man is dressed in fine linen and purple, which indicates he is either royal or else sacerdotal, but his splendor and merriment lasts only until both men die and Lazarus goes to Abraham in heaven and the rich man to Hades. The rich man begs for Lazarus to go to his father's house, because he has five brothers (Luke 16:28), but Abraham says that if his brothers don't believe Moses and the prophets, they also won't believe someone rising from the dead (Luke 16:31). All this obviously reflects the friction between Caiaphas (plus his in-laws: five brothers and their father) and the resurrection movement, of which Jesus was first a proponent and later its most prominent demonstrator.
🔼Annas in history
Judea had been occupied by the Roman army since Pompey overran the Hasmonean kingdom in 63 BC. Pompey had heard all about the temple in Judea, and how it played a central role in the goings on in Judea and decided to have a look for himself. What normally only the high priest was allowed to do, namely enter the Holy of Holies, Pompey did, but much to his surprise, he found no effigy to heist. But, as a Roman, he was very much aware of how religion is crucial to controlling the masses, and he reinstated Hyrcanus II as high priest. Take a moment to let that sink in for a bit: the general who, together with Julius Caesar, destroyed global republicanism and democracy and plunged the world into tyranny and intellectual darkness for 1,500 years, saw fit to install the high priest of the Most High God. And that had a very particular reason
Hyrcanus II was a Pharisee and his bitter rival, the incumbent high priest Aristobulus II was a Sadducee, which was quite relevant to Pompey. Pharisaism, which believed in angels and resurrection, was far more on a par with Roman theology than Sadduceeism, which didn't. Roman theology didn't really have the angel but the somewhat similar genius and daemon, and belief in resurrection as general concept was expressed in the stories such as that of Dionysus, and ultimately needed to explain the empire as resulting from the deceased republic. Pompey's intervention not only secured Roman dominance in matters of state and religion, it also made Judea as docile as possible (which ultimately wasn't very) by making Pharisaic theology dominant in Judaism. Without a doubt, this also helped form Christianity's most defining concerns and expressions.
In 6 AD, Judea became a Roman province and Annas was the first high priest in Judea as a Roman province. He was then an impressionable 26 years old and was inaugurated by Quirinius (Luke 2:22), who made sure that he too was a proper Pharisee. Roman Judea was substantially larger than Israel had been. Its eastern border stretched into modern day Jordan, and even encompassed Damascus, which explains how Saul (later Paul) was justified to go there and arrest Christians, which in turn clearly demonstrates that Saul and his fellow Pharisees were for all practical purposes working for the Roman government. The Romans of course egged them on because they went and arrested all kinds of trouble-makers and non-compliers for them (while the actual reason didn't interest them).
A Yahwist high priest would stay in office until his death (Numbers 35:25-28) but a Roman Jewish high priest had nothing to do with Yahwism, and could be deposed and replaced. That happened to Annas in 15 AD, around the time that Jesus baffled the Jerusalem jet set with His inquiries (which is no cute coincidence, in case you were wondering; Luke 2:41-50). Annas was conveniently replaced by his son Eleazar (fully called Eleazar ben Ananus or ben Ananias), who in turn was replaced by Annas' son in law Caiaphas (fully: Joseph ben Caiaphas) in 18 AD. The clan of Annas supplied high priests almost until the temple was destroyed in 70 AD and the whole charade was no longer necessary. The last of them, variously called Hanan, Ananus, or Ananias, was according to Josephus a righteous man with love for liberty and democracy, but then, to Josephus that was probably the same as being an upright Roman citizen, loyal to Caesar and Roman imperialism (read for more on Josephus our article on Dalmanutha).
This last of the Annan high priests had James, brother of Jesus Christ, stoned to death, and was therefore deposed (because the Jews could not execute anyone). He himself was killed in 68 AD, when he spear-headed a compliment of Jews against a Zealot-Edomite coalition. He was replaced by a man named Jesus ben Damneus.
🔼Etymology of the name Annas
The name Annas appears to be a shortened form of the name Ananias. The New Testament also makes mention of a high priest named Ananias, but it's not clear whether and in which way Ananias was related to the Annas clan. The name Annas, therefore, is a compressed version of the Hellenized Hebrew name Hananiah, which is based on the verb חנן (hanan), meaning to be gracious:
The name Annas means Gracious, and before we judge this man too harshly (or at all), remember that the Romans levied heavy taxes from their subjects. Under Roman rule, Jewish high priests were essentially tax collectors. If they did their job well, they would collect enough money and the Romans wouldn't come over to punish the people and compromise their religious institutions and way of life. If they did their job too well, the people themselves would rise in revolt against them.
The fact the Annas and his dynasty remained successful for fifty years, suggests that they did a fine job as far as the Romans were concerned, but the great revolt that finally ended in the destruction of the temple (which the Romans never wanted, obviously) suggests they may have been somewhat too good. All this should shed some extra light on the many tax and tax-gathering references made in the New Testament.