Simcha makes two bold claims to say the least: the first is that the lost nails of Jesus’ crucifixion have been recovered, and the second is an implicit assertion that the IAA covered it up. Unfortunately for Simcha, his theory has a problem, and its name is Legion, for they are many. Any one of these problems renders Simcha’s theory impossible, and their aggregate renders the theory preposterous.
Pseudo-Science and Sensationalist Archaeology:
On the Misuse of Archaeology for Evangelistic Purposes
By Robert R. Cargill, Ph.D.
Center for Digital Humanities
UCLA Qumran Visualization Project
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.1
Late Tuesday night around 11:00 PM during Easter week 2011, the History Channel aired a television documentary featuring a host making a particularly sensational claim about Jesus. That host is Simcha Jacobovici and the show is Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross.
“Simcha” (as the show’s narrator regularly referred to him) claims to have discovered the very nails used to crucify Jesus, and subtly implies that archaeologists excavating a tomb in Israel participated in a cover-up to suppress the fact that these “nails of the cross” had been discovered. Unfortunately for Simcha, this most recent eccentric contribution is perhaps the weakest argument he has ever made – a dubious achievement if one considers that Simcha’s previous sensational claims include the discovery of the route of the Exodus,2 the lost tomb of Jesus’ family,3 and Atlantis4 (in Spain), among others.
Simcha attempts to tie the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion to the supposed tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas because, as he states, Caiaphas is only known from the Bible as the Jewish High Priest during the time of Jesus’ execution.5 Caiaphas certainly did much more as High Priest than recommend one man to the Romans for execution, but it is this myopic error of biblical tunnel vision, which assumes the only “history” that exists is the history recorded in the Bible, that forces Simcha and so many others into preposterous theories based upon limited information. Wanting to tie Caiaphas to the tomb, the documentary begins with Simcha re-examining an already well-attested discovery: the tomb of a first-century family discovered in 1990 by construction workers, which was excavated and published in 1992.6
Twelve ossuaries were discovered in the so-called “Caiaphas” tomb, including a highly ornate ossuary discovered in situ (Ossuary 6) with two inscribed Aramaic inscriptions reading, יהוסף בר קיפא and יהוסף בר קפא (variant spellings of “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”), and another (Ossuary 3) with just the name קפא (“Caiaphas”) etched in an almost graffito fashion on the ossuary.7
Among the objects discovered and catalogued in the tomb were typical objects associated with Jewish rock-cut burial caves in the first century CE: the aforementioned ossuaries, a perfume vial, a Roman coin in Ossuary 8,8 and an oil lamp.9 Simcha, however, also notes in the excavation report that two small nails were discovered in the tomb. Because nails are not uncommon in excavation sites, and because only those of significant size, shape, or those found in peculiar locations are considered significant, these nails were not photographed, sketched, or measured. Unfortunately, in the world of conspiracy and make believe, this fact that the nails were discovered but not photographed is precisely the kind of opening Mr. Jacobovici needed to begin constructing his conspiracy theory.
Simcha makes two bold claims to say the least: the first is that the lost nails of Jesus’ crucifixion have been recovered, and the second is an implicit assertion that the IAA covered it up. Unfortunately for Simcha, his theory has a problem, and its name is Legion, for they are many. Any one of these problems renders Simcha’s theory impossible, and their aggregate renders the theory preposterous. What follows is a critique of Mr. Jacobovici’s claims.
First, it is not certain that the tomb discovered by the Israelis in 1990 (and “rediscovered” by Mr. Jacobovici two decades later), is the tomb of the High Priest Caiaphas mentioned in the Bible. Scholars agree that the tomb is that of an extended family named “Qafa” or “Qofa” or “Qayafa,” which is similar to the name Caiaphas mentioned in Matthew 26 and John 18, but disagree over whether the High Priest Caiaphas is actually buried there. Despite the fact that Josephus gives Caiaphas’ full name as Joseph Caiaphas,10 Joseph is a common name in first century Jerusalem, and a Joseph would not be unexpected in a first century Jerusalem family tomb. Émile Puech has suggested that the lack of the inscribed Aramaic title כהנא (“the Priest”) and the poorer general nature of the tomb both argue against identification as the High Priest Caiaphas’ tomb.11 Other scholars, however, have argued that the intricate nature of the ornate Ossuary 6 and the favorable location of the tomb in Jerusalem demonstrate the wealth of the family, meaning it held some status within society and making it a viable candidate for the High Priest’s tomb.
Thus, it is not known for certain whether the tomb contains the remains of the High Priest Caiaphas. This much is echoed in the documentary by Israel Museum Curator of Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine Archaeology, David Mevorah, who says that the ossuary may be from the family of Caiaphas, but that it is not possible to claim definitively that the ossuary belonged to the High Priest himself. Haifa University archaeologist Ronny Reich, who deciphered the writing in the Caiaphas tomb, concurs, arguing that the cave, “belongs to a member of the Caiaphas family, but we have no evidence it belongs to the high priest [sic].”12
Second, there is no evidence whatsoever that the nails in question came from tomb. Bar-Ilan University Professor of Archaeology, Gabriel Barkay, politely suggests that Mr. Jacobovici’s investigation was, “very challenging, very interesting, very intriguing, but it’s a TV show and not a scholarly study.” Barkay continues, “There’s no proof whatsoever that they originate in the tomb of Caiaphas…It’s all conjecture.”13 Likewise, Garo Nalbandian, the photographer for the tomb’s excavation who was interviewed in the documentary, explicitly stated that there were no nails photographed. The fact that the nails were not photographed, sketched, or measured for the excavation report means the nails were either too small or too corroded, and therefore were not considered significant.
It is also worth noting that just because two small, loose nails ended up in an unmarked box in a Tel Aviv lab does not mean that they are automatically the nails from the tomb; rather, it means that unlike the ossuaries, the perfume vial, the lamp, and the Roman coin, the nails are unprovenanced (have an unknown origin) and therefore cannot be said to have originated in the Caiaphas tomb. The tomb’s excavator, Zvi Greenhut, explicitly stated this in a May 2011 press release:
“The two nails shown in the film by director Simcha Jacobovici are nails that were stored in Professor Nicu Haas’ laboratory in the Jerusalem Medical School until the late 1970s, long before the excavation in 1990.
In the late 1970s, Joe Zias, Curator in charge of State of Israel archaeological collections and responsible for physical anthropology in the then Israel Department of Antiquities, was asked to transfer the nails from Professor Haas’ laboratory in the Jerusalem Medical School to the National Treasures, which was the responsibility of the Department of Antiquities and Museums in the Rockefeller Museum in Jerusalem.
These nails were under the supervision, responsibility and custody of that curator for at least 15 years, until they were transferred in the beginning of the 1990s, at the behest of the then director of the IAA, to the Tel Aviv University Anthropology Department, where they have been until the present.14
This point is lethal to Mr. Jacobovici’s theory; the tomb cannot be said to be that of the High Priest Caiaphas, and the nails he shows in the documentary did not originate in that tomb.
Think about it: had the nails discovered in the tomb of Caiaphas been at all significant, or had they resembled crucifixion nails in any way, would we not have expected the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Museum to be the very first to publicize and promote their latest discovery? Would not the IAA, the government agency that contributes so greatly to Israel’s lucrative tourism industry, have been the first to announce to the world that possible crucifixion nails had been discovered in a tomb possibly associated with the High Priest who sent Jesus to his death? The fact that the IAA didn’t bother to catalog the nails means that the nails were so small or so negligible that the excavators felt them unimportant to the excavation. Because the unprovenanced nails in the Tel Aviv lab that Simcha claims are crucifixion nails, are, while small, still substantial, they cannot be the nails mentioned in the excavation report. We can rest assured that had there been any chance whatsoever that Roman crucifixion nails were discovered in a tomb of Caiaphas, the IAA would have been the first to organize a press conference, establish a public relations campaign, announce the discovery to the world, put it on display in the Israel Museum, and sell tickets to see it.
The nails shown to us in the documentary cause yet another problem for Simcha’s theory: they are too small to have been crucifixion nails. The only comparable evidence of a nail used in crucifixion in Jerusalem was discovered by my friend and colleague, Dr. Vassilios Tzaferis, the retired Director of Excavations and Surveys for the IAA. Dr. Tzaferis led a 1968 salvage excavation in Jerusalem that unearthed an ossuary inscribed with the name יהוחנן בן חגקול (“Yehohanan ben Hagkol.”)15 Among the skeletal remains within the ossuary was a large nail still driven through poor Yehohanan’s anklebone, which preserved the remains of some wood used in the crucifixion process. The nail was discovered still buried in the anklebone, which was discovered in the ossuary, clearly inscribed with Yehohanan’s name, and still in the Jerusalem tomb.16 At 11.5 cm (4.5 in.) long,17 this well-provenanced nail in Yehohanan’s anklebone was much larger than the nails in Simcha’s documentary. For this reason, Simcha cleverly never gives the measurements of his nails, never shows the black-and-white centimeter archaeological photo scale next to the nail,18 and avoids holding up the Yehohanan nail and his “Caiaphas” nail together side by side because the disparity would have been obvious. However, in one scene in the concluding minutes of the documentary, both nails that Simcha holds in his hands are shorter than his thumb and scarcely wider than his finger – proof that even these could not possibly have been crucifixion nails. The nails simply do not possess the necessary length needed to pierce a hand and be bent behind any piece of wood thick enough to have held the weight of a human body. They are simply not crucifixion nails.
Simcha must then answer a number of questions that speak to motive. For instance, why would Caiaphas have considered Jesus different than any other Jewish prophet or messianic pretender causing problems for the religious authority? To be sure, decades later the Apostle Paul and the Gospel writers would document the stories and claims purportedly made by Jesus and his followers. But how would Caiaphas know that Jesus was in any way significant at the time? The only support Simcha can produce is the testimony of his colleague and Lost Tomb of Jesus collaborator, University of North Carolina, Charlotte Professor and Department of Religious Studies Chair, Dr. James Tabor, who suggests that Caiaphas just knew that Jesus was special and that his death weighed heavily on his heart.
Simcha must then answer why Caiaphas would want to keep a souvenir of Jesus’ crucifixion. Simcha introduces York University Professor, Dr. Barrie Wilson,19 who appeals to the apocryphal Arabic Infancy Gospel of the Savior, a sixth-century CE Syriac book, preserved in Arabic, as evidence of Caiaphas’ motive for retaining the nails.20 The book claims to have been written by Caiaphas, who, far from an enemy of Jesus, was actually a devout follower. Thus, Simcha’s theory relies on an apocryphal Arabic volume popular among the eastern Christian Nestorian sect, which preserves popular Syriac legends about Christ’s childhood, purportedly written by the High Priest Caiaphas, a supposed convert to Christianity.21
This “remorseful Caiaphas” theory has other debilitating problems. Had Caiaphas converted, or even demonstrated the smallest amount of remorse, we can be certain that the New Testament would have mentioned it and used it to demonstrate the innocence of Jesus and the power of his message to convert those who previously did not believe. The New Testament takes every opportunity it can to do this, be it the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross in Mark 15:39, or even the mere ambiguity of Pontius Pilate in Matthew 27:24 (and his wife in verse 19), who washes his hands of the matter before handing him over to be crucified. The book of Acts is rife with stories of Jewish,22 Gentile,23 and particularly Roman24 conversions to Christianity. We can safely assume that had Caiaphas shown the least bit of remorse, the New Testament authors would have seized upon it and exploited it for its apologetic value.
Simcha must also answer why Caiaphas would have wanted the nails specifically, and not some other object as a commemorative keepsake. Why would possessing the nails be more meaningful than, say, the “King of the Jews” sign above Jesus’ head, or Jesus’ crown of thorns? One answer to which Simcha appeals in the documentary is the notion that crucifixion nails were highly prized and worn as protective medical amulets. Mishnah Shabbat 6.10 mentions that Jews carrying a locust’s egg, a fox’s tooth, or “a nail from the gallows of an impaled convict, for purposes of healing,” does not break Jewish laws against working on the Sabbath.25 Likewise, Pliny records a superstition that claimed a person could cure a fever by obtaining a fragment of a nail from a cross, wrapping it in wool, and wearing it around the neck.26 However, while some in ancient society no doubt practiced these superstitions, they appear to address only the prevention of physical maladies like fever. Thus, while the presence of nails in a tomb may be evidence of a belief in a popular healing superstition, it is in no way evidence of “remorse” on the part of Caiaphas.27
Caiaphas would have also needed a means by which to retrieve the nails from the Roman soldiers who crucified Jesus. If we grant a historical crucifixion, and even if we were to set aside the fact that the nails are too small to have been crucifixion nails, Caiaphas would have still needed to manage some way to retrieve the nails from the crucifixion – nails that would have normally been recycled and reused. This means Caiaphas would have needed to convert to Christianity immediately after (or perhaps during) the Crucifixion in order to salvage the actual nails. Of course, in this far-fetched scenario, the Roman soldiers would have had to remember precisely which nails belonged to Jesus and which nails were used to crucify those executed beside him. Likewise, because Jesus’ Friday crucifixion was hurried so that it could be completed before the beginning of the Sabbath, Caiaphas would have had to retrieve the nails immediately prior to or on the Sabbath, where work is strictly prohibited.28
As a High Priest, Caiaphas would have also had to circumvent Jewish law, which prohibits contact with anything associated with a corpse.29 Because Mishnah Sanhedrin 7.1 states that crucifixion was not a sanctioned means of Jewish execution,30 and because contemporary sources state that objects even in the same room as a corpse are unclean,31 it is highly unlikely that the Jewish High Priest would have wanted to touch these nails.
Of course, Simcha has an even greater problem still with the location of the one nail that was discovered in an ossuary. Tomb excavator, Zvi Greenhut reported, “Two iron nails were found in this cave. One was found inside one of the ossuaries and the other in Kokh IV.”32 Of the twelve ossuaries discovered in the tomb, two were inscribed with the name Caiaphas. In the documentary, Simcha suggests that the nail was found in the simpler, less ornate Ossuary 3, which had the simple inscription קפא (“Caiaphas”), and not the more ornate Ossuary 6. However, Greenhut identified Ossuary 1 (not Ossuary 3!) as the ossuary in which the nail was found.33 Unfortunately for Simcha, Ossuary 1 was a plain ossuary with no decorations containing the remains of not one High Priest, but the “poorly preserved remains of four individuals - two adults and two children.”34 Thus, as Gordon Franz concludes, “It is clear that at least one of the nails was found in an ossuary other than the ones with the name ‘Caiaphas’ on them.”35
Equally unfortunate for Simcha are the contents of Ossuary 3. According to anthropologist Joe Zias, the retired Senior Curator of Archaeology/Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority, the published anthropological report shows that Ossuary 3 actually contained the remains of not one, but five individuals - an adult female and four sub-adults of indeterminate sex: a juvenile, two approximately 7-year old children, and a newborn.36 Thus, the ossuary in which Simcha believes the nail was discovered only held the bones of women and children. Even if the nails came from the tomb, Simcha’s theory is wholly unsustainable because the nails did not come from the correct ossuary.
Simcha encounters the still greater problem of needing Caiaphas’ family to remember that he wanted to be buried with his favorite nails. Worse still, his beloved family would have needed to honor Caiaphas’ request by tossing one of the precious keepsakes onto the ground while tossing the other into the wrong ossuary.
Greenhut suggests the purpose of the small nails documented in his report was, “to inscribe the ossuaries after the bones had been deposited in them, possibly even after some of the ossuaries were placed inside the kokhim.”37 This could explain the diminutive size of the nails, the graffito nature of the Caiaphas ossuary inscriptions, any limestone deposits on the nails, and why the IAA disregarded them.
The best candidate for the bones of the High Priest would have been the highly ornate Ossuary 6, which had been twice inscribed with the name of “Joseph, son of Caiaphas,”38 and which contained the remains of five individuals, including an adult male who had been about sixty years old at the time of his death.39 Unfortunately, no nail was discovered in Ossuary 6, which is the most likely reason why Mr. Jacobovici neglected to pass this information on to his viewers: it would have been yet one more fact that would have completely undermined his entire theory.
Every point of Simcha Jacobovici’s theory is wholly unsustainable. Scholars are uncertain whether or not the tomb is the tomb of Caiaphas, or even if the High Priest is actually buried there; they are only certain that it is the family tomb of a family named קפא (“Qafa” or “Qofa” or “Qayafa”). There is no evidence whatsoever that the unprovenanced nails Simcha holds in the documentary originate from the Caiaphas family tomb, and testimony from the tomb’s excavator flatly state they did not. Even if the nails had originated from the tomb, Simcha must explain why one nail was discovered inside an ossuary with only women and children in it, while the other was found on the floor. The nails are too small to have been used in crucifixion. There is no way Caiaphas could have retrieved the nails had he wanted to, nor does there exist any motive for his wanting to retrieve the unclean items. A sectarian apologetic book written six centuries after the fact, preserved only in Arabic, and containing fantastic apocryphal legends about Jesus’ childhood cannot be considered credible evidence of Caiaphas’ sympathy for Christ – a fact that would have certainly seized upon by early Christian authors had it been so.
In the end, Simcha Jacobovici’s claim that he has discovered the nails used in Jesus’ crucifixion is a figment of his vivid imagination, lacking any evidence or basis in reality whatsoever. So, in an attempt to salvage his unsustainable theory, Simcha reaches for the age-old weapon used by all pseudo-scientists: the claim of conspiracy. The final part of Simcha’s documentary focuses upon the “mysterious disappearance” of the nails and the convenient, almost magical “reappearance” supposedly 18 years later of two unprovenanced nails with bent tips mounted on a Styrofoam board just for Simcha in a Tel Aviv medical school lab. He not so subtly implies to photographer Garo Nalbandian that someone hid the nails from him. Simcha also compels forensic anthropologist at the Sacker Medical School at Tel Aviv University, Professor Israel Hershkowitz, to suggest that the so-called “crucifixion nails” were hidden by IAA archaeologists perhaps because “crucifixion is a sensitive issue from a religious point of view.” Simcha’s desperate attempt to build a conspiracy theory is the final gasp of a dying theory hoping to salvage just a sliver of acceptance from a conspiracy-loving fringe audience. The narrator’s concluding claim that, “religious sensitivities, not science, dictated policy towards these nails,” is nothing less than a conspiracy-driven lie told in an attempt to introduce doubt where hard science has already passed judgment against Simcha’s claim.
Simcha earlier employed the similar tactic of attempting to lose his viewers in the science of archaeology by introducing Jessie Pincus’ ground penetrating radar and his plumber friend’s camera on a string. Simcha had hoped that by focusing upon these otherwise legitimate archaeological tools, viewers would not see through the fallacy of his speculative argument. Unfortunately, the little science that Simcha presents is little more filler. Simcha’s friend does endoscopic camera work on a tomb that we already know exists, and Dr. Pincus confirmed what we already know: there is, in fact, a tomb just off the road in the Jerusalem Peace Park, which was already excavated in 1990.40 It adds nothing to his argument, and is a feeble attempt to use accepted scientific tools in the hopes of lending credibility to his “search.”
In the end, Simcha Jacobovici’s claim of the discovery of the nails of the crucifixion is nothing but religious profiteering. Simcha read that two nails were found in a tomb and saw an opportunity to speculate and make some money. He produced a documentary about the Nails of the Cross, which would air during Easter week. In order to claim he had discovered the nails of the crucifixion, he needed two things: nails, and a story linking the nails to the Caiaphas family tomb. So he concocted both out of thin air. It is a story that would make Dan Brown proud.
The IAA issued the following statement regarding Mr. Jacobovici’s documentary: “There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film with a real archaeological find at its centre, but the interpretation presented in it has no basis in archaeological findings or research.”41
Winston Churchill once described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”42 Simcha Jacobovici’s claim of the discovery of the “Lost Nails of the Crucifixion” is speculation wrapped in hearsay couched in conspiracy masquerading as science ensconced in sensationalism slathered with misinformation and topped with a colorful hat.
Simcha Jacobovici did not find the nails of the cross of Jesus. The show was produced and aired during Easter week to prey on the hopes and beliefs of the faithful in anticipation of making lots of money for Simcha Jacobovici and the History Channel. I like shows that entertain while they educate, but Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross did neither. His claim is a disservice to archaeology and biblical studies, and gives a bad name to the science of archaeology. It is for this reason that most legitimate archaeologists have refused to work with Simcha since his “Jesus tomb” debacle. Let us hope that cable television networks and viewers follow suit soon.
1 Cargill, Robert R., “No, Simcha, You Didn’t Find the ‘Nails of the Cross’ of Christ (a Week before Easter),” XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill, April 12, 2011. http://robertcargill.com/2011/04/12/no-simcha-you-didnt-find-the-nails-…
Cargill, Robert R., “No, It’s Not A Nail from the Cross of Christ,” XKV8R: The Official Blog of Dr. Robert R. Cargill, March 2, 2010. http://robertcargill.com/2010/03/02/no-its-not-a-nail-from-the-cross-of…
2 Read more about the documentary Exodus Decoded at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Exodus_Decoded. Read also
3 Read more about The Lost Tomb of Jesus at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lost_Tomb_of_Jesus
4 Read more about Finding Atlantis at http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/finding-atlantis-4982/Ove…
5 Matt. 26:3-5, 57-68; John 11:49-53; 18:13-14, 19-24, 28-30.
6 Greenhut, Zvi, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 63-71. See also Greenhut, Zvi, “The Caiaphas Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem” in Ancient Jerusalem Revealed. Ed. H. Geva (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1994): 219-22.
7 The irony that a highly ornate ossuary possesses an inscription with very poor etched handwriting has been previously noted by Reich, Ronny, “Ossuary Inscriptions from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb,” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 72-77. See also VanderKam, James C., From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests after the Exile (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2004): 435-6.
8 Greenhut, Zvi, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 70.
9 For typical items associated with first century CE. Jewish tombs, see Berlin, Andrea, Jewish Life Before the Revolt: The Archaeological Evidence,” Journal for the Study of Judaism, 36/4 (2005): 454-57. See also Avigad, Nahman, “Jewish Rock-Cut Tombs in Jerusalem and the Judean Hill-Country.” Pgs. 119-42 (Hebrew), 72 (English summary) in Eretz Israel: Vol. 8: E.L. Sukenik Memorial Volume (1889-1953), Eds. Avigad, N., M. Avi-Yonah, H.A. Hirschberg, B. Mazar, (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Fund, 1967); Geva, Hillel, and Nahman Avigad, “Jerusalem, Tombs,” in The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land. Ed. E. Stern (Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority, 1993): 747-49.
10 Josephus, Antiquities 18.35
11 Puech, Émile, La croyance des Esséniens en la vie future: Immortalité, résurrection, vie éternelle? 2 vols., Études Bibliques 21-22 (Paris: LeCoffre, 1993): 1.193-95.
12 Chabin, Michele, “Archaeologist Thinks He Might Have Found Nails from Jesus’ Cross,” Washington Post, April 15, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/archaeologist-thinks-he…
13 Chabin, Michele, “Archaeologist Thinks He Might Have Found Nails from Jesus’ Cross,” Washington Post, April 15, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/archaeologist-thinks-he…
14 English translation of an Israel Antiquities Authority Press Release from May 2011: http://www.antiquities.org.il/article_Item_ido.asp?sec_id=25&subj_id=24…. Translation via Joseph Lauer and Jim Davila: http://paleojudaica.blogspot.com/2011_05_01_archive.html#79966947934255…
15 See Tzaferis, Vassilios, “Jewish Tombs at and near Giv’at ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem,” Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2 (1970): 18-32. See also, Tzaferis, Vassilios, “The Archaeological Evidence for Crucifixion.” Pgs. 91-107 in Jesus: The Last Day. Ed. Hershel Shanks (Washington, DC, Biblical Archaeological Society, 2003).
16 See “Crucifixion Bone Fragment, 21 CE” at http://cojs.org/cojswiki/Crucifixion_Bone_Fragment,_21_CE
17 Zias, Joe, and Eliezer Sekeles, “The Crucified Man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal,” Israel Exploration Journal 35/1 (1985): 23. See also Haas, Nicu, “Anthropological observations on the skeletal remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar,” Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2 (1970): 38-59.
18 In the final scenes of the documentary, one will notice the residue of something that has been removed from the Styrofoam mounting board beneath Simcha’s nails. This may have been where the black-and-white centimeter archaeological photo scale had been prior to its removal.
19 On his website, Dr. Wilson reveals his cross-promotional purpose for appearing in the documentary: “[My] forthcoming book, The Lost Gospel decodes an ancient Syriac manuscript using the interpretive techniques employed by early Christians that takes us into the political struggles of the 1st century CE. The Lost Gospel is linked to one episode in an [sic] 7-part documentary series on History Channel USA being produced by Simcha Jacobovici, Associated Producers Ltd. The book and corresponding documentary is anticipated for release in Spring 2012.” http://www.barriewilson.com/profile.html
20 Henricus Sike published a bilingual Arabic and Latin translation, the Arabic original of which has been lost: Sike, Henricus, Euangelium Infantiae vel liber apocryphus de Infantia Salvatoris ex manuscripto edidit ac latina versione et notis illustrauit (Utrecht, 1967) (and in Arabic). See also Elliott, James Keith, “The Arabic Infancy Gospel.” Pgs. 100-107 in The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation based on M. R. James. Ed. J. K. Elliott (Oxford: Oxford University Press 1993).
21 These legends include Jesus turning little boys who hid from him while playing into goats; Jesus lengthening and shortening wooden beams which his inept carpenter father, Joseph, had wrongly measured; Jesus commanding a snake to suck out the very poison it had recently injected into a child; and Jesus dying all of a dyer’s garments in indigo, only later to change them magically to any desired color.
22 I.e., Saul in Acts 9, 22, and 26.
23 I.e., the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 and the Philippian Jailor in Acts 16.
24 I.e., Cornelius in Acts 10-11.
25 Mishnah Shabbat 6.10. Trans. by Neusner, Jacob, “The Mishnah: A New Translation,” MISH-N Version 1.8, Accordance Bible Software (Altamonte Springs, FL: OakTree Software, Inc., 1988).
26 The pertinent passage in Pliny’s Natural History 28:11 reads: “In cases of quartan fever, they take a fragment of a nail from a cross, or else a piece of a halter that has been used for crucifixion, and, after wrapping it in wool, attach it to the patient’s neck.” Bostock, John. The Natural History of Pliny. London: George Bell & Sons, 1890. Available at Tufts University’s Perseus Digital Library: http://www.perseus.
27 The “crucifixion nail as a talisman” theory is often used to explain why so little physical evidence of nails supposedly used in crucifixion has been discovered in Jerusalem. See Hengel, Martin, Crucifixion, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1989).
28 Exod. 20:8-11; Deut. 5:12-15
29 Lev. 21:1-2; Ezek. 44:25-27
30 M. Sanhedrin 7:1 reads: “Four modes of execution were given over to the court: stoning, burning, decapitation, and strangulation.” Trans. by Neusner, Jacob, “The Mishnah: A New Translation,” MISH-N Version 1.8, Accordance Bible Software (Altamonte Springs, FL: OakTree Software, Inc., 1988).
31 The Damascus Document (CD) 12:17-18 (paralleled by 4Q266 frag. 9, col. 2, line 4) reads: “Every instrument, nail, or peg in the wall of a house where a corpse lies shall be unclean, with the same impurity as a work-tool.” Trans. by Wise, Michael O., Martin G. Abegg, Jr., and Edward M. Cook, “Qumran Sectarian Manuscripts: A New English Translation,” QUMENG Version 1.9, Accordance Bible Software (Altamonte Springs, FL: OakTree Software, Inc., 2007).
32 A kokh (Heb: כוך) is a small niche or cavity (often called a locule) within a burial chamber. See Greenhut, Zvi, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 68.
33 Greenhut, Zvi, “Discovery of the Caiaphas Family Tomb,” Jerusalem Perspective 4/4-5 (1991): 11.
34 Zias, Joe, “Human Skeletal Remains from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb, ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 78-79.
35 For a good summary on the archaeology of the “Caiaphas” burial chamber and an assessment of Mr. Jacobovici’s latest documentary, see Franz, Gordon, “More on Simcha Jacobovici and the Nails from Caiaphas' Tomb,” Associates for Biblical Research, April 21, 2011. http://www.biblearchaeology.org/post/2011/04/21/More-on-Simcha-Jacobovi…
36 Zias, Joe, “More Amazing Dis-Grace: The Jesus Nails: The Naked Truth vs. The Naked Archaeologist.” http://www.scribd.com/fullscreen/53330573. See also Zias, Joe, “Human Skeletal Remains from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb, ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 78-79.
37 Greenhut, Zvi, “The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem,” ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 68.
38 Reich, Ronny, “Ossuary Inscriptions from the Caiaphas Tomb,” Jerusalem Perspective 4/4-5 (1991): 15-17; 1992a: 72-73, Figs. 5 and 6.
39 Zias, Joe, “Human Skeletal Remains from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb, ‘Atiqot 21 (1992): 78-79.
40 Viewers will note in the documentary that there is a road next to the scene involving the “nefesh pipe,” meaning the scenes of Simcha and his associates spreading out to “search” for the “lost tomb” were completely fabricated. Shooting B-roll footage (footage that the videographer shoots to provide context or a background over which a narrator can catch the viewer up on what is happening in the show) is not uncommon in documentary making, and I’ve had my share of directors ask me to “go up there and walk back towards us while you look around so we can get some B-roll.” But, Simcha’s directive to spread out and “search” for a tomb whose location is already known is a bit more than disingenuous.
41 Rabinovitch, Ari, “Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus's cross,” Reuters, April 12, 2011. http://in.mobile.reuters.com/article/topNews/idINIndia-56286220110412
42 Winston Churchill’s “The Russian Enigma,” radio broadcast speech was delivered Oct. 1, 1939 from London. http://www.churchill-society-london.org.uk/RusnEnig.html
brilliantly done Dr. Cargill. brilliantly done. i can only hope that someone at Discovery Channel takes the time to read it and remove the platform which simcha clearly does not deserve.
#1 - Jim - 05/09/2011 - 13:08
Great piece, Bob. Thanks for taking the time to explain clearly why this is such utter nonsense.
#2 - Mark Goodacre - 05/09/2011 - 14:17
Astute, humorous when appropriate, scholarly, biting when necessary and soundly argued. Well done, sir.
#3 - Carl S. Sweatman - 05/09/2011 - 14:42
Leaving indirect insults aside, we may thank Mr. Yacobovici for puting this subject on the table, openly, for debate. I don't know enough to accept or reject his "nails concept"; but mentioning his "The Lost Tomb of Jesus Christ" might be a mistake; you, and many others, may contend that the Tomb movie and concept have been refuted. It simply is NOT true; for instance: many scholars argued that the names were common (Kloner said: very common). A lot of weight was, and still is, on this argument. It doesn't change the fact that the names were not common. Another fact remains that many ignore this uncommoness. We don't know how much money Mr. Yacobovici made by each of these movies, but raising this argument, a clear AD HOMINEM argument, is an easy task, ain't it? In the process, most of us forget that he was the one who put the Talpiot Tomb on the table. It seems to be his greatest sin in the eyes of many.
"No, you are wrong" is a legitimate stand in serious debate; but automatic refutation is just another disservice; this time - to scholarly and "to the question" debate.
#4 - Eldad keynan - 05/09/2011 - 21:00
I quote you: "Think about it: had the nails discovered in the tomb of Caiaphas been at all significant, or had they resembled crucifixion nails in any way, would we not have expected the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Museum to be the very first to publicize and promote their latest discovery? Would not the IAA, the government agency that contributes so greatly to Israel’s lucrative tourism industry, have been the first to announce to the world that possible crucifixion nails had been discovered in a tomb possibly associated with the High Priest who sent Jesus to his death?"
One good question indeed. But you'd better skip it; as we all know, the Talpiot Tomb has been discovered accidentally by building activity and excavated by the IAA men in March 1980, but the IAA issued a scientific paper on it only in 1996 (Atiqot 29). So, whether these are the crusifixion nails or not, one thing is completely clear: the Israel Antiquities Authority and its heir, the IAA, had a much more interesting find, the Talpiot Tomb, but both bodied preferred NOT to publish it, for the sake of lucrative tourism or any other reason. Would you ask them : why? The nails, I think, are not as significant as the Tomb.
#5 - Eldad keynan - 05/09/2011 - 21:21
Another excellent resource regarding Jacobovici's "Exodus Decoded" is Christopher Heard's 17-part series, with other links:
#6 - G. Brooke Lester - 05/10/2011 - 12:41
You all must agree with the fact that Simcha is a genius. He managed to boil your blood repeatedly, time and again.
#7 - Robert Deutsch - 05/12/2011 - 17:04
Mishnah Shabbat 6:10 Revisited. Cargill writes: "Mishnah Shabbat 6.10 mentions that Jews carrying a locust’s egg, a fox’s tooth, or “a nail from the gallows of an impaled convict, for purposes of healing,” does not break Jewish laws against working on the Sabbath".
When we read this Mishna in Hebrew, it looks a bit different:
"משנה שבת פרק ו, משנה י:
יוצאין בביצת החרגול ובשן שועל ובמסמר מן הצלוב משום רפואה דברי ר' מאיר וחכמים אומרים אף בחול אסור משום דרכי האמורי".
Verbal, direct, and accurate translation: "(Jews) are going out carrying locust's egg or a fox's tooth, or a nail of the crucified one, for the purpose of healing, R. Meir said (allowed, E.K) but other rabbis say it is forbidden even in weekdays because it is gentiles' conduct".
1. The Hebrew צלוב is, literally, "a crucified one". But here we have הצלוב, which is "the crucified one".
2. The Hebrew version does not mention any gallows whatsoever. The Hebrew word for gallows is גרדום (=gardom), mentioned in Mishna Avoda Zara, 1:7.
3. The Mishna Shabbat 6:10 seems to discuss a crucified poor guy, but the word "impaled" is incorrect just as the "gallows" is.
4. As great as R. Meir was, he had strong opposition on the side of the majority of the other rabbis of his time. Thus, this source is not decisive regarding the locust's egg, the fox's tooth, and the nail from the cross, since most rabbis did consider them "gentiles' conduct".
5. This ban is teaching us that Jews used to do so, after all.
6. We might accept a sort of compromise: the word הצלוב (the crucified one) is a version of הצלב (the cross).
Cargill states correctly: "Mishnah Sanhedrin 7.1 states that crucifixion was not a sanctioned means of Jewish execution". This statement is in complete accord with what Cargill writes in N. 30: " M. Sanhedrin 7:1 reads: “Four modes of execution were given over to the court: stoning, burning, decapitation, and strangulation.”
Thus two modes of execution were not on the list of sanctioned means of Jewish execution: crucifixion and hanging.
Yet there are sources in the rabbinic literature, according to which crucifixion is similar or even identical to hanging, and hanging is legal according to Jewish law:
תוספתא סנהדרין (צוקרמאנדל) פ"ט, ה"ז
והיו צולבין אותו על הצלוב והיה כל עובר ושב או' דומה שהמלך צלוב לכך נאמר כי קללת אלהים תלוי:
Tosefta Sanhedrin (Zukermandel ed.), 9:7 (and a few parallels):
". . . And they hanged him on the cross so every by passer says: it looks like the king is crucified; for that it is said (in the Hebrew Bible) a hanged person is like cursing God."
This source does identify crucifixion with hanging. So, may "a cross" also be "the gallows"? To answer this question we have to return to the Hebrew Bible:
דברים פרק כא
(כב) וְכִי יִהְיֶה בְאִישׁ חֵטְא מִשְׁפַּט מָוֶת וְהוּמָת וְתָלִיתָ אֹתוֹ עַל עֵץ:
(כג) לֹא תָלִין נִבְלָתוֹ עַל הָעֵץ כִּי קָבוֹר תִּקְבְּרֶנּוּ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא כִּי קִלְלַת אֱלֹהִים תָּלוּי וְלֹא תְטַמֵּא אֶת אַדְמָתְךָ אֲשֶׁר יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה:
Deuteronomy, 21: 22-23:
22; if a man's sin is to be punished by death, you shall kill him and then hang him on a tree
23; you shall not leave his body on the tree over night but you shall bury him the same day (he has been executed) since a hanged person is like cursing God and you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you to be your property."
#8 - Eldad keynan - 05/15/2011 - 18:03
This biblical law is very clear: first the felon is to be executed, and then the body is to be hanged. The Bible also explains the purpose of this horrifying procedure. The same chapter is stressing the value of public punishment and its results. Executing a felon was one thing, the punishment its self; hanging his body publically was another: stressing the results of a sin, so as to deter potential felons. Yet the body must be buried before sunset.
Jewish law is quite strict about modes of legal execution; crucifixion and hanging are not listed as such. Still hanging the BODY of an executed felon is permitted. The Hebrew גרדום (gardom) = gallows, doesn't occur in the Hebrew bible. Now we understand the reason: gallows meant to execute, and hanging to execute was not legally permitted.
Now we return to the cross nail; Jews believed that it is a cure and some of them carried it on Saturday. Sages' opinions on the subject obviously diverted. But later Jewish sources permitted this practice as follows:
ירושלמי שבת, פ”ו ה"ט, ח' ע"ג:
"יוצאין בביצת החרגול טב לאודנא ובשן של שועל טב לשינה ובמסמר הצלוב טב לעכביתא . . . רבי חנניה בשם רבי יוחנן כמתני' רבי שמואל רבי אבהו בשם רבי יוחנן כל שהוא מרפא אין בו משו' דרכי האמרי"
Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat, 6:9, 8c:
"it is permitted to carry a locust's egg for it's good for the ear and a fox's tooth (for it is) good for sleep and a nail of the crucified one (possible: or the cross) (for it is) good for a thistle sting (or a spider's bite, Jastrow dictionary, p. 1087). . . R. Khanania in the name of R. Yokhanan, following the Mishna, R. Shmuel, R. Abahu in the name of R. Yokhanan: everything that cures is not of gentiles' conduct".
R. Yokhanan was the leader of the Tiberian Academy from 235-279 CE. Considering the extreme severity of corpses' defilement in Judaism, we may suggest that the nails under discussion were cross nails, not necessarily the nails that held the felons body on the cross. As a medicine, Jews were allowed to carry them, among other odd medicines, even on Saturdays. This implies that as late as mid 3rd century, Jews still did not identify Christians with gentiles; but this is a complete different discussion.
To conclude: the Mishna Shabbat, 6:10, is not discussing "gallows", nor does it mention an "impaled convict". It is discussing "the crucified one", or "the cross". Carrying locust's egg, fox's tooth, or a nail from the cross, was a Jewish custom; true, this custom did not break the Shabbat laws, but it was forbidden by almost all the rabbis who considered this practice "gentiles' custom". Yet it was an actual custom and permitted among Jews until mid 3rd century CE at least. The conclusion is that it was practiced much earlier. The Romans used to execute by crucifixion in Palestine ever since they conquered it in 63 BCE. Yet Jewish sources testify that this was practiced even earlier (King Yanai the Hasmonean (Ca. 100 BCE) is accused of executing witches by crucifixion). Crucifixion was well known to Jews, at least after the Roman conquest. Thus carrying cross nails as a cure was actually practiced, and Jewish sages reacted both positively and negatively. We cannot dismiss the possibility that it was practiced before 70' CE.
All these do not prove or disprove that the nails came from Jesus' cross. But they show that accurate translation and cross reading of sources lead to plausible conclusions: Jews carried cross nails (at least) for the purposes of healing, even as early as the Second Temple Era.
#9 - Eldad keynan - 05/15/2011 - 18:04
A well-argued piece that performs a valuable service in exposing Simcha as disingenuous. From this and related disasters in which they air worthless material the History Channel is clearly a disgrace to its name.
#10 - Achmad Jamal - 05/28/2011 - 14:56
exquisite piece, dr. cargill. it is disgraceful that it was ever aired!
#11 - Maggie Guillory - 06/06/2011 - 03:50
Devastating rebuttal by Simcha on James Tabor's blog: http://jamestabor.com/2011/06/22/simcha-jacobovici-responds-to-critics-of-his-nails-of-the-cross-film/
Professor Cargill, you don't come off so good. Curious to hear your response.
#12 - Nicole - 06/22/2011 - 21:58
I have posted on my TaborBlog a response by Simcha Jacobovici to his critics of his "Nails of the Cross" film that aired on the History Channel in the US and internationally, and here in Israel last week. It can be downloaded as a PDF file and read or printed out.
Here is the link:
#13 - James Tabor - 06/23/2011 - 03:58
I don't know enough to know whether Simcha is correct about the nails, but he has put forward an interesting theory and has now backed it up with a lot of facts.
Whether he is right or not, though, there is no defending the way he is attacked by the archeological community (which I am in no way connected to). I subscribed to BAR for decades, but the nonsense factor among archeologists was just too much to take.
Clearly the archaeological community is a group of very smart yet insular people who are extraordinarily jealous and insecure, with no big picture thinking skills, no skills at public relations or disseminating information. In other words, no way to relate to ordinary human beings.
Anybody who comes up with ideas outside the consensus must be attacked with ferocity, yet the consensus changes every couple of decades. Yet few if any ever look back to reflect on how wrong they were and maybe have some humility about new theories.
And Goodacre, shame on you for applauding such self-interested drivel. As I said, I have no idea about the theory, but when you read Cargill saying that some items found in tombs are unimportant, the unmistakable whiff of garbage is strong. So why do we read so much about how every last tittle at excavations are catalogued and how much we can learn from all the evidence?
#14 - Paul F - 06/23/2011 - 19:45
There is no question that Simcha has posed an interesting possibility.
There is no question that no-one can "prove" his hypothesis beyond any doubt.
Simcha does not claim that.
Your position would more credible if not for your personal attacks on him.
Seems like you have personal issues with Mr. Jacubovitch which has no place in intellectual dialogue.
By the way, you should know that in the film industry, making documentaries is the least profitable and most labor intensive area of the business.
You correctly point out that Mr. Jacubovitch is a talented film producer/director. If his motives were to make money, he'd be making his killing doing feature films - choosing to make documentaries are the 'nails in his profit coffin'.
#15 - Chaim - 06/24/2011 - 08:07
Simcha easily won the debate with his rebuttal on Tabor's blog!
#16 - Jordan Wilson - 07/02/2011 - 04:41
I believe if there was an ossuary that contained Jesus's bones, of which I do not, it would say "Jesues Son Of God" not Jesus sone of Joseph. Everyone around Jesus including his earth father and his mother knew he was the son of God. It would not say "Son Of Joseph".
#17 - Darla - 08/13/2011 - 02:13
Genius? That may be stretching it just a bit. What Simca is is a guy who knows that airing stuff that calls into question the autheticity and value of Christian belief sells. He, along with his cronies who are similarly motivated (James -- are you out there?), have built reasonably successful careers doing it.
#18 - SaludoVencedores - 04/09/2012 - 05:04
Whether Simcha's arguments are valid or not leaves you, Dr. Cargill, with no reason to slam Simcha as a person. Knowing Simcha personally, he has struggled with making a living his whole life and for one to say that this whole thing was for him to make money is an unscholarly remark. For if he were to be making a steady income he would be teaching philosophy for that is his degree from McGill University in Montreal. I can guarantee Simcha's motives for making this film were not "to prey on the hopes and beliefs of the faithful in anticipation of making lots of money." I don't care if you have a Ph.D. It is not your place to critique Simcha as a human being. You have every right to critique his movie but you have no right to critique "him."
#19 - Jacob - 09/23/2012 - 14:15
I think it is great that these subjects are covered and exploration into the past is being done. Simcha opens up questions and possibilities and often times exposes the blunders made by the professionals. I often wonder how much of archaeology has been scripted due to outside influences. People such as Darwin, Galileo and others painfully exposed truths contrary to the teachings of the times. I hope Simcha keeps digging and rubbing against the grain presenting thought provoking ideas.
#20 - Bob - 03/03/2013 - 19:39
No, I would not expect any jewish scholar to own up to those nails unless he were extremely courageous or suicidally stupid.
After all, christians have been persecuting and killing jews for being the murderers of christ for more than 1,000 years.
Therefore any disputes of jacobovici claims are just as questionable.
#21 - Valerie Balavage - 01/11/2015 - 12:54