JERUSALEM — An
Israeli-Canadian journalist believes he may have tracked down two of the iron
nails used to crucify Jesus to the cross. Or at least objects that “could be”
the long-lost relics.
While researching a segment for the History Channel series “Secrets
of Christianity,” host and producer Simcha Jacobovici learned something that
startled him: In 1990, Israeli archeologists excavating a 2,000-year-old burial
cave discovered two nails crafted by the Romans, but kept the discovery quiet.
They did, however, publicize the discovery of two ossuaries —
stone burial boxes filled with human bones — with the inscriptions “Caiaphas” and
“Joseph son of Caiaphas.” The latter intricately carved ossuary toured the
world and is now prominently displayed in the Israel
Museum in Jerusalem.
According to the Gospels, Caiaphas was the Jewish high
priest who handed Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion.
“There’s a general scholarly consensus that the tomb where
the nails were found likely belonged to Caiaphas. Nails at that time were a
dime a dozen, but finding one in a tomb is exceedingly rare,” Jacobovici said outside
the high stone walls of the Old City,
where Jesus spent his final days.
When Jacobovici found a brief reference to the nails in the
official archeologists’ report, “my jaw dropped,” he said.
“It would be as if, 2,000 years from now, archaeologists
uncovered the cave of Muhammad
Ali but neglected to mention the pair of boxing gloves
found there. Sure, boxing gloves are common, but perhaps those particular
gloves had special significance to the boxer?”
Jacobovici also hosts the “Naked Archaeologist” series on
History International and collaborated with filmmaker James Cameron on the controversial
2007 documentary, “The Lost Tomb of Jesus.”
In the segment “Nails of the Cross,” which aired April 20 on
the History Channel, Jacobovici attempts to discover why the researchers felt
the nails were unimportant.
“Everything else is so meticulous, yet there are no photos
or drawings or measurements of the nails. When I inquired at the Israel Antiquities
Authority, I was told they had gone missing.”
“Caiaphas is known for one thing only: the trial and
Crucifixion of Jesus,” Jacobovici said. “He may have felt compelled to take
these nails with him to his grave.”
There was also the belief among some ancient Jews that nails
had healing powers “and were a ticket to the afterlife. Other items found in the
tomb show that this was a superstitious guy,” he added.
The history detective searched the IAA’s vast warehouses and
then tried to find the location of the long-sealed tomb, which now lies beneath
a public park.
Finally, on a hunch, Jacobovici approached Israel
Hershkovitz, a forensic anthropologist at Tel
who is also expert on crucifixions.
“When I asked Hershkovitz if he’d received two nails about 20
years ago, he knew exactly what I was talking about and located them within minutes,”
Hershkovitz could not say where the nails had been found
because the original packaging lacked the information. He could not be reached
While Hershkovitz knows for certain the nails came from the
IAA, there’s no conclusive link that they came from the Caiaphas tomb. Israeli
archaeologists seem as reluctant to comment this time around as they were back
When the anthropologist showed Jacobovici an ancient heel
bone impaled with a nail — the only such crucifixion specimen ever unearthed — “I
realized that the Caiaphas nails were similar, though shorter. The tips
appeared purposely bent to keep them from falling off the wood.”
Jacobovici asked Hershkovitz whether the nails could have
been used to crucify a person’s hands to a cross. Hershkovitz said “yes.”
The limestone residue on one of the nails clinched it for Jacobovici,
“because one of the nails was found in the ossuary, the other on the ground” of
the burial cave, where it would be exposed to limestone.
Gabriel Barkay, a professor of archaeology at Bar-Ilan
University, called Jacobovici’s
investigation “very challenging, very interesting, very intriguing, but it’s a
TV show and not a scholarly study.
“There’s no proof whatsoever that they originate in the tomb
of Caiaphas,” he said. “It’s all conjecture.”
Nails were used for “many purposes,” Barkay noted, “from
fixing iron gates to wooden doors and coffins.”
And for crucifixions.
Ronny Reich, a Haifa
University archeologist who
deciphered the writing in the Caiaphas cave, believes the cave “belongs to a
member of the Caiaphas family, but we have no evidence it belongs to the high priest.”
Jacobovici, however, is certain his research will withstand scrutiny,
even if it seems largely circumstantial at first glance.
“Skepticism is good. As with the Shroud of Turin, you can’t
be 100 percent certain, but believers don’t need 100 percent certainty. They need
a solid ‘could be,’ and that’s what we’re offering.”
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