The Problem with Pseudo-Archaeology: Simcha Jacobivici and the Nails of Jesus

Simcha Jacobivici (Picture form HaAretz)

The following article from HaAretz represents the problems with pseudo-archaeology and how sensationalism still seems to win the day. Unfortunately, though his movie has yet to be released, I am pretty sure that Simcha Jacobivici knows even less about the texts of Second Temple Judaism than he does about archaeology. It is truly a shame in this day and age, when good archaeological work is done (e.g. the newly discovered staircase by the Pool of Siloam; the Adiabene Palace), that we have to sit back and be witness to ideas that have no basis in history or good scholarly enterprise. It is unlikely that Jacobivici has found anything but nails — finding them in the tomb that Caiaphas makes this unlikeliness even stronger. But for the sake of honest blogging the article is worth a read:

I have also done some work on this subject so I will point you to my article: SEE MY HANDS AND MY FEET: FRESH LIGHT IN A JOHANNINE MIDRASH in John, Jesus, and History: Aspects of the Historicity of John (Atlanta: SBL, 2009). To see click here.

Spoiler alert: I argue that nails were NOT used at all for Jesus’ crucifixion. This is based on a lack of archaeological evidence regarding crucifixion and a close reading of the pertinent texts from the Second Temple period (e.g. Qumran, Gospels, Paul, Josephus).

Are these the nails used to crucify Jesus?
Journalist Simcha Jacobovici believes that the nails discovered in a Jerusalem cave are revolutionary in their implications regarding the birth of Christianity.

By Nir Hasson

The Peace Forest is a small grove of pines sandwiched between the Abu Tor neighborhood and main promenade in Jerusalem. Anyone walking along the road that snakes through the grove can see a green pipe rising from the ground and reaching a height of several meters.

This pipe, if journalist Simcha Jacobovici is to be believed, this is the physical tip of an archaeological detective story in the style of the Da Vinci Code.

And this pipe is the sole evidence of the burial cave discovered by chance while the road was being laid in 1990. Digging at the site uncovered two ossuaries (stone vessels in which the bones of the dead were placed, according to custom at the end of the period of the Second Temple). On one of the ossuaries is inscribed the name Caiaphas (in Hebrew Kayafa) and on the second Joseph son of Caiaphas.

The name Caiaphas is rare for the Second Temple era and in fact is totally unknown among archaeological finds. This allowed the digging detectives to say with confidence that the site is the burial cave of the family of Caiaphas, the Jerusalem high priest in Jesus’ time and one of the primary antagonists in Christian scripture.

It was this Caiaphas who gave Jesus up to the Romans. He, along with Judas Iscariot, was the symbol of Jewish treachery, a denier of the truth and the de facto basis for Christian anti-Semitism.

Aside from the ossuaries, the cave held other treasures: coins, a perfume bottle, an oil lamp in an earthenware pot, and two rusty and bent nails. These nails, Jacobovici claims, are no less than the original nails hammered into the hands of Jesus Christ as he was crucified. [See rest here]

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