The Still Missing Nails: Responding to Simcha Jacobivici’s Resonse (Pt. 2)

Simcha Jacobivici from HaAretz

This is part two. Let me first note that two nails were not found in an ossuary; only one was. Jacobovici makes this clear in the documentary. What he does not make so clear is that it remains unknown which ossuary the nail was found in. He mentions this towards the middle of the film but then abandons it in the end to claim that it was found in one of the Caiaphas ossuaries. This may amount to playing fast and loose with evidence.

In response to Professor Bond, Cargill states, “had Caiaphas…demonstrated the smallest amount of remorse, we can be certain that the New Testament would have mentioned it.” After all, says Cargill, “the New Testament takes every opportunity” to absolve the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:39) and Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:24), who washes his hands of the matter before handing Jesus over to be crucified. That’s the point that Dr. Cargill is missing. The Gospels take every opportunity to whitewash the Romans and vilify the Jews. The centurion who does the deed is absolved. Pilate who orders the crucifixion is absolved. Even his wife is absolved! (Matthew 27:19). All this while the Jews are depicted as egging Pilate on and calling down curses on their own heads and, for good measure, on the heads of their children (see John 19:6 and Matthew 27:25). Given all this, it is clear that any remorse shown by the High Priest would not have been mentioned but, rather, obscured.

Nonetheless, I do believe that we can tease the historical truth out of the text. For example, the hand washing attributed by Matthew to Pilate is clearly a Jewish hand washing custom. It’s not a Roman custom. It is described in Deuteronomy 21:6 where it is performed by someone in a position of power who feels that a man has wrongly died in his jurisdiction, and that he had no way of preventing the death. It is a ritual that a Jewish High Priest might have symbolically resorted to, not a Roman governor. And yet, in the Gospel of Matthew (27:24), this singularly Jewish ritual is transferred to the Roman thug Pontius Pilate. This slight of hand resulted in millennia of anti-Semitism and millions of Jewish dead. But if we restore the hand washing ceremony to its proper historical context, we realize that it was Caiaphas, not Pilate, who washed his hands of Jesus’ blood! In other words, in a sense, Dr. Cargill is right; the expression of remorse by the High Priest is, indeed, embedded in the Gospels themselves.

1. Some of the gospels may have received traditions that tend to not vilify the Romans. After all, we do know historically that Pilate seems to be a brutish coward. In does not follow, however, that if Pilate lacks vilification the gospel writers necessarily set out to intensify the vilification of the high priest.
2. Jacobovici makes the same mistake that many have made for generations and is likely the result of John’s gospel (which cannot be dealt w/ here). He refers to the crowd before Pilate as “the Jews”—a term that seems to indicate that all those who were Jewish had set their opinion against Jesus. But in reality this is not the case. Jesus was Jewish, as were all of his disciples and the great majority of the early church and its leadership. Furthermore, we know from Jewish literature that the family of high priests that flourished during the time of Jesus were corrupt. Annas, the apparent father in law of Caiaphas, was the high priest during Jesus’ secret trial. In the Talmud, the house of Annas (Hanin) is numbered among other priests who were known for their oppression and financial misconduct (b. Pes 57a). Such priests would have not found the support of the entire Jewish populace especially when there were those of the Pharisaic group that were speaking out against their corruption, especially in regards to the inflated prices of sacrificial animals (m. Ker 1:7).
3. Deut 21:6 deals with the washing of hands after someone has already been slain, not before. Thus the connection is unwarranted here and the switching out of Pilate for the high priest is arbitrary.

But there is more. The idea of a remorseful Caiaphas is explicitly presented in a Christian Gospel, albeit one outside the New Testament canon. Historically speaking, why does the Roman Church have a monopoly on the true Caiaphas tradition? In my film, Professor Barrie Wilson points to the Infancy Gospel of the Savior, a Syriac book, as evidence of an alternate Christian tradition concerning Caiaphas. But Cargill will have none of it – three times in one paragraph he mentions that this text was preserved in “Arabic.” He even italicizes the word “Arabic.” And he concludes: “Simcha’s theory relies on an apocryphal Arabic volume popular among the Eastern Nestorian sect!” (Cargill op. cit. p. 7). In other words, Cargill’s response is to point out that the text is written in Arabic and that it is popular among Eastern Christians. These are its “debilitating problems,” he says. This is theology not history.

I believe that in many instances the Syriac tradition preserves a historically more accurate version of the facts then that preserved in the western Church. In this instance i.e., the case of Caiaphas, we have the Gospels depicting a Jewish High Priest sending one of his own to the cross, and a powerful Roman governor remorsefully washing his hands of the deed. In contrast, in the Syriac tradition, we have a Jewish High Priest regretting the death of a Jewish messiah. On the face of it, which version seems historically more accurate?

1. While I have no doubt that late texts, even from the 6th century C.E. (which is when the “Infancy” text is dated) might have preserved ancient tradition, a intricate historical study would have to be undertaken by a qualified academic. Such an inquiry is not made in the documentary or in Jacobovici’s response. The connection between this text and the historical event is made without qualification. Furthermore, there is no tradition in the Second Temple tradition that gets even close to mirroring what we find in the 6th century text. We cannot even say that the Syriac/Arabic text is an expansion of an older tradition, because none exists. Simply asking the question “On the face of it, which version seems historically more accurate” is pointless, especially since we have more evidence that Annas and Caiaphas would have participated in the secret handing over of Jesus to the Romans—a move that the majority of Jews in Jerusalem would have been unaware. Even to the sectarian community at Qumran was it a great sin to hand over your people to a foreign power.

In my film, I highlight the fact that there were two ossuaries found in the tomb with the name “Caiaphas” inscribed on them – a fancy, shop made ossuary and a more modest personally decorated ossuary with mystical symbols involving steps, a pillar and arrows pointing heavenward. Some scholars call this kind of pillar a “nefesh.” This is a Hebrew term for a particular kind of burial marker. But I am convinced that the unusual style of the image is more than a grave marker. After all, the pillar became a very well attested symbol of Jewish messianism generally (in Deuteronomy 31:15 God Himself appears as a “pillar” of fire and smoke) and Christian messianism in particular (see for example, 1Ti 3:15, where the church is called “the pillar”). These messianic overtones may have resulted in the Jewish prayer, or rallying cry; “Amod Maschiach” which is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., CD 14:19 and CD 12:23). The Hebrew phrase, “Amod Maschiach” means something like “arise Messiah!” It is a kind of rallying cry of faith in the messianic promises of the Hebrew prophets. Since there are no vowels in Hebrew, the word “arise” or “rise” or “stand up” i.e., “Am(o)d” is written in exactly the same way as Am(u)d” i.e., “pillar.” For this reason, it seems that the “pillar” became the symbol for messianic belief. In other words, the unusually styled pillar on the “modest” Caiaphas ossuary may be more than just casual decoration. It might testify to messianic belief.

1. One can readily see that the above connections are made fairly quick and without substantiating evidence. The nefesh that appears on one of the ossuaries is likely just that, a nefesh, a grave marker. There is little to no evidence that a pillar was seen as a Second Temple messianic reference.
2. In the Scrolls “Amod Mashiach” does not have any connection to a rallying cry. It is preceded by the preposition “ad” (until) and should be translated “until the Messiah arises” and is not intended to mean “Arise Messiah.” Jacobovici knows Hebrew and so his connection with the Scrolls seems forced.
3. 1Timothy 3:15 is not connecting the pillar with the Messiah, in any way. The “pillar” in this text is the “living church of God” (ἐκκλησία θεοῦ ζῶντος).

The passage in the Mishna that discusses crucifixion nails and their amuletic/healing
powers has been often mistranslated and wrongly cited. In his criticism of me, Cargill quotes Neusner’s translation, which refers to crucifixion as “impaling” and references “nails” in general (Cargill op. cit. p. 8). The fact is that, as Eldad Keynan has pointed out, Neusner mistranslates and Cargill, an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls, should have picked this up. At least he should have noticed that impaling does not require nails. This is what the Hebrew original literally says: “[Jews] are going about carrying the egg of a locust or a fox’s tooth, or the nail of the crucified one, for the purpose of healing, R. Meir said [allowed]. But other sages forbid this even on weekdays because it is considered the conduct of Amorites [i.e., gentiles].” In other words, in the Mishna, the earliest stratum of the Talmud, it’s the nail of “the crucified one” that has healing powers, not the nails of any crucified individual.

Since the Hebrew is ambiguous one can translate “a nail of the cross” instead of “a nail of the crucified one.” And one could assume that “a nail of the cross” simply means “a nail of a crucified person.” But the fact is that the Hebrew is unambiguous about the word “the,” and that the other objects on this list i.e., an egg and a tooth, come from livingcreatures, namely, a locust and a fox. It stands to reason, therefore, that the nail in question would have been associated not with an inanimate object but a human being. Is it possible, therefore, that the rabbis are recording the use of nails associated with Jesus’ crucifixion? Have we discovered a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus that was lost in translation? If so, it shouldn’t surprise us. There are at least two parallel stories in the Mishnaic literature explicitly referencing Jesus.

Since the Hebrew is ambiguous one can translate “a nail of the cross” instead of “a nail of the crucified one.” And one could assume that “a nail of the cross” simply means “a nail of a crucified person.” But the fact is that the Hebrew is unambiguous about the word “the,” and that the other objects on this list i.e., an egg and a tooth, come from living creatures, namely, a locust and a fox. It stands to reason, therefore, that the nail in question would have been associated not with an inanimate object but a human being. Is it possible, therefore, that the rabbis are recording the use of nails associated with Jesus’ crucifixion? Have we discovered a reference to the crucifixion of Jesus that was lost in translation? If so, it shouldn’t surprise us. There are at least two parallel stories in the Mishnaic literature explicitly referencing Jesus….

If we turn to the Gospels and the Book of Acts the same story unfolds i.e., that Jesus’
disciples, as well as Paul, were healing in Jesus’ name. In later centuries, the common practice of building churches to house holy relics such as slivers of wood from the “true cross” and nails allegedly from the crucifixion continued the tradition of healing using Jesus related artifacts. The crucifixion nails found in the Caiaphas tomb should, therefore be seen as part of this entire Greco-Roman, Jewish, and subsequently Christian fascination with the magical and the superstitious – more specifically, the notion of amuletic objects and healing in Jesus’ name.

1. There is absolutely no reason to reason to read ‏הַצָּלוּב (hats-tsaluv) as “the crucified one” as if this is Jesus’ given Rabbinic epithet. In fact the definite article in Hebrew, ‏הַ (ha), can be used to speak in general of one who was crucified without some implicit connection to the crucified Jesus or anyone else. Therefore, we should translate ‏הַצָּלוּב (hats-tsaluv) as “the one (any person or individual) who is crucified/impaled.” My assumption is that Jocobovici knows Hebrew well enough to know that this statement, “But the fact is that the Hebrew is unambiguous about the word ‘the’…, (emphasis mine)” is not necessarily true. As in English the definite article in Hebrew is making the person who was crucified definite without pointing the anyone specifically.
2. Jesus is never mentioned in the Mishnah and the healing account appears in the Tosefta (Chullin) and then in the parallel Talmudic texts. Neither in the Tosefta nor in the Talmudic texts is healing in the “name of Jesus” ever associated with “a crucified one”. I daresay that the connections here are tendentious.

After all, according to the Gospels, the nails were removed from Jesus’ body while
he was still dead.

The canonical Gospels never say such a thing. This is categorically false.

In conclusion, I will admit that Jocobivici is great at stringing together evidence, which if inspected closely does not hold together. But his production level in the film is high and he has an ability to make archaeology and the melding of archaeology, history, and faith an exciting endeavor. It would be far more exciting if these three things were brought together under an argument that carries weight, however. In the end though I guess he has opened a world that most people could care less about, and a field that is often dominated by academics.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s