The Still Missing Nails: Responding to Simcha Jacobovici’s Response (Pt. 1)

Simcha Jacobivici

Recently, Simcha Jacobovici (via J. Tabor) responded to the critics of his documentary, “The Names of the Cross,”  in a 46 page .pdf (download here).So, this post is intended to respond to some of the major problems with his response. Jacobivici’s response was written in light of the intense criticism he received from both American and Israeli academics in regards to the documentary that was aired over two months ago. At the end of his response, Jacobivici
briefly deals with those criticisms that he believes were ad-hominem and, even, anti-Semitic. While this post will stay clear from the fray of personal attacks, the ideal is that all such attacks should be avoided at all costs. That said, however, Simcha’s historic and archaeological connections that seek to prove that the Roman nails discovered in Caiaphas’ tombs are actually those utilized in Jesus’ crucifixion are, at best, intensely fragile and, at worst, intentionally misdirecting. He does note in his response, however, that his point of view is a probability. The following post is not an exhaustive review but is simply intended to point out some of larger problems with his response.

(Quotations from Jacobivici’s response appear in bold)
Since Caiaphas is known to history for one thing and one thing only i.e., his involvement in the crucifixion of Jesus, and since crucifixion nails were regarded as amulets, it seems reasonable to connect the nails found in the Caiaphas tomb with two of the nails used to crucify Jesus.

This is actually quite unreasonable. Yes, Caiaphas is mostly associated with the crucifixion account. Yes, nails were thought to be healing amulets. It does not follow logically that then the two nails discovered in Caiaphas’ tomb are those used during the crucifixion. Our evidence that crucifixion nails were used as healing amulets comes from the Mishna—a 2nd century C.E. codification of Jewish oral law. This statement, which may or may not be reflecting the Second Temple period, can be referring to any number of crucifixions that occurred during the First Revolt. Historically, we lack any evidence that nails were used during the crucifixion of Jesus and for that matter used in crucifixion at all until shortly before the First Revolt (68-73 CE).

As noted in the response, nearly 3,000 ossuaries have been excavated in which a minimal amount of nails have been discovered. As such, there is only one explicit example of crucifixion, the crucified anklebone from Givat HaMivtar, that has yet to be recovered in the Land of Israel. The near silence of evidence for crucifixion with nails in Second Temple tombs bolsters the argument first made by Jeremias and Winter that ropes were used to crucify and not nails. See also my article, “See My Hands and My Feet: Fresh Light on a Johannine Midrash” (Atlanta: SBL, 2007; Click to view). If that is indeed that case, then Simcha’s argument is rendered moot. But the ropes vs. nails debates are far from settled.

The Crucified Bone from Givat HaMivtar

…a nail inside an ossuary is almost without precedent…Which brings me to my main point. Namely, nails found in any Second Temple, Jerusalem, Jewish funerary context may be related to crucifixion, while nails found inside ossuaries were most probably used for that purpose. (emphasis Jacobivici)

I am not sure his reasoning is logical. If nails are a rarity in Second Temple tombs and specifically within an ossuary is “without precedent” then there is no telling what these particular nails were used for. They may have been used in a crucifixion or they may have not been. Either option is equally possible. Secondly, and more importantly, it was not only nails of crucifixion that were thought to be amulets (See “Charms and Amulets (Roman)” in the Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, vol. 6,  p. 464). Since Jacobivici utilizes the “coin in the skull” found in the same tomb to suggest the Hellenization of the priests, could we not do the same with nails? I believe so. And as my advisor says “if you ask me if something is possible, I will always say ‘YES!’ Anything is possible.”

Tomorrow, or later today, I will post the rest pt 2.

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