Christ’s crucifixion nails have been found (again)

I know, I know. Just in time for Easter, right? Must be true then.

an Israeli television journalist has produced a pair of nails he says may have been used to crucify Jesus Christ. “We’re not saying these are the nails,” says Simcha Jacobovici, holding aloft a pair of smallish iron spikes with the tips hammered to one side. “We’re saying these could be the nails.”

This could also be conjecture in action and the nails could have been used for just about anything at one point or another.

When a tomb was discovered in 1990, bones were found in a box and it’s been assumed it marked the final resting place Caiaphas, the priest and juror who helped seal Christ’s fate.

Researchers from the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) listed everything found in the cave, including two Roman nails. But unlike everything else in the grave, the nails were otherwise unaccounted for. They were not measured, sketched or photographed, and nowhere to be found in the IAA’s vast collection.

It’s being assumed the nails were snuck out of the tomb at some point because a pair wound up at the Tel Aviv University laboratory for analysis later. Interestingly, Professor Israel Hershkowitz already had a nail from a different tomb on the premises. Maybe it’s the one the Telegraph reported on the year before, in an article headlined — you’ve probably already guessed this — “Nail from Christ’s crucifixion found?”

Bryn Walters, an archaeologist, said the iron nail’s remarkable condition suggested it had been handed with extreme care, as if it was a relic.

“It dates from the first to second centuries,” he told the Daily Mirror.

While one would expect the surface to be “pitted and rough” he said on this nail the surface was smooth.

That suggested that many people had handled it over the centuries, with the acid on their hands giving it a “peculiar finish”.

Christopher Macklin of the Knights Templar of Britannia said the discovery was “momentous”.

He said the original Knights Templar may have thought it was one of the nails used in Christ’s crucifixion.

Doesn’t mean the knights were right, obviously. At some point I’m going to really have to research this relic business. I’m forever fascinated by it. I’m guessing forgeries (or at least mistaken identities) must have be a constant threat to those who wanted to believe they possessed originals. And today it seems every find from that area of the world is assumed to be a direct link to biblical history, as if no other people beyond those actually named in the bible would have been living there at the time. Always the search for physical proof that their religions aren’t a made up lie.

On the topic of lies and forgery, I’ve started reading a different book now, Forged: writing in the name of God–why the Bible’s authors are not who we think they are by Bart D. Ehrman. I think it’s going to be enlightening and quite enjoyable. It’ll definitely generate a blog post or two once I’m further into it.

Back to the Time article:

the case arrives with no shortage of loose ends. The IAA’s inventory states that one nail was found on the floor of the tomb, or cave, and another was found inside an ossuary. But there were 12 ossuaries in the tomb, and there is no record of which one it was in.

Nor is it clear which box most likely contained the bones of the priest the Gospels say pushed Jesus toward death. Caiaphas is an unusual name, not found in any of the other 2,000 ossuaries recovered so far around Jerusalem from roughly the time of Christ. But in this tomb, the name shows up twice. Scholars have focused on an ornate box labeled “Joseph, son of Caiaphas,” but Jacobovici suggests the priest’s bones were gathered in a simpler one labeled only “Caiaphas.”

Last names really were a terrific invention. What country gets credit for coming up with that way to keep families sorted? The following has nothing to do with this but I’m reminded of something I read (forget where, sorry) that “son” wouldn’t have necessarily meant direct descendant at this point in history, but any boy child from that genetic lineage, no matter how distantly related. I also wonder if this habit of calling everyone a son is what led people to call their priests Father. End of digression.

Gaby Barkay, a professor at Bar Ilan University and probably the most prominent archeologist in Israel, offers another explanation. Jews at the time of Christ “were impurity freaks,” Barkay says. Anything in the vicinity of a corpse was thought to be contaminated by death, even a nail stuck in a nearby wall. “Therefore it would probably be removed and put into the grave,” he says.

Documentaries of the kind Jacobovici has produced exist for entertainment. Barkay admits that they’re interesting to people but says, “This is not the way to draw conclusions in science,” and he’s right. You can’t just jump to a conclusion and ignore due process if you want to be taken seriously. But the media likes a conclusion to jump on, the sooner the better, so researchers oblige and share amazing results of discovery a lot earlier than some of them should. Especially when said results are soon falsified or challenged by other research in those fields. Fewer people are likely to see those headlines, though.

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