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The Nails of the Cross:

A Response to the Criticisms of the Film

Part Two

Lost Nails: Found

By: Director/Producer Simcha JacoboviciLost


We now come to the second part of my investigation i.e., my claim that I located the missing nails in a Tel Aviv University laboratory.

According to Zias, when he cleared out his Jerusalem lab in the early 1990’s, he sent two “collections” of nails to Tel Aviv University. For his part, Professor Hershkovitz of Tel Aviv University confirms getting two boxes of nails from Zias. Zias further claims that both these boxes originated from the lab of Dr. Nicu Haas (the late father of physical anthropology in Israel) and, therefore, could not be the missing Caiaphas nails. After all, Haas went into a coma before the Caiaphas tomb was discovered. For his part, Professor Hershkovitz says that only one box had a note in it – written in Zias’ handwriting – stating that the nails came from Haas’ lab. The other box made no mention of Haas and had no paperwork attached to it. Put simply, based on Zias’ and Hershkovitz’s reports, the nails from the anonymous box could very well be the missing Caiaphas nails. In other words, not only has Zias not refuted my identification of the nails in Hershkovitz’s lab with the missing Caiaphas nails but, by providing information that I did not have at the time that I made my film, he has established the missing chain of evidence.

And yet, despite Hershkovitz’s report, Zias continues to insist that both boxes are from Haas’ lab. Why does he ignore the documentation in Professor Hershkovitz’s possession? According to Zias, it is because he “remembers” that the unmarked box in Hershkovitz’s laboratory is from Haas’ lab! So what’s the truth? (He never came out of it and passed away twelve years later.)

In these types of situations, we have no choice but to examine the credibility of the witness. And when we look closer at Zias’ record of “remembering” controversial artifacts, a credibility issue quickly ensues. Sadly, Zias is like one of those “witnesses,” all too familiar to cops and prosecutors, that claims to have “seen” crimes whenever they hit the front pages. For example, when the “James” ossuary made international headlines, Mr. Zias claimed that he “remembered” seeing it in a shop in the Old City of Jerusalem. Not only that, he claimed to “remember” that the ossuary had half of its present inscription on it, the back end having been added later by a forger. Based on these statements, Mr. Zias was asked to testify in the ongoing trial of collector Oded Golan. Imagine the court’s surprise when, after living in Israel for over thirty years, Zias asked to testify in English. Under oath, Zias then admitted that he couldn’t read the James inscription at all, and that he was relying on a spot translation provided by the Arab shopkeeper in whose store he saw the ossuary - even though the words on the ossuary, “James son of Joseph,” are written in a very clear Herodian script that can be read by any school child in Israel. Further, one of the names that Zias couldn’t read i.e., “Joseph,” is Zias’ own first name (See “Of Ossuaries, Forgeries, Export Licences - and Unprovenanced Curators” by Dr. Victor Sasson, http://victorsasson.blogspot.com/2009/05/of-ossuaries-forgeries-export-licences.html.) Whatever the truth of the “James” ossuary debate, Zias entered the fray by stating - decades after the fact - that he “remembered” a specific inscription he could not read on a specific ossuary that he saw in passing in an antiquities shop.

In 2007, Zias once again “remembered” something important. This time it involved the alleged Jesus family tomb in Talpiot, which was the subject of my film The Lost Tomb of Jesus and my co-authored book The Jesus Family Tomb. Then and now, I claimed that the ossuary that went missing from the Talpiot dig site was the so-called “James” ossuary. I also argued that its presence in the Talpiot tomb had been demonstrated by a scanning electron microscope test that was conducted in the Suffolk Crime Lab (New York), (for the latest corroboration of those findings see A. Rosenfeld, C. Pellegrino, H.R. Feldman and W.E.K. Krumbein, “The Connection of the James Ossuary to the Talpiot (Jesus Family Tomb) Ossuaries” on BibleInterp.com). But, then as now, Mr. Zias stepped forward, and “remembered” the ossuary that had gone missing. Originally, he reported to Professor James Tabor that he had no idea what happened to it and that, as with any ossuary, it might have been discarded, misplaced, or put in the courtyard of the IAA’s Rockefeller Museum. Later, he changed his mind. Zias suddenly “remembered” the specific missing ossuary from the Talpiot tomb. He had seen it in the yard of the IAA before it disappeared, he said. He also “remembered” that it was plain and uninscribed. In a foreshadowing of the nails controversy, Zias claimed that the Talpiot ossuary had gone missing because it was “not important” and forgettable.

The irony that Mr. Zias keeps “remembering” forgettable artifacts seems to be lost on everyone. In any event, it seems that while I was relying on an electron microscope test, Mr. Zias was relying on a far more sophisticated tool – his “memory.” As with the James ossuary, Mr. Zias can’t produce the missing Talpiot ossuary or any photograph or document pertaining to it.

Now, it’s the Caiaphas nails that are the focus of Mr. Zias’ memory. Then, as now, he is not embarrassed to admit that some of the artifacts he “remembers” are also artifacts that he lost. The pattern is always the same. Right after any artifact makes international headlines, Zias claims to “remember” that they had been in his possession, and that the truth is different than what the evidence suggests.

For my part, I do not rely on 21-year-old memories to identify the missing Caiaphas nails with the nails at Tel Aviv University. Here are my reasons:

1. They arrived in Professor Hershkovitz’s lab just a few years after the discovery of the Caiaphas tomb.

2. They are a matching pair, and this is the only time Professor Hershkovitz got two matching nails from the IAA in Jerusalem.

3. They match Greenhut’s recollection of their size i.e., 6-8 cm (as related to Ha’aretz).

4. In the early 1990’s, Mr. Zias sent nails to Hershkovitz’s lab. Professor Hershkovitz confirms getting two boxes of nails from Zias, one with clear documentation and the other without any. The matching nails came from the box without any documentation.

5. Nails that are sent from the IAA to the Tel Aviv University anthropology lab are most probably nails that come from burial contexts. (Other nails are sent to metallurgical labs and/or stored elsewhere).

6. Both Reich and Greenhut reported that one of the Caiaphas nails was found inside an ossuary, and that the other was found on the floor of one of the niches in the tomb. A preliminary microscope test conducted by Professor Hershkovitz seems to indicate that the matching nails that he received from Zias were found in chemical contexts reflecting these inside/outside conditions.

7. Tellingly, although the two nails have an identifiable marker – namely, they are both bent at their tips – no one has stepped forward (maybe now I’ll be jogging some memories) to say that the missing Caiaphas nails were straight. This silence speaks volumes.

But some might say that even if we admit that the nails in Professor Hershkovitz’s possession are the missing nails from the Caiaphas tomb, this does not mean that these nails were used, or could have been used, in crucifixion. They are too short, says Zias. Besides, he adds, Romans used ropes, not nails, to secure the hands of a crucified person. He then quotes out of date tests on cadavers that purport to show that nails driven into hands cannot support the weight of the body. (Zias is relying on Barbet, P. Les cinq plaies du Christ. Second ed. Paris: Procure du Carmel de Action de Graces, 1937 and Barbet, Pierre. Doctor at Calvary. New York: P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1953; New York: Image Books, 1963. Barbet forgot that, on a cross, living human beings behave differently from cadavers.) With respect to the above, Zias ignores the research of Professor Hershkovitz and others. For example, when it comes to the rope theory, Hershkovitz says that there’s no archaeological evidence or literary tradition to support it. (In general, Hershkovitz states that more than one method was used to crucify people. The types of nails needed varied depending on many factors e.g., the use of a “seat” or sedile, to support the individual being crucified.) The Gospels themselves explicitly state that Jesus had nails driven through his hands (John 20:25-29, see reference to the “nail marks in his hands”).

But are the nails too short? Not for the hands, says Hershkovitz. In fact, if you take your fore finger and thumb and pinch the center of your hand, you can readily see that if you pounded a nail through there, you would need less than a centimeter. Add, say, 4 centimeters of hard wood, and allow for a 1-1 ½ cm bent at the tip and all you need is about 6 ½ centimeters from end to end to nail someone to a cross, and secure the hands with a bend. In such a case, the nail forms a kind of hook that is firmly embedded in the wood and can easily hold the weight of a human body. This is not my theory, it’s Professor Hershkovitz’s. In fact, before the recent revelations and media attention, Professor Hershkovitz was using these very nails to illustrate “hand nails” when he lectured on crucifixion at scientific conferences and at various universities in Israel and abroad.

Furthermore, there are three physical characteristics that make the “Caiaphas” nails consistent with crucifixion; the heads of the “Caiaphas nails” are identical with the head of the nail found embedded in the Givat Hamivtar heel bone; the body is triangular, not round, exactly like the nail in the heel bone; and, finally, the bent tips of the “Caiaphas nails” are virtually identical to the tip of the Givat Hamivtar nail.

At this point, let’s review the facts once more. Two nails were found in the “Caiaphas” burial tomb in 1990. At the time, they were part of a collection of less than 39 nails found in Jerusalem tombs, making them a rare find. One of them was found in an ossuary. To this day, this nail is only one of two ever found inside an ossuary, making it a very rare find. On the evidence – textual, archaeological, anthropological – it seems that the only reason for such nails to be there is their association with crucifixion. Shortly after the excavation, two matching nails arrived from the IAA office of Joe Zias, who had them in his keeping, to the lab of Professor Israel Hershkovitz at Tel Aviv University. Since they are consistent in size, shape and chemistry with the missing nails, all the circumstantial evidence - taken together - is more than suggestive. It seems that the nails in Professor Hershkovitz’s lab are the missing Caiaphas nails, and that these very nails were used to crucify someone.


Read Nails of the Cross: Part 3 crucifixion_part_six.html

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