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, is the physical tip of an archaeological detective story a la 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 Second Temple period ). 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 scriptures. 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 as he was crucified.
And if Jacobovici is to be believed, these nails have the potential to cause a revolution in the way we view early Christianity, the Jewish religion from which Christianity emanated and the relationship between the two faiths. But first one must believe Jacobovici; many, primarily in the archaeological world, do not, and even view him as a charlatan.
Jacobovici, an observant Jew sporting a large skullcap, has a light American accent in Hebrew that disappears as his outrage at the archaeologists who dismiss his findings grows. He was born in Israel but has lived in Canada for many years, garnering recognition for several documentaries he has made, including a film on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and another on the trafficking of women. He has won two Emmys for his work. He is also known for his documentary series, aired on Israel's Channel 8, provocatively titled "The Naked Archaeologist."
Some eight years ago he collaborated with James Cameron (director of Titanic and Avatar ) to produce the movie "The Lost Tomb of Christ." The movie presents the controversial claim that a burial cave discovered in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon HaNatziv 30 years ago is in fact the original burial site of Jesus and his family.
Jacobovici was to dispute popular beliefs about Jesus again at a Jerusalem press conference Tuesday, this time regarding the nails he claims were used to hammer Jesus to the crucifix. These findings are documented at length in his soon-to-be-released movie "Nails of the Cross."
Jacobovici's main claim is that the character of Caiaphas must be reconsidered. According to him, Caiaphas may have changed his mind about Jesus after the crucifixion, and his descendents thought it appropriate to bury the father of Christianity with the nails alongside other items meant to accompany him to the next world.
Jacobovici says that Caiaphas even became a member of the Judeo-Christians - those who maintained their Jewish identity while claiming Jesus was the messiah (but not God ). Jacobovici says that evidence of Caiaphas' paradigm shift can be found in multiple places, including the mysterious symbols that were engraved on the ossuary.
Other archaeologists do not rule out the possibility that Caiaphas was buried in the cave; they say it is reasonable to assume that it was the family's cave and other members of the family may be buried there.
Dissenting archaeologists maintain, however, that although the ossuary is elaborate in design, it is not in the style of a typical high priest burial site.
The excavation of the cave was carried out by two senior archaeologists, Dr. Zvi Greenhut, today a leading official at the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Dr. Ronny Reich, now the chairman of the Israel Archaeological Council, the highest archaeological body in Israel.
Jacobovici has been cautiously critical of these two experts for ignoring what he perceives to be the most important finding in the cave: the nails. The other items discovered in the grave have been stored in the warehouses of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the ossuaries can be viewed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The nails, on the other hand, have been neglected - barely documented in the excavation's findings and disappearing shortly after the dig. Now, they are in the hands of Simcha Jacobovici.
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