Jesus nails
Journalist Simcha Jacobovici holding one of 'Jesus's nails' Photo by Nir Kafri
Text size

Channel One will air next week the controversial documentary of journalist Simcha Jacobovici, "The Nails of the Cross." In the film Jacobovici argues that the pair of ancient steel nails he found in a Tel Aviv University laboratory are nothing less than the nails used to crucify Jesus.

After assailing Jacobovici's thesis once the claim became public three weeks ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority now claims the nails he found could not be linked to Jesus and originated elsewhere. Jacobovici based his documentary on nails found in an ossuary in a burial cave, which belonged to Jewish high priest Caiaphas and was discovered in 1990. According to the New Testament, the priest sent Jesus to his death by handing him over to the Romans.

The crucifixion of Jesus was a significant event in the life of the high priest, Jacobovici notes, and finding the nails is "like finding a soccer ball in the burial chamber of Pele in Brazil in 2,000 years."

However, according to Joe Zias, who served as curator at the Antiquities Authority for 25 years, the nails which Jacobovici is presenting in his movie were dug up in a different location, more than 30 years ago. Furthermore, the nails found in Caiaphas' burial cave, and cited in an article published on the dig by archaeologist Dr. Zvi Greenhut, were lost after the excavation 21 years ago. Greenhut and staff at the Antiquities Authority deduce that the two nails in question have no scientific or other significance: Many like them have been found in archaeological digs of the Roman period and are not even cataloged, they say.

A peak moment in the documentary occurs when Jacobovici says he has found the pair of lost nails in the anatomy laboratory of Prof. Israel Hershkowitz of Tel Aviv University. Jacobovici gives evidence which he argues suggests that these were indeed from the high priest's burial cave. He notes the existence of chalky residue on one of the nails, but not on the other, which fits the fact that one was found inside the ossuary and the other nearby. He also bases his assumptions on the memory of Hershkowitz, who remembered that the nails were received by the Antiquities Authority at the time of the dig of the burial cave of Caiaphas.

The journalist notes that finding nails in a burial cave is exceptionally rare, and even more so in ossuaries. Nails used in crucifixions also had a special spiritual significance, he says.

In the documentary Hershkowitz agrees that the nails could have been used for a crucifixion because of their shape and the similarity to another nail that was used in similar circumstances - the only one discovered to date (along with a bone fragment attached ) in the world, which is kept in the Tel Aviv University laboratory.

The Antiquities Department's Zias says that he remembers the nails well and that he himself sent them to Tel Aviv University after being asked to move artifacts from the laboratory of Prof. Nico Hass, a professor of anatomy who worked at the medical school at Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Kerem and served as an expert in physical anthropology for the Antiquities Authority, in 1975. Among the artifacts were bones and nails - among them the two Jacobovici found 36 years later.

Zias himself was forced to vacate his own laboratory because of pressure from Haredim, who demanded their burial. Most of the artifacts he had were indeed buried, but Zias sent the nails to Tel Aviv.

"These nails were in my laboratory for 15 years, I saw them many times and I have no doubt that these originated in Hass' laboratory," Zias said.

Zias also says that the nails, which are 8 cm. long, could not have been used for crucifixion because they are too short. He says that it is most likely that Jesus was in fact tied to the cross and not nailed, because in that era nails were expensive although the wood used in crosses were reused.

"If you lose your lottery ticket and you hear that I found it and won a million dollars, you will do anything to believe that the ticket was not yours," responds Jacobovici. "There is no logic in his story. On the one hand they say that this is a common find, on the other they remember it well."

"The bottom line is that they lost [the nails] and I found them," says Jacobovici.