Monday, November 02, 2020

More crucifixion nails?

COLD CASE REOPENED? Are These Nails From Jesus’ Crucifixion? New Evidence Emerges, but Experts Are Unconvinced. Study of two 2000-year-old nails found in Jerusalem revives claim linking them to the burial of Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest involved in Jesus’ crucifixion (Ariel David, Haaretz). I have been following this story for a while. Here's where it stands.

The researchers report that they has located two ancient nails that had been excavated and then thought lost. It turns out that the nails have fragments of bone and wood embedded in them. If this is correct, it is evidence that they were used to crucify someone.

The material in the nails also has many similarities to material found in ossuaries discovered in the "Caiaphas family tomb," which may (or may not) have included the remains of the High Priest Caiaphas. The researchers think the nails came from the cave. They make no further inferences.

Are the nails those used to crucify Jesus? You can't prove a negative. But the case for that idea rests on an abundance of imagination.

I have not blogged on this story before, because I have only just found (linked in the above article) the scholarly study underlying all the media reports:

Petrochemistry of Sediment and Organic Materials Sampled from Ossuaries and Two Nails from the Tomb of the Family of the High Priest Caiaphas, Jerusalem (Archaeological Discovery > Vol.8 No.3, July 2020)

Aryeh E. Shimron1, Yoetz Deutsch1, Werner H. Schoch2, Vitaly Gutkin3

We have studied the petrochemistry of degraded bones and sediment from the interior of four ossuaries (burial boxes) discovered in what is (arguably) believed to be the 1st century CE family tomb of the high priest Caiaphas (herewith Cft) in Jerusalem. During the course of the 1990 excavation, among other artifacts (e.g., a coin found in a skull) two iron nails were discovered. One of the nails was inside an ossuary, the other on the floor of one of the nearby “kokhim” (burial niches) which contained Ossuaries 5 and 6. According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) everything in the burial cave can be accounted for today except the iron nails “which have been misplaced”, this without being properly recorded or photographed. Investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici believes that he has located the nails in the artifacts collection of the Anthropology laboratory at Tel Aviv University. The IAA, however, has stated that the lost nails from the Cft have nothing to do with the nails found at the university and the latter nails must have a different provenance. Wherever lies the truth, the presence of two nails in the Cft is of profound interest because in the New Testament the high priest Caiaphas was responsible for passing Jesus to the Romans who then sent him to the cross. The possibility that the nails were used in a crucifixion on the one hand and can be connected to Caiaphas the high priest on the other is, to say the least, interesting and potentially monumental. Aware of the controversy but also of the importance of the two unprovenanced nails we have investigated the materials which have invaded the interiors of the Cft ossuaries and in a similar manner materials that have adhered to the two unprovenanced nails. Employing geochemical and petrochemical Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM-EDX), X-ray diffraction (XRD) and δ18O and δ13C isotope analyses we have found that the organic and inorganic materials flushed into the interior of the Cft but also those that have adhered to the two unprovenanced nails possess and display many identical, and what can also be termed unique chemical and physical characteristics. Based on the collective evidence we conclude, with considerable confidence, that the unprovenanced nails are the lost nails excavated from the Caiaphas family tomb in 1990 and furthermore that these nails were used in a crucifixion.

It looks as though the article is open access, so you can read it yourself. This research is outside my areas of expertise. I have no opinion on its claims. The Haaretz article gives some responses by experts in material culture.

As far as I know the only surviving skeleton from antiquity that was undisputably crucified is that of Yehohanan ben Hagkol. There is also another skeleton excavated in Italy that may have been crucified. Background here and links.

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