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The Nails of the Cross:

A Response to the Criticisms of the Film

Part Four

Two Caiaphas Ossuaries

By: Director/Producer Simcha Jacobovici


In my film, I highlight the fact that there were two ossuaries found in the tomb with the name “Caiaphas” inscribed on them – a fancy, shop made ossuary and a more modest personally decorated ossuary with mystical symbols involving steps, a pillar and arrows pointing heavenward. Some scholars call this kind of pillar a “nefesh.” This is a Hebrew term for a particular kind of burial marker. But I am convinced that the unusual style of the image is more than a grave marker. After all, the pillar became a very well attested symbol of Jewish messianism generally (in Deuteronomy 31:15 God Himself appears as a “pillar” of fire and smoke) and Christian messianism in particular (see for example, 1Ti 3:15, where the church is called “the pillar”). These messianic overtones may have resulted in the Jewish prayer, or rallying cry; “Amod Maschiach” which is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls (e.g., CD 14:19 and CD 12:23). The Hebrew phrase, “Amod Maschiach” means something like “arise Messiah!” It is a kind of rallying cry of faith in the messianic promises of the Hebrew prophets. Since there are no vowels in Hebrew, the word “arise” or “rise” or “stand up” i.e., “Am(o)d” is written in exactly the same way as “Am(u)d” i.e., “pillar.” For this reason, it seems that the “pillar” became the symbol for messianic belief. In other words, the unusually styled pillar on the “modest” Caiaphas ossuary may be more than just casual decoration. It might testify to messianic belief.

What I also pointed out in my film is that the name on the fancy ossuary i.e., “Joseph, son of Caiaphas” does not match the Gospels, which simply call the High Priest “Caiaphas.” Nor does it match Josephus who speaks of a “Joseph Caiaphas.” The modest one, however, simply states “Caiaphas,” exactly as in the Gospels. Strangely, it is this ossuary - the one with the inscription that actually matches the Gospels - that’s been in the basement of the Israel Museum. The one that doesn’t match the Gospels has been on display. Another case of “expert” opinion overriding the evidence on the ground.

In any event, as a result of the recent attention the film has given to the “modest” Caiaphas ossuary, it has been moved out of the basement and is now part of the permanent exhibit, joining the more elaborately decorated one. This allows both to finally be seen and compared by everyone. Surely, this is a good thing.

In the film, I also ask whether it is possible that the nail that was found inside an ossuary originated from the modest ossuary with the single name “Caiaphas” inscribed on it. The reaction to this suggestion has been derision rather than substance. My critics have raised three main objections:

First, they argue that the ossuary in question is too small to have housed the remains of the High Priest. The length of the ossuary, my critics say, is much too short for the High Priest Caiaphas. My answer is that we simply don’t know the height of the High Priest. In antiquity, people were shorter than today and we have numerous ossuaries e.g., # 213 and #214 in Cotton, which are 46 and 52 cm respectively. In any event, the authoritative Rahmani catalogue states that “an adult’s ossuary was 42-65 cm long” (p. 6). The Caiaphas ossuary is 50 cm long. Further, Jonathan Price and Haggai Misgav, writing about the modest Caiaphas ossuary, speculate that “the name here may represent the patriarch of the family interred in this box” (Cotton et. al. p. 486, emphasis added). In my film, I was simply following the judgment of the latest and most authoritative source on ossuaries and their inscriptions.

The second objection is that the box couldn’t have belonged to the High Priest Caiaphas because no adult male bones were found in it. Rather, according to Mr. Zias, who did the cataloguing of the bones, the ossuary contained the bones of five individuals ranging from newborn to an adult female. Since there were no adult males, says Mr. Zias, who is echoed on this point by a chorus of theologians and scholars, Caiaphas could not have been buried in this box unless, Zias taunts, “the High Priest transgendered” and was “cross-dressing” (Zias, “Film Review, Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross – Nothing to go Ga-Ga over” p. 5). Zias’s derision, however, falls short of the evidence.

The lead archaeologist on the Caiaphas tomb excavation, Zvi Greenhut, reported that when they excavated Caiaphas’ tomb, the archaeologists found a “rectangular pit whose function was to allow those engaged in the task of burial to stand upright.” Next to the “standing pit” they also found “…another shallow pit hewn on the floor of the tomb which served as a repository for bones” (p.1, Jerusalem Perspective, 1991). In other words, the lack of male bones in the modest Caiaphas ossuary can be explained by the fact that the bones of the original owner of the ossuary may very well have found their June 22, 2011 31 way into the bone repository. This would not be unusual. In addition, as Kloner and Zissu report, in general, “bones were also found at the inner end of Kochim, having been pushed there when ossuaries were put in or a new primary burial was carried out” (Jerusalem Necropolis, p. 11).

So far, with respect to identifying the “modest” Caiaphas box with the patriarch of the tomb, we have two good reasons not to be concerned about the fact that there were no male adult bones in the ossuary i.e., the bone repository and the presence of bones in the Kochim. But, in fact, there is another reason. As all physical anthropologists will attest, differentiating male from female bones is a difficult matter. You can easily get them mixed up. If you don’t have an intact skull or, more importantly, an intact pelvis, there is no way to identify gender with any degree of certainty. The fact is that when it comes to the Caiaphas tomb all we have are Zias’ conclusions, but no forensic report whatsoever.

Nonetheless, lets look at what Zias says in the brief two-page summary that he published. There he states: “preservation of the human skeletal remains was poor…no complete crania were available for standard anthropological measurements.” He further states that; “skeletal remains [were] scattered about” and that this “further complicates matters” (‘Atiqot op. cit. pp. 78-79, emphasis added). If this is true, how on earth can Zias be so sure that the adult in the Caiaphas ossuary is a female? He can’t be. In any event, if Zias has a real bone report, he should produce it. The fact is that no report has been published, and it’s not in the IAA excavation file. (Zias does not tell us on what evidence he based his conclusions, how well preserved the bones were and what anthropological criteria were used for his sex identification. (Needless to say, the IAA report does not contain pictures of the bones, nor does it tell us whether they were taken to the lab for detailed study, including preservation and reconstruction, or if the sex identification was simply arrived at inside the burial cave.)

Because of the above, it is clear why Jonathan Price and his colleagues don’t follow Zias’ gender reckoning. In their report, they quote Zias with respect to children and adults but they then pointedly omit the female identification (see Cotton et. al. p.487). This seems no accident since their conclusion is that this ossuary might have held the male patriarch of the family.

So there are several possibilities here. The bones of a male adult may have found their way into the “bone repository” identified in this tomb (according to Zias there were three adult males there), or they may have been pushed to the back of a kokh (niche), or they may simply have been wrongly identified by Mr. Zias who did not file a proper report on the human remains from the Caiaphas tomb.

In the final analysis, I know for a fact that there was an adult male buried in this ossuary, even without Zias’ anthropological report. How do I know? Because it says so on the box.

We are still left with the issue of whether the nail that was found inside the ossuary was found inside the modest Caiaphas bone box with its unusual image, or in some other box in the tomb. It would be very helpful to know, but it is not essential to the hypothesis. The fact is that the coin found in a skull in this particular tomb was not in any Caiaphas ossuary, but in the ossuary of a woman called “Miriam, daughter of Shimon.” It hardly matters. The coin speaks to the afterlife culture of this tomb and this family. Similarly, if nails of a crucified man were used by generations of this particular clan as amulets, it hardly matters in which ossuary one or two of those nails finally ended up. In any case, I am not responsible for the incomplete record keeping of those who conducted this excavation. What I can say is that the association of these nails with the nails of a crucified individual does not depend on the precise identification of the ossuary in which they were found. Having said this, the third objection to the idea that one of the nails was found inside the “modest” Caiaphas ossuary involves a strange new twist to the story. After the airing of my film, a 1991 article by archaeologist Zvi Greenhut was referenced by my critics to discredit my report. If anything, it strengthens my argument.

As it turns out, a year after the discovery of the tomb and before the official report in “Atiqot,” which was based on the archaeological file at the IAA, Zvi Greenhut wrote a small preliminary report on the tomb for Jerusalem Perspective (4/4-5, 1991). And what do you know? Not only does Greenhut mention the nail inside the ossuary, but he identifies a specific ossuary, with no inscription, as the one in which it was found - ossuary no. 1. Greenhut says: “Two iron nails were also discovered in the tomb, one in the southern loculus, and the other in ossuary 1” (p. 11). This uninscribed ossuary was adjacent to the highly decorated “Joseph son of Caiaphas” one. I had missed this article because I never imagined that there was information published in Jerusalem Perspective that was missing from the IAA file and the official publication of the excavation.

What does all this tell us? First of all, it is clear that Cargill is wrong when he says that the nails were not important in this excavation. Here, Greenhut reports the location of the artifacts, ignoring “Cargill’s Law.” Second, it tells us that Ronny Reich is also dead wrong when he says that the nail in question was used to inscribe an ossuary. After all, according to Greenhut, the nail was found inside an ossuary without an inscription.

I will confess, however, that I am not sure what to believe. It seems very odd that here Greenhut reports on both nails, which demonstrates that he was aware of their importance, while at the same time not photographing them, measuring them or cataloguing them. Moreover, they then disappear altogether. The Jerusalem Perspective article does little for any responsible academic evaluation of the provenance of these nails. Nonetheless, if we accept Greenhut’s anecdotal report, it seems that the nail in question was buried with a member of Caiaphas’ family but not with Caiaphas. As with the coin, perhaps it was buried with a female member of the clan - maybe Caiaphas’ wife or daughter. We simply don’t know. What we have seen, however, is that these nails were probably there because they had been used to crucify someone.

Read Nails of the Cross: Part 4 crucifixion_nails_part_four.html

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