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The Nails of the Cross:

A Response to the Criticisms of the Film

Part Three

Jesus’ Nails?

By: Director/Producer Simcha Jacobovici

We can finally ask the question: if the tomb excavated in 1990 is, indeed, the tomb of Caiaphas, as most scholars believe; and if the nails presently in the anatomy lab of Tel Aviv University are the nails found in that tomb, as all the evidence suggests; given Caiaphas’ association with Jesus’ crucifixion, is it possible that these are the very nails that were driven through Jesus’ hands?

To answer this question we have to re-examine both the story of Caiaphas and the story of his tomb.

With respect to Caiaphas, there are really two questions to be considered; did he have reason to want to keep the nails used to crucify Jesus? And, did he have the opportunity to get his hands on them? The Gospels provide us with answers to both these questions. Let’s turn to the first.

When it comes to the depiction of Caiaphas in the Christian Bible, as Professor Helen Bond, who literally wrote the book on him, puts it very clearly in my film; “the depiction of Caiaphas in the Gospels is a ‘caricature’ of a Jewish High Priest.” Clearly, it was designed to demonize the Jews and whitewash the Romans. In the Gospels, blame for Jesus’ crucifixion is transferred from the Romans – who did the deed – to Jesus’ kinfolk i.e., the Jewish people.

In response to Professor Bond, Cargill states, “had Caiaphas…demonstrated the smallest amount of remorse, we can be certain that the New Testament would have mentioned it.” After all, says Cargill, “the New Testament takes every opportunity” to absolve the Roman centurion at the foot of the cross (Mark 15:39) and Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:24), who washes his hands of the matter before handing Jesus over to be crucified. That’s the point that Dr. Cargill is missing. The Gospels take every opportunity to whitewash the Romans and vilify the Jews. The centurion who does the deed is absolved. Pilate who orders the crucifixion is absolved. Even his wife is absolved! (Matthew 27:19). All this while the Jews are depicted as egging Pilate on and calling down curses on their own heads and, for good measure, on the heads of their children (see John 19:6 and Matthew 27:25). Given all this, it is clear that any remorse shown by the High Priest would not have been mentioned but, rather, obscured.

Nonetheless, I do believe that we can tease the historical truth out of the text. For example, the hand washing attributed by Matthew to Pilate is clearly a Jewish hand washing custom. It’s not a Roman custom. It is described in Deuteronomy 21:6 where it is performed by someone in a position of power who feels that a man has wrongly died in his jurisdiction, and that he had no way of preventing the death. It is a ritual that a Jewish High Priest might have symbolically resorted to, not a Roman governor. And yet, in the Gospel of Matthew (27:24), this singularly Jewish ritual is transferred to the Roman thug Pontius Pilate. This slight of hand resulted in millennia of anti-Semitism and millions of Jewish dead. But if we restore the hand washing ceremony to its proper historical context, we realize that it was Caiaphas, not Pilate, who washed his hands of Jesus’ blood! In other words, in a sense, Dr. Cargill is right; the expression of remorse by the High Priest is, indeed, embedded in the Gospels themselves.

Put differently, the Gospels tell us that there were two individuals largely responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion – the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas. They also tell us that one of these two felt bad about the outcome. According to the Gospels, it was the cutthroat prefect Pilate, who we know from Philo, Josephus and other sources as an unrepentant brute, who felt bad about the crucifixion of the Jewish Rabbi called Jesus, and it was the Jewish High Priest Caiaphas who instigated the agonizing death of his fellow Jew. If we accept the story at face value but switch the June 22, 2011 26 character descriptions, we come up with something much more historically plausible. Simply put, the Gospels themselves tell us that one of the two individuals most responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion was remorseful. I put my money on Caiaphas, not Pilate. And this seems consistent with the new archaeological evidence.

But there is more. The idea of a remorseful Caiaphas is explicitly presented in a Christian Gospel, albeit one outside the New Testament canon. Historically speaking, why does the Roman Church have a monopoly on the true Caiaphas tradition? In my film, Professor Barrie Wilson points to the Infancy Gospel of the Savior, a Syriac book, as evidence of an alternate Christian tradition concerning Caiaphas. But Cargill will have none of it – three times in one paragraph he mentions that this text was preserved in “Arabic.” He even italicizes the word “Arabic.” And he concludes: “Simcha’s theory relies on an apocryphal Arabic volume popular among the Eastern Nestorian sect!” (Cargill op. cit. p. 7). In other words, Cargill’s response is to point out that the text is written in Arabic and that it is popular among Eastern Christians. These are its “debilitating problems,” he says. This is theology not history.

I believe that in many instances the Syriac tradition preserves a historically more accurate version of the facts then that preserved in the western Church. In this instance i.e., the case of Caiaphas, we have the Gospels depicting a Jewish High Priest sending one of his own to the cross, and a powerful Roman governor remorsefully washing his hands of the deed. In contrast, in the Syriac tradition, we have a Jewish High Priest regretting the death of a Jewish messiah. On the face of it, which version seems historically more accurate?

But the Infancy Gospel does more. It portrays Caiaphas as a believer in Jesus’ messianic claims. Is it really impossible that a Jewish High Priest could have been a secret follower of Jesus? Well, the Gospels explicitly tell us that at least two members of the Sanhedrin i.e., Caiaphas’ high court, namely, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, were secret followers of Jesus. After the crucifixion, when even Jesus’ closest disciples go into hiding, these two colleagues of Caiaphas’ step forward to claim Jesus’ body and take responsibility for his burial - secret followers no more! According to the Gospels, they worked openly without any opposition from the High Priest. If Caiaphas wanted Jesus dead, why didn’t he oppose these two Jesus followers who had now gone public? Furthermore, since Joseph of Arimathea took Jesus from the cross, is it so improbable that he kept the nails - as per Jewish and/or pagan magical traditions - when he anointed and washed Jesus’ body? In other words, it is the Gospels themselves that place the nails within grasp of Caiaphas by explicitly telling us that Caiaphas’ colleagues were in charge of Jesus’ burial.

Having said all this, I don’t purport to know what was in Caiaphas’ head and I don’t have solid historical evidence to argue that the “remorseful Caiaphas” is the true Caiaphas of history. My only point was and is that a remorseful Caiaphas – rather than a remorseful Pilate – is more consistent with what we know from history and there is at least one Christian tradition explicitly supporting such a view. Given all this, we have to re-examine the presence of the nails in the tomb and see whether the archaeology throws any new light on the Caiaphas of history.

Read part four : crucifixion_part_three.html

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