April 12 (Bloomberg) -- Two ancient nails discovered in a Jerusalem archaeological excavation 20 years ago may have been those used to crucify Jesus, filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici says.
The nails, discovered in an excavation of a first century Jewish tomb in 1990, have divided historical opinion. Jacobovici’s view is set out in a documentary that will be aired on television in both the U.S. and Israel.
A number of ossuaries were found in the tomb, which belonged to the Caiaphas family, according to inscriptions on two of the bone boxes, Jacobovici says. Caiaphas was the name of the Jewish High Priest at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, according to the New Testament.
“I’m not standing here today and saying I know, for 100 percent sure, that these are the nails of the crucifixion,” Jacobovici said in Jerusalem. “We have enough evidence to bring this story to the world, that requires us to tell the story.”
The nails were not photographed at the time that they were found, and there is no record of what was done with them, according to the documentary. At around the same time as the excavation, two ancient nails from the Second Temple period were delivered to a Tel Aviv University lab from Jerusalem and remained there since then.
These two nails are bent, which may be consistent with their being used for crucifixion, according to the documentary.
Jacobovici says that the crucifixion nails were seen as a powerful talisman, that could protect the bearer in this life and the afterlife, and were therefore included in the tomb. For Caiaphas, the crucifixion of Jesus was one of the most important events in his life, and this is another possible reason they were included in his tomb, Jacobovici says.
The Israel Antiquities Authority said in response that there is no scientific proof for Jacobovici’s theory. Nails are commonly found in ancient burial caves from this period, and are believed to have been used for chiseling the name of the deceased on the sarcophagus, and there is no indication that they have any other significance, it said.
The tomb found in Jerusalem has not been proven to have belonged to the family of the High Priest of that name, and may have belonged to another family with the same name, the IAA said.
“There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film, at the center of which is a genuine archaeological artifact,” the IAA said in an e-mailed statement. “However, the interpretation presented in it has no basis in the find or in archaeological research.”
While there is no proof that the nails came from the cave of Caiaphas, or that they were used for crucifixion, or even any textual evidence that Caiaphas kept the nails of the crucifixion, it is a possibility, Gabriel Barkay, a Bar Ilan University professor who appears in the documentary, said at a news conference today.
“This is not the way to draw conclusions in science,” Barkay said. “But on the other hand, those are possible things. I think it is a fascinating film. One does not have to accept every detail in it.”
The documentary will be aired on the History Channel in the U.S. on April 20 and in Israel on Channel 1 on May 15, the first of a series called “Secrets of Christianity”.
To contact the reporter on this story: Alisa Odenheimer in Jerusalem at firstname.lastname@example.org