Simcha Jacobovici Nails It?

by: hawkgrrrl

April 26, 2011

Canadian filmmaker and non-Christian Simcha Jacobovici (aka History Channel’s The Naked Archaeologist) is a magnet for Jesus relics.  In 2007 he claimed to locate Jesus’ tomb in Jerusalem – with Jesus and other family members intact.  His latest find is a pair of nails he posits were the crucifixion nails, found in Caiaphas’s tomb (the high priest of ill-repute in the NT).  At first blush, some of these claims sound a lot like someone opened the New Testament and pulled random words out, using them to assemble a headline.  Let’s take a closer look at these two controversial claims independently.

The Jesus Tomb

What he found:  A burial chamber in suburban Jerusalem (Talpiot) was unearthed during a construction project in 1980.  Inside were 10 ossuaries (bone boxes), some bearing names:

  • Yeshua bar Yehosef’ — Aramaic for “Jesus son of Joseph”
  • Maria — written in Aramaic script, but a Latin form of the Hebrew name “Miriam” (“Mary”)
  • Yose — a diminutive of “Joseph” mentioned (in its Greek form ιωσης “Joses”) as the name of one of Jesus’s brothers in the New Testament (Mark 6:3)
  • Yehuda bar Yeshua — possibly Aramaic for “Judah son of Jesus”
  • Mariamene e Mara — according to the filmmakers this is Greek for “Mary known as the master.” The similar name “Mariamne” is found in the Acts of Philip.
  • Matya — Hebrew for ‘Matthew’—not claimed to be Matthew the Evangelist but “possibly a husband of one of the women in an unmarked ossuary.”

His claim:  The names are not common enough to the time period the ossuaries are dated to be anything but the Jesus family, with Jesus (Yeshua var Yejosef), his brother (Yose), his wife Mary Magdalene (Mariamene e Mara), and Judah (Yehuda bar Yeshua, son of Jesus & Mary Magdalene).  He considers the odds to be extremely low that this is some other family.  Bolstering his theory, Simcha adds that:

  • according to a UNC scholar Mariamene was a name given to Mary Magdalene
  • the name Yose (one of Jesus’ brothers) is rarer than originally thought
  • another ossuary of James, brother of Jesus, although stored elsewhere, has a similar “patina” to those found in the Talpiot tomb.
  • bones for the Jesus and Mariamene ossuaries are not related matrilineally, so since they were buried in the same tomb, they were probably married.

Supporters:  James Cameron did a documentary on the findings.  In his words:  “I’m not a biblical scholar, but it seemed pretty darned compelling.  I said, this is the biggest achaeology story of the century. And I still believe that to be true.”  Then he punched the air and shouted enthusiastically, “I’m the king of the world!”

Opposing views:  The math calculating the odds that this cluster of names would occur at this time period is guesswork at best, shoddy work according to most scholars.  To touch on the above additional data points:

  • References to Mary Magdalene as Mariamene date to a scholar born in 185 AD, much later than the tomb.
  • The James ossuary has strong physical evidence (dirt samples, original storage information, and historical records of where James was buried) linking it with the Silwan tomb site, where records show it was found, not Talpiot.
  • Jesus and Mariamene could be related otherwise (father-daughter, cousins, half-siblings); it doesn’t necessarily mean they were married.

From the critics:

  • R. Joseph Hoffman (early Christianity scholar):  “It is amazing how evidence falls into place when you begin with the conclusion–and a hammer.”
  • Amos Kloner (archaeologist from the original 1980 Talpiot dig):  “It makes a great story for a TV film, but it’s completely impossible.  It’s nonsense.”
  • Joe Zias (Jerusalem curator for 25 years who personally numbered the Talpiot ossuaries):  “Simcha has no credibility whatsoever.  He’s pimping off the Bible . . . Projects like these make a mockery of the archaeological profession.”
  • Stephen Pfann (president of Jerusalem’s University of the Holy Land and an expert in Semitic languages):  “How possible is it?  On a scale of one through 10–10 being completely possible–it’s probably a one, maybe a one and a half.”
  • William G. Dever (has excavated sites in Israel for over 50 years):  ” I’ve known about these ossuaries for many years and so have many other archaeologists, and none of us thought this was much of a story because these are rather common Jewish names from that period.  It’s a publicity stunt, and it will make these guys very rich, and it will upset millions of innocent people because they don’t know enough to separate fact from fiction.”

Religious implications:

  • Catholics fare the worst if the Jesus Family Tomb is that Jesus since this debunks several of their religious claims:  physical resurrection, Assumption of Mary, Jesus being married and having offspring – the rationale for clerical celibacy, Mary having other children rather than being a perpetual virgin (although they overlook the debunking of this in the NT), the Church of the Holy Sepulchre would come down a peg in importance, the story of Jesus’ body being moved is contradicted, and this find would bolster links to non-canonical gospels rejected by the early Catholic church such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene and the Acts of Philip.
  • Mormon doctrine fares a little better with the only big issue being no physical resurrection.  Eternal-family loving , celibacy-hating Mormons would be thrilled to find out Jesus was married and had a kid, if they could get past the whole resurrection implication.  So much for Easter.
  • Islam fares the best since they believe that a substitute was crucified in Jesus’ place.

Jesus’ Crucifixion Nails

What he found:  a pair of bent nails in the acknowledged tomb of Caiaphas.  (The tomb was originally found in 1990 and is now under a playground.  Apparently Poltergeist isn’t taken very seriously in Israel.)

His claim:  the nails could be the ones used to crucify Jesus.  Notably, his claim is much less dramatic now that Simcha is famous.  This time he states:  “I don’t think anybody’s going to say, ‘Crucifixion Nails’ exclamation point.  I think they’re going to write, ‘Crucifixion Nails’ question mark.”

Supporters:  Nails in a tomb are a rare find in this time period, so they must mean . . . somethingCrucifixion nails were reputed to have healing powers, kind of an ironic superstition given their primary use.  The nails in question were examined and compared to the only known crucifixion nail in existence (still attached through a crucified ankle), and while they are too small for feet or ankles, scientists found it possible that the nails in question could go through a hand (or perhaps even a wrist?).

Opposing Views:  They could have just been random nails deemed unclean because they were near  a dead body, so someone superstitiously threw them in with the ossuaries.  Also, original records are somewhat sketchy on where the nails were, indicating they were not together–one on the floor, one in one of the ossuaries.

Religious implications:  Not much, since the claim is pretty impossible to prove.  I, for one, hadn’t heard of Caiaphas’s eventual conversion to Christianity, which is kind of a nice twist (I love it when villains have shades of gray; heroes too for that matter).  In summary, as Simchi says, “Entire churches have been built around nails that have a lot less going for them than these do.”  Amen to that.  Anyone whose been in enough European Cathedrals can attest to the fact that there’s enough “wood of the cross” out there to build an ark, and enough “crown of thorns” to recreate Brer Rabbit’s briar patch. 

So, what do the rest of you think of these claims?  Any plausibility?  Sensationalism because there are lots of gullible Christians and movie directors?  Discuss.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 Responses to Simcha Jacobovici Nails It?

  1. Dan on April 26, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    I’m going with the critics. Under the smell test, this doesn’t rank higher than a skunk.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  2. Jeff Spector on April 26, 2011 at 6:52 AM

    Totally ridiculous. All of those names were and are quite common. Yeshua = Joshua, one of the most common names. Yossi or Ossi is and was a very popular contraction of Yosef, the yiddish is Yussel. And Miriam, the same thing. So, if the basis was the uncommonness of the names, you lose it right there.

    And since there were thousands cruxified, you’d have a lot of nails laing around.

    Just plain poop.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 1

  3. Nick Literski on April 26, 2011 at 9:48 AM

    In a late-breaking development, BYU archaeology expert Parley S. Monsonson has declared that he “knows beyond a shadow of a doubt, by the spirit’s witness” that the above nails are not, in fact, crucifixion nails. Rather, says Monsonson, they are leftover nails from the construction of Father Lehi’s ship in 600 B.C. Asked how such items would find their way into the tomb of Caiphas, Monson explained, “I saw in vision that just before leaving the Holy Land, Nephi sent these nails to his contemporary, the prophet Jeremiah. Shortly before his execution, Jeremiah regifted them to the reigning high priest at Jerusalem, who ensured that they were passed on to his successors until Caiphas’ death—and I know this vision is true in the name of THY son, Amen.”

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 7

  4. Nick Literski on April 26, 2011 at 10:12 AM

    UPDATE: After receiving several emails questioning his conclusion regarding the above nails, BYU archealogy expert Parley S. Monsonson tweeted: “Don’t take my word for it–ask God, and he will manifest the truth of my words unto you. Oh–and if you get a different answer, then you need to repent so the spirit can truly speak to you!”

    Controversial! What do you think? Thumb up 7

  5. jmb275 on April 26, 2011 at 11:29 AM

    Well, I suppose I should look more closely at it. If that’s really the only criticism of Simcha’s claim about the tomb of Jesus, then I really should look more closely. Not one of those criticisms addressed the claims of Simcha at all. Very disappointing. Nevertheless, it is certainly incumbent on Simcha to provide sensational evidence for a sensational claim.

    In some ways, I find this much more reasonable to believe, however, than I suspect most on this site will. For example, I have a really hard time with people coming back to life after being dead. Hence, I sort of assume that somewhere out there there was/is a body of the dead Jesus. I wouldn’t mind, or be shocked to find out it was found at some point. I also don’t find it blasphemous or unreasonable to think that Jesus got married and had kids (that’s what people do generally).

    Having said all that, I sure wouldn’t hang my Christianity on the claims.

    The crucifixion nail claim just seems strange to me. Anything’s possible I suppose, but I’m not gonna give it anymore thought.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  6. Mike S on April 26, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    These are all fascinating claims, and I tend to read all of them. At the same time, I can’t think of a single “artifact” that has held up to scientific investigation.

    And before we get too judgmental about pointing fingers to people making claims of authenticity, I might quote from the beginning of the Book of Abraham:

    A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus

    Do we still believe our own canonized claims of authenticity?

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  7. Bishop Rick on April 27, 2011 at 12:31 PM

    If the only problem for LDS is the bones of Jesus being found, then I don’t really see that as a problem. How many resurrections have been witnessed? None. How do we know that resurrection includes the reassembly of corrupt, decaying flesh and bones? We don’t.

    In fact it makes much more sense that corrupted flesh is NOT part of resurrection.

    The only issue here is that the story in the NT was exaggerated and not completely accurate. Why does this surprise anyone? That is the case for most of the stories in the OT and NT. Except for letters, most of the books were written tens to thousands of years after the fact and we think they are 100% accurate?

    I don’t see a problem with the concept of finding the tomb of Jesus, complete with bones. That said, I’m not Jewish (well actually I do have Jewish ancestry) and even I could see the problems with Simcha’s name association.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0

  8. Darla on August 11, 2011 at 3:28 PM

    It will be very hard to prove as fact. I will stick with what I have said to others. When Jesus rose from the dead those nails had to fall out some where.. maybe it is them ;-) I am praying that Simcha Jacobovici does find the truth as he does his research .. in Jesus name.

    Like this comment? Thumb up 0


%d bloggers like this: