Two corroded Roman-era iron nails that some have suggested pinned Jesus to the cross appear to have been used in an ancient crucifixion, according to a new study. This research has reignited debate over the origin of the nails.
The new analysis suggests the nails were lost from the tomb of the Jewish high priest Caiaphas, who reportedly handed Jesus over to the Romans for execution. Slivers of wood and bone fragments suggest they may have been used in a crucifixion.
Geologist Aryeh Shimron, the lead author of research published in July in the journal Archaeological Discovery, said the link to Caiaphas and the latest evidence did not prove absolutely that the nails were used to crucify Jesus in Jerusalem in A.D. 33, but they strengthened the claim.
“I certainly do not want to say that these nails are from the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth,” Shimron told Live Science. “But are they nails from a crucifixion? Very likely, yes.”
Where did the nails originate?
Israel Hershkovitz, a renowned anthropologist at Tel Aviv University, received the nails in an unmarked box from the collection of Nicu Haas, an Israeli anthropologist who died in 1986.
According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), Haas obtained them from a tomb excavated in the 1970s, decades before the Caiaphas tomb was discovered, according to Haaretz.
But the IAA doesn’t know which tomb the nails came from, and no records of their provenance have ever been found.
In a controversial 2011 documentary called “The Nails of the Cross,” however, filmmaker and journalist Simcha Jacobovici suggested the nails were those lost from the Caiaphas tomb — and that the high priest may have been so overcome with guilt about the crucifixion of Jesus that he kept the nails as a memento.
Haaretz reported that some scholars, though no names were given, have called the latest research highly speculative.
But Shimron, a geologist based in Jerusalem who’s retired from the Israel Geological Survey, said the new study gave weight to the documentary’s ideas. Shimron has not studied the two nails that are the subject of Jacobovici’s 2011 documentary before now, though he was involved in a 2015 study tied to another of Jacobovici’s controversial documentaries on the archaeology of Jesus.
Workers widening a road discovered the first-century “Caiaphas” tomb in 1990 in a neighborhood in the southeast of Jerusalem. The tomb contained 12 ossuaries —– one marked with the name “Qayafa” and another, ornately decorated with motifs of flowers, marked with the Aramaic name “Yehosef Bar Qayafa,” or “Joseph son of Caiaphas” in English. Most archaeologists now accept that the tomb was used to bury the first-century high priest Caiaphas and his family, the study said.
Caiaphas, who is is mentioned several times in both the Christian New Testament and a history of the Jews written in the late first century by Flavius Josephus, presided over a sham trial of Jesus for blasphemy, after which Jesus was handed over to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate for execution, according to the Gospel of Matthew.
The execution was reportedly carried out on Friday April 3, 33, when Jesus was nailed to the cross — a common Roman method of capital punishment.