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Caiaphas’ Ossuary, Funerary Nails, and Mr. Zias

A response to Nails in Jewish Tombs: Three Minutes with L.Y. Rahmani Discussing Simcha’s 3-Year Research

The Caiaphas ossuary on display at the Israel Museum exhibits no signs of nail holes on the lid or on the ossuary. The photo is incontrovertible; nails were not used for sealing the lid.

By Eldad Keynan
Bar Ilan
August 2011

Simcha Jacobovici has written that the two nails discovered in the Caiaphas’ tomb could be the nails the Romans used to “fix” Jesus to the cross

In order to refute Mr. Jacobovici’s proposal, Joe Zias consulted Prof. L.Y. Rahmani (ret.). According to Zias, “Rahmani, as many of you know, a man of integrity, intellectually brilliant, now 92 years of age, had written the standard reference for Jewish ossuaries, a work that will remain a classic for generations to come.” Zias is correct and Prof. Rahmani deserves this praise. Zias’ conclusion of his meeting with Prof. Rahmani is: “Had Jacobovici and Tabor, who quoted freely from the catalog of Jewish ossuaries, read the short (61 pages) introductory remarks of the catalog, they would have been able to see that A), the finding of nails in Jewish tombs is not all that rare; B), that’s the most obvious reason why; and C), while the nails in question are from an unknown context, they were most likely to have come from a Jewish funerary context.”

Following his distinguished mentor, Zias contends that nails were used to fix ossuary lids to the ossuaries so as to protect the remains inside the ossuary and prevent the remains from mingling with the remains of other humans. There is no reason to reject these notions. Yet, if we are discussing Caiaphas’ ossuary, why does Zias use an unrelated example of ossuaries as his evidence? Zias wrote, “On page 94 of the catalog, we find ossuary number 70 (36.1867) with an iron rivet sealing the lid with the chest, along with a note that ossuaries Nos. 77 and 196 also present the same type of sealing.” In note 4, Zias presents his source as E.L. Sukenik [A Jewish Hypogeum Near Jerusalem. J. Palestinian Oriental Society V. VIII pp.113-121; (1928)]. These illustrations do testify to sealing ossuary lids by nails, but they simply have nothing to do with the Caiaphas’ ossuary or his tomb. We may also wonder what disturbed Prof. Rahmani’s serenity to present such irrelevant data. Zias’ attempt to connect Prof. Rahmani to untenable evidence appears curious.

Caiaphas’ ossuary

The photo at-
tached shows Caia-
phas’ ossuary.

The photo clearly demonstrates that the lid could not have been “fixed” to the ossuary by nails whatsoever. The Caiaphas ossuary on display at the Israel Museum exhibits no signs of nail holes on the lid or on the ossuary. The photo is incontrovertible; nails were not used for sealing the lid.

Zias contends that “The two small nails in question which were removed by me from the lab of Professor N. Haas . . . are most probably nails which were used to seal Jewish ossuaries.” These nails may have been removed from Hass’ lab and may have come from the Caiaphas’ family tomb, but there is no evidence that any nails were used on the Caiaphas ossuaries.

Where do these nails come from? There are no existing reports concerning these particular nails. Jacobovici claims that proper documentation or preservation of archaeological evidence has been a problem for Zias. For years, Zias and others vehemently denied the possibility that the James ossuary originated from the Talpiot Tomb. Nevertheless, there was a missing ossuary from the Jesus family tomb at Talpiot that Zias cannot account for. In a recent article on Bible and Interpretation, the authors maintain that lab reports concerning the patina on the James ossuary appear to place this ossuary in the Talpiot tomb The Connection of the James Ossuary to the Talpiot (Jesus Family Tomb) Ossuaries. I am unaware of any contradictory evidence concerning these reports. The embarrassment concerning this report is palpable. If Zias or any other scholar has any information that can shed light on this issue, I think they would do a great service to present it.

What are we to make of all this? On the one hand, we have Jacobovici’s assertion regarding the nails’ source and use. On the other, we have a rebuttal made by Zias who uses irrelevant evidence that adds nothing to our understanding regarding these nails. It also seems that using Prof. Rahmani’s reputation does not support Zias’ disclaimer.