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Nails in Jewish Tombs: Three Minutes with L.Y. Rahmani Discussing Simcha’s 3-Year Research1

‘In honor of LYR, a man of integrity, whom we all should follow’

See Also:
Simcha Jacobovici Responds to Critics of His “Nails of the Cross Film”
A Critique of Simcha Jacobovici’s Secrets of Christianity: Nails of the Cross

By Joe Zias
Jerusalem, Israel
July 2011

Following the Jesus Nails film by Jacobovici in which he attempted to show that two nails found in the tomb of the Caiaphas family were those used in the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, after the remorseful High Priest, according to Tabor and Jacobovici, became a messianic Jew, L.Y. Rahmani phoned me to discuss the totally absurd premise of the film. Rahmani, as many of you know, a man of integrity,2 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.3 We arranged a meeting at his apartment and in but a few minutes he was able to explain clearly and concisely the most probable reason for the finding of nails in Jewish tombs. Had Jacobovici and Tabor, who quoted freely from the catalog of Jewish ossuaries, read the short (61 pages) introductory remarks of the catalogue, they would have been able to see that A, the finding of nails in Jewish tombs is not all that rare; B, the most obviously reason why; and C, while the nails in question, from an unknown context, were most likely to have come from a Jewish funerary context.

On page nine of the catalogue, Rahmani writes “Pairs of perforations through the rim and the lid of an ossuary were intended to facilitate sealing rivets; such sealing was intended to protect the remains of the deceased.” On page 18, Rahmani writes under the heading Protective Formulae: “The various measures employed to seal the ossuaries were probably prompted by the wish to protect the remains of the deceased and the desire to prevent the mingling of their remains with those of other people.” On page 94 of the catalogue, 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.4

The two small nails in question which were removed by me from the lab of Professor N. Haas following his tragic accident in the 1970’s and later transferred to the Tel Aviv University, Department of Physical Anthropology are most probably nails which were used to seal Jewish ossuaries. In the film, Jacobovici makes a point that the soft limestone adhering to one of the short nails proves that the nails came from a tomb whereby the answer is much simpler: the nails did come from a tomb context, that of sealing the lid of an ossuary and the fact that they were bent at a 90 degree angle would have made their removal difficult. Whosoever opened the sealed ossuary simply lifted the soft limestone lid thus leaving a remnant of the limestone adhering to the metal, beneath the head. Furthermore, the length of the two nails (6-7 cms) appearing in the film is too short to have supported a victim on a cross or a tree.

Lastly, the film which is part of a series entitled Mysteries of the Bible is a misnomer in that the only mystery in the series is why after their alleged three years of research on two nails, they couldn’t have taken 20-30 minutes to read one of the basic, fundamental, and most widely quoted works on Jewish burial practices. On the other hand, had they done so, they wouldn’t have had the film ready for Easter.

Postscript- Simcha recently responded in a rambling way to his above critics and predictably no responsible blogging site would run it. Tabor, however, who acts as one of his “archaeological advisers” agreed to run it.


1 Jacobovici claims that he spent three years researching the story in order to reach the conclusion that these two nails of unknown provenence actually came from the tomb, excavated by the IAA in 1981.

2 Dr. Rahmani, whom I have known and worked with the past 40 years, has consistently refused to speak to the press or appear on camera, letting his immense academic résumé speak for himself. However there was one exception and that was his appearing in a television documentary following the Talpiot tomb documentary of 2007. In it, he clearly showed how the film was a total embarrassment to what the filmmakers call “biblical archaeology.”

3 L.Y. Rahmani, A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel, The Israel Antiquities Authority, The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem (1994).

4 E.L. Sukenik, A Jewish Hypogeum Near Jerusalem. J. Palestinian Oriental Society V. VIII pp.113-121; (1928).

Comments (12)

It could be that Joe is confusing things with his own submissions on the Nails, rejected by this very web site and other "responsible" sites, and posted then himself. Joe has apparently not ever read my blog or he would know I often post things from others, as much as my own posts, and I think most of my blog readers will agree it is a high quality site with a wealth of good materials. I am not sure how Joe comes up with his list of "responsible blogging sites." Is this published somewhere or just Joe's off the cuff evaluation? What is there about my site that is irresponsible, I ask him to point out a single post:

Also, I have never made any comment on Simcha's "Nails" film or article so I am not sure where Zias is getting is information about how "Jacobovici and Tabor" needed to check this or that...I don't have a dog in this fight but I welcome responsible exchange, not personal slander.

Be that as it may this input by Rahmani is most welcome and valuable and whether these nails turn out to be such will be determined by proper lab tests and contextual studies of other such nails, not by Zias's assertions here. It is interesting though that these nails, which previously Joe asserted had nothing to do with tombs or ossuaries, he now thinks did come from a tomb--just not this one, as he apparently confuses them with another box that was from Haas's lab and clearly labeled so. I am basing this on what Jacobovici presents in his article. If he is incorrect Joe should point that out rather than refer to the article as "rambling." So far as I have seen Joe has not responded to anything of substance in that article. Readers can read for themselves and decide if they find it without substance, the link is at the top of this page.

One fact should be resolved here though. Simcha's article indicates that only two nails have ever been found inside an ossuary before, the "crucified heel" and one of these from the Caiaphas tomb. Is that the case or not? Maybe Joe can let us know if Simcha is wrong about that. It is based on Hachlili's inventory which seems to be pretty exhaustive. If that be the case, and we only have "two" examples, then it could be that Joe has taken Rahmani's comment out of context here, as if to say nails used to fasten ossuary lids are commonly found inside ossuaries...
#1 - James Tabor - 07/12/2011 - 11:28

I just read Joe Zias' response to Simcha. How lame. Simcha wrote a 46 page detailed analysis and literally tore Zias’ credibility to shreds. One of Simcha’s points was that Zias never responds to content but always attacks personally. Zias’ response confirms Simcha’s analysis. In his lame response he says: 1) Rahmani is “brilliant, a man of integrity” etc. etc. Therefore, when he dismisses Simcha’s theory, we should believe him. It’s always personal with Zias. He hates you or he loves you. Content has nothing to do with it. With due respect to Rahmani, he’s written an excellent catalogue. That doesn’t make him an expert on crucifixion, the Talmud or metallurgy. In his article, Simcha quotes Rahmani when he needs to reference ossuaries and he quotes Professor Israel Hershkovitz when he needs to reference an expert on crucifixion; 2) Then Zias goes on the attack. Clearly, he’s been somewhat humbled. He doesn’t write Simcha’s name with dollar signs through the “S” anymore, but he calls Simcha’s film an “embarrassment” and he suggests that Simcha and Professor Tabor didn’t do their homework because they were rushing to finish their work by Easter. We all know what that is a code for i.e., his repeated charges that Simcha tried to make “a fast buck at Easter time”. So far, true to Zias’ form, he doesn’t answer any of the points in Simcha’s 46 page article. All he does is praise Rahmani and personally attack Simcha and Tabor, as if these are intellectual arguments.

With respect to content, he makes only two points: first, that nails in tombs are not so rare, but he gives no supporting evidence to contradict the exact statistics in Simcha’s article. Second, he says that the nails in question were used to secure a lid and that the little limestone cap on the head of the nail glued itself to the top of the nail when the lid was pulled off. Really? How kooky is that? I’d like to see an experiment where a nail is used to secure the top of a limestone ossuary and when you pull the lid off, part of the lid glues itself to the top of a nail. It seems that Zias’ understanding of physics and chemistry is on par with his understanding of physical anthropology which, as documented in Simcha’s article, is not very good. Answer the charges Mr. Zias. The personal stuff doesn’t wash anymore.
#2 - John - 07/12/2011 - 12:25

I just read Joe Zias' extremely short response to Simcha's very detailed defense of his film. I don't want to get into matters of content, or Zias' tendency to attack personally, I just want to focus on two matters of fact. First, Simcha's series is not called "Mysteries of the Bible", it's called "Secrets of Christianity". If you're going to attack it, at least get the name right. Second, Zias states "no responsible blogging site would run" Simcha's article. I'm his assistant. I know this to be totally false. The question is, why do you make such things up and how do you get "responsible blogging sites" to run these unsubstantiated statements?
#3 - Nicole - 07/12/2011 - 13:03

We are not a "blogging site." But thanks for writing that we are responsible.
#4 - Editors - 07/12/2011 - 14:32

I like this quotqtion:“The various measures employed to seal the ossuaries were probably prompted by the wish to protect the remains of the deceased and the desire to prevent the mingling of their remains with those of other people.”
Joe, you must notify Gibson ans Kloner of this one, since they claim that the Mariamene ossuary probably contained the remains of two females; that is - the remains in this ossuary were mingled after all, and no nails sropped it.
Since you rely on Rahmani: can you explain, Joe, the mystery? I mean: Rahmani reported 9 Talpiot ossuaries while Kloner reported 10.
#5 - Eldad Keynan - 07/13/2011 - 01:28

SJ's theory that the nails were related to the crucifiction/high priest are basic conjecture without any hard scientific evidence to support this theory. Dr. Zias'objection to the theory is correct since he presents some relevant facts as to their discovery/excavation. SJ tells an interesting story but without hard facts that clearly link the nails to Jesus or the high priest, it is just fiction. To paraphrase the great Carl Sagan, "exceptional discoveries demand exceptional proof". yes, the nails could have been used on Jesus or an alien visitor but then again, they most probably were used by someone else, somewhere else.
SJ is a entertaining story teller; but without clear scientific proof, all he gives us is a story.
#6 - Dr. E. Neiburger - 07/13/2011 - 21:40

Since aside from Dr. Neiburger, the only folks supporting Simcha are those working for him and aside from Kenyan one or two are posing as archaeologists, when they are not, I will address Kenyan as he appears to know a bit about Jewish tombs. He wishes to know about that 'missing ossuary' which I told him 4 yrs ago I would be most helpful if he provide a list of articles written by Mr Josef Gat who they gave the Lifetime Acheivement Award to, for clearing out the Talpiot tomb. Originally I asked for a dozen and when there was no reply, I then asked for a handful and still no reply. Could it be that they gave the award to an individual who never published anything, along with a Holocaust story in order to be 'vindicated ? Anyway, time has passed and I'm still willing to help him however pro quid pro and I will not request a non-disclosure agreement if we find it and since were on the topic, I have another small request or two. SJ and Tabor have complained that there is a web site called 'lets beat the snot out of Simcha' but colleagues have not been able to find it, could you be so kind as to give us the link. And last if not least since you are familiar with the world of ossuaries, on a scale of 1-10 what are the chances of finding grafetti of Jonah and the Whale on a Jewish ossuary. If they are high, could it possibly be the tomb of Josef of Arimethia ? If you would be so kind as to answer the above, then I can tell you where the 'missing ossuary, just may be. Looking forward to your reply.Shalom
#7 - Joe Zias-Jerusalem - 07/15/2011 - 05:15

Hi, Joe. It was a long, hard journey for you; from "Eldad who?" to address me directly and ask for my help. I'm impressed, Joe; "pro quid pro", huh? I'm almost flattered.
Yet this painful journey can not and did not turn the table upside down. You are still the old Joe. Why? Indeed, I saw you during the Jerusalem symposium; but we never had even the tiniest small talk, not to mention anything professional.
I would be more careful than you, should I mention people who are not among us anymore. The kate Gath did more than just clearing the Talpiot Tomb; Gibson states that in just a few hours, the late Gath extracted 10 ossuaries from the tomb. So, Joe, who are we to follow, regarding Gath? You or Gibson? This question is here to explain why I can not consider any agreement with you, Joe. Besides, I was surprised like many others by the life achievement award, granted to Gath's widow. Precision counts, right?
The web site? I never saw it, but I do know you're looking for it for some time now. As a former employee of the IAA, you seem to need no help in "searching" objects. Or maybe someone knows how to hide and silent objects better than others? Joe - even if I knew such a site, I'd never tell you; the word "loyalty" means a lot to me. You remember the IDF unit Sayeret Shaked? I was there for three years; loyalty and deep friedship were the foundations there, to the degree that we needed no professional to search for them in the dunes and the fox holes.
Last, and I assume - not least: I will never trade any information you need for information I don't need. Yet I can give you this advise free of charge: there maybe a good ladder to get of the thorny tree. The problem is, as always - timing. next December might be too late.
Shabbat Shalom, Joe. I wish you all the best.
#8 - Eldad Keynan - 07/15/2011 - 11:18

I'm not an archaeologist or historian - I'm a Professional in another field with a long time interest in biblical archaeology, history and related statistical analyses. I also have no religious affiliations whatsoever. However, I am constantly disappointed with the seemingly lack of professional standards as exemplified with many of the debates that I have read.

Foe example, there seems to be a huge bias in terms of one's own religious or non-religious leanings, rather than adhering to objective standards and addressing evidence or facts that may run contrary to those beliefs. Also, there also seems to be an overwhelming amount of personal attacks on characters, rather than addressing the salient points made in the debate. Debaters are often picking and choosing only a small minority of points to debate rather than addressing all of the points. There is also a tendency not to acknowledge those points where the debater has no issue, making it sound as if the debater is opposed to ALL of the points. There also seems to be extremely sloppy practice, where objects are not properly recorded, when reports are prepared years after the excavations, where items become "lost", and even where there are differences in reports of the number of items found.

This is all very unprofessional, and in my profession, this type of attitude would not be tolerated. The member could easily lose his status in the Profession.

So, back to the facts in this debate and see if there are any reasonable answers. There are two nails, which are 6-7 cm in length. Since the thickness of the hand or wrist is only 3-4 cm (perhaps less when the nail is pounded by a heavy hammer), from a logical point of view, I see no reason why the nails could not be used to hang a person from the hands or wrists, especially if the nails were angled slightly downwards. So why do you say that the nails were too short to be used for hanging?

Secondly, what is the typical size of the nails regularly found in ossuaries as reported by Rahmani? I would think that this would have been one of the first facts to be addressed, yet I see no mention of it.

Thirdly, what is the explanation for why nails could bend 90 degrees when pounding into soft limestone? Is this a regular occurrence? It would make much more sense that the nail would be bent when encountering a hard knot in wood as was the case with the nail found with the piece of ankle, rather than in consistent soft limestone.

Thank you.
#9 - John Koopmans - 07/16/2011 - 09:37

One more question:

If the nails were used to secure the lid of the ossuary to the base, then what was the typical thicknesses of the lids? If, as suggested, the nails were too short to be used for nailing hands, then it stands to reason that the ossuary lids must have been significantly thinner than the 3-4 cm representative of the thickness of the hand or wrist. If not, then the argument that the nails were too short for crucifixion purposes would also apply to their being too short for securing the lids to the bases.

Thus the key question regarding whether it is more plausible for the nails to have been used for the ossuary lids rather than for crucifixion purposes seems to be dependent on the following: whether or not ossuary lids were typically much thinner than 3-4 cm?
#10 - John Koopmans - 07/16/2011 - 10:57

Goodness, have none of you ever done any carpentry?

1) How do you secure a nail to prevent its easy removal? Hammer it down at 90 degrees after hammering it in straight for 2/3rds its length.

(Note this type of securing would be used on, for example, rough framing with two x fours.)

2) What happens when a 90 degree secured nail is jimmied up and removed from a soft surface? Pieces of the soft material will adhere to the head of the nail.

3) What length nail is necessary to secure an inanimate object 3cms in thickness to a plank? A minimum of 9 cms, that is, a minimum of three times the thickness of the object to be nailed to the surface. AND, if, and only if, the head is sufficiently broad to prevent the nail being pulled through the object 3cms in thickness the first time any medium to heavy weight is placed upon it.

4) What length nail is necessary if the person hammering the nail wishes to secure the object 3 cms in thickness at 90 degrees after hammering it in? The nail must be even longer in proportion to the total required depth, i.e. a minimum of 12 cms -- 15 cms would be better.

Now the above applies to an inanimate object. What if the object 3cms thick is animate? You know, capable of squirming and moving -- like yanking to be free? You need more length, particularly if you want to secure it at 90 degrees after pinning the animate object to the plank.

And we haven't even touched on the necessary thickness to avoid the animate object pulling the nail through the point of contact. Heck, if you want to hammer some poor sods wrist to a plank, you would want a tapered spike 1cm in thickness, with a head at least 2 cms in diameter, and 9-12 cms in length.

From a purely physical point of view, those nails are far too short and far too thin to have been used to hang much more than a 50 x 53 cms framed -- with glass -- picture. They could never have been used to hang anything as heavy as a person.

Now, I have read Rahmanni's catalogue quite closely. These nails are long enough to have been used to secure the lid of an ossuary and not much else. Besides, we do have an idea of what those crucifixion nails looked like. One of the ossuaries held an example of a crucified man's ankle and heel.

PS: The 24 foot by 14 foot deck I designed and built was rated the best constructed deck the city engineer had ever seen. And, no, the nails were not secured by hammering down 1/3rd of their length. You use heavy 10 penny finishing nails, countersink them, and then fill and sand.
#11 - Rochelle Altman - 07/16/2011 - 17:02


You raise some good points. I have also built a deck that could hold a tank and still stands today after 25 years. I know that a nail should ideally be about 3 times as long as the thickness of the plank that is being nailed. However, that is today's standards and is also the standard for long term survival. In those days, the body only had to be held for a few days and it was desirable that the nail could be easily removed afterwards (unless it was bent as in the case of the nail found with the skeleton). Thus a nail twice (or even slightly more) than the thickness of what is being attached would suffice for the short term.

Regarding your explanation that the bent nail is because the top part was bent over to ensure a better grip, that would be true if the part at the head of the the nail was bent over.

However, if you look at the two nails, you will see that the exact opposite is the case. It is the pointed end that is bent. See:

Thus, like the nail with the piece of ankle, it seems obvious that the pointed end met with resistance and was bent, not the other way around. This seems far more likely to occur in wood with knots than with soft limestone. Thus I maintain that a nail of 6-7 cm would be sufficient to nail a flexible hand or wrist (but not an ankle). Recall also that the feet were likely supported, or also nailed (likely with longer and thicker nails).

Perhaps an expert on crucifixions can verify this or provide better details.
#12 - John Koopmans - 07/16/2011 - 19:10

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