Nails in Jewish Tombs: Three Minutes with L.Y. Rahmani Discussing Simchas 3-Year Research1
In honor of LYR, a man of integrity, whom we all should follow
By Joe Zias
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 1970s 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 couldnt 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 wouldnt 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).