Scientists Analyzing These Ancient Nails Found Links To A Major Moment In Jesus’ Story

Inside a laboratory in the ancient city of Jerusalem, a team of scientists is picking apart secrets from the distant past. For years, suspense has been gathering around two mysterious artifacts: a pair of nails allegedly retrieved from a biblical tomb. Could they really be linked to the life of Jesus Christ? Now, a new study has revealed some thrilling conclusions.

Ever since filmmaker Jacobovici showcased the nails in his 2011 documentary Nails of the Cross, they’ve been the subject of intense speculation. And up until this point, their provenance has been a matter of great debate. According to some, these items are connected to one of the most famous stories in the Bible – an incident with tragic results.

Unsurprisingly, though, some experts have argued against this dramatic origin story, denying that the nails have any biblical links. So geologist Aryeh Shimron set out to find the truth. With the help of a team from Israel’s top scientific institutions, he began studying the artifacts, hoping to unlock their mysteries once and for all.

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And in July 2020 the results of Shimron’s study were published, sending shockwaves through the archaeological community. According to his research, the evidence indicates that the nails were indeed found within the crypt of a biblical priest. What’s more, if Jacobovici’s to be believed, they could be connected to a crucial moment in the life of Jesus.

Of course, it’s far from the first time that ancient relics have been linked to the biblical story of Jesus. The most famous of these, perhaps, is the elusive artifact known as the Holy Grail. According to legend, this cup or chalice was used during the Last Supper, when the alleged son of god dined with his disciples for the final time.

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Later, it’s claimed, the same vessel was used to collect the blood of Christ during his crucifixion. According to the Bible, Jesus was nailed to the cross as punishment for speaking out against the Roman status quo. And even though he was apparently resurrected soon afterwards, the event remains an integral part of Christian mythology.

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So what happened to the artifact known as the Holy Grail? Was it, as some believe, whisked away to Glastonbury in England and buried at a site still known as the Chalice Well? Or did it find its way to the Basilica of San Isidoro in Northern Spain, where an ornate goblet has been put forward as another likely candidate?

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At the moment, the fate of the Holy Grail – if it ever existed – remains unknown. But other biblical relics haven’t proved quite so elusive. In churches throughout Europe, for example, you can find fragments of wood purporting to come from the cross on which Jesus was crucified. And even though it’s impossible for all of them to be genuine, they’re still viewed with reverence by some.

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Over in Turin, Italy, a piece of fabric with an interesting backstory sits inside the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist. According to legend, it was used to cover the body of Jesus after the crucifixion, and his likeness can be seen imprinted on the relic to this day. But while the outline of a human face and body can clearly be seen, many believe the shroud to be no more than a historical fake.

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The nails featured in Shimron’s study, then, were in good company. But what exactly is the tale behind these artifacts, which are believed to date back to Roman times? For that, we need to look to Jerusalem in 1990. It was then that a team of experts employed by the Israel Antiquities Authority, or IAA, were conducting excavations in the area known as Peace Forest.

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According to reports, the IAA had been called in after construction workers stumbled across something interesting. On closer inspection, the team found an underground burial chamber thought to be almost 2,000 years old. And inside, they discovered a dozen boxes, or ossuaries, filled with the bones of the long-dead.

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Of course, you might think that it would be impossible to identify the deceased after so many years. But archaeologists were stunned to discover that two of the boxes were marked with labels: “Caiaphas” and “Joseph son of Caiaphas.” And for scholars of the Bible, those names definitely rang a bell.

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In the Bible, Caiaphas is named as the priest who sealed Jesus’ fate, handing him over to the Romans for crucifixion. So was it this figure whose bones were found in the cave beneath Peace Forest? According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, a number of experts believe this to be the case.

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But what does this have to do with the artifacts discussed in the 2020 study? Well, reports claim that, along with the boxes, a couple of ancient nails were also discovered within the crypt. Apparently, one was next to the label bearing Joseph Caiaphas’ name, while the other was sealed up alongside a set of bones.

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At the time, the expert in charge of the excavation stated that the nails might have been used to carve the labels into the ancient boxes. Whatever their original purpose, though, unfortunately they were soon forgotten. To make matters worse, no known images exist of the objects.

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For the best part of 20 years, nobody appears to have thought much about the missing nails from the Caiaphas tomb. But then, in 2011 Jacobovici’s controversial Nails of the Cross documentary was released. And in it, the filmmaker jumped to some explosive conclusions about the artifacts’ true nature.

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By that point, Jacobovici had come into possession of two nails that he believed were the same ones that’d gone missing from the Jerusalem tomb. So where’d they been for the past 20 years? In the documentary, it was implied that some kind of plot to conceal them had been hatched, echoing the conspiracies said to surround other biblical relics such as the Holy Grail.

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According to Jacobovici, the IAA had transported the nails to Tel Aviv University not long after they’d slipped from public view. And there, they’d been received by Israel Hershkovitz, an expert in physical anthropology. The scientist actually appeared in the documentary to talk about the artifacts and their potential significance.

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As the nails had been found in the tomb of Caiaphas, Jacobovici stated, they may well have had biblical connections. And in the documentary, he hinted that they could even be linked to a significant event in Jesus’ life story. But before long, officials at the IAA had offered up a different version of events.

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According to a statement released by the IAA in the summer of 2011, the nails in question had been in the possession of the celebrated anthropologist Nicu Haas as far back as the 1970s. Apparently, they’d formed part of a collection that also included a human heel-bone impaled by a nail – the only known discovery of crucified remains.

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Sadly, though, in 1975 Haas was involved in a fall, which put him in a coma that he’d never recover from. And according to Haaretz, his laboratory at the Jerusalem Medical School was packed up by a colleague, Joe Zias. Among the collection, he claims, were the nails – meaning that they were already in circulation at least ten years before the excavation of Caiaphas’ tomb.

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Eventually, during the early 1990s the nails were moved to Tel Aviv, which is where Jacobovici somehow got hold of them. Speaking to Haaretz, Zias said, “Evidently, during their transfer, the note regarding their provenance was misplaced and certain ‘wannabe archaeologists’ decided it would be a great story to say they were from the Caiaphas tomb.”

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In other words, most of the archaeological establishment dismissed the conclusions presented in Jacobovici’s film. But he remained stubbornly convinced that he’d stumbled upon something special. And eventually, Shimron, who’s reported to be a pal of the filmmaker, decided to get to the bottom of things.

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What Shimron found, it seems, has sent shockwaves through the archaeological community. With the help of a team of scientists, he analyzed material from both the nails themselves and the boxes found in the Caiaphas crypt. And despite arguments to the contrary from the IAA, he concluded that the two were a match.

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“The materials invading caves differ subtly from cave to cave depending on topography, soil composition in the area, the microclimate and neighboring vegetation,” Shimron told The Mirror in October 2020. “Consequently, caves have distinct physical and chemical signatures. The physical and chemical properties of the materials which, over centuries, have invaded the tomb and its ossuaries were investigated. Our analysis clearly and unequivocally demonstrates that these materials are chemically and physically identical to those which have, over centuries, also become attached to the nails.”

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And that wasn’t all. According to the study, the boxes and the nails were coated in calcite carbonate, otherwise known as flowstone, indicating that they came from a damp environment. Separate chemical traces also suggested that the samples had once been subjected to high humidity. Confusingly, though, these aren’t conditions that you’d expect to find within one of Jerusalem’s caves.

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But according to the study, this can be explained by a 2,000-year-old aqueduct being located within feet of the Caiaphas tomb. As caves in the area aren’t typically wet and humid, these findings seemed to strengthen the notion that the nails and the boxes came from the same source. Shimron and his team apparently analyzed samples from 25 different crypts and 40 ossuaries found in the Jerusalem area – but there was only one match.

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As far as Shimron is concerned, the study is proof that the artifacts in Jacobovici’s documentary were the same ones found alongside the boxes in the Caiaphas crypt. But what of the filmmaker’s more dramatic theories? After all, in Nails of the Cross, he’d suggested that the objects had a remarkable claim to fame.

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According to Jacobovici’s theory, the nails may have been used in the crucifixion of Jesus himself. Overcome with regret, the film-maker believes, Caiaphas could’ve removed the iron objects and retained them as a reminder of the terrible event. Certainly, we know that such objects were deemed to be good luck charms during Roman times.

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So might the nails have been handed down through the generations, eventually ending up in the family’s burial cave? If Jacobovici’s theory’s true, it would make them among the most significant biblical artifacts ever discovered. And according to the study, there’s at least some evidence to support this claim.

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Using an electron microscope, Shimron and his team spotted tiny traces of ancient bone and wood lodged within the nails. Together, these findings certainly seem to support the idea that the artifacts were used in a crucifixion. But what about the link with Jesus? Is there any evidence that these relics were really left over from the famous biblical event?

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“The evidence that the nails were used in crucifixion is indeed powerful,” Shimron claimed. “But the only evidence we have that they were used to crucify the Jesus of the Gospels is that they were found in the tomb of Caiaphas. Does our evidence suffice? I really cannot say, I choose to rely on good science rather than speculation.”

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Although Shimron seems confident that the nails came from Caiaphas’ tomb, he admits that the crucifixion evidence isn’t so watertight. According to Haaretz, the geologist acknowledged that the bone embedded in the nails could’ve become attached at a later date. Perhaps, for instance, over the long period when the artifacts were kept alongside boxes in the Jerusalem cave?

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Similarly, the study also acknowledges that at least some of the wood found attached to the nails is cedar – which didn’t grow in the region 2,000 years ago. And though cedar was still present in Jerusalem at that time, it was brought in from Lebanon at great cost. How likely is it, then, that the Romans would’ve used such a valuable material to create a cross?

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Speaking to Haaretz, Shimron speculated that cedar might’ve been used in an “out of the ordinary” crucifixion. Of course, that isn’t the only possible explanation. Later, the geologist admitted that Caiaphas might simply have acquired the nails from another, unknown source.

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Interestingly, the fragments of wood and bone aren’t the only evidence linking the nails with the practice of crucifixion. In Jacobovici’s documentary, Hershkovitz confirms that the artifacts are around 2 inches in length. Just long enough, in fact, to impale a human hand and attach it to a wooden cross.

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Hershkovitz also pointed out that the artifacts were bent at angles near their points. According to the study, this is “a practice apparently linked to nails used in crucifixions.” But despite such evidence, he told Haaretz that it’s still “very unlikely” that the objects once formed part of the gruesome punishment.

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Over at the IAA, officials have echoed Hershkovitz’s skepticism. A statement read, “To the understanding of the Antiquities Authority, the nails in question may have been used to crucify any of the hundreds of people who challenged Roman authority and were executed,” And although the authority admitted that Shimron’s research is “interesting,” it cautioned against accepting any unproven historical claims.

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“It seems reasonable that the nails mentioned in the research indeed came from a cave in Jerusalem dating to the same period,” the statement continued. “However, a direct connection to [Caiaphas’ tomb] was not proven. In fact, even if a connection is found, we still cannot determine with any degree of certainty that the cave is indeed the burial place of the high priest Caiaphas.”

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With so much uncertainty, then, it seems that Jacobovici’s a long way from proving that these nails really were used in the crucifixion of Jesus. But Shimron’s research has certainly given pause for thought to those who dismissed the claims made in Nails of the Cross. Might further studies lend even more support to the theory? Only time will tell.

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