‘Nails of the Cross,’ reopens centuries-old debate

Simcha Jacobovici says he’s located two iron nails that may have been used in Jesus’s crucifixion.

Jesus Nails Reuters 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
Jesus Nails Reuters 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)
A controversial Israeli filmmaker is reigniting one of history’s most charged debates as he releases a documentary film in which he claims to have located two iron nails that may have been used in the crucifixion of Jesus.
Simcha Jacobovici, the investigative journalist behind several polarizing films on biblical archeology, told reporters in Jerusalem on Tuesday that he has located two nails found in the 1990 excavation of an ancient tomb, then inexplicably lost.
Terra Incognita: The great archeology debate
His new film, Nails of the Cross, he said, presents a compelling argument for why two rusty nails gathering dust in a Tel Aviv University lab may be those with which the Christian messiah was crucified.
The tomb unearthed in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood caused a worldwide sensation due to an inscription on a highly wrought limestone ossuary, or bone box, bearing the words “Joseph son of Caiaphas.”
Scholars generally agreed that the name referred to the high priest (named in the New Testament simply as “Caiaphas”) vilified for rendering Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate.
But while the ossuary was feted with international publicity, Jacobovici said, another set of artifacts had been completely overlooked – the nails.
“Caiaphas is known for one thing in history,” he said. “He’s known for arresting Jesus and turning him over to Pilate, who then crucifies him. So you find two Roman nails in his tomb, and you don’t even mention it?”
Nails of the Cross is the first segment in the six-part documentary mini-series Jewish Secrets of Christianity.
At 9:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the Channel 1 investigative reporting program Mabat Sheni (Second Look) will screen an hourlong preview of the series, the first episode of which airs on May 15.
Jacobovici said the broadcast marked the first time a series on the origins of Christianity will air on Israeli television.
“Christianity is a black hole in the Jewish psychological and historical space,” he said on Tuesday. “Jews don’t know exactly how to relate to this religion that sprung from Judaism and is the most dominant religion today.”
Jacobovici, 58, was born in Petah Tikva but grew up in Canada, and three years ago moved back to Israel with his family. An Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, he is also host of the popular History Channel series The Naked Archaeologist.
Previous biblical archeology documentaries including The Lost Tomb of Jesus and The Exodus Decoded – both produced by Oscar-winner James Cameron – sparked debate among Christian believers and the archeology community for their bold reassessments of biblical history that critics said were inadequately backed up with scientific proof.
The Antiquities Authority has taken a similarly wary view of the filmmaker’s latest effort.
“The talented director Simcha Jacobovici has undoubtedly made an interesting film based on a real archeological discovery, but the analysis presented in it has no relation to that find or to the archeological research,” it said.
Itai Landsberg, the head of Israel Broadcasting Authority’s documentary division, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday, “We live in an area that interests the world, and not only because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but for religious reasons as well. The three major [monotheistic] religions are concentrated here. This region contains places that are holy for millions of people.”
Landsberg said Channel 1 was in the initial planning stages of an epic 14-part historical series on the Land of Israel.
To build on the 1981 series Pillar of Fire and 1999’s Tekuma: Israel’s First Fifty Years, the next series will explore the Land of Israel “from prehistoric man to the dawn of Zionism. We’ll look at the rule of the Greeks, the Romans, Arabs, Turks and British. Each segment will deal with the archeological artifacts discovered and their analysis, as well as the written texts.”
He said the production will take several years to complete.
As for Nails of the Cross, Landsberg believes the film could deeply affect Israelis’ very sense of self.
“For Israelis, the history of Judaism is connected to the history of Christianity,” he said.
“Television needs to provoke thought and arouse interest. I think that’s what this series does. This series links the history of Christianity to us as Jews and to the Land of Israel.”
Jacobovici says his goal was not to convince skeptics that he had located the centuries- coveted nails of the cross, but merely to argue that such a conclusion wasn’t out of the question.
“If at the end of the film you say, ‘Could be,’ that’s pretty good for me.’”
An expanded look at the film Nails of the Cross will appear in Friday’s Jerusalem Post Magazine.