Rethinking The Crucified Man From Giv’at Ha-Mivtar

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Excerpt The 1968 discovery of the remains of a crucified man in a cave at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in Israel created considerable interest among both Biblical and archaeological scholars... Continue reading

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This article was first published in the Fall 2002 issue of Bible and Spade.

The 1968 discovery of the remains of a crucified man in a cave at Giv’at ha-Mivtar in Israel created considerable interest among both Biblical and archaeological scholars (Kuhn 1978:118–22, 1979:303–34; Naveh 1970:33–37; Strange 1976:199–200; Tzaferis 1970:18–32 Yadin 1973:18–22). A brief summary of N. Haas’s original work appeared in the Summer 2002 issue of Bible and Spade (Davis 2002). Haas’s osteological analysis (Haas 1970:38–59), however, was done rather rapidly due to the demands of the religious community for reburial of the bones (Zias and Sekeles 1985:22). He suggested that the osteological evidence pointed to the fact that the victim’s heels had been nailed together sideways on the cross (Hass 1970:57).

A later reexamination of the right calcaneum (heel bone) revealed that the two heels had not been nailed together, but nailed separately to either side of the upright post of the cross, so that he straddled it (Zias and Sekeles 1985:22–24). Also later challenged was Haas’s assertion that a nail had pierced the distal ends of the radius and ulna of the forearm. The scratches in the wrist area were determined to be non-traumatic and, therefore, not evidence of crucifixion (Zias and Sekeles 1985:24). Haas had also claimed that there was evidence that the legs of the victim had been broken (Haas 1970:57), but this was apparently based on what is described as “inconclusive evidence” (Zias and Sekeles 1985:24–25).

Two proposals for ancient crucifixion as demonstrated by N. Haas. The position on the right was the original anthropological speculation which was later changed to the position on the left. However, both positions may be incorrect as shown on the next drawing below.

Yadin has challenged Haas’s assertion that the cross was made of olive wood (Yadin 1973:20) and Zias and Sekeles have denied that the right talus of the victim had been cut by sharp instrument to aid removal of the body from the cross (Zias and Sekeles 1985:24). In fact, they have suggested that bone morphology suggests that it belonged to a third individual buried in the ossuary! It was originally suggested that the bones of two individuals had been placed in the ossuary: one adult male, 24-28 years old and a child that was 3-4 years old (Haas 1970:42–43).

These re-appraisals do not diminish the archaeological importance of the find, however. The bones still give clear evidence of first century AD Roman crucifixion. These later reappraisals do remind us that archaeological research is a dynamic process by which earlier materials and conclusions are reevaluated as new material comes to light.

Reconstruction of the method of crucifixion of Yehohanan, a first century AD Temple worker whose remains were found in a cemetery in Giv’at ha-Mivtar in northeast Jerusalem. Gene Fackler. (Based on Biblical Archaeologist 54 [1991]: 155).

Bibliography

Davis, John J.
2002 Bones, Burials and Biblical History: The Results of Burial Excavation. Bible and Spade 15:81–84.

Haas, N.
1970 Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal 20:38–59.

Kuhn, H. W.
1978 Zum Gekreuzigten von Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Korrektur eines Versehens in der Erstveroffentlichung. Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft 69:118–22.

1979 Der Gekreuzigte von Giv-at ha-Mivtar. Bilanz einer Entdeckung. Pp. 303–304 in Theologia Crucis, Signum Crucis: Festschrift für Erich Dinkier zum 70 Geburtstag, ed. C. Andresen and G. Klein. Tubingen: Mohr.

Naveh J.
1970 The Ossuary Inscriptions from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal 20:33–37.

Strange, J.
1976 Method of Crucifixion. Pp. 199–200 in Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Supplementary Volume, ed. K. Crim. Nashville TN: Abingdon.

Tzaferis, V.
1970 Jewish Tombs at and near Giv-at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal 20:18–32.

1985 Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence. Biblical Archaeology Review 11:44–53.

Yadin, Y.
1973 Epigraphy and Crucifixion. Israel Exploration Journal 23:18–22.

Zias, J. and Sekeles, E.
1985 The Crucified Man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal. Israel Exploration Journal 35:22–27.

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