Simcha Jacobovici and the Nails From Caiaphas' Tomb

Share/recommend this article:
Related Articles
Like this artice?

Our Ministry relies on the generosity of people like you. Every small donation helps us develop and publish great articles.

Please support ABR!

Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover & PayPal

Jacobovici also believes that Caiaphas, the high priest responsible for turning Jesus over to the Roman governor of Judea, Pontus Pilate, converted to the Judeo-Christian movement that believed Jesus was the messiah, but not God. After he died, the family of Caiaphas wanted the nails buried with him because they thought the nails possessed talismanic powers and would give him divine protection in the afterlife!


Is there any evidence for these sensational claims by Simcha Jacobovici?


Who is Simcha Jacobovici?


Jacobovici is a very colorful movie producer. He is famous for his sensationalist television program, the “Naked Archaeologist.” Having watched the program, I can attest to the fact that he does not appear naked in the show, and it is equally obvious that he is not an archaeologist! He has been labeled by archaeologists working in Israel as a con man, charlatan, scam artist, publicity hound, and even worse. He should not be taken seriously, but because of his sensationalistic approach, the news media loves his programming.


In 2007 he released a video and book that alleged the family tomb of Jesus was found in the East Talpiyot neighborhood of Jerusalem and it included an ossuary with the bones of Jesus. This program was a misguided attack on the deity of the Lord Jesus and His bodily resurrection. It has, however, been thoroughly refuted by a number of people. See: The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb Rediscovered in Jerusalem 


The Tomb of the House of Caiaphas


Jacobovici’s current “discovery” concerns a burial cave that workmen accidently discovered while making a water park in the Peace Forest in the southern part of Jerusalem during November / December 1990. It was a simple, single burial chamber with four loculi (called kokhim in Hebrew) typical of the Second Temple period. Three kokhim were on the western wall of the cave (labeled Kokhim I, II, and III) and one was on the southern wall (labeled Kokhim IV). There was a central depression that was filled with debris, including broken ossuaries (Greenhut 1991: 6-12; 1992a: 63-71; 1992b: 28-36, 76).


There were six intact ossuaries (bone boxes used for secondary burial) found in the burial cave. Two (Ossuaries 5 and 6) were found in situ in Kokhim IV. The other four had been removed from their original positions in Kokhim I-III by the workmen. Six other broken ossuaries and three lids were found scattered throughout the cave (Greenhut 1992a: 67).


Five of the ossuaries had inscriptions on them, with two ossuaries having inscriptions relating to the House of Caiaphas (Reich 1991: 13-21; 1992a: 72-77; 1992b: 38-44, 76). Of these two: Ossuary 3 contained the skeletal remains of “five individuals – an adult female, a juvenile, two seven year old children and a newborn” (Zias 1992: 78-79). It is into this ossuary that Jacobovici suggests the bones of the high priest were placed. According to the anthropological report, however, there were no adult male bones in this ossuary.


Ossuary 6, a very ornate box, had the name “Joseph bar (son of) Caiaphas” on it twice (Reich 1991: 15-17; 1992: 72-73, Fig. 5 and 6) and contained the partial skeletal “remains of six individuals, including a male c. 60 years old” (Zias 1992: 78-79). It is this 60-year-old male that some have suggested is the high priest who served in the Temple from AD 18-36 and is mentioned in the New Testament (Matt. 26:3, 57; Luke 3:2; John 11:49; 18:13, 14, 24, 28; Acts 4:6). Reich suggests that the name Caiaphas was a nickname and the inscription would mean, “Joseph of the family of Caiaphas” (1991: 16; see also Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.35 and 95; LCL 9:31, 69). There is still a scholarly debate as to whether the “Joseph bar Caiaphas” in Ossuary 6 is the high priest from the time of Jesus, or it belonged to his grandfather or grandson, as both would also have the name Joseph.


How Long Were the Nails?


At the press conference it was reported that the nails were about three inches long (8 centimeters). Unfortunately the pictures of the nails that were released at the press conference (see the Ha’aretz website) do not have a measuring scale next to them in order to verify this measurement. Scales next to objects is standard practice by archaeologists.


There is only one archaeological example of a crucified man that has been found in Jerusalem. In June 1968 a burial cave was found in the Giv’at ha-Mivtar neighborhood of Jerusalem. In it was found an ossuary that contained the bones of a crucified man with a large iron nail still pierced through his calcanei (heel) and into some wood (Tzaferis 1970: 18-32; Haas 1970: 42, 49-59). The nail measured 11.5 cm (4 ½ inches) long (Zias and Sekeles 1985: 23).


The nails that are in Jacobovici’s possession are 3 inches or less and could not hold a crucified man to a cross beam. The sheer weight of the man would pull the nails right out of the wood. Thus these nails could not have been used in any crucifixion, much less Jesus’!


Where Were the Nails Found?


The excavator, Zvi Greenhut, describes the two nails from the 1990 excavation in his final archaeological report. Unfortunately he does not include a photograph of them so scholars can compare the ones found in the Tomb of the House of Caiaphas with the ones that are in Jacobovici’s possession and to verify that they are the same nails. Greenhut reports: “Two iron nails were found in this cave. One was found inside one of the ossuaries and the other in Kokh IV. It is possible that these nails were used to inscribe the ossuaries after the bones had been deposited in them, possibly even after some of the ossuaries were placed inside the kokhim” (1992a: 68). Elsewhere, Greenhut identified which ossuary the nail was found in: Ossuary 1 (Greenhut 1991:11).


Ossuary 1 is a nondescript bone box with a flat lid and no decorations or inscriptions on it (Greenhut 1992a: 67). It contained the “poorly preserved remains of four individuals – two adults and two children” (Zias 1992: 78-79). This ossuary was apparently from one of the kokhim on the western wall of the cave (Greenhut 1992a: 63). It is clear that at least one of the nails was found in an ossuary other than the one with the bones of “Caiaphas.”


The physical anthropologist from Tel Aviv University, whose control the nails were under, has repeatedly told the news media that the origin of the nails that Jacobovici is showing is unknown and they have nothing whatsoever to do with crucifixion. Dr. Joe Zias, under whose curatorship those nails were under when he worked at the Israel Antiquities Authority, said the nails that Jacobovici is showing did not come from the Caiaphas tomb.


What Were the Nails Used For?


Dr. Levi Rahmani (1994), an expert on Jewish ossuaries, has suggested two possible uses for nails that were found in tombs. The first use is for fixing the lid of an ossuary to the bone box. Rahmani cites one example where there were still traces of iron in the hole (1961: 102, no. 9). The second use is for “scratching the name of the deceased on an ossuary” (1961: 100).


The excavator states that these two nails were used for scratching “the inscriptions on the ossuaries in the cave after the bones had been collected and placed in them and even after some of the ossuaries had been placed in their loculi. This is evident from the fact that some of the inscriptions were written perpendicularly, from the bottom to the top of the ossuary” (Greenhut 1992b: 36).


It is highly probable that the nail found in Kokhim IV was used for scratching the names of Caiaphas on Ossuary 6, but it is important to note that it was not found inside the ossuary of Caiaphas and thus not a talisman with divine power to protect Caiaphas in the afterlife as Jacobovici would like to claim.


Nails from a crucified person have healing powers according to the Mishnah. Tractate Shabbath 6:10 describes some of the things that can be carried on Shabbat, including nails. “Men may go out with a locust’s egg or a jackal’s tooth or with a nail of [the gallow of] one that was crucified, as a means of healing. So R. Meir. But the Sages say: Even on ordinary days this is forbidden as following in the ways of the Amorites (heathen superstition).”


What is Simcha Trying to Do?


Although it is difficult to tell what Jacobovici is trying to do, it seems he is trying to exonerate Caiaphas and absolve him of all responsibility of the death of Jesus. This might be Jacobovici’s way of improving the Jewish-Christian dialog concerning the responsibility of the death of Jesus.


The news media, on the other hand, is always looking for something sensational to report during the Easter season. A quick glance at their track record will clearly demonstrate this. In 1996 the BBC had an Easter Special that claimed that ossuaries from a burial cave in an East Talpiyot neighborhood had the names of Joseph, Mary and Jesus on them and this was the “holy family.” In 2001 and 2002, Rabbi Wolpe from Los Angeles said right before Passover that there was no archaeological evidence for the Exodus from Egypt. In 2003, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was released. In 2006, a double whammy was released: Gospel of Judas and Jesus Dynasty. In 2007, the “Naked Archaeologist” released his so-called “Jesus Family Tomb.” This was a follow-up on the 1996 BBC Easter special. In 2008, the movie “Bloodline“ was released that allegedly had the archaeological “proof” for the Da Vinci Code.


Ho hum, here we go again. The media should be ashamed of itself for promoting such nonsensical pseudo-archaeology. If they must circulate sensational stories, at least they owe it to their readers to investigate the claim by interviewing scholars in the field.


Conclusion of the Matter


It will be interesting to see how Jacobovici tries to “rehabilitate” Caiaphas. For a good background study on the life, personality, and activities of Caiaphas and the Sadducees, sees the two articles by Professor David Flusser (1991; 1992).


The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) released this statement: “There is no doubt that the talented director Simcha Jacobovici created an interesting film with a real archaeological find at it’s centre, but the interpretation presented in it has no basis in archaeological findings or research.”


I think Dr. Gabriel Barkay, the leading scholar on the archaeology of Jerusalem and a professor at Bar-Ilan University, sums it up best. He states: “There is no proof whatsoever that those nails came from the cave of Caiaphas. There is no proof that the nails are connected to any bones or any bone residue attached to the nails and no proof from textual data that Caiaphas had the nails for the crucifixion with him after the crucifixion took place and after Jesus was taken down from the cross.”


I will be watching the “documentary” on the History Channel entitled “The Nails of the Cross” on April 20 after which I will give a full report. But if Simcha is consistent with some of his segments of “Naked Archaeologist” that are long on sensationalism and unsubstantiated claims, and short on credible substance, the viewer will be very disappointed with this video. He will present no evidence for his sensationalistic claims.




Danby, Herbert

1985 The Mishnah. Oxford: Oxford University.


Flusser, David

1991  … To Bury Caiaphas, Not to Praise Him. Jerusalem Perspective 4/4-5: 23-28.


1992 Caiaphas in the New Testament. ‘Atiqot 21: 81-87.


Greenhut, Zvi

1991  Discovery of the Caiaphas Family Tomb. Jerusalem Perspective 4/4-5: 6-12.


1992a The ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb in North Talpiyot, Jerusalem. ‘Atiqot 21: 63-71.


1992b Discovered in Jerusalem: Burial Cave of the Caiaphas Family. Biblical Archaeology Review 18/5: 28-36, 76.


Hass, N.

1970 Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2: 38-59.



1981 Antiquities of the Jews. Books 18-19. Vol. 9. Trans. by L. H. Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard university. Loeb Classical Library 433.


Rahmani, Levi

1961 Jewish Rock-Cut Tombs in Jerusalem. ‘Atiqot 3: 93-120.


1994 A Catalogue of Jewish Ossuaries in the Collections of the State of Israel. Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities Authority and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.


Reich, Ronny

1991 Ossuary Inscriptions from the Caiaphas Tomb. Jerusalem Perspective 4/4-5: 13-21.


1992a  Ossuary Inscriptions from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb. ‘Atiqot 21: 72-77.


1992b Caiaphas Name Inscribed on Bone Boxes. Biblical Archaeology Review 18/5: 38-44, 76.


Tzaferis, V.

1970 Jewish Tombs at and near Giv’at ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem. Israel Exploration Journal 20/1-2: 18-32.


Zias, Joseph

1992 Human Skeletal Remains from the ‘Caiaphas’ Tomb. ‘Atiqot 21: 78-80.


Zias, Joseph; and Sekeles, Eliezer

1985 The Crucified Man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal. Israel Exploration Journal 35/1: 22-27.

Comments Comment RSS

4/15/2011 8:06 AM #

I would be interested to know if the nails fit the holes in the ossuary and/or match the inscribed writing on it. Was any dating done? The nails would obviously bend under the weight of supporting a body, if they would even be long enough to go thro the ankle. When Simcha'sname is mentioned I'm always sceptical. Good review of the issue!

Karin Lovik - 4/15/2011 8:06:53 AM

4/17/2011 8:40 PM #

Martin Luther: Rome has enough nails from the holy cross to shoe every horse in Saxony!

Greg Gulbrandsen - 4/17/2011 8:40:48 PM

4/18/2011 10:38 AM #


Thank you for your kind note regarding my article exposing the "nails of the cross" hoax. As far as I can tell, there were no holes in any of the ossuaries that were found in the Caiaphas Tomb. The nails are too corroded to see if they matched any of the inscribed marks on the ossuaries.

According to Jacobovici, the two nails were driven through the hands of Jesus, not His ankle, or heel bone. Nails that are three inches, or less, could not support the weight of a man. The nails would be ripped right off the crossbeam and the crucified person would fall to the ground.

In a follow up report after the video comes out, I will document where the nails actually came from. There were from a known collection that existed BEFORE the Caiaphas tomb was even discovered, so there is absolutely, positively, no ways the two nails that Jacobovici claims were from Caiaphas' tomb, could be from Caiaphas' tomb. Case closed!

Gordon Franz

Gordon Franz - 4/18/2011 10:38:23 AM

4/18/2011 2:37 PM #

Excellent article on the foolishness of some who try to deceive others. Maybe the "Naked Archaeologist" is a play on words from the nursery story
called the "Emperors New Clothes". In that case he really was naked and nobody would admit it. So the title would be very appropriate. Some people will just believe anything !!!

Charles Michael Lassiter - 4/18/2011 2:37:23 PM

4/21/2011 3:03 AM #

Mr. Jacobovici makes so many illogical assumptions!  Assuming these nails were the Jesus nails & that this ossuary is that of the correct Caiphas involved, that doesn't imply that Caiphas was a believer in Christ!  He could have desecided upon his death to cover "all bases" for the afterlife with the coin, the lamp, the nails, etc... out of fear. Or, his relatives who buried him likely made those decisions.  Caiphas, as reported in the biblical account was responsible for the Jewish court's condemnation of Jesus.

Also, as soon as they pointed out that the Rockefellers are the financiers of all biblical archaeological site in Israel(!), that automatically tells me that the Rockefellers and their agents control what the public really knows and when, if ever, they know it.  The Rockefellers are notoriously fanantical regarding biblical & medieval archaeology.

keto - 4/21/2011 3:03:29 AM

4/25/2011 12:53 AM #

Thank you for this overview of the issue.  I happened across this the other night when it aired on the History Channel.  My first thought was that this must be bogus because there is no way scholars would just ignore nails that could have conceivably been connected to Caiaphas.  My second thought was trying to figure out Simcha's angle.  What exactly was he trying to suggest here?  First I thought perhaps the implication was that Jewish scholars were hiding evidence of the Crucifixion, but then I thought he was trying to rewrite Caiaphas' history.  I couldn't quite figure it out.  I thought the oddest thing was bringing in a 6th century Arabic text in order to possibly discover what Caiaphas' real motivations were!  Come on!  That would be like consulting a text written today to find out the "truth" about someone who lived in the 1400's!   But, as the documentary made sure to remind us, the big bad Catholic Church suppressed all apocryphal works that threatened to expose the truth... so this random text mentioning Caiaphas must be the real story!  Talk about a perversion of logic.  Also, I found the overwhelming reliance on implication and suggesting to be incredibly annoying.  "Could it possibly be..."  "Might these nails be..."  "This could have been the place where..."  Just admit that you are saying random sensational statements!   Preceding outrageous statements with speculative qualifications doesn't make for solid history!  I might be from Mars, but I'm not!

Anyway, I knew that a bit of poking about on the net wouldn't require much effort to debunk this pseudo-science.  I should not be shocked at the vulgarity of this, but I am.  I think it is terrible to put some random nails on television and lead people to believe they could be witnessing the nails of the crucifixion, especially just before Good Friday and Easter.  This is the cheapest kind of exploitation of faith.  Shame on the History Channel!  

Amanda M - 4/25/2011 12:53:08 AM

6/29/2011 12:50 PM #

In regards to the nails, these are not random nails according to one comment. These are crucifixion nails. How can you tell? In order to prevent the weight of the body from pulling the nails out - they were bent at the tip. This is the case with the nail found imbedded in a heel bone and also true for these two nails.

Secondly, how can Jacobovici make the claim that these are the nails found in the Caiaphas tomb? According to the report, one nail was found in an ossuary and the other on the ground beside an ossuary. The one left inside an ossuary would have been calcified from the limestone. And, in fact, one of these nails does show heavy calcification.  Testing the mineral content of this calcification and the mineral content of the box it was found in would provide a more definitive answer.

What's interesting about this case is the behavior of Dr. Joseph Zias, the man in charge of keeping track of the nails. So, you open a tomb of the man involved in the most famous crucifixion of all time and you find two crucifixion nails and you don't photograph or record them???

The authenticity of these nails would not be suspect if Zias had followed proper procedure. So you have to wonder - what's up with that?

William Lakeman - 6/29/2011 12:50:54 PM

6/29/2011 12:59 PM #

Also, in regards to Zias' claim that these were just ordinary nails used to scratch the names on ossuarys - why would you use a nail with a bent tip for that? And then, why would you then toss the nail you used on the ground, or worse yet, in an ossuary? Objects left in tombs are there for a reason - because they had meaning to the family or the deceased.

William Lakeman - 6/29/2011 12:59:26 PM

8/8/2011 12:46 PM #

It seems to me, the true source of outrage at the release of this story is found in the implications of the presence of those nails in Caiaphas' tomb.  

Have you read the New Testament?  Have you considered what Caiaphas said, prior to Christ's crucifixion?  

John 11:49-52  "Caiaphas, who was high priest at that time, said, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!  You don’t realize that it’s better for you that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.”
He did not say this on his own; as high priest at that time he was led to prophesy that Jesus would die for the entire nation.  And not only for that nation, but to bring together and unite all the children of God scattered around the world."  God used Caiphas.

Have you read what became of Christ after the crucifixion?  He was raised on the third day, just as He prophesied He would.  He has the power to lay down His life, and to take it up again.   He appeared to over 500 witnesses after His resurrection - and Gamaliel (a Pharisee) would later prophesy:

Acts 5:38-39  "my advice is, leave these men (the apostles) alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown.   But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!”  Amen, and so they were not.  Christianity changed the course of the World forever, and it will continue to do so.

These same apostles preached continually in the Temple - James the brother of John came to preside over the church in Jerusalem - and that was within only a few years of the crucifixion and resurrection - many of the Priests of the Temple came to follow Christ - I would suggest even, a majority - else Christian blood would have been shed right there, rather than in the secular Sanhedrin from which the Saduccees and the unbelievers fought to overthrow the Way.  The Bible evidences that the Temple itself was given over to the Christians prior to it's destruction in 70 AD.  Do you not see?  The very men who crucified our Christ saw Him rise, and their eyes were opened.  They came to understand who He was - I speak not of all of them - but apparently, as the texts read, "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."  Acts 6:7

Jesus Christ is Lord - and praise Him that so many were brought to kneel at His cross.  Remember His final prayer, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do."  Forgiven, these men - likely including even Caiaphas, came to Christ.  How else could the High Priest have lost his Temple to the Christians in so short a time, unless he gave it up to them - for they were never violent insurrectionists.  These facts will undoubtedly outrage unbelievers and Jews not yet touched by our Lord, but the Truth of Christ always will.

Ray K - 8/8/2011 12:46:28 PM

Research RSS Feed

AddThis Feed Button

Recent Articles

In this article we will discuss why the decree of Daniel 9:25 must be identified with one issued by the...
II. Analysis and Discussion 3. Liber Biblicarum Antiquitatum 4. Augustine’s Renegade Scribe Theory 5....
II. Analysis and Discussion 2. Straw Men and Ad Hominems
II. Analysis and Discussion 1. The Rabbinic Deflation of the MT’s Primeval Chronology
Associates for Biblical Research
  • PO Box 144, Akron, PA 17501
  • Phone: +1 717-859-3443
  • Toll Free: 1-800-430-0008
Friend ABR on Join us on Twitter Join us on Twitter