Wednesday 13 April 2011

Loony Antiquitism: "These are The Nails", No they are Not

Some people just do not give up... Simcha Jacobovici, "the naked archaeologist" apparently has now made a film about two nails which he says are The Nails used in a crucifixion, indeed The Crucifixion of Christ (Reuters, Film claims discovery of nails from Jesus's cross, Jerusalem Post 12th April 2011). Along with about thirty other 'serious' competitors for that title. But no, these are very likely the real, genuine absolutely authentic nails from Christ's Cross, because.... they were found in the tomb (thought to be) of the Caiaphas family (you know, the High Priest who handed Jesus over to the Roman occupiers). The logic is twisted:
"If you look at the whole story, historical, textual, archaeological, they all seem to point at these two nails being involved in a crucifixion," he said. "And since Caiaphas is only associated with Jesus's crucifixion, you put two and two together and they seem to imply that these are the nails".
Eh? "Caiaphas is only associated with Jesus's crucifixion"? Well, I presume he did one or two other things in his life too. Also quite a few other people around Jerusalem at the time were "associated with Jesus's crucifixion", some much more directly than the Jewish High Priest. Would a crucifixion nail or two have been considered a suitable grave offering for such a person? I am also at a real loss to understand what the woolly-hatted-one means by the "historical and textual" evidence associated with these two nails shows that they were "involved in a crucifixion", let alone the "archaeological evidence".

The photo accompanying the Jerusalem Post article shows two corroded handmade nails, we are told they are "two inches long" (5 cm to you and me) and they have different corrosion products on them, which at once begs the question whether they were deposited in the/a tomb together. That is by-the-by. They are bent over, what we in the trade call clenched. Let us say it is the length of the shank between the head and the point at which it was clenched over which is five centimetres long. That's far too short for a crucifixion nail. I'm pretty slender build, maybe Jesus was too. The place where a nail would be driven in my wrist to crucify me (lots of published experiments on this from the devotees of the Turin Shroud) is about 38mm thick. But then the shroudies point out that a body would tear a hole if the nail did not have a very broad head (the Jacobovici ones do not) or there was not something used as a "washer" - like a piece of wood through which the nail was driven (see the Givat Hamivtar burial). Even without this though, it means that the piece of wood to which the hypothetical victim was nailed was 50-38mm = 12mm thick.

OK, the True Cross of Christ might have been twelve milimetres thick - makes it easier to carry. The point is though that a 70mm nail, with a shank maybe 5 or 6 mm diameter would be pretty difficult to clench over to that degree (90 degrees as it seems) stuck through a piece of wood 12mm thick (the human flesh on the other side of the wood has no resistance to bending). I've not seen the film, and am unlikely to, but I bet the naked archaeologist does not do carpentry and does nail a bit of t-bone steak to one side of a twelve milimetre thick plank and bend the other short end over with a lump hammer to show it can be done. I do not think it can.

The other point is of course that to get the body off the Cross (which the "texts" to which Jacobovici refers tell use was done in the case of Jesus) the burial party would (unless they cut the victim's hands off) have to unbend the nails (or cut the ends of the nails off with a cold chisel) to get them out of the wood. These nails were buried still clenching whatever it was they clenched when they were used. There is no evidence whatsoever from the form of the artefacts that the something they were used to secure was a human being nailed alive to a cross, and it beats me why anyone who's ever banged a nail into a piece of wood would say anything different.

The form of these nails is typical of those used for light timberwork throughout the ancient world, and they got into the tomb either incidentally or were parts of timber elements of the grave furniture, chests, or maybe biers (or a door used as a bier). I'm not buying the DVD, even for a laugh.

Here's somebody who makes Crucifixion nails.

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