But He Wants To Be A Paperback

I watch his TV show because Biblical archaeology is good storytelling, so I know this face well.

Simcha Jacobovici. Photo by: Nir Kafri

Simcha Jacobovici is the Naked Archaeologist. I don’t know why a person would conflate nakedy nakedness with a painstaking activity carried out in caves, tombs, deserts and dusty museums. No matter. Simcha’s not actually an archaeologist. He’s a filmmaker. He tells stories. Sometimes as I’m watching the show, I have trouble following his very athletic leaps through the texts and history. During two episodes last week, he made if-then statements that took away my breath and I’ll just tell you this: I have a pretty good breathing capacity. I breathe a lot, every day, but not so much when Simcha says museums were looted in Baghdad during the invasion and occupation and oh by the way you can buy these relics in London antique shops for a few thousand clams. Sometimes he says this people over here must be related to that people over there because both had boats or glass or this symbol or called their children Hey You until they turned 30, which can sound like evidence but isn’t always.

Yes, I do shout at a TV show about archaeology. Glad you asked. Anyway, now you understand why this story is both surprising and not at all surprising, coming from Simcha:

Are these the nails used to crucify Jesus?

Oh brudder.

The name Caiaphas is rare for the Second Temple era and in fact is totally unknown among archaeological finds. This allowed the digging detectives to say with confidence that the site is the burial cave of the family of Caiaphas, the Jerusalem high priest in Jesus’ time and one of the primary antagonists in Christian scripture.

It was this Caiaphas who gave Jesus up to the Romans. He, along with Judas Iscariot, was the symbol of Jewish treachery, a denier of the truth and the de facto basis for Christian anti-Semitism.

Aside from the ossuaries, the cave held other treasures: coins, a perfume bottle, an oil lamp in an earthenware pot, and two rusty and bent nails. These nails, Jacobovici claims, are no less than the original nails hammered into the hands of Jesus Christ as he was crucified.

He did that without a pole vaulting pit to land in. I’ll let you catch your breath there. Better? Okay, moving on:

And if Jacobovici is to be believed, these nails have the potential to cause a revolution in the way we view early Christianity, the Jewish religion from which Christianity emanated and the relationship between the two faiths. But first one must believe Jacobovici; many, primarily in the archeological world, do not, and even view him as a charlatan.

Jacobovici, an observant Jew sporting a large skullcap, has a light American accent that disappears as his outrage at the archeologists who dismiss his findings grows. He was born in Israel, but has lived in Canada for many years, garnering recognition for several documentaries he has made, including a film on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and another on the trafficking of women. He has won two Emmys for his work.

Yes yes yes, Simcha is a personable guy, has an interesting way with words and tells a hell of a story.

He gets to interview people I’d love to have a drink with, like Robert Eisenmann. He travels all over the place and has a mountainous pile of stock footage. He is about to present evidence for his claims in a new movie.

Jacobovici’s main claim is that the character of Caiaphas must be reconsidered. According to him, Caiaphas may have changed his mind about Jesus after the crucifixion, and his descendents thought it appropriate to bury the father of Christianity with the nails alongside other items meant to accompany him to the next world.

Jacobovici says that Caiaphas even became a member of the Judeo-Christians – those who maintained their Jewish identity while claiming Christ was the messiah (but not God). Jacobovici says that evidence of Caiaphas’ paradigm shift can be found in multiple places, including the mysterious symbols that were engraved upon the ossuary.

Other archeologists do not rule out the possibility that Caiaphas was buried in the cave; they say it is reasonable to assume that it was the family’s cave, although other members of the family may be buried there.

Dissenting archeologists maintain, however, that although the ossuary is elaborate in design, it is not in the style of a typical high priest burial site.

The excavation of the cave was done by two senior archaeologists, Dr. Zvi Greenhut, today a leading official at the Israel Antiquities Authority, and Dr. Ronny Reich, now the chairman of the Archeological Council, the highest archeological body in Israel.

Jacobovici has been cautiously critical of these two experts for ignoring what he perceives to be the most important finding in the cave: the nails. The other items discovered in the grave have been stored in the warehouses of the Israel Antiquities Authority, and the ossuaries can be viewed at the Israel Museum.

The nails, on the other hand, have been neglected – barely documented in the excavation’s findings and disappearing shortly after the dig. Now, they are in the hands of Simcha Jacobovici.

A few things:
1. The nails disappeared and reappeared? Ruh roh.
2. New movie = publicity stunts. Ruh roh!
3. “The father of Christianity”?

These are problems with the article’s reporting. We can’t discuss problems with Simcha’s theories until I see the movie, which I won’t do without elbow and knee pads, proper footwear and a cushioned helmet. A good story is one thing, but I’m not making any leaps without a solid place to land.

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