|Replica of the iron nail found in the heelbone |
of the crucified man identified as Jehohanan ben Ha’galqol.
Courtesy of the Biblical Antiquities Reproduction Group Inc.
Up until 1968 there was much debate over how crucifixion was actually carried out, particularly whether people were either tied to the crossbeam or nailed.1. However, a Jewish tomb was discovered in 1968 in Giv’at ha-Mivtar (Ras el-Masaref, ossuary no. 4 in Tomb 1), just north of Jerusalem near Mt. Scopus, that dated to the first cent. AD, containing the remains of a crucified man. The pottery in the tomb dated from the late second cent. AD until AD 70. 2.
The site was excavated by a team of archaeologists led by Vassilios Tzaferis, who uncovered the remains of some thirty-five individuals, nine of whom were violently killed.3. The name of the crucified man, Jehohanan ben Ha’galqol, 4. was etched on the outside of the ossuary. His remains were examined by the late Professor Nicu Haas, an anthropologist at the Anatomy School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Medical School. He determined that the remains belonged to a man in his twenties who was crucified sometime between AD 7 and 66 (start of the Jewish revolt).5. The evidence for his crucifixion was based on an iron nail (11.5 cm., 7 in. long) that still remained in his right heel bone. The end of the nail was bent, making it difficult to remove from the olive wood, which may explain why it was still in his heel. Furthermore, nails were driven through his wrists, between the radius and cubitus and not the palms, which scholars had speculated was the common practice and has been proven to be unable to support the weight of a human body.6. Ancient writers considered the wrist to be part of the hand.
In addition, there was a piece of acacia wood between the head of the nail and his foot; perhaps a piece of wood was placed over the foot before nailing to prevent the foot from slipping over the head of the nail. According to the custom mentioned in John 19:31–32, Yehohanan’s legs were broken (Lat. crucifragium).
More recently Zias and Sekeles have re-examined the skeletal remain and altered some of the initial conclusions. They concluded that the iron nail still lodged in the right heel bone had passed from the right to the left of only that heal, and that the legs had not been nailed together since the nail was too short. The crucified man’s legs had straddled the upright beam and were nailed on either side. They also concluded that the man was tied to the crossbeam since there were no traumatic injuries to his arms or forearms and questioned whether the man’s legs were broken prior to his death. 7.
While this find does help to support the literary descriptions of crucifixion, the conclusions drawn are only based on only one archaeological discovery and are therefore limited.
- 1. J. W. Hewitt, “The Use of Nails in Crucifixion,” Harvard Theological Review 25 (1932): 29–45.
- 2. David W. Chapman, Ancient Jewish and Christian Perceptions of Crucifixion, Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament 2 244 (Tübingen: Siebeck, 2008), 4–5.
- 3. Vassilios Tzaferis, “Jewish Tombs at and Near Giv‘at ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem,” Israel Exploration Journal 20, no. 1 (1970): 18–32; “Crucifixion: The Archaeological Evidence,” Biblical Archaeological Review 11 (1985): 44–53.
- 4. Joseph Naveh, “The Ossuary Inscriptions from Giv‘at ha-Mivtar,” Israel Exploration Journal 20, no. 1 (1970): 33–37.
- 5. Nico Haas, “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar,” Israel Exploration Journal 20, no. 1 (1970): 38–59.
- 6. Arthur C. Aufderheide and Conrado Rodriguez-Martin, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Paleopathology (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 38.
- 7. Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles, “The Crucified Man From Giv‘at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal,” Israel Exploration Journal 35 (1985): 22–27.
David E. Graves, Key Themes of the New Testament: A Survey of Major Theological Themes (Moncton, N.B.: Graves, 2013), 159-60.
For Further Study
- Charlesworth, James H., and Joseph Zias. “Crucifixion: Archaeology, Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls.” In Jesus and the Dead Sea Scrolls, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 273–89. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.
- Davis, J. J. “Rethinking the Crucified Man from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” Bible and Spade 15 (2002): 119–20.
- Edwards, William D., Wesley J. Gabel, and Floyd E. Hosmer. “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ.” Journal of American Medical Association 256 (1986): 1455–63.
- Fitzmyer, Joseph A. “Crucifixion in Ancient Palestine, Qumran Literature, and the New Testament.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 40, no. 1 (1978): 493–513.
- Haas, Nico. “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” Israel Exploration Journal 20, no. 1 (1970): 38–59.
- Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Translated by J. Bowden. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1977.
- Møller-Christensen, Vilhelm. “Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” Israel Exploration Journal 26 (1976): 35–38.
- Naveh, Joseph. “The Ossuary Inscriptions from Giv’at ha-Mivtar.” Israel Exploration Journal 20, no. 1 (1970): 33–37.
- Robison, John C. “Crucifixion in the Roman World: The Use of Nails at the Time of Christ.” Studia Antiqua 2, no. 1 (2002): 25–59.
- Tzaferis, Vassilios. “Crucifixion: The Archaeological Evidence.” Biblical Archaeological Review 11, no. 1 (1985), 44–53.
- _____. “Jewish Tombs at and near Giv‘at ha-Mivtar, Jerusalem,” Israel Exploration Journal 20/1, 2 (1970), pp. 18–32;
- Witherington III, Ben. “Biblical Views: ‘Images of Crucifixion: Fresh Evidence’.” Biblical Archaeology Review 39, no. 2 (2013): 28, 63.
- Yadin, Yigael. “Epigraphy and Crucifixion.” Israel Exploration Journal 23 (1973): 18–22.
- Zias, Joseph, and Eliezer Sekeles. “The Crucified Man From Giv‘at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal.” Israel Exploration Journal 35 (1985): 22–27.