One advantage that a scam artist has over his victims is preparation time.  He can skillfully prepare his scam over months and years, but when he springs it on the mainstream media, they take his pre-packaged story and go to press with it immediately, lest all of the audience read the story at other outlets.  If you take two or three days to investigate, the news is now old.  Fortunately for both the purveyor and conveyors of the story, the audience is not so concerned with details and by the time the scam is revealed, the audience is entertained by the newest sensation.

The problems with Jacobovici’s “Nails of the Cross” are in the details.  Gordon Franz has done some rather elementary detective work that suggests that Jacobovici is purposefully misleading his audience in order to sell his show. 

Jacobovici’s theory is that these two nails from Jesus’ crucifixion were buried with Caiaphas because he converted to faith in Jesus.  The problem, as Franz notes, is that these two nails were not buried with Caiaphas.  The burial cave in question held dozens of people and six ossuaries (bone boxes). 

Two of the ossuaries have inscriptions related to Caiaphas (#3 and #6), but no nails were found in either of these ossuaries.  One nail was found inside Ossuary 1, and the other was found in a burial niche.  Jacobivici’s presentation assumes that Caiaphas’s remains were interred in Ossuary 3, but this ossuary contained only the bones of women and children.  Ossuary 6 had the bones of a 60-year-old man, possibly the famous high priest, but this beautiful and intact stone box did not contain any nails.

Second, Franz observes that there are very obvious reasons for nails being found in a burial tomb. 

Sometimes lids were attached to ossuaries by means of a nail.  In this tomb, names were scratched into the sides of several ossuaries, and this was done using nails.  As Franz writes:

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.

Third, Franz questions whether a nail only three inches long could have sufficiently held an adult man to a cross.  The only nail known to have been used in a crucifixion was longer than four inches.
Jacobovici has said he spent three years making this video, yet if he had spent three hours in a library looking at a handful of articles he would have known that the evidence does not support his theory. 

But since his reporting depends on these very same articles, it is impossible for him to claim that he is ignorant of this data.  The success of his show is dependent upon the ignorance of his viewers, something that his highly selective presentation is intended to maintain. 


Gabriel Barkay is probably the world’s leading scholar on tombs in Jerusalem.  He is quoted in a story by the Agence France-Presse.

Gabi Barkai, a professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv’s Bar Ilan University who has 40 years of experience excavating tombs in Jerusalem, confirmed the nails dated back to the first century, but said it was impossible get a more accurate date.
“Nails are a rare things in tombs from Second Temple period Jerusalem,” he told reporters, noting that there was no bone residue attached to them.
There were several theories as to why they might have been put inside a grave, one of which was that crucifixion nails were believed to be powerful amulets for the afterlife.
But there was “no proof whatsoever that these nails came from the cave of Caiaphas,” he said.
Asked if he believed they were used in the crucifixion, Barkai was cautious.
“It’s a possibility,” he said.

I take the last quote in the sense of, “It’s not absolutely impossible that these nails were used in a crucifixion.”  It should also be noted that Barkay was likely a paid consultant for his appearance in the movie, and he would have been reluctant to completely dismiss the movie’s basic premise at a news conference sponsored by the film producer.

Time magazine has this:

Also unclear: Why would a priest be buried with a nail? Jacobovici points to scholarship indicating crucifixion nails were regarded by contemporary Jews as holding special healing powers. The bit of paganism was apparently tolerated, even in priestly circles: a woman’s skull found in the same tomb contained a Roman coin, presumably included to pay the boatman steering souls across the River Styx.
Gaby Barkay, a professor at Bar Ilan University and probably the most prominent archeologist in Israel, offers another explanation. Jews at the time of Christ “were impurity freaks,” Barkay says. Anything in the vicinity of a corpse was thought to be contaminated by death, even a nail stuck in a nearby wall. “Therefore it would probably be removed and put into the grave,” he says.
The professor quibbles with other assumptions as well, but notes that “nails in general are a rare thing in tombs of the Second Temple Period,” and his presence at a crowded news conference has added weight to Jacobovici’s effort.

Barkay may be one of the most credible archaeologists in Israel, but he’s certainly not the most prominent.  While it is true that crucifixion nails were considered sacred amulets in the ancient world, that is usually the explanation given for why nails are not found in tombs.

The Christian Post adds:

According to the documentary’s guest archaeologist, Gaby Barkay, iron nails were rarely found in tombs and were normally used to carve names in the stone ossuaries.
“There’s no proof that the nails are connected to any bones or 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,” Barkay said. “On the other hand, those are possible things.”

Everything is possible.  The question is, what is likely given the evidence?  Should profit motives influence our evaluation of a claim? 


There are a few things to be learned from today’s story that the nails from Jesus’ cross have been found.  First, Simcha Jacobovici is a scam artist.  He will say anything to make a buck.  Second, the media will carry any story about Jesus the week before Easter.  If you ignore all of these for the rest of your life, there is little chance you will miss anything of value.

Robert Cargill does a good job of evaluating Simcha’s “logic” and I would recommend that if you simply can’t ignore this story altogether.  He sums things up this way:

Because Caiaphas is mentioned in the story of Jesus, and the nails “disappeared” for a time, they must be the nails of Jesus’ crucifixion?????

Cargill’s citation from Billy Madison nails it.  The difference is that Simcha knows exactly what he is doing, and he is laughing all the way to the bank.

Jim West makes a good observation that the “sad thing about idiotic archaeological claims

Is that – because Simcha Jacobovici and others have so often presented unsubstantiated and unfounded claims about stirring and important ‘discoveries’  – if anything real is ever discovered very few people will believe it.

It’s too bad that there is any interest in the nails, wood from the cross, thorns from the crown, or any other silly relics.  But if one wants to take attention away from the only person who ever died and came back to life, this seems to be an effective strategy.


James McGrath notes that there are dozens of photographs of the objects online.

Jim Davila provides a concise and compelling summary of the case against the authenticity of the lead codices:

Let’s take stock. The Greek is lifted nonsensically from an inscription published in 1958. The forger couldn’t tell the difference between the Greek letters alpha and lambda. The Hebrew script is taken from the same inscription. The Hebrew text is in “code,” i.e., is gibberish. The “Jesus” face is taken from a well-known mosaic. The charioteer is taken from a fake coin. The crocodile has a suspicious resemblance to a plastic toy.

Davila also observes the utter failure of the media to confess their sins.

The only other noteworthy news is the lack of it. Trust me, the mainstream media have been informed about the true status of the fake codices. The lack of coverage is not due to ignorance, it’s due to unprofessional indifference. Think about that. When the media report a sensationalist story and it proves to be bogus, they feel no responsibility to inform their readers of the truth. I suppose they might if they think they can get another sensation out of the correct story, but if not, they can’t be bothered. Journalists used to feel a professional obligation to their audience. No more.

The priority of too much journalism today is not truth but market share.


A good bit has been written about the lead codices since my last serious post here on Thursday

Some channels in the media continue to develop the story, though they generally ignore what scholars are writing on their blogs. 

The Daily Mail is claiming that one of the codices has the earliest depiction of Jesus.  You can take a look for yourself and see if you can make better sense of it than I can.

The article also reports that the owner of the 70 tablets is a Bedouin trucker named Hassan Saida who lives in the Israeli Arab village of Umm al-Ghanim near Mount Tabor. You can see a photo of his smiling mug in the article.  That an allegedly illiterate man is the owner of these artifacts is certainly a surprise.  If these items are forgeries (see below), one would expect that the owner is the forger looking to make a profit, but that seems very unlikely given Saida’s limited knowledge.  If these are forgeries, they were made with sufficient skill to fool (at least briefly) several scholars.  But then why would the forger sell them to Saida instead of wealthy international antiquities collectors?  If Saida is trying to make a profit, why did he not (allegedly) accept tens of millions of dollars for a few of the codices? The story reports that Saida is the owner of a truck business and a relatively wealthy man in his village.  His belief that the books had magical powers led him to purchase a few of the books at a time with the financial help of several partners.

Perhaps the claim of ownership is false and Saida is not the owner.  Perhaps he is only playing this role on behalf of the true owner/forger in an attempt to remove doubts. At this point, Saida’s role may point to artifacts’ authenticity (but keep reading).

The Daily Mail also reports that analysis of the metal of several of the codices supports their antiquity.  Yet the Israel Antiquities Authority allowed the items to be taken out of the country for analysis because they believed the items to be forgeries.

The role of the Elkingtons is described in a report in the Telegraph.  A photograph shows these “archaeologists” in their “remote Gloucestershire hideaway,” and the story describes the threats on the couple’s lives, including guns fired at them near the scene of the discovery.  If all of this sounds like a ready-made story for a book (with movie rights), then you won’t be surprised to learn that the Elkingtons’ literary agent is currently shopping their manuscript to publishers.

In order to determine the authenticity of the codices, the Elkingtons turned to Margaret Barker, a former president of the Society of Old Testament Study and an expert on early Christian studies. 

While suspicious of forgeries, she recognized that counterfeits are usually based on something genuine, but these are unlike anything known today.  Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies at Sheffield University, concluded that “if this is a hoax then it is incredibly elaborate.”

Yet it turns out that last year David Elkington had contacted Peter Thonemann, a lecturer on the Faculty of Classics at Oxford University.  Thonemann analyzed photos of a bronze codex and determined that the writing was copied from a tombstone on display in the Archaeological Museum in Amman.  The modern forger copied a line from the middle of the inscription that made no sense apart from the context.  Thonemann concluded:

The only possible explanation is that the text on the bronze tablet was copied directly from the inscription in the museum at Amman by someone who did not understand the meaning of the text of the inscription, but was simply looking for a plausible-looking sequence of Greek letters to copy.  He copied that sequence three times, in each case mixing up the letters alpha and lambda.
This particular bronze tablet is, therefore, a modern forgery, produced in Jordan within the last fifty years.  I would stake my career on it.

If Elkington was interested in the truth, he would not have hidden this analysis when unveiling his grand discovery to the world last week.  While it is possible that proving that one of the tablets is a forgery does not mean that they all are, it does not make sense that Elkington would send a known forgery to an expert for evaluation while holding back other authentic items.  Nor does it seem likely that a smaller set of codices were discovered and then the finder decided to supplement them with a series of forgeries.  While some bloggers are pointing to similarities in iconography, in my thinking this is less compelling evidence than the textual work of Thonemann because there are only so many ways that one can depict a palm tree and one would expect similar depictions from works composed about the same time.

Among the blog postings on the matter, in addition to those linked above, I would point you to Jim Davila’s “Random Thoughts,” Thomas Verenna’s “New Roundup,” Daniel McClellan’s photo comparisons, and Ferrell Jenkins’ observations on the Kinderhook Plates.

I also recommend Jim Davila’s observations on the mainstream media’s mode of operation,  James McGrath’s recognition of the value of the biblioblogging community, and Michael Heiser’s warning to those who believe everything they read.


My attempts to avoid this grand discovery have not gone well, to judge from the number of emails I have received suggesting that I must not have seen this story.  It’s foolish to think that I can somehow temper enthusiasm by ignoring the report, so I am succumbing to the requests to note the discovery here.  If I had delayed one more day (April 1), I would have at least felt some measure of justification in spending my time on this.

The basis for the story as reported by BBC and others is a press release from David and Jennifer Elkington.  The best available photographs that I am aware of are at the Daily Mail

The discovery is a collection of 70 ring-bound books made of lead and copper.  Other artifacts were made at the site of discovery, including scrolls and tablets. 

In a nutshell, the problems with this discovery include the facts that (1) we don’t know who owns the artifacts; (2) we don’t know where they were found; (3) the artifacts were not excavated by archaeologists but stolen by thieves; (4) nearly all information about the discovery so far has come from a single source of dubious reliability; (5) claims have been made that this find is more significant than the Dead Sea Scrolls; (6) the source of information appears to be positioning himself for fame and fortune.

The discovery was made about five years ago and rumors were circulating on the internet at least by 2007.  The apparent reason that a major announcement is being made now is that consultants (the Elkingtons) to the owner of the items fear that the owner may now try to sell the objects.  This is possible, but any number of other scenarios involving power and greed can be imagined.  Perhaps the Elkingtons were going to lose their access to the items and their attempts to blackmail the owner failed.  Perhaps the Elkingtons never really had much to do with the items in the first place but they had enough information and photographs to make a play.  Perhaps the Elkingtons are truly the potential saviors of a most outstanding archaeological find.

It is not clear if these items are authentic or forged.  The case that they are a modern creation is strengthened by the facts that (1) they were not discovered by scientists but by thieves; (2) no credible authority knows for certain where they were found; (3) no scientific analysis of the artifacts has been published even though they were discovered many years ago; (4) the books are at least partially written in code, a characteristic which may make forgery easier; and (5) Andre Lemaire, a world-class scholar who is not quick to classify illegally excavated items as forgeries, does not believe these are genuine.

On the other hand, I have a hard time believing that someone would forge (if the report is correct) seventy books of this nature.  The work involved is much more difficult on such a scope and unless you’re going to try to sell one each to seventy different antiquities collectors, it seems that you run the risk of diminishing returns.  In addition, a forger runs an increasing risk of detection with the more material he creates.  Success is more likely on a single object that is very carefully prepared. 

Personally I am inclined to believe that this find is genuine.  Professor Philip Davies has examined some of the finds (or photographs?) and he seems to believe that the script is authentic (see also his comments quoted here).

That does not mean, however, that this discovery is greater than the Dead Sea Scrolls.  Or even close. 

Such a claim was made by the director of the Jordan’s Department of Antiquities, Ziad al-Saad.  The Dead Sea Scrolls included nearly 1,000 different works, including copies from more than 200 Old Testament books.  It is very difficult to imagine this discovery topping that, and it is irresponsible to make such a suggestion when so little is known about the artifacts and almost nothing has been translated or decoded.

The theory being proposed now is that these books were hidden by Christians who fled from Jerusalem during the Jewish Revolt of AD 66-70.  The cave where these artifacts were discovered is allegedly in a valley in northern Jordan, and it is in this general area that early church historians state that Christians fled ahead of the Roman siege.

My suspicions of this theory are aroused by the report that these books include depictions of Jerusalem, including markings of the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem.  I wonder if Christians at that very early date were already venerating such sites.  When I read books like the Gospel of Matthew and the Book of Acts (both written about AD 70), I don’t get the sense that the early church was creating artwork and establishing holy sites.  My expectation is that such objects would be more appropriate to a fourth or fifth century setting (but I note that Davies believes the script dates to 200 BC – AD 100).

Finally, the role of David Elkington in all of this is very problematic.  In his own press release, he
says of himself that “David is primarily an Egyptologist, specializing in Egypt-Palestinian links that have inevitably drawn him into the field of Biblical studies. He has lectured at universities all over the world and written many papers on ancient history and linguistics.”  There is no indication that he has an academic affiliation, or even any academic training.  From this description, I believe that he does not have even a college degree, though he did go to an art academy. After the current discovery,
I suspect that his resume will be expanded to include “consulting work” for the Jordan Department of Antiquities as well as appearances on CNN and Oprah.

His press release notes that he is “the author of ‘In the Name of the Gods’, the highly acclaimed academic thesis on the resonance and acoustical origins of religion.”  I don’t know what led Mr. Elkington to believe that his own book is “highly acclaimed,” but I see that the publisher is Green Man Publishing Limited.  They appear to have been in business for about one year. The book description provided by the publisher begins this way:

Everything that exists does so because of vibration.
Matter comes into being because energy vibrates – any science book will tell you that. But understand the science of vibration, learn how to use it and you will have the key to…
Well, everything….
The Earth vibrates, bell-like and deeply, within itself and as a consequence of incoming cosmic rays. In the alpha state man’s own mind is in harmony with the resonance of Mother Earth. Take the Ancient’s knowledge, and the right vibration in the right place can link you to the secrets of the Earth and of the Cosmos too. This spiritual technology requires a sacred laboratory; an acoustically designed building, appropriate in shape and position – like the Great Pyramid for example. Now the mysterious Ancient Egyptian ceremony of ‘the opening of the mouth’ begins to make sense: Sound: The Word.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, let me put it in plainer language: David Elkington has experience in selling horse dung to gullible audiences.  And it seems to me that he aims to profit off of his role in this affair.  Despite his claims that he “has worked to date entirely on a voluntary basis,” he is smelling the money.  He appears to already be selling photographs of the discoveries (via rexfeatures.com).  He has certainly been careful to watermark with his name the photos he has made available to the media.  More than that, the press release states: “Preparations are being made for a documentary film about the discovery, in conjunction with a leading television network, and the publication of a book.”  If you don’t think he’s planning to cash in, I’d like to talk to you about funding my personal research on international recreational activities.

There may be something to this discovery, but first the artifacts must be confiscated by the officials and assigned to reputable scholars.  In the meantime, I would not trust anything coming from the mouths of antiquities thieves or Mr. Elkington.

Various scholars have commented on this matter, including Michael Heiser, Jim Davila (also here and follow links), Larry Hurtado (also here and here), and Doug Chaplin.