It is well–known from literature that the Romans crucified rebels and criminals. In 1968, an ossuary (bone box; see below) was found, among others, in a tomb in north Jerusalem in which were the bones of a 28 year old man and those of a child.
This is a replica of a right heel bone of a 28 year old man who was crucified in Jerusalem prior to its in AD 70. This replica is presented in the Israel Museum.
A 4.3 inch nail penetrated the right heel bone of the man. A piece of wood was placed on each side of the heel prior to the pounding of the nail to affix the person to a cross.
The skeletal remains of the man with the nail in his heel bone were found in this ossuary that was discovered north of Jerusalem.
Clearly visible is the Hebrew writing of the name “Yehohanan son of Hagkol.” Note the two clear lines. Above and to the right of the name “Yehohanan,” in the first line, is another faint inscription (click on image to enlarge to view inscription).
A diagram in the Israel Museum.
The above picture represents a scholarly reconstruction of how Yehohanan son of Hagkal was crucified. Note how his arms are tied to the cross—no nails were found in his hands or wrists. In contrast, Jesus of Nazareth’s hands were nailed to the cross—Thomas wanted to see the “mark of the nails in his hands” (John 20:25).
Revision — In a PBS program on Jesus, (aired 4 April 2017) the heel bone with nail were taken out of a small storage box located in a huge warehouse. Thus, it does not appear that the original comment (deleted) regarding its “location” was correct.
For a convenient description of this find see pp 318–22 in Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish, Lost Treasures of the Bible — Understanding the Bible Through Archaeological Artifacts in World Museums. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2008.
Caiaphas, the High Priest, is mentioned 9 times in the Gospels and is one of those before whom Jesus appeared before being condemned to death by Pilate (Matthew 26; John 18). A few years ago a “bone box” (ossuary) was found, along with 11 others, in a Second Temple tomb located two miles south of Jerusalem on a hill that today is called “the hill of Evil Counsel” (John 11:49–50). On it the name “Joseph “son” of Caiaphas” was inscribed!
The Joseph “son” of Caiaphas Ossuary. In the Israel Museum. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download. See below for the inscription.
The ossuary has a slightly curved cover that is etched with designs. The front of the soft limestone ossuary is beautifully carved with rosette and leaf designs. Note the red paint is still visible in some places.
The bones of six(!) individuals were found inside of the ossuary: 2 infants, 1 child, 1 teen aged boy, 1 adult woman, and a man—approximately sixty years old.
View of one of the Aramaic inscriptions on the Ossuary [bone box] of “Joseph ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”
On one of the short sides, and on the back, the name Caiaphas had been etched into the stone with a nail—see the image. It is evident that the ossuary was prepared in a workshop, but then when the bones were placed inside the name was inelegantly scratched on to it.
The Aramaic inscription on this side of the ossuary reads “Joseph the ‘son’ of Caiaphas.”
יהוסף בר קפא
Most scholars believe that the Caiaphas mentioned here is the same one that is mentioned six times in the New Testament as well as in Josephus. Ronny Reich argues that the person was named “Joseph” and had a nickname “Caiaphas.” Caiaphas was High Priest from 18 to 36 CE and was the one before whom Jesus was tried and is famously quoted in John 12:50
For an accessible discussion of the name Caiaphas, plus others appearing on ossuaries, see Reich, Ronny. “Caiaphas name Inscribed on Bone Boxes.” Biblical Archaeology Review 18, no. 5 (September/October 1992): 38–44.
North of the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem is the site of the Garden Tomb and Gordon’s Calvary.
View of the “skull” – looking northeast. In the center of the image the “skull” is visible. Note the modern Arab bus station in the lower right portion of the image.
“Gordon’s Calvary” Just right of center note the apparent “eye sockets” and the bridge of a nose. Unfortunately the “bridge of the nose” collapsed a few years ago.
In 1842, Otto Thenius proposed that this was Calvary (Golgotha) – the place of the skull – the site of the crucifixion of Jesus. This proposal was given prominence by the British general Charles Gordon in 1883 in combination with the nearby tomb that had been discovered in 1867. For a more general view of the area, click here.
Luke 23:32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull [Golgotha/Calvary], there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Luke 23:35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.
Since the Romans normally crucified people right along the roads, so passersby would be intimidated, the crucifixion was probably not on top of Golgotha, but along side a nearby road.
Gordon’s Calvary June 1967 — after the Six Days War.
Our friends over at the Jerusalem Perspective have made available (free) a wonderful 50 minute illustrated video of a 2006 lecture by Dr. Gabriel Barkay entitled “Was Jesus Buried in the Garden Tomb? First–Century Burial In Jerusalem.”
Spoiler alert: In the video, Gabi compares the Garden Tomb to other First Temple Tombs and contrasts the Garden Tomb with First Century Tombs. It is classic “Gabi.” Thorough, informative, and captivating—by THE authority on the archaeology and history of Jeruslem.
The entrance to the Garden Tomb.
Gabriel Barkay peering into the burial chamber of one of the Ketef Hinnom Tombs — from the First Temple Period.
One of the burial benches and repository in one of the chambers in the First Temple (Iron Age) Tombs on the grounds of the Ecole Biblique.
My late, great, and brilliant Professor (and colleague) Anson Rainey use to tell his students, “let me enrich you with some new uncertainties!”
The synagogue during excavation. The “stone box” is in the center of the Image. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.
Since many readers of this blog have visited Magdala, located along the northern part of the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, I thought I would share a link to a recent article by Dr. David Gurevich who has revisited some of the interpretations of the Synagogue at Magdala—especially those presented by the volunteer guides at the site. “Magdala’s Stone of Contention.”
Reconstruction of the Synagogue with the entrance on the west side.
For example, Gurevich notes that the entrance of the synagogue on the west side is a complete reconstruction! He believes that it was on the south side.
Much of the article is taken up with a variety of interpretations of the now-famous “Magdala Stone.”
The “Stone” with the Menorah. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.
Is it a table for the Torah Scroll? An Incense Altar? A representation of the Second Temple? A Prayer Table? Gurevich’s article discusses all of these possibilities.
“Magdala’ Stone of Contention” by Dr. David Gurevich is scholarly, but non–technical. IMHO —a worthwhile 10 to 12 minute read.
For 16 photos of the Synagogue Click Here. For previous blog posts on Magdala see Synagogue, the Stone, and The Chapel.
The Entrance to the Garden Tomb.
This tomb was discovered in 1867, at which time it was proposed that this was the burial place of Jesus, mainly because of its nearness to what would become known as “Gordon’s Calvary“. Since that time, some Protestant piety has encouraged this identification, although the wardens of the property (The Garden Tomb Association) stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important.
Inside of the tomb are the partial remains of a burial bench. Looking at “burial place” #5 (below) The date of the tomb is not certain.
A plan of the interior of the tomb.
The Modern Door into the Tomb.
The Guides at Garden Tomb stress that it is the resurrection of Jesus, not the issue of finding the exact spot of his burial, that is important.
To visit the official site of the Garden Tomb Association Click Here.
To view, what in my opinion is the best “rolling stone tomb” in Israel Click Here.
Christian travelers to the Holy Land will often visit the Church of All Nations and its associated garden and/or the Grotto of Gethsemane that is located to the north of it. Both are associated with Jesus’ experience in the Garden on the night that he was betrayed.
The White Russian Church of Mary Magdalene on the Mount of Olives.
However, there is a third grotto that is located on the grounds of The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene where it is said that Jesus prayed on the night that he was betrayed. Unfortunately the church compound is only open for visits for 4 hours each week, but its glistening golden domes are a familiar landmark on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. It is a (white) Russian Orthodox Church built by the Czar Alexander III in 1888. The church was dedicated to Alexander’s mother, Maria, but is named after Saint Mary Magdalene who was a follower of Jesus and is associated with anointing his body. She was at the foot of the cross (John 19:25), and Jesus first appeared to her after his resurrection (John 20:1).
Entrance to the Gethsemane Cave on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.
Although not frequently visited by Christian Pilgrims it is believed by some that Jesus, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed in this cave on the night that he was betrayed.
View of the altar in the cave/chapel on the grounds of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene.
In addition to the icons, note the ossuary on the right side of the image.
To view additional, free, high–resolution images of the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene Click Here