The cross was used by the Romans as an instrument of punishment. Crucifixion was the most painful form of execution, since a crucified person would stay alive on the cross for many hours.
According to historical records, only the vilest criminals were crucified. However, exceptions were made to this rule since historical evidence shows that persons guilty of robbery, piracy assassination, perjury, sedition, treason, and even desertion were crucified. Christ was crucified as an enemy of Rome, since he was considered to be the King of the Jews.
In crucifixions, people were either bound or nailed to the cross. The New Testament says that Jesus was nailed to the cross. After Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, Thomas, who was absent at the time, said: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25).
In crucifixions, three or four nails were used to nail a person on the cross. Thomas alluded to two nails, one in each hand. Generally, the two feet were fastened with one nail.
Recently, Simcha Jacobovici, the Naked Archaeologist, announced that he probably found two of the iron nails that were used to nail Jesus to the cross. According to Jacobovici, these nails were found at the same time two ossuaries were found in 1990. An ossuary is a stone box where bones of people were preserved.
The two ossuaries found carried the inscriptions “Caiaphas” and “Joseph son of Caiaphas.” Since Caiaphas was the high priest at the time Jesus was crucified, and since the two Roman nails were found in the cave where Caiaphas was buried, Jacobovici surmises that these two nails were the nails used to pin Jesus to the cross.
Watch this video in which Jacobovici speaks about the Roman nails.
Personally, I believe that Jacobovici’s claim is exaggerated and that there is no evidence that these nails are the real nails from the cross of Christ. There are three reasons for my conclusion.
Second, the archaeology behind this discovery is very weak. Just because the nail was found in the cave with the ossuaries, it does not prove that these nails were the same nails used by the Romans to crucify Christ. There is no archaeological or historical evidence to prove the authenticity of these nails.
Third, on previous occasions, Jacobovici has announced the he has found the tomb of Christ and the lost city of Atlantis. Only people who believe that Jacobovici has found the tomb where Jesus was buried will also believe that he has found the nails used to crucify Christ.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary