Crucifixion nails found in Israel? Probably not.

There’s been a shocking archaeological discovery in Israel. Nails from the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ have been found!

Well, no, probably not.

The claim comes from Israeli Canadian documentary filmmaker Simcha Jacobovici, the Washington Post reports. Jacobovici has done several documentaries on Christian subjects and came across an archaeological report from 1990 mentioning the discovery of nails in the tomb of a man named Caiaphas. For those who know their Bible, this is the same name as the Jewish high priest who plotted to arrest Jesus and then gave him to the Romans. The name is right, the date of the tomb is right, so the nails must be those from the Crucifixion, right?

The Post quotes Jacobovici as saying, “There’s a general scholarly consensus that the tomb where the nails were found likely belonged to Caiaphas. Nails at that time were a dime a dozen, but finding one in a tomb is exceedingly rare.”

Actually neither of these statements is true. The Post quotes an Israeli archaeologist as saying that the inscriptions in the tomb aren’t clear as to the occupant’s identity, and I myself have seen Roman nails turn up in tombs. They were pretty common objects, after all.

The timing of this announcement just before Easter and just before Jacobovici’s next documentary comes out (titled “Nails of the Cross” to air Wednesday on the History Channel), adds to the suspicion that Jacobovici is fooling either himself or us.

There’s also the question of why a Jewish high priest would take the nails of someone who he thought was a false prophet to the grave with him, or even how he got them in the first place since it was Jesus’ family and followers who removed Jesus from the Cross.

In the view of this former archaeologist, this story is more of the usual sensationalism masking as science that fills so much of the media. A bit like the spurious discovery of Caligula’s tomb.

Never fear. There are plenty are saints’ relics in Rome, including enough nails for a dozen Crucifixions. Gadling’s own David Farley has even written a book about the Holy Foreskin, which you can also visit in Italy. Actually there’s more than one relic claiming to be the Holy Foreskin, but that’s another story. . .

[Image of Roman nails courtesy user Takkk via Wikimedia Commons. These are not the same nails that came from the tomb mentioned in this article.]

Ethiopian Jesus

It’s Christmas, when the Christian world celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ. The Muslim world celebrates too because in Islam Jesus is considered a prophet.

Christianity has spread all over the world. One of the best things about travel is the different world views it exposes you to, and one of these insights is that religious artists have created Jesus in their own image. Europe has a white Jesus, Africa has a black Jesus, and Latin America has a Latino Jesus.

So what did Jesus really look like? The Bible is a bit sketchy about his personal appearance, but being a Levantine Jew he wouldn’t have looked like the Nordic hippie we’re familiar with in the West. He probably looked a bit more like this picture above, which is in the 16th century church of Ura Kidane Mihret on Lake Tana, Ethiopia. Brown skin, dark eyes and hair. . .this is what most people in ancient Judea looked like.

Ethiopia became Christian in the 4th century, and is the second oldest Christian nation after Armenia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church has built incredible houses of worship all over the country, including the famous rock-hewn churches of Lalibela, stone buildings dug out of the bedrock.

For more on the fascinating culture that produced this image, check out my series on travel in Ethiopia.

American-Muslim group urges Palestinians to visit Holocaust Museum

The Islamic Society of North America is defying Hamas and urging Palestinian youths to visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Jewish news service JTA reports.

A group of A-students from the Gaza Strip are to visit the nation’s capital on a UN-sponsored educational visit. Their tour is to include the Holocaust Museum, but Hamas, which runs the Palestinian Authority, has criticized the plan. A Hamas spokesman says Palestinian children suffer enough persecution and can’t deal with learning about other people’s suffering.

That prompted the Islamic Society of North America to make a public statement endorsing the plan, saying they’ve taken Muslims there before and that it has had a positive effect on Muslim-Jewish relations.

I’ve never seen this museum, but I have been to the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem. Although I went nearly twenty years ago, I have a very clear memory of speaking to a German student who I met there. Her reason for going? “I feel it’s my responsibility as a German.” She became a friend, and although she often criticizes Israel’s policies, she’s fully aware of what happened in the biggest crime of the twentieth century.

Who knows? Perhaps this will encourage Jewish-American children to visit Palestinian high schools, or Iranian and American kids to set up an exchange program, or North and South Korea to create a communal youth group.

Hmmm. . .is that too much to hope for this holiday season?

[Image courtesy user AgnosticPreachersKid via Wikimedia Commons]

Archaeologists discover Roman swimming pool in Jerusalem

Roman soldiers liked a good swim, especially after a hard day’s work suppressing rebellions.

Archaeologists digging in Jerusalem have discovered the remains of a Roman swimming pool. Some roof tiles at the site bear the inscription “LEG X FR”, which stands for Tenth Legion Fretensis (“of the sea strait”, referring to one of the legion’s early victories). This legion was responsible for controlling Jerusalem. During the Jewish rebellion of 70 AD it besieged Jerusalem and destroyed the Jewish Temple, as seen here in an 1850 painting by David Roberts. During the bloody Bar Kokhba Rebellion of 135 AD the Roman legions were again kicked out of the city but were again able to recapture it.

The pools are more like large bathtubs lined with plaster. They’re part of a large complex of buildings housing pools and of course Roman baths. It’s not unusual for Roman military bases to have such luxuries, especially if the legion stayed put for any length of time.

The site is in Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter. One surprising find was a ceramic roof tile that a dog walked over while it was still wet. Check out this article for a photo. Tiles from the Roman baths in York, England, bear human footprints, some so clear you can see the nails used to attach the sole of the sandal to the upper.

Peace on earth, goodwill toward men: two places where it worked

We hear a lot about peace and friendship over the holidays, but the reality is that different religions and peoples are constantly fighting. It seems we can never get along.

Or at least that’s what the history books would have you believe.

History focuses on change, and change usually means conflict, but there have been many times in the past when different religions and ethnic groups have lived in harmony. Here are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites you can visit that are testimony to the idea that people can achieve great things by working together.

Toledo, Spain

For most of the Middle Ages Spain was not a country; it was a patchwork of different states fighting amongst themselves and staving off invasions by the Muslim Moors from North Africa. There was a centuries-long war between Islam and Christianity, with the Jews being stuck in the middle as second-class citizens in both societies. But under the Caliphate of Córdoba, which ruled much of the Iberian Peninsula in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the three cultures lived and learned together. Córdoba and Toledo were the two main cultural centers. Many books from ancient Greece and Rome, lost in Europe during the Dark Ages but preserved in Arabic translations in the Middle East, were translated into Latin and Hebrew and helped start a rediscovery of Europe’s Classical heritage.
The Christian kingdoms were slowly pushing out the Muslims, however, and in 1085 King Alfonso VI captured Toledo. He realized the relationship among the three cultures, called La Convivencia (“The Coexistence”) was a good thing and kept it going. He even established a translation center to copy books from each culture into Latin, Spanish, Arabic, and Hebrew, so everyone could benefit from each other’s learning. Philosophy, astronomy, architecture, mathematics, and a dozen other arts and sciences flourished.

%Gallery-80891%It didn’t last. In 1492, when the last Moors were kicked out of Spain, the Jews were kicked out too, and any non-Christian who wanted to stay had to at least pretend to convert. But La Convivencia left an enduring intellectual an artistic legacy for all three cultures and some impressive monuments that can still be seen today.

Gonder, Ethiopia

On a different continent in different century, people came to the same conclusions that the people of Toledo did. In the northwest of what is now Ethiopia is the city of Gonder. It was founded by the Emperor Fasilides around the year 1635. Ethiopian emperors traditionally moved from place to place to watch over their people, but Fasilides saw an advantage to having a capital city for his empire. Soon a large urban center had sprung up, with palaces and castles and places of worship.
Gonder became the center of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, but it was also home to Muslims and the Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jews. Artisans and thinkers from all three religions flocked to Gonder to work in the market or palace. The Beta Israel were often craftsmen. Because only a Christian could sit on the throne, the Jews often served as trusted advisers and bodyguards to the emperor. The Muslims, with their connections to the Red Sea and other parts of Africa, set themselves up as merchants.
All three cultures worked together to make Gonder a center of art and learning, just like in Toledo. The ruins of some of the castles and palaces are still visible today and many people call Gonder “Africa’s Camelot”. The most famous monument is Fasilides’ castle, shown here. Check out the gallery for more attractions in Toledo and Gonder.

Let’s not romanticize these civilizations. Neither of them were progressive democracies. They were authoritarian kingdoms where the common people had almost no rights, and both ended up being replaced by less tolerant cultures. Yet they managed to figure out something–it’s not your background that’s important, it’s what you can contribute to society. The people of Toledo and Gonder discovered they could do more together than they could separately. It’s something many societies have realized. In fact, despite all the bad news on TV, religious and ethnic violence is the exception rather than the rule. Most streets aren’t erupting in gunfire. Most people live in towns made up of a number of religious and ethnic groups. They may not be best friends, but they’re not killing each other either.
Maybe Toledo and Gonder have given us more than pair of interesting tourist attractions.