In a stone box, the only trace of crucifixion
|The heel bone and nail from the ossuary of Yehohanan [Credit: Israel Museum/Ilan Shtulman]|
It is therefore an odd fact that archaeological evidence of this punishment — crosses, for example, or perforated skeletons — has never been found anywhere in the world, with one exception: the stone box containing Yehohanan’s remains.
After Yehohanan’s body was removed from the cross, it would have been laid out in a burial cave. After the flesh had decomposed a year or so later, leaving only the skeleton, his bones were gathered in a simple stone box, an ossuary, in keeping with the Jewish practice of that time. Today, the box is displayed in a gallery at the Israel Museum alongside other artifacts from the period of Roman rule in Judea.
His name is inscribed in simple letters on one side: Yehohanan, son of Hagakol. (Some scholars, interpreting the letters differently, believe the second name is Hezkil.)
|The ossuary was found to contain a second skeleton, that of a young child [Credit: the Israel Museum/Ilan Shtulman]|
The position of the stake was evidence of a crucifixion technique that had not previously been known, according to museum curator David Mevorah. In the image of crucifixion made famous by Christian iconography, Jesus is pictured with both feet nailed to the front of the vertical beam of the cross. But this man’s feet had been affixed to the sides of the beam with nails hammered separately through each heel.
His hands showed no sign of wounds, indicating that they had been tied, rather than nailed, to the horizontal bar.
The surprising lack of similar physical evidence for crucifixion elsewhere, Mevorah said, may be due to beliefs that crucifixion nails had magic properties. People in the ancient world, he said, “might have collected the nails as amulets.”
Yehohanan was not alone in his ossuary: Inside, archaeologists found a second skeleton, this one belonging to a child aged three or four. They also noticed that the side of the ossuary bore a second, fainter inscription near the first. Curiously, this one also read “Yehohanan.”
After the discovery of the ossuary in the 1970s, the famous Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin suggested that the faint inscription referred to the crucified man and the second inscription — Yehohanan, son of Hagakol — to his son.
“Hagakol” is not a name familiar to scholars, and this theory suggested it was not a name at all. Instead, Yadin thought, having looked at similar words in use at the time, it might have meant “crucified.” The inscription thus read: Yehohanan, son of the Crucified One.
The child Yehohanan, in this version of events, died not long after the elder Yehohanan’s execution, and his bones were added to those of his father in the unadorned stone ossuary kept in the family’s burial cave north of the walled city.
Author: Matti Friedman | Source: The Times of Israel [March 26, 2012]