Abba Tomb Bone Evidence and Roman Crucifixion
Placement of nails through the hands
I issued a web-only press release on Monday in an attempt to raise awareness of the Abba Tomb bone evidence. My expectations were low given the press release had limited distribution and concerned an archaeology report issued in 1978 (not exactly a current event). Readership of the release was modest but, as I suspected, did draw the attention of few academics. In particular Prof. Antonio Lombatti of UniversitÓ Popolare di Parma (Italia) wrote a blog post about the press release, which he intended as ridicule. Be that as it may, it was interesting to debate the professor on the Abba Tomb evidence even though his rigid position essentially boiled down to: (a) whatever the Smith report said must be true because it was published in a peer reviewed journal and (b) you are a lawyer so what the hell do you know about archeology? (paraphrasing with hyperbole). God knows every position ever taken in a scholarly journal has proven over time to be 100% accurate. :) Scholarly conclusions mean very little when unsupported by evidence. Despite the conclusory statement of Dr. Smith that the older individual whose remains were found at the Abba Tomb had NOT been crucified, no other explanation has been given for how nails came to be imbedded in this person's hand bones. Dr. Smith's conclusion appears to rest on the supposition that the nails were placed in the wrong location. How does she know the correct location of nails into hands for a Roman crucifixion? The position has never been documented either through archeology or ancient texts. As such, there is no historical support for this Smith conclusion. I shall circle back to the Smith report later.
Prof. Lombatti styles himself as a debunker of what he terms "fantarchaeology", a contraction of the words fantasy amd archaeology. One of his targets is the Shroud of Turin. I hadn't thought about the application of the Abba Tomb bone evidence to the Shroud of Turin until reading Prof. Lombatti's blog post. I confess to having, years ago, wished to believe in the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin but the carbon dating evidence makes an extremely strong case that the shroud is a medieval creation. Still, defenders of the shroud are undaunted (why, I'm not sure) and the debate rages on. See Italian scientists claim shroud was created by 'supernatural event' as burst of ultra-violet light necessary to leave imprint on cloth (22 December 2011) as but one example.
Two noticeable features of the Shroud of Turin are nail marks in the wrists and feet. "The feet indicate something of their original positioning on the cross, the left being placed on the instep of the right with a single nail impaling both." shroud.com. However, this method of crucifixion does not match up with the only archeological find we have with a nail through the foot--i.e., the tomb of Yehohanan ben Hagkol located in the Giv'at ha-Mivtar neighborhood of East Jerusalem. There a nail was found laterally piercing an ankle bone.
The Shroud's placement of the nails through the wrists has been argued by proponents of its authenticity to make sense because placement at that location allowed the wrist bone to support the weight of the condemned upon the cross. Others have argued that the Romans did not use nails through the hands (or wrists) in crucifixion instead opting for ropes. This sketch depicts the conventional setup of the crucifixion with ropes theory.
Prof. Lombatti has just such a diagram on his website. The problem with this setup is that, without the hands secured to the cross, the condemned is given a greater range of motion. It is thought that the primary cause of death in cases of crucifixion was usually asphyxiation or suffocation. See The Crucifixion and Death of a Man Called Jesus: From the Eyes of a Physician by David A Ball M D, at page 97. I suggest the method of crucifixion shown above is not conducive to suffocation. It does not create negative pressure of the rib cage against the lungs (which causes shallow breathing that, over time, leads to asphyxiation). One method not often discussed is the use of both nails and ropes. However, this method is popular with crucifixion reinactors, as demonstrated below.
Two things of note. First, the ropes bear the weight of the body on the cross and the nails are present solely to hold the hands in place. Second, notice how tightly this man's rib cage is drawn against his body. Do you think he would be capable of deep breath in that position? We would need a medical professional to personally examine an individual crucified in this manner to get a firm determination (but I'd wager the answer is 'no'). I suggest this method of crucifixion matches up with the bone evidence as reported by Dr. Smith. One nail was lodged at the base of the third phalange (i.e., the joint in the palm where the third phalange attaches to the rest of the hand) and the other nail was found in the joint between the 2nd and 3rd phalange (i.e., the knuckle of a finger). The reason for using nails would have been to increase pain and restrict movement of the condemned on the cross to aid in suffocation, which is compatible with placement in the phalanges.
Date: Friday, July 20, 2012, 07:34:26
Comment: This is what happens when academics have not studied logic enough. Aside from his reliance on authority and his attempt at ad hominem, the Italian professor's viewpoint is a gussied-up version of a modo hoc argument (a fallacy). Bones are small=> woman--> Nails in hands, meaningless.-->Beheaded with nails in hands, also meaningless. Set aside the inscription too. It's just a woman; that's all we need to know.
Date: Friday, July 20, 2012, 11:08:34
Comment: I'm not surprised Antonio was so dismissive of my argument when writing on his blog but I note that he said in the comments that he spoke "to another Israeli anthropologist, Joe Zias" who said the bones were female. Dr. Zias was Curator of Archaeology and Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority until 1997. Antonio first checked with someone he viewed as an expert and who could be expected to have some knowledge of the situation before writing that I didn't know what I was talking about. I'll at least give him that although agree he has thrown all logic out the window by bowing down to what he perceives as authority. The suggestion that small bones unequivocally means the individual was female were contradicted by the evidence of crucifixion and beheading. One expert even suggested the individual had been beheaded in battle ... yet this was a female? Then we have the secondary evidence of inscription. How can the bones of the person who was beheaded and crucified not be the Mathias spoken of in the inscription? The Smith report has no answers. Maybe she had more evidence but neglected to write it into her report? I have no idea but the report sucked.
The odd thing is that the issue of a botched scientific report by the Israel Antiquities Authority came up in the case of Haas' initial report on the first find from Giv'at ha-Mivtar involving the tomb of Yehohanan ben Hagkol (1968), nail found in heal bone. It was Dr. Zias who had to later rewrite the Haas report and admit mistakes had been made. If you read the initial Haas report, it is 1000 times more thorough in detailing the findings and stating the reasons for the conclusion than the very thin "report" by Smith. Her report looks more like field notes than a true scientific paper. Here is a link to the Haas report for comparison. "Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv'at ha-Mivtar"
Link to Haas report.