Most of this chapter pertains to archaeological evidence that bears on the issues of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The first example of this concerns an important discovery made in June, 1968, that provides some important information about the nature of crucifixion as it was exercised in first century AD Palestine. While a portion of Jerusalem was being prepared for the erection of new apartment buildings, an ancient Jewish burial site was uncovered. Located about one mile north of the Old Damascus Gate, this site yielded the remains of some thirty-five Jews that were buried in fifteen stone ossuaries, used for the reburial of human skeletons some time after the original interment.
Upon investigation, archaeologist Vasilius Tzaferis found that these Jews had probably died about AD 70 in the Jewish uprising against Rome. Several of the skeletons gave evidence of having suffered violent deaths, such as being burned, starved, or beaten to death. One person had been killed by an arrow.^8
In terms of our study, the most important discovery at this site was the skeleton of a man named Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol, whose name was written in Aramaic on the stone ossuary. Further study by Hebrew University pathologist Dr. N. Haas revealed some preliminary data regarding Yohanan’s skeleton. Yohanan was about five feet seven inches in height, was about twenty-four to twenty-eight years old, had a cleft palate and was a victim of crucifixion.
6 Bruce, Christian Origins, p. 192.
7 While ruling out the two-date approach to the governorship of Quirinius, Sherwin-White basically vindicates Luke’s account, while still finding more problems than does Bruce (pp. 162–171).
8 Vasilius Tzaferis, “Jewish Tombs At and Near Giv‘at ha-Mivtar,” Israel Exploration Journal20 (1970), pp. 38–59.
Still piercing his feet was a large nail about seven inches long that had been driven sideways through his heel bones, which indicates the direction in which the feet and legs were twisted in order to be attached to the cross. The nail pierced an acacia beam on the cross, which was anchored in the ground. Small pieces of wood still attached to the spike indicated that the beam itself was olive wood. The end of the nail was bent backwards toward the head due either to a knot in the wood or to purposeful bending.