I nailed it. So to speak.

A few days ago, I posted some questions, skeptical of the recent news that a “crucifixion” nail of the time of Jesus was found. Primarily, I questioned the very notion that the nail could be dated with any accuracy. Other than saying, “its probably of the Roman period,” very little else can really be said of the nail’s provenience.

In a new article that I noticed on the interwebs, the director for the Association for Roman Archaeology, Bryn Walters, has made a few comments. He described the circumstances by which the nail came to light:

Mr Walters said that about seven weeks ago he had been asked to inspect the nail. It was a Roman nail. There are millions of Roman nails, perhaps billions. It could not possibly be from a crucifixion be cause if it had been hammered in, it would have been bent and this is dead straight.

They did not tell me where it came from. I would not accept it as a nail coming from any crucifixion. It was perfectly preserved. It was four inches long, which I would say was a bit short for a crucifixion. A crucifixion pin could be longer than that.

Oh, and he also said:

“I know of only one nail from a crucifixion, and that is kept secretly in Jerusalem. That was a nail ham mered through a heel: it was dam aged and rusty.”

Walters went on to describe the men that presented it to him as “not religious” and having “nothing to do with the Christian Church.” And, he included a comment that the nail could just as easily been part of 17th or 18th century residential construction at the fort it was found in, which is an 18th century fort on Madeira Island in Portugal at a port called Funchal.

Veneration of relics is something that has always existed in the early Christian Church. As far back as the 4th and 5th centuries CE, there are examples of this in Church literature. At around this time, the practice “expanded in the form of a liturgical cult, receiving theological justification” (Nickell 2007). In his book, Relics of the Christ, Joe Nickell classifies relics in four ways:

  1. First Class: the body of a saint or a portion of it (bone, fragment of flesh, etc)
  2. Second Class: item or piece of an item once used by a saint (clothing, etc.)
  3. Third Class: an item deliberately touched to a first class relic
  4. Fourth Class: anything deliberately touched to a second class relic with the intention of creating a fourth class relic.

Relics had a importance to 5th and 6th century religionists since without a relic, new shrines and other religious architecture couldn’t be built. The acquisition and possession of a relic at a fort could have meant justification for continued occupation of the site.

What politician doesn’t want to keep military installations in his district?

Reference and Further Reading

Nickell, Joe (2007). Relics of Christ. University Press of Kentucky, pp. 18-19

About Carl Feagans 397 Articles
Professional archaeologist that currently works for the United States Forest Service at the Land Between the Lakes Recreation Area in Kentucky and Tennessee. I'm also a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and spent another 10 years doing adventure programming with at-risk teens before earning my master's degree at the University of Texas at Arlington.

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