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We shouldn’t even have these bones … fragments adhering to what are likely crucifixion nails … a severed jawbone.

Following their excavation in 1970, when workers building a home in a Jerusalem neighborhood discovered a rock-hewn tomb, the bones found in a detailed decorated ossuary — a limestone bone box — were reburied where they were found because of pressure from ultra-orthodox Jews.

But not all the bones were buried, reports Haaretz.

The quality of the ossuary and the inscription found on the tomb wall sparked excitement in 1970 because it appeared the burial place of Mattathiah Antigonus II the last king of the Hasmonean dynasty — and the last Jewish king of Israel — had been found.

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“I am Abba, son of Eleazar the priest,” read the 2,000-year-old wall inscription. “I am Abba, the oppressed, the persecuted, born in Jerusalem and exiled to Babylon, who brought back Mattathiah son of Judah and buried him in the cave that I purchased.”

The Maccabees, or Hasmoneans, restored Jewish rule to ancient Israel following their successful revolt against the Syrian Greeks in the second century B.C. The Jewish feast of Hanukkah had its beginning in the events of this period. Mattathiah, son of King Judah Aristobulus II, ruled only three years, locked in a constant struggle with Rome’s proxy, Herod, to keep the tiny Jewish kingdom from being conquered by Rome.

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In 37 B.C., Herod took Jerusalem and the throne. Mattathiah was imprisoned, sent to Antioch in Southern Turkey and executed by Marc Antony, then ruler of Rome’s Eastern provinces.

That this Abba may have retrieved Mattathiah’s remains from Antioch and secretly buried them in his family tomb gained credence in 1974 when Israel’s top physical anthropologist said his analysis of the remains pointed to a 25-year-old man who had been crucified and decapitated. The clear cuts to one of the man’s vertebrae and his lower jaw were consistent with the ancient accounts of the historians Josephus Flavius and Dio Cassius who wrote that the king was crucified, scourged and beheaded.

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But then history took a detour. The renowned anthropologist had an accident that put him in a coma for 13 years, his study materials were in some disarray and his successor came to conclusions — including that the jawbone belonged to a woman — that threw the Maccabee theory into doubt.

Recently, new scholarly work and evidence has emerged that supports the original hypothesis and casts doubt on the skeptics’ position, Haaretz reports.

Electron-microscope analysis of those bones not reburied confirm that the hand bones were indeed broken by the nails, as would occur in crucifixion. Since Romans rarely crucified women, this confirmation undermined the claim the ossuary contained remains of a female.

“Only the pelvis and the skull can give an indication of a skeleton’s sex, it’s impossible to scientifically determine it from a jaw bone, especially when it is severely fragmented,” Tel Aviv University anthropologist Israel Hershkovitz told Haaretz. “Actually the size and shape look more like that of a male to me, but it’s just a feeling, there is no scientific basis for it.”

“Once you remove the idea that the cut mandible belonged to a woman, you are left with all the other elements that prove that this is Mattathiah,” he said. “In this case, the writing was literally on the wall.”

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