What Christians Need To Know About The Nazareth Inscription. Many of you may not have heard about the Nazareth Inscription. Or you may have heard about it, but not known precisely what it is. The tablet with the Nazareth inscription has been in the news lately. So I thought I would put together this post to help everyone understand what the fuss is about.
So what is the Nazareth Inscription? It’s a marble tablet that is inscribed with a prohibition from Caesar against tomb robbing. The writing dates back to the first half of the 1st century A.D. You can see why this would be of interest to Christians. Could this actually be the Emperor of the Roman Empire responding to the resurrection of Jesus? Here are a few quick facts about the tablet itself.
- The tablet was acquired by Wilhelm Frohner in 1878.
- The tablet measures 15 by 24 inches.
- While Frohner noted that the tablet “Was sent from Nazareth”, it’s not clear that the tablet originated there.
- There is an inscription on the tablet in koine Greek ordering capital punishment for anyone caught disturbing graves or tombs.
- The inscription is dated to the first half of the first century A.D. by means of epigraphy.
- In early 2020, an analysis of the tablet indicated that the marble was quarried on the Greek island of Kos.
- Since 1925, the tablet has been in the possession of the National Library of France.
What Does It Say?
Here is a complete translation of what the text actually says;
Edict of Caesar
It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs—whoever has made them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household members—that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person, I order that a judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker.
How Do We Know The Inscription Is Authentic?
As mentioned in the quick facts above, we can be confident of the date of the inscription by use of epigraphy. What is epigraphy? Is short, it’s the study of ancient documents or inscriptions. It is both a science and a bit of an art form.
The reason we are able to date the inscription is by the study of the Greek used in the writing of the inscription. Language varies in its usage over time. For instance, if you look at a document written in our country 100 years ago, it would look very different from one written today. Grammar, punctuation, word usage and frequency would all be different. These differences can be used to narrow down the timeframe in which something was written.
This is also incredibly difficult to replicate if you are trying to forge something. You would have to have extensive knowledge of the writing style of not only the language, but the time in history as well. And as the study in this field is a relatively new field, it would not have been something an ancient or medieval forger would have been aware of.
This tells us with some certainty that the inscription itself was written in the correct timeframe, but what about the tablet itself? Was it native to the region?
In early 2020, the marble was tested and shown to be from a quarry on the Greek island of Kos. This lead to speculation that the inscription on the tablet was not a reference to events that took place in Jerusalem. Many scholars now theorize that the tablet’s inscription had to do with the desecration of the grave of the ruler of Kos. The tyrant Nikias of Kos’ grave was desiccated after his death in 20 B.C.
While the inscription on the tablet can be tied to the first century, we simply don’t know what event this edict is a reaction to. Was this edict aimed at a local event, or was it an empire wide order? While the stone was quarried in Kos, this does not mean that it couldn’t have been moved to Nazareth at some point in its history.
What does this mean as evidence for the resurrection? Very little. I am not aware of any scholar that makes the case for the resurrection using the Nazareth Inscription as a primary point of their argument. It may have been used as supporting evidence, but was not a pillar on which the case was made.
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