Nazareth Inscription - It May Still Refer to Jesus.

Nazareth Inscription
The Nazareth Inscription, sometimes called the Nazareth decree, is a first century marble slab inscribed with a warning about stealing corpses. It is inscribed by an unknown Caesar and has been dated to the first century A.D. or perhaps as early as the late first century B.C. Some have claimed the inscription is proof of the resurrections of Jesus and is a direct reference to His missing body on Easter morning. Now new scientific test have caused a great many to question if the inscription refers to Jesus, or another incident entirely. Some are saying the new study debunks any reference the inscription has to Jesus and are making many bold claims, but before making too many assumptions, we should first carefully examine all the facts of the case.

The marble slab is inscribed with a rather lengthy decree by Caesar stating that anyone found guilty of stealing a body (corpse) can and should be put to death. The inscription is written in rather poor Greek.

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.

The marble slab's origin is somewhat of a mystery. As stated, it has been scientifically dated to somewhere between 50 B.C. and 100 A.D. Very little if anything is known of the stones provenance. It was first acquired by a French collector in Nazareth in 1878. The slab was then sent from Nazareth to Paris where it is now in the collections of the Louvre.

Some Christians have long believed the inscription is a direct reference to Jesus and the fact His body was missing from the tomb. The Romans and other leaders insisted His body had been stolen, believers have long insisted this inscription is proof of His resurrection. In all honesty, if the inscription is in fact a reference to Jesus, it would only be proof His body was indeed missing. Others now insists the inscription has nothing to do with Jesus and is in fact a direct refence to another event entirely.

Scientist took small samples of the marble slab and checked them for their unique isotopic fingerprint. They then compared this 'fingerprint' to known marble samples. After carefully comparing the samples it has been determined the marble slab came from a quarry on the Greek island of Kos. With the age of the slab/inscription already determined, it was found the edict instead of being a reference to Jesus, could instead refer to the body of a local Greek official.

Around 30 B.C. a somewhat unpopular official named Nikias died and was buried. After his burial some of the local citizens broke into his tomb and desecrated the body. This was obviously very disturbing to other officials in the area and it is believed the marble slab was inscribed as a direct response to the mutilation of an official's body. The time line is an almost exact match, and the marble was sourced from the local area. The evidence all lines up and strongly indicates the so called Nazareth inscription in no way was a reference to Jesus. Case closed? Well, not just yet. 

The evidence is substantial for the possibility the inscription is a response to the mutilation of  Nikias's body. While this possibility must be acknowledged and considered as a strong possibility,  there remain some serious questions that need to be addressed before closing the case on the Nazareth inscription.

  • Was the inscription a response to Nikias or Jesus? - The truth is that it could refer to either, but which is the most logical answer? The warning on the inscription makes no mention of punishing someone for mutilating a corpse, only the theft of a corpse. Nikias' body was not stolen and was as far as we know, left in the tomb. Jesus' body was missing and the claims of His resurrection by His disciples were causing problems for local officials, especially the Jewish leaders who had arranged for Jesus to be crucified. - Taken strictly at face value the inscription more closely matches the events involving Jesus. [In fairness, an argument can be made that the inscription doesn't mention multination but it does mention destroying a corpse. While some would consider this to reference a complete destruction of the body, leaving it missing entirely, it could be a reference to multination such as was done to the corpse of Nikias.]
  • The inscription was in Greek, and Nikias was buried on a Greek island. - Obviously we would expect an item inscribed on a Greek island to be written in Greek, but what about first century Nazareth? While the spoken language was primarily Aramaic, there would have been some Hebrew spoken. The written language however, was Greek and thus the language used in both locations were the same and does not help us narrow the search for the truth. However, the fact the inscription is in Greek could help us in another way.
  • It has been noted that the inscription is in poor Greek, as if written by someone not fluent in the language or someone for whom Greek was a second language. This has led some scholars to question if the slab was really inscribed on a Greek island where the inhabitants would have been fluent in Greek. Some believe the poor use of the Greek language is a strong indication the slab may have indeed been inscribed in Nazareth. - In fairness, the inscription could have been made by an inhabitant of Kos who was less literate and perhaps struggled with their writing skills. This idea seems unlikely. How probable would it be for an Edict from Caesar to be assigned to a person who was not comfortable with the language?
  • Israel does not have a natural or local supply of marble, so any marble used or found in Israel would have been imported. While no one can be certain, it is most likely any import of marble would have been along one of the more common trade routes between Rome and Jerusalem. The Roman network of roads traveled through Greece to take advantage of the chief imports of oil, wine, honey, cloth, horses and marble. On the western side of Greece the ports of Nicopolis, Apollonia and Dyrrhachium were regular ports of call for Roman vessels. While offering no proof, this does raise the possibility the marble slab used for the inscription was in fact imported from Kos to Nazareth. Some point to the fact that if the marble slab was in fact a reference to Nikias, how and why did it end up in Nazareth? Obviously, there are any number of possibilities, but it is a strange coincidence the marble slab eventually found its way to Nazareth, hometown of Jesus, if the inscription indeed was a reference to an event significant only in the area of Kos.
 When all of the evidence is examined a reasonable argument could be made for the inscription being the result of the mutilation of Nikias, or the missing body of Jesus. Science has proven the source of the marble and a possible local reason for such an inscription being deemed necessary. A reasonable argument can also be made that the Nazareth inscription is in fact a reference to Jesus. The evidence fits both scenarios and if it refers to Jesus it would be considered external physical evidence from Easter morning. As mentioned, if the inscription is a reference to Jesus it would indicate His body was indeed missing, but nothing more. No inscription or scientific evidence can prove the resurrection, that requires faith in something higher than science. 

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