the Nazareth Inscription - archaeological witness to the crucifixion?

Steven Avery

The Kyle Harper article and the new Larry Hurtado piece brought this to a wider readership.

An Imperial Reaction to the Empty Tomb?
Larry Hurtado - November 17, 2018

The Emperor and the Empty Tomb:
An Ancient Inscription, an Eccentric
Scholar, and the Human Need to
Touch the Past
By Kyle Harper

The main alternative is that the edict is a response to the Christian gospel and the bitter disturbances it aroused. The disciples of Jesus claimed that they found their master’s tomb empty. The 28th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew makes it abundantly clear that rival accounts of the empty tomb were in circulation. Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah spread the counter-claim that the disciples had stolen the body, and according to Matthew, they suborned the Roman guards into testifying as much to the governor. These polemics rippled outward across the Roman Empire. The Christian gospel was first proclaimed in the synagogues of diaspora Judaism, and the unsettling message of the resurrected Christ was a source of violent contention. For at least a generation, the principal way in which the Christian mission caught the attention of Roman authorities was in the internecine squabbling it set off in communities of Jews in towns all across the empire. In the reign of Claudius, this strife reached such a pitch that he expelled the Jews from Rome. Perhaps aware of lingering conflict over the claims of the resurrection, the emperor issued an edict laying down harsh penalties for violating tombs and the bodies resting within. A copy was then pointedly set up in the hometown of Jesus or perhaps the nearby Greco-Roman town of Sepphoris. The edict was not an effort to stymie the growth of a new world religion, so much as a reaction to simmering tensions among the empire’s many Jewish enclaves.

The theory as an undeniable elegance. It can account for the provenance, date, and purpose of the inscription. But we have come to realize, even more than a scholar of Froehner’s day could have known, how rare a physical trace of first-century Christianity would truly be. Epigraphy prefers patterns, and abhors a singularity. Our perplexity in the face of the Nazareth inscription is intense, precisely because of how unusual it would be to have a document that might let us touch some part of Christianity’s remotest past

An interesting article to read. Strengths and weaknesses. A journalist-historian approach, which often gives more insight than dry textual and even apologetics tech. No bibliography, ergo this page. The inscription is 22 lines, why not the whole text? The “Jewish Lazarus-inscription,” from Jaffa, in interesting. The Moses Shapira history has many nuances, and has been in the news again the last couple of years, and the conclusions may not be so one-sided. The Nazareth locale may well have been given as provenance not because it was big in the antiquities trade, but because it was such an important Biblical town name. My feeling is simply that it should be considered more as Galilee. The reference to Gallio, used for dating Acts, is excellent. However, nonsense late dating is proclaimed in one spot: "The Gospel of John was probably written toward the very end of the first century or the opening decades of the second.” The Caiaphas tomb is mentioned, which is excellent. And Joanna and other New Testament individuals, like the high priest Theophilus, can be connected to Caiaphas historically and archaeologically. Similarly, the Garden Tomb is totally consistent with the Bible accounts, and is the #1 archaeological evidence to the crucifixion.


My thinking out loud. Inscription or Decree? Decree has the advantage of avoiding any mix-up with the Nazareth reference in the Caesarea Maritima find, here is one snippet on the Caesarea find.

“The Nazareth Inscription. A Controversial Piece of Palestinian Epigraphy (1920-1999)”. TEKMHPIA 6: 70-122
Ekaterini G. TsalampouniΤΕΚΜΗΡΙΑ_6_70-122
p. 70-122
THE NAZARETH INSCRIPTION: THE BIBLIOGRAPHY (1930-1999) p. 72-78 (81 entries)

The purpose of this article is to make a short review of the bibliography on the inscription of Nazareth from its first publication in 1930 to 1999 when the last paper regarding the stone was published. At the outset we should note that the scholarly discussion about the stone is focused on the following seven points:

the provenance of the stone,
its dating,
its authenticity,
the legal frame of the inscription,
the unity and structure of the text,
the nature of the document and finally
its relation to the resurrection of Christ and the history of early Christianity.

It should be noted that many of the papers and studies that will be discussed do not treat all of the aforementioned points but they focus their interest on one or more aspects of the problems that the inscription poses while some others provide the reader with an overall discussion of the inscription and its problems. Finally we should note that in presenting the various papers effort is made to keep the chronological order whenever this is possible. The articles or studies noted by an asterisk are those that have been inaccessible to the author.
The Nazareth Inscription: Proof of the Resurrection of Christ?
Part One: Translation, Commentary, and Date
Published: 15 November 2012
This article originally appeared in the journal Artifax and is reproduced here with permission.

Part Two: The Historical Context of The Nazareth Inscription


Adkins, Lesley and Roy Adkins, Dictionary of Roman Religion, New York: Facts on File, 1996.

Brown, Frank E., Violation of Sepulture in Palestine in American Journal of Philology, vol. LII, 1, No. 205, pp. 1–29, 1952.

Charlesworth, M. P., Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Claudius and Nero, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952.

Cumont, M. Franz, Un Rescrit Imperial Sur L Violation De Sepulture in Reveu Historique, LXIII, 2e, pp. 241–266, 1930.

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. by Louis Feldman. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965.

Pharr, Clyde, The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitiutions. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1952.

Pliny the Younger, Letters, trans. by William Melmoth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1958.

Suetonius, The Lives of the Caesars, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, vol. ii, Claudius, Bk. V., 1959

Tacitus, Cornelius, The Annals, trans. by John Jackson, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962.

Zulueta, F. de, Violation of Sepulture in Palestine at the Beginning of the Christian Era in The Journal of Religious Studies, 1932.


The Nazareth Inscription or Nazareth decree is a marble tablet inscribed in Greek with an edict from an unnamed Caesar ordering capital punishment for anyone caught disturbing graves or tombs.
Pliny on Nazarene Tetrarchy, Schonfield on Nasara of Galilee
Nazareth - three geographical alternatives
Steven Avery - Jan 2, 2013

There is even an interesting "Nazareth Inscription", however Nazareth there only refers to the provenance of the antiquities dealer who brought forth the item, and today Nazareth is a bustling antiquities center. Thus the inscription is significant in 1st century historicity discussions, as a Roman administration evidence that is difficult to explain other than in connection with the resurrection events. However the Nazareth name is a bit of a misnomer.

The Nazareth Inscription (2000)
Richard Carrier
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