Is the “Nazareth Inscription” from Nazareth?

If you’ve spent any amount of time online perusing Christian apologetics websites, you’ve no doubt come across the Nazareth Inscription, an edict from Caesar found on a slab of marble that prohibits grave robbing under penalty of death.[1] It is called the “Nazareth Inscription” because it was sent to antiquities collector Wilhelm Froehner from Nazareth in 1878. Some Christian apologists use it as evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. For example, apologist Luke Wayne writes that “the inscription almost certainly provides at least a small piece of supporting evidence for the resurrection in one way or another, if a somewhat circumstantial one.”[2] Yet the Inscription is shrouded in mystery. Scholars aren’t quite sure to which Caesar it refers, nor are they clear that it actually originated in Nazareth.[3]Moreover, as Everett Ferguson points out, the inscription “says nothing about Christianity, and it represents the normal attitude of the ancient world against grave-robbing (which was nonetheless often enough done to be a subject for concern) and the normal pagan terminology.”[4] Additionally, if it can be connected to the resurrection of Jesus in some way, why Nazareth? According to the Gospels, Jesus was buried in Jerusalem. Nothing about this adds up. 

Back in March, Smithsonian Magazine published a piece detailing the work of historian Kyle Harper who had testing conducted on the marble stone and discovered that the marble likely originated not in Nazareth but in a quarry on the Grecian island of Kos.[5] This reduces the chances that the Nazareth Inscription originated in Nazareth. But how could it have ended up in Nazareth when Froehner acquired it? According to Ekaterini Tsalampouni, Nazareth in the late nineteenth century “was a famous market where antiquities from the northern part of Palestine were sold.”[6] So, its presence in Nazareth isn’t indicative of its origin. 

What about the Caesar? Which one was it? Harper suggests Augustus who ruled from 27 BCE to 14 CE. The edict may have been issued in response to the death of a ruler of Kos whose body was exhumed by a mob and his bones scattered. As Harper admits, this is conjectural, but it does offer a plausible explanation for the inscription’s origin in light of the physical evidence. But whatever the case may be, its connection to the resurrection of Jesus is dubious. To read more, you can check out the Smithsonian Magazine piece here!


[1] For the full text of the edict, see Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, second edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993), 550-551.

[2] Luke Wayne, “What Is the Nazareth Inscription?” (6.11.19), carm.org.

[3] For an overview of scholarship on the Nazareth Inscription from 1930 to 1999, see Ekaterini Tsalampouni, “The Nazareth Inscription: A Controversial Piece of Palestinian Epigraphy (1930-1999),” Tekmeria, vol. 6, 70-122.

[4] Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, 551.

[5] Katherine J. Wu, “New Analysis Refutes Nazareth Inscription’s Ties to Jesus’ Death” (3.23.20), smithsonianmag.com.

[6] Tsalampouni, “The Nazareth Inscription: A Controversial Piece of Palestinian Epigraphy (1930-1999), 70.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons.

2 thoughts on “Is the “Nazareth Inscription” from Nazareth?

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    1. On that I’m not sure, but I’m sure it was no different than anywhere else in any other period. If people were buried with valuable items, there would be some incentive to dig them up and take it from their cold, dead hands.

      Liked by 1 person

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