New Evidence Throws Doubt On Nazareth Inscription’s Ties To Jesus
During the 1930s, a stone tablet was sent from Nazareth to the Louvre Museum in Paris, which became the focus of religious scholars and biblical archaeologists after its inscription was translated from Greek and was found to be a warning to keep grave robbers away from tombs. The slab was of course heralded as evidence of Jesus’ body having disappeared from his tomb after the biblical resurrection, but the true nature of the so-called Nazareth Inscription has been argued over ever since.
Now, a new paper published in the Journal of Archaeological Science presents the results of chemical analysis of the stone slab, which suggests a much more down to Earth, and less heavenly origin, suggesting the stone may have come from Nazareth but that it had been carved after Greek islanders vandalized the grave of a ruler who died decades before Jesus, according to the paper, which you can read on Science Direct.
Would the Real Tyrant Please Stand Up
The stone’s inscription is a Greek “Edict of Caesar” threatening capital punishment for grave robbers and makes no mention of any people or places by name. The chemical analysis of the approximately 2,000-year-old marble tablet, measuring 24 by 15 inches (61 x 38 cm), with the Nazareth Inscription appearing over fourteen lines, has led a modern team of researchers to clarify some of the inconsistencies in the tablet’s tale and their results suggest a “far less biblical origin story.”
A full shot of the Nazareth Inscription. (BNF)
Regardless, John Bodel, an epigraphist at Brown University told Science magazine that many Christians believe the stone is the “oldest physical artifact connected to Christianity,” but skeptics say the variant of Greek inscribed on the tablet was rare outside of Greece and Turkey and that it would have been out of place in Nazareth, and that the stone was more probably inscribed as a “reaction to the desecration of the grave of the Greek island of Kos tyrant Nikias around 20 BC.”
A Little Bit of Doubt Goes a Long Way
According to the new study, that was led by Kyle Harper, a Roman historian at the University of Oklahoma, researchers extracted a small sample from the reverse side of the tablet, which was chemically analyzed and the results determined that it “didn’t match anything” found in the Middle East, but that it was consistent with the type of rock found in a small quarry on the Greek island of Kos, meaning it is “highly unlikely” that the tablet originated or was inscribed in Nazareth.
Ancient ruins on modern day Kos, Greece, where the Nazareth Inscription is now believed to have originated from. (sborisov / Adobe stock)
Considering the date that the tablet was carved and the new geographic data pertaining to it having come from the island of Kos, the new paper suggests it was inscribed in response to the “death of Nikias” who was recorded as a “tyrant” ruler of Kos during the 30s BC, according to a report in Science News.
According to an ancient Greek poem, after the disgraced ruler Nikias had been buried, his former subjects tore his body from its tomb and they scattered his bones, and it is thought that in response to this act the first Roman emperor, Augustus, possibly ordered the creation of the inscribed tablet to re-establish order in the eastern Mediterranean.
Reassuringly, contrary to the dead certainty gestured towards the stone by millions of Christians around the world who believe it relates to their risen leader, Dr. Kyle Harper told Science News that the researchers argument about the tyrant Nikias “is not 100 percent certain,” but it’s the best explanation they have based on the acquired evidence.
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John Bodel, an epigraphist at Brown University, told Science News that Nikias supported Roman general Mark Antony, one of Emperor Augustus’ fiercest political enemies, and that Augustus may have simply been taking note of other similar attacks on rulers’ tombs, which Bodel said was an “unfortunately common phenomenon” in the Middle East and Asia Minor. And by way of trade, it is thought that the rock from Kos made its way to Nazareth and then on to Paris.
However, providing a second scenario, archaeologist Robert Tykot of the University of South Florida told Science News that the tablet may have been inscribed by a “well-informed forger in the 19th century,” just before it was acquired by a French collector, Wilhelm Froehner, in 1878, who sent it from Nazareth to Paris, with no mention that it had been discovered there.
Nevertheless, some authors cite the Nazareth Inscription’s supposed Galilean origin interpreting it as Imperial Rome's clear reaction to the empty tomb of Jesus, but it looks like skeptics were right on this one and that with Nazareth being a vibrant antiquities market in the 1870s it was probably “a shipping center” for the stone with no association with Jesus whatsoever.
Top image: Nazareth Inscription. Source: BNF
By Ashley Cowie