The Nazareth Inscription: Proof of the Resurrection of Christ?

Part Two: The Historical Context of The Nazareth Inscription

by Clyde E. Billington, Ph.D.

This article originally appeared in the journal Artifax and is reproduced here with permission.

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As was seen in Part One of this study, the textual evidence strongly suggests that the Nazareth Inscription was written by the Emperor Claudius. Claudius had an excellent source of knowledge of all events that were happening in Palestine, and especially what was happening in Palestine as related to the development of Christianity. This source was the Jewish King Herod Agrippa I. Herod Agrippa I was a childhood friend of Claudius and was also a close personal friend of Claudius’ predecessor the Emperor Caligula. As will be seen, Herod Agrippa I also had an intimate knowledge of Christ and of early Christianity. King Herod Agrippa I was almost certainly the one who motivated the Emperor Claudius to issue the Nazareth Inscription in response to the story of the resurrection of Christ.

When Claudius became emperor in 41 AD, he was faced with a revolt by nearly all the Jews in the Roman Empire. The previous Emperor Gaius (Caligula), his nephew, had driven the Jews to the brink of revolt by his insistence that his statue be placed in the Temple in Jerusalem. (Josephus, AJ, xviii.8.2)1 Only the assassination of Caligula and the wisdom of Petronius, the governor of Syria, who delayed implementing Caligula’s commands, prevented war in 41 AD between the Jews and the Romans.

Claudius knew the dangerous Jewish situation very well, not only because of his imperial connections, but also because of his friendship with the Jewish King Herod Agrippa I. Agrippa had been raised and educated by the imperial Julio-Claudian family in Rome. Josephus writes:

Shortly before the death of King Herod [the Great], Agrippa was living in Rome. He was brought up with and was on very familiar terms with Drusus, the son of he emperor Tiberius. He also won the friendship of Antonia,2 the wife of Drusus the Elder [the brother of Tiberius], for his mother Bernice ranked high among her friends and had requested her to promote the son’s interest (Josephus, AJ, xviii.6.1, vol. II, 95–97).

Antonia, whom Josephus mentions in this passage, was the mother of Claudius and the grandmother of Caligula.

Just a few years before he was made a king by Caligula in 37 AD, Agrippa had fallen into disfavor with the then still-living Emperor Tiberius because of huge unpaid debts which Agrippa had owed for years to powerful Romans. Josephus continues:

Undismayed by the emperor’s [Tiberius’] anger, Agrippa asked Antonia, the mother of Germanicus and the future emperor Claudius, to grant him a loan of 300,000 drachmas so that he might not lose the friendship of Tiberius. Antonia, both because she still remembered Bernice, his [Agrippa’s] mother–for the two ladies had been deeply attached to each other and because Agrippa had been brought up with Claudius and his circle, provided the money (Josephus, AJ, xviii.6.4, vol. II, 107).

Antonia was the daughter of Mark Antony and his first wife, Octavia, the sister of Caesar Augustus. She was also the wife of the Emperor Tiberius’ brother, Drusus the Elder. She had two sons, the popular general Germanicus and the future Emperor Claudius. Her deceased son Germanicus was the father of the future Emperor Caligula. In other words, Agrippa had as a friend the most powerful and influential woman in Rome, as well as being friends with her son Claudius and her grandson Caligula, both of whom would become Roman emperors.

When Agrippa was received as a friend by Antonia, he took to attendance upon her grandson, Gaius [Caligula], who was held in the highest honor because of the popularity enjoyed by his [deceased] father [Germanicus] (Josephus, AJ, xviii.6.4, vol. II, 107).

In other words, Herod Agrippa I was a boyhood friend of Claudius and became a close friend of Gaius, the future Emperor Caligula. Tiberius died in 37 AD, and his grandnephew Caligula became the new emperor. Shortly afterwards the Emperor Caligula summoned Agrippa to his palace, and “put a diadem on his head and appointed him king of the tetrarchy of [his deceased uncle] Philip, presenting Agrippa also with the tetrarchy of Lysanias” (Josephus, AJ, xviii.6.10 vol. II, 143). Caligula’s crowning of Agrippa as a king was to have major consequences for the career of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas, who is famous for events in the New Testament.

Jealous of Agrippa’s new title of king and nagged by his wife Herodias, who earlier had had her daughter Salome ask for the head of John the Baptist, the Tetrarch Herod Antipas petitioned the Emperor Caligula to also make him a king like his nephew and rival Agrippa. The ambitious King Agrippa I, seeking revenge for earlier insults by Antipas, sent letters and emissaries to Caligula and accused Antipas of treason and of plotting a revolt against Rome with the support of the Parthian Persians. As proof Agrippa said that Antipas had enough weapons stored in Galilee to arm 70 thousand soldiers (Josephus, AJ, xviii, 7.2, vol. II, 140). As a result of Agrippa’s false accusation, the Emperor Caligula removed Antipas as tetrarch of Galilee and gave Galilee to Agrippa in 37 AD. Antipas and Herodias were sent into exile to the city of Lyon in Gaul [France]. Agrippa was now the king of all of northern Israel, including the area of the Galilee where the city of Nazareth was located.

When the Emperor Caligula was assassinated and his uncle Claudius became the new emperor in 41 AD, King Agrippa happened to be visiting the city of Rome. While there he played a key role in Claudius’ ascent to the throne. It was Agrippa who took charge of preparing Gaius’ dead body for cremation. At that time there were a number of Roman senators who wanted to restore the old Roman Republic and did not want Claudius or anyone else as an emperor. Meanwhile Claudius needed more time to shore up his support. To buy time and to keep Claudius’ enemies off balance, Agrippa lied and announced to the Senate that Caligula was only in a coma and was not yet dead. It was also a later speech by Agrippa, which helped to convince the Roman senate not to go to war with Claudius in an attempt to re-establish a republic in Rome (Josephus, AJ, xix.iv. 5–6, vol. II, 325–341).

Claudius therefore owed much to his childhood friend King Agrippa. Once he had secured the imperial throne, Josephus writes that Claudius rewarded his good friend King Herod Agrippa I for his important help in making him the next emperor.

He [Claudius] then promulgated an edict whereby he both confirmed the rule of Agrippa, which Gaius [Caligula] had presented to him, and delivered a panegyric poem in praise of the king. He also added to Agrippa’s dominions all of the lands that had been ruled by King Herod [the Great], namely Judea and Samaria. He [Claudius] restored these lands to him as a debt due to his belonging to the family of Herod. But he also added Abila, which had been ruled by Lysanias, and all the land in the mountainous region of Lebanon as a gift out of his own territory, and he [Claudius] celebrated a treaty with Agrippa in the middle of the Forum in the city of Rome (Josephus, AJ, xix.v.1, vol. II, 341–343).

As was seen above, King Herod Agrippa I was a close friend of the Emperor Claudius. The two men were drawn even closer together by problems in the Jewish communities in Palestine and Alexandria Egypt. As was seen in the rescript letter on Jewish rights in Part One of this article, Claudius relied on Agrippa for advice on how to deal with Jewish issues. It was Agrippa’s advice which had helped calm the near revolt of the Jews in 41 AD. Claudius also almost certainly relied on Agrippa for information on the new Jewish sect of Christians. There is no doubt that Claudius had heard about Christians from some well-informed source. That source was almost certainly his childhood friend, the Jewish King Herod Agrippa I, and Agrippa knew Jesus Christ and the Christians very well.

King Herod Agrippa I And Early Christianity

Even before he was made a king by Caligula in 37 AD, Herod Agrippa I must have been very well informed about the new Christian faith. As will be seen below, he was almost certainly living with and/or being supported by his sister Herodias and her husband Herod Antipas at the same time when both John the Baptist and Christ were killed. It was Herod Antipas who ordered the death of John the Baptist, and it was also Herod Antipas who interviewed Jesus at the time of His crucifixion (Luke 23:6–12). Herod Antipas was the uncle of Agrippa, and Antipas’ new wife, Herodias, was the full sister of Agrippa.

Herod Agrippa I was born in ca. 10 BC and was educated, as was discussed above, in Rome by the Julio-Claudian family. As a spoiled young prince growing up and then living in Rome, Agrippa wasted his money on riotous living. Deeply in debt and no longer able to afford to live in the city of Rome, Agrippa returned to Judea in 24 AD.

Meanwhile, probably also in 24 AD, Herod Antipas on a visit to Rome met his attractive niece Herodias, the wife of his half brother Philip, and fell in love with her. Herodias agreed to marry Antipas, but only if he divorced his Nabatean wife, to whom he had been married for many years. When Antipas’ Nabatean wife learned of this affair, she was furious and fled to her father, King Aretas IV of Petra. Aretas in anger declared war on Antipas. In late 25 AD. Aretas crushed the army of Antipas, who was then forced to ask the Emperor Tiberius for Roman forces to fight Aretas. According to Josephus,3 it was shortly before his loss to Aretas that Antipas had the head of John the Baptist cut-off at the request of the insecure Herodias (Josephus xviii.5.2, vol. II, 81–83). This on-and-off-again war with Aretas would last until Antipas lost his tetrarchy in 37 AD.

Agrippa I, the brother of Herodias, after returning from Rome to Judea in 24 AD had moved south to Idumea. Without any source of income and being deeply in debt, Agrippa became despondent and planned to commit suicide. He was rescued by his wife Cypros and his sister Herodias. Herodias convinced her new husband Herod Antipas to appoint Agrippa to a governmental position in the Galilee, an area that Antipas then ruled. Antipas appointed Agrippa as the new “commissioner of markets” in the newly-built city of Tiberias, along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee (Josephus, AJ, xviii.6.1–3, vol. II. 99–103). This appointment was probably made by Antipas shortly after his return home from Rome with his new wife in early 25 AD.

John the Baptist had already started his ministry by that time, and Jesus Christ would begin His ministry in Galilee in 25 AD. In other words, Agrippa was living in the city of Tiberias at the very time that Christ began His ministry in the Galilee. Agrippa would certainly have also known about John the Baptist, because Agrippa had a good source of information in his sister Herodias, who hated John for undermining her position as the wife of Antipas. John the Baptist was a threat not only to Herodias but also to Agrippa, because Agrippa’s job depended upon his sister Herodias remaining as the wife of Antipas. It should be noted that John was killed while Antipas and Herodias were living in Machaerus, a fort located just east of the Dead Sea in what is today the nation of Jordan. Machaerus was the fort from which Antipas waged war against his former father-in-law, King Aretas, whose capital Petra was located about fifty miles south of the Dead Sea.

It is clear from the New Testament that uncle Herod Antipas, who then ruled the Galilee, had also heard much about Jesus. Luke 23:8 states that Antipas had heard about Jesus “for a long time.”

Now Herod was very glad when he saw Jesus for he had wanted to see him for long time, because he had been hearing about Him and was hoping to see some sign performed by Him (NASV).

It is very likely that Herodias herself was with Antipas in Jerusalem when he met Christ at the time of the Crucifixion in early 29 AD. If Herod Antipas had heard about Jesus “for a long time” then it is certain that both Herodias and her brother Agrippa had also heard about Jesus “for a long time.”

While Herod Antipas loved his new wife Herodias, he and his nephew/ brother-in-law Agrippa hated one another. Antipas seems to have enjoyed insulting his employee Agrippa and to have constantly reminded him of his dependency and poverty. Agrippa appears to have endured these insults for nearly a decade. Eventually the two men had a major confrontation, and the insulted Agrippa quit his job with Antipas and returned to Rome. The date of Agrippa’s departure for Rome is not given by Josephus, but historical sources indicate that Agrippa had only been living in Rome for a few years when Tiberias died in 37 AD. This would place Agrippa’s arrival in Rome in either 34 or 35 AD.

It is very likely that the reason why Agrippa picked this particular time to clash with Antipas and to go to Rome was the death of his uncle, and Antipas’ brother, Philip the Tetrarch of Ituraea, who died in 34 AD,4 It is also almost certain that Agrippa hoped that by going to Rome, he might receive Philip’s tetrarchy from his good friend Caligula, who was heir to the Imperial throne. Everyone knew that the Emperor Tiberius was old and in ill health.

It is also very likely that the reason why Antonia loaned Agrippa the 300 thousand drachmas mentioned above was because she knew that her grandson Caligula would eventually appoint Agrippa as the new ruler of Ituraea. As the ruler of Ituraea, Agrippa would have been able to repay her huge loan with interest. If Agrippa did not return to Rome until 34 AD, then he must have been living in the Galilee during the entire ministry of Jesus Christ. When Tiberias died in 37 AD, the new Emperor Caligula almost immediately made Agrippa king of Ituraea, and then later that same year, after deposing Herod Antipas from his tetrarchy for treason, Caligula also gave Agrippa the Galilee and Peraea. Peraea was located in what is today the northern half of the nation of Jordan.

From 37 to 41 AD. King Herod Agrippa I ruled Galilee, spending much of his time in his capital cities of Tiberius and Sepphoris. His uncle Herod Antipas had earlier made Sepphoris his royal capital in the Galilee, and then had later made his newly-built city of Tiberius his second capital. The Jewish historian Josephus writes that “Herod (Antipas) fortified Sepphoris to be the ornament of all Galilee, and called it Autocratoris.” (Josephus xviii, 2.2, vol. II, 25) Autocratoris (‘Emperor’) was a title held by the Roman emperor. Archaeological and historical evidence indicates that Sepphoris was populated by highly ‘Hellenized’ Jews. During the Jewish War from 66–70 AD, the cities of Sepphoris and Tiberius remained loyal to Rome. It should be noted that Jesus is not mentioned in the New Testament as having ministered in either city.

As recent archaeological discoveries have shown, Sepphoris was the largest and most beautiful city in all of Galilee at that time. In addition, it was located only about five miles away from the city of Nazareth. The city of Tiberius, the second capital of the Galilee, was situated about midway along the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, and it was located only about 15 miles away from Nazareth. The city of Tiberius was also located only about 6–7 miles by land (about 5 miles by boat) from the city of Capernaum where Jesus spent so much time ministering. Herod Antipas almost certainly had heard much about Christ and Christianity while he was residing both in Sepphoris and in Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee. Incidentally, it seems very likely that the Nazareth Inscription was engraved by a stone-cutter from the nearby city of Sepphoris, and was then posted in Nazareth on the orders of the Emperor Claudius.

Wikimedia commons: Luis García Emperor Claudius
Emperor Claudius

As was discussed earlier, in 41 AD the new Emperor Claudius gave King Herod Agrippa I the additional areas of Judea and Samaria. King Agrippa I then ruled all of the territory that his grandfather Herod the Great had once ruled. However, his rule over a united Israel was to last less than three years. Shortly after being given Judea in 41 AD, King Herod Agrippa I went to Jerusalem, his new capital, and, wanting to become more popular with traditional Jews,5 he began to persecute Christian Jews. He killed the Apostle James, and arrested the Apostle Peter (Acts 12:1–3). It was during his imprisonment by Herod Agrippa I that the New Testament says that the Apostle Peter was miraculously released from prison by an angel (Acts 12:4–19). Shortly after these events, the hubristic Agrippa suddenly died in the city of Caesarea in 44 AD being “eaten by worms” (Acts 12:23).

As was discussed earlier, King Herod Agrippa I was a favorite of the Emperor Claudius, and the emperor relied on Agrippa for advice on how to deal with the Jews. It is very likely that it was Agrippa who told Claudius about Jesus Christ and the Christians. That Claudius knew about Christ can be seen in a passage from Suetonius’ Life of Claudius where it is stated: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome” (Suetonius, Claud. xxv. Vol. II, 53). Chrestus is just an early alternate spelling for Christus, or Christ. The expulsion of the Jews from Rome is referred to in the New Testament in Acts 18:2 where the Jewish Christians Aquila and Priscilla are said to have been expelled from Rome by the Emperor Claudius. The exact date of the expulsion of the Jews is unknown, but it was certainly after the death of Herod Agrippa I in 44 AD.

Claudius’ concern about Jewish affairs continued after the death of Agrippa I. However, Claudius seems to have distrusted or lacked confidence in the young Agrippa II and refused to give to him his father’s kingdom. Finally in ca. 50 AD. Claudius made Agrippa II the tetrarch of the small area of Chalcis, and in 53 AD he gave him more land and the title of king. The Emperor Nero later gave him Galilee and Perea, but King Agrippa II did not rule Galilee during the reign of Claudius. Agrippa II would never rule Judea. While it is argued above that it was during the reign of King Agrippa I that the Nazareth Inscription was produced, his son Agrippa II is also known to have been very familiar with the teachings of Christianity, and this fact gives further proof that the Herodian family was well-informed about Christ and the development of Christianity. The interest in Christianity by the Herodian family was almost certainly politically motivated.

The Apostle Paul’s defense before King Agrippa II in ca. 62 AD indicates that Paul believed that Agrippa II knew well the story of the resurrection of Christ. Paul first says to Agrippa II: “ … you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews” (Acts 26:3, NASV). Paul continues telling Agrippa II that the main reason why the Jews were persecuting him was because of his belief in the resurrection of Christ (Act 26:7–8). This was the very issue, which the Nazareth Inscription tried to address. It is very likely that Agrippa II’s knowledge of Christianity came from his father, Herod Agrippa I.

The Emperor Claudius was assassinated in 54 AD by his wife and niece Agrippina, the mother of Nero, the next Emperor. As was argued above, Claudius was almost certainly the emperor who issued the Nazareth Decree. However, Nero is relevant to this study because he also clearly knew about Christianity and because he persecuted Christians who were living in Rome in 64 A.D (Tacitus, xv. 44, vol. iv, 283–285).

The Emperor Nero was, for the most part, not much interested in what was happening in the provinces. It was for this reason that he would blunder into the Jewish War. As nearly every Christian knows, Nero was a persecutor of Christianity and killed many early Christians in Rome, including both Peter and Paul. Nero is relevant to this study, because as the successor, grand nephew, and stepson of Claudius, he was well enough informed on Christianity to see Christians as handy scapegoats to blame for the great fire in Rome in 64 AD.

Not only the imperial family but also the entire Roman world seems to have known that the Jews were expecting the coming of their messiah. The Roman historian Suetonius in his Life of Vespasian indicates that the main cause of the Jewish Revolt, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 AD, was a belief among the Jews that they were destined to rule the world. Suetonius writes:

There had spread over all the Orient an old and established belief that it was fated at that time for men coming from Judaea to rule the world (Suetonius, Vesp. iv. vol. ii, 280–282).

A key phrase in this quote from Suetonius is ‘at that time’ (eo tempore). In other words, there was a Jewish belief that a Jewish Empire was destined “at that time” to replace the Roman Empire. Suetonius continues on to say that it was this belief which was the direct cause of the Jewish Revolt in 70 AD6 Incidentally Suetonius wrote his Lives of the Caesars in ca. 100 AD.

The belief that the Jews would rule the world was directly connected to the Jewish belief in the coming of the Messiah/ Christ, who would establish a worldwide Jewish Empire on the earth. This was exactly what the Essenes taught, as can be seen in the War Scroll in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It is likely that this element of Jewish eschatology was also known not only later to the Emperor Vespasian as Suetonius reports, but also earlier to the Emperor Claudius. It is very likely that the source of Claudius’ knowledge was again Agrippa I. However, any emperor who heard about this Jewish belief could not help but be alarmed and interested in the promised Jewish Messiah/ King and in Jewish eschatology.

While there is no direct evidence proving that the Emperor Claudius, who ruled from 41–54 AD, knew Jewish eschatology, there are two good reasons for believing that he did. First, as was seen above, he grew up with the Jewish prince Agrippa I, who unquestionably knew Jewish eschatology on the coming the Messiah. And second, as both a historian and as the Emperor of the Roman Empire, Claudius would have almost certainly investigated Jewish religion so that he could understand the reasons why the Jews nearly took up arms to fight Rome, when Caligula in 41 AD ordered that his statue be placed in the Jewish Temple.


The Nazareth Inscription is almost certainly authentic and is a rump version of an imperial rescript. It was also almost certainly issued by the Emperor Claudius in 41 AD. The text of the Nazareth Inscription fits both the style and structure of other known rescripts of Claudius.

The Emperor Claudius was also well placed to know a great deal about Jewish religion. He was the boyhood friend of the future Jewish King Herod Agrippa I. Agrippa I, being both the nephew of Herod Antipas and the brother of Herodias, was himself well placed to have heard about Christ and His teachings. Agrippa I also was a governmental official in the city of Tiberius in the Galilee at the same time when both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were ministering in Israel. Agrippa’s uncle Herod Antipas certainly knew that Jesus was a Galilean from Nazareth (Luke 23:5–7), and King Agrippa I also must have known this.

The close connection between the name of Jesus and the city of Nazareth is important for determining the place where the Nazareth Decree was posted. A careful look at the New Testament reveals that the followers of Jesus were at first not called Christians but rather “Nazarenes.” The Apostle Paul when he appeared before the Roman Governor Felix was accused by his Jewish enemies of being: “ … a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5 NASV).

It is also very clear in the New Testament that Jesus during his ministry was called Jesus of Nazareth, and only later was called ‘Jesus the Christ/Messiah’. There are many references in the New Testament to ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ or ‘Jesus the Nazarene’. These references are made by both His followers and His enemies. Every one who had heard of Jesus knew that he was from Nazareth. In Mark 14:57 the Apostle Peter is accused of being a follower of “Jesus the Nazarene.” The titulus, which Pilate placed over the head of Jesus on the cross, read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19). Peter in his sermon in Acts chapter 2 calls Jesus “the Nazarene.” When Peter appeared before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:10, he spoke of: “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Unquestionably, Agrippa I, who was related to the family of the high priests, would have known that Jesus was from the city of Nazareth in Galilee.

That King Agrippa I was well acquainted with Christianity can also be seen in his behavior after Claudius added Judea to his kingdom in 41 AD. As soon as he returned from Rome in 41 AD to claim Judea, one of the first things that Agrippa did was to persecute Christians in the city of Jerusalem, his new capital. With his intimate knowledge of the new Jewish sect of Jesus the Nazarene, it is very likely that it was King Herod Agrippa I who wrote the letter of inquiry to the Emperor Claudius about how to deal with the sect of Jesus the Nazarene. It is also very likely that it was in response to Agrippa’s letter of inquiry that Claudius wrote an imperial rescript forbidding the removal of bodies from tombs to counter the Christian doctrine that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead. It is also very likely that it was King Herod Agrippa I who, through his influence on Claudius, had the Nazareth Inscription posted in Nazareth, the home city of the “sect of the Nazarenes.” In addition, Herod Agrippa I may have even used the Nazareth Inscription as imperial authorization for the persecution of Christians and the execution of James the brother of John, see Acts 12:1–3.

The best date for the posting of the Nazareth Inscription is 41 AD. In 41 AD Claudius became emperor and immediately had to deal with a developing revolt among the Jews, both those living in Israel and also those living in the city of Alexandria. As was related above, just before his assassination, Caligula had driven the Jews to the brink of revolt by ordering Roman troops to set up his image in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Greeks in Alexandria had used Jewish resistance to worshipping Caligula as an excuse to attack the Jews as anti-Roman and unpatriotic. To deal with this explosive situation in 41 AD, Claudius almost certainly turned to his friend Agrippa I for advice and information. Since Agrippa I is known to have disliked Christians and since he also knew, as the Book of Acts records, that Christians were causing an uproar in Jerusalem at the very time when he became king of Judea in 41 AD, it is very likely that it was at this same time that Agrippa I wrote his letter of inquiry to Claudius, and Claudius wrote his rescript letter forbidding the removal of bodies from tombs. With Agrippa I’s intimate knowledge of Christ and Christianity, it was almost certainly he who selected Nazareth as the site for the posting of the Nazareth Inscription.

The question that now needs to be answered is: Does the Nazareth Inscription prove the resurrection of Christ? The answer to that question is no. But what it does prove is that the story of the resurrection of Christ was already well known, even to the Emperor Claudius in ca. 41 AD. This fact clearly proves that the story of the resurrection of Christ was widely known almost immediately after His crucifixion. In other words, the story of the resurrection of Christ must have been a story that was circulated by his Apostles themselves, and it was not a later invention by Christians of the post-apostolic period, as some modern scholars in the past have argued. The Nazareth Inscription does force modern scholars into making a choice of either believing in the resurrection of Christ or of believing that His disciples stole His body from the tomb in order to perpetrate a great religious fraud. As is true for philosophy, science and religion, belief is always the key issue.

Editors’ update (2023): Was the Nazareth Inscription a response to the desecration of deceased tyrant Nikias from the Greek island of Kos?

A 2020 paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science challenged the idea that the Nazareth Inscription was connected to Jesus’ empty tomb.1 Researchers led by historian Kyle Harper reported their analysis that the marble tablet’s chemical signature closely matched that of a quarry on the island of Kos, off the coast of modern Turkey. From a Greek poem by Krinagoras, it is known that, around 30–20 BC, disgruntled citizens of Kos exhumed their recently deceased ruler, Nikias, from his grave. They dragged his body into the public square and desecrated it. The researchers believe this is likely the occasion that prompted the edict on the Nazareth Inscription, from emperor Augustus rather than Claudius. Thus, caution is in order when advancing the Nazareth Inscription as evidence for the Resurrection of Christ.

Still, some scholars continue to defend the Nazareth Inscription’s possible connection to Christ. The chain of custody, as far as it goes, reported that this artifact came from Nazareth, even if the marble might have originally been quarried from Kos. Marble in Israel had to be imported from somewhere, and Titus Kennedy notes that Turkey was a common source, including marble from Kos specifically brought to Israel by Herod the Great.2 Plus, it is questionable that the situation on Kos would have warranted the involvement of Augustus. Some have also questioned whether the content of the Nazareth Inscription matches the situation with Nikias as well as it does Jesus. For example, sepulcher-sealing stones were a feature of tombs in Israel, but there is reason to doubt that this would describe the tomb of Nikias. We leave it to readers to do further research and draw their own conclusions.

  1. Harper, K. et al., Establishing the provenance of the Nazareth Inscription: Using stable isotopes to resolve a historic controversy and trace ancient marble production, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 30, April 2020.
  2. Kennedy, T., Excavating the Evidence for Jesus, Harvest House, Eugene, OR, 2022, p. 268.


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.

Published: 22 November 2012


  1. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, trans. by Louis H. Feldman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965), vol. II, pp. 155-157. Return to text.
  2. Antonia was the daughter of Mark Antony and his first wife, Octavia, the sister of Caesar Augustus. She was married to Drusus the Elder, the brother of the Emperor Tiberius. Claudius and Germanicus were her sons, and Caligula, the son of Germanicus, was her grandson. The widow Antonia was known for her integrity, and she was clearly the most powerful woman in Rome at the time. It was Antonia who told Tiberius of Sejanus’ plot to kill him. Tiberius, her brother-in-law, gave her almost anything that she wanted, although it was almost certainly Tiberius who poisoned her son Germanicus out of envy for his popularity with the Roman People. Return to text.
  3. There are good reasons for believing that Josephus’ report of the beheading of John the Baptist is authentic. The fact that Josephus blames Antipas’ defeat on his murder of John the Baptist makes it highly unlikely that this story was added to Josephus’ text by a later Christian writer. The author of this portion of the Antiquities of the Jews was very familiar with the political situation, which existed at the time of the death of John the Baptist. It is very likely that this author was Josephus. Return to text.
  4. On the date of the death of Philip the Tetrarch in the 20th year [i.e. 34 AD] of the reign of Tiberias, see Josephus, AJ, xviii.4.6, vol. II, 75-77. Return to text.
  5. Agrippa was very popular with the Jews. He had reconstructed the kingdom of Herod the Great and had also obtained from the Romans the right of control over the garments of the High Priest. The control of these garments by Roman governors had long been a sore point with the Jews. Herod was also popular because he had not only used his influence to protect the rights of the Jews in Alexandria and the rest of the Roman Empire, but he was also the grandson of Mariamme the Hasmonean. In other words, he had the blood of the Maccabees flowing in his veins. Return to text.
  6. The Jewish historian Josephus, on the other hand, blamed the Jewish revolt on the greedy, evil Roman procurator Florus. Josephus also heaped blame for the war on the Jewish Sicari or Zealots, but he basically argued that it was Florus, a Nero appointee, who caused the Jewish War. It should be noted that nowhere in his writings does Josephus mention the Jewish belief that “men from Judaea” would rule the world as a cause of the Jewish War. Return to text.