Experts mistakenly link famous artefact to Christ’s resurrection

Ryan Carrick

New findings reveal a stone tablet long believed to have an indirect link to Jesus Christ’s resurrection actually came from Greece.

Scholars believed the document, known as the Nazareth Inscription, which bears a Roman emperor’s orders from 2,000 years ago, referred to early Christian claims of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from a tomb in Nazareth.

However, a chemical analysis of the marble puts its origins in a quarry on the Greek island of Kos, according to a team led by the Roman historian, Kyle Harper of the University of Oklahoma in Norman. 

Lecturer in Greek Archaeology at the UCD School of Archaeology, Dr Alan Peatfield, says it was French scholars who began writing about the slab’s “link” to Christ in the 1930s. 

“At the time there was a lot of ideological interest in associating things with the truth of the Bible,” he said. “They weren’t writing from a purely objective, scientific, analytical stance. They were writing to follow an ideological agenda.”

The new findings, published in the April Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, suggests that the tablet issued a general demand for law and order after Greek islanders ransacked the tomb of their recently deceased tyrant ruler.

The new-found origins suggest the unnamed emperor’s edict, decreeing that anyone who disturbs tombs would be killed, was a response to a break-in at the grave of Kos tyrant Nikias by his former subjects, according to Bruce Bower of Science News. Nikias ruled Kos during the 30s B.C., before being overthrown. He was associated with Roman general Mark Anthony. 

The researchers propose that the decree was probably made by the first Roman emperor, Augustus, in a general call for law and order in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Dr Peatfield says there is logic to Augustus’ decision to issue this law following the desecration of a tomb that belonged to a supporter of his rival, Mark Anthony. 

“What Augustus is trying to do is reestablish peace, the rule of law,” he said. “He is trying to reestablish the status quo. The desecration of a tomb by the local people is a threat to the rule of law. The rule of law is more important than Nikias.”

Harper’s team analysed two samples of the marble powder drilled from the back of the tablet. The geochemical makeup of unusually low levels of carbon 13 and elevated levels of oxygen 18 most closely matched a marble source in Kos.

The origins of the Nazareth Inscription had been a mystery for 90 years since it was first published in 1930. It was acquired by an antiquities collector named Wilhelm Froehner in 1878. Froehner wrote in his notes that the tablet had been “sent from Nazareth” but this is a claim that cannot be verified.

Dr Peatfield says that Christian beliefs and Christ are not being done any service by things being fabricated, such as the origins of the tablet. 

“It’s not interesting because it has some putative Christian association,” he said. “It is interesting as a historical document, as a way to understand how the patterns of history are repeated.”

Ryan Carrick