A new study in the latest issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science questions whether the Nazareth Inscription, an imperial edict imposing the death penalty on those who steal bodies from tombs, was originally written in response to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The authors of the study obtained permission from the National Library of France to obtain a small sample from the back of the tablet. Geochemists then ground 1mg of the marble into powder and used a process of laser ablation to analyze the carbon and oxygen isotopes to measure the chemical “fingerprint” of the marble used in the tablet. The results indicate the tablet was made of marble that likely came from a quarry on the Greek island of Kos. The authors of the study conclude that their tests support the theory that the inscription was ordered by Caesar Augustus, decades before Christ, in response to an event described in an ancient poem in which the people of Kos broke into the tomb of the tyrant-ruler, Nikias, and desecrated his corpse. They suggest that Froehner, the man who purchased the Nazareth Inscription, was misled about the provenance of the stone in an effort to get more money for the artifact.
While the advance technology used in this study has exciting possibilities for tracking the trade of marble throughout the ancient world, several cautionary comments regarding the authors’ conclusions should be considered. First, this study really only demonstrates that the marble for the inscription came from Kos. Given that almost all marble in ancient Israel was imported, due to the lack of local sources, it is hardly surprising to find that the marble itself did not originate in the area of Nazareth. Secondly, there is a close connection, historically, between the Island of Kos and Galilee. Both Herod the Great and Herod Antipas are named in inscriptions to their honor on the Island of Kos, suggesting political and commercial links between the two places. Finally, ABR would recommend Dr. Clyde Billington’s two-part article on the Nazareth Inscription, in which he highlights six features in the text which do not fit a non-Jewish, gentile context (see links below).