Even Caesar Confirmed the Resurrection

The Nazareth Inscription is a powerful piece of extrabiblical evidence that Christ’s Resurrection was already being proclaimed shortly after He was raised. It is a marble tablet, 24 inches (61 cm) by 15 inches (38 cm), written in the Greek language. Since the discovery was published in 1930, no scholar has produced evidence to disprove its authenticity. It’s an abridged decree by Emperor Claudius (AD 41–54), pronouncing the death penalty in Israel for anyone caught robbing bodies from tombs. (Normally, grave robbers stole valuables, not bodies!) It refers specifically to “sepulcher sealing tombs,” a special type used in Israel.

This “Decree of Caesar” is known as an imperial rescript, having the force of law. Rescripts frequently dealt with unusual legal, religious, or political issues arising in a specific region. The text fits both the style and structure of other rescripts of Claudius.

Matthew records one of the first responses to reports of Jesus’ Resurrection. The Jewish authorities invented a lie that the disciples had stolen the body (Matthew 28:13). Their goal was to spread an alternative story explaining why the body was missing and the tomb was empty. The Nazareth Inscription is very likely the Roman response to that very same problem.

In his dialogue with a nonbelieving Jew, Justin Martyr (AD 100–165) also refers to these early attempts to explain away the empty tomb of Jesus: “Yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilean deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven.”

The Nazareth Inscription forces skeptics to deal more deeply with the two major competing views of events: believing in the Resurrection of Christ or believing that His disciples stole His body from the tomb to perpetrate a great religious fraud. The account of Christ’s Resurrection was first circulated by the Apostles themselves, according to Scripture, and it was not a later invention by Christians of the post-apostolic period. The inscription is excellent evidence confirming this truth, and it brings to mind Paul’s statement, “If Christ is not risen . . . your faith is also empty” (1 Corinthians 15:14).

by Henry B. Smith, Jr

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