Some skeptical folks will want evidence for the claims of Christianity. Fair enough! After all, one of the core claims of Christianity is – that God entered human history as Jesus of Nazareth at a specific point in history. If this is true – then surely he has left behind evidence of his time on earth?
I would argue that the New Testament documents form the basis of that historical evidence. Yet there is other supporting evidence to be found too. Little supporting pieces of history, like shards of buried treasure that point towards the truthfulness and the reliability of the New Testament record. And we find this evidence in the most surprising of places.
Back in 1878, amongst the ancient remains of the town Nazareth, archaeologists found a fascinating inscription engraved on marble. The inscription – which is housed in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris today – has been named the Nazareth Inscription. The text says this:
“Proclamation of Ceasar. It is my desire that graves and tombs remain sealed for the benefit of those who have made them and for their children, family members and their religion. If, however, anyone accuses that another has either destroyed them, removed the buried, or with ill intent has taken them to other places in order to wrong them, or has removed the sealing on other stones, I order that person be brought to trial. Just as a man should respect the gods, so also with regard to men, for all should respect the buried. It is therefore forbidden for anyone to disturb them. Should this edict be violated, the offender is to be sentenced to capital punishment on the charge of violating a sepulcher.”
The marble inscription has been dated to around 41AD, less than 10 years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and this edict is believed to have been made by Claudius Ceasar. The language fits with other surviving edicts from him.
So – the leader of the entire Roman Empire is making an edict here. Breaking the terms of this edict will lead to the death penalty – this is a big and serious deal. So which criminal act is being doubled down on, here? What is so threatening to the Roman Empire that such a clear warning would be given?
Removing dead bodies from Jewish Sepulcher graves
Seems a bit over the top, don’t you think? Surely robbing of valuable items from graves – which I am sure, was common – is a more serious crime compared to stealing a dead body? What use is a decomposing corpse, after all?
It is a baffling edict – unless you choose to view it in the context of the New Testament’s report that …
“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” Matthew 28:6
One of the oldest explanations for the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth is – the disciples stole his body. According to Matthew’s gospel, this was the message that the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem urged the Roman Tomb Guards to give. They even go on to say that, if this story gets passed up the Roman chain of command…we will make sure you don’t get into any trouble for it guys. You can read about this in Matthew 28:11-15.
Well it seems from the wording of the Nazareth Inscription edict that the Jewish Chief Priests story reached those in charge – and the response was a modification of the law in Palestine. STOP STEALING DEAD BODIES out of Jewish sealing tombs…or else!
I have no doubt that the 1st century Romans dismissed the preaching of the early Church as lies. They didn’t believe Jesus had been raised. They believed – as the Sanhedrin and the Guards had claimed – that Jesus’ Disciples stole the body following Jesus’ death. This theft had clearly led to social unrest, as described in part in Acts chapters 5 to 8. And so – the Roman Government’s solution – was to make the stealing of dead bodies illegal.
It seems to me that the Nazareth Inscription corroborates parts of Matthew’s Gospel post resurrection account – namely the claim the Jesus had risen, and the counter claim that his disciples stole the body. It also seems very significant to me that the Nazareth Inscription itself was presumably installed…but certainly found in Jesus’ very home town.
What am I saying here?
I am NOT saying that the Nazareth Inscription provides archaeological proof of Jesus’ Resurrection. What I am suggesting however – is that the story of Jesus’ Resurrection was widely known in the years following the 33AD event; even to the Roman Emperor. What does this mean? It means that Jesus’ first Disciples were the ones who circulated the resurrection reports. Jesus Resurrection was not an invention hundreds of years later, as has been claimed by some skeptical scholars who have tried to discredit Christianity.
It seems to me – the Nazareth Inscription is evidence that presents a question to us. Did the disciples steal Jesus body, or was Jesus really raised from the dead as they claimed?
Two final thoughts about the Stolen Body Explanation:
First – it assumes Jesus tomb was empty. And people knew then where Jesus’ dead body was placed after his crucifixion.
Second – the record shows that Jesus’ friends were broken by his crucifixion. But something happened very quickly to turn this dispirited band into dynamic world changers. These men stood for truth and morality. And each one of Jesus original circle went to a premature death, standing for Jesus, his resurrection and the forgiveness of our sins.
It seems to me that it would take a lot more than a mistakenly missing body to turn frightened nobody’s into radical world changers.
Also – the idea that they knowingly stole the body in order to manufacture the birth of the Christian Church – does not fit with the record of these first Disciples. These people stood for truth and went to their deaths proclaiming it. What reason would they have for making this sacrifice, if they knew all along that the whole thing had been an elaborate hoax?
Surely meeting the risen Jesus Christ – and being commissioned by him to spread his life changing truth – is a historically reasonable explanation for their positively changed lives?