The Nazareth inscription is a block of marble, about two feet tall, a foot wide, and two inches deep. The first of its 22 lines of text, carved in slightly irregular Greek letters, announces an “Edict of Caesar.” The text itself bears telltale signs of translation from the original Latin, the language of Rome’s empire. In the body of the law, the emperor demanded that tombs and graves remain forever undisturbed. No one was permitted to remove a buried body. The emperor warned that anyone removing a corpse from the grave would be charged with tomb robbery, to be treated as a capital offense equal to public sacrilege. Judged only by its content, the inscription would be an interesting enough document in the history of Roman rule. But in Froehner’s private inventory, he noted that the inscription was “sent from Nazareth in 1878.” The intrigue is obvious. Nazareth is famous for only one thing. Did the inscription have something to do with the controversy over that empty tomb? Could it suggest that a Roman emperor was aware, however dimly, of unsettling claims about a crucified man rising from the dead in a remote province of his far-flung empire? If so, the inscription might stand as the oldest physical trace of the world’s largest religion — an echo of the early Christian story, bouncing off the hard surface of Rome’s power.Or maybe not. Who knows?
In any case, this is a fascinating story about collectors in the nineteenth century and one of their more interesting finds. Also, Charles Clermont-Ganneau, the French Indiana Jones of that century, makes an appearance. Of course he does.
Worth reading in full.
For the Rylands Papyrus P52 of the Gospel of John, see here and links. It is questionable that it is as early as the early second century, although that remains a possibility. There are many, many past PaleoJudaica posts on the Gospel of Jesus' Wife. You can find them in the archives. For key posts, see here, here, and here, and links. And for many posts on the James Ossuary, again see the archives, or start here and follow the links.
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