The Nazareth Inscription, or Decree, was a marble slab supposedly placed outside of tombs in Nazareth warning grave robbers to stay away from the deceased. Written in Ancient Greek, the text starts with an “Edict of Caesar” and warns that “tombs and graves shall stay forever unmolested”, and disobeying this law would result in “capital punishment”.
The origin of the slab, which stands at 24 inches high, 15 inches wide and 2 inches deep (60 by 15 by 6 centimetres), is somewhat of a mystery, with it first coming to prominence in 1878 when a German collector called Wilhelm Froehner, claimed to have acquired the slab.
In his notes, Mr Froehner said the slab was “sent from Nazareth” and was carved “sometime between the later first century BC and the first century CE”.
Some members of the Christian faith believed the slab was placed outside of tombs following the disappearance, or resurrection, of Jesus Christ.
As the belief goes, the Romans did not believe Jesus had resurrected, and ultimately stated his corpse had been robbed, prompting authorities to put up the sign.
Analysis in the 1800s revealed the text and style did date the slab back to around the first century, adding more fuel to the fire.
However, new research has revealed the artefact was not related to Jesus Christ at all.
The first clue, according to lead study author Kyle Harper, a professor of classics and letters and Senior Vice President and Provost at The University of Oklahoma, is in Mr Frohner’s notes.
Mr Harper told Live Science: “‘Sent from Nazareth in 1878’ is a clue that stirs the imagination but proves little.
“And, it turns out, the note is very likely wrong.”
The team analysed the text of the slab, which is now in the collection of the Bibliothèque national de France, and used geochemical analysis to examine the slab’s isotopes.
They discovered that the unique isotopic fingerprints of the marble were a close match for a signature found in white marble from the Greek island of Kos – and not of Nazareth or indeed Israel.
As a result, the researchers linked it to a different grave robbing.
In the 30s BC, an unpopular official on the island of Kos, named Nikias, died and his tomb was robbed by locals.
The new research suggests the slab was probably related to the tomb of Nikias.
Mr Harper said: “We got lucky twice over. First, it was a very direct match with a rather unexpected marble quarry, so we could really pinpoint its origins on Kos.
“Second, it happened that we know of an episode of tomb violation that was very famous in the exact right period. I would have never hoped for such a remarkable alignment.”
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