Nazareth Tablet Has Nothing to Do With Jesus, Belonged to Greek Tyrant, Scientists Say

The Nazareth Tablet, long thought to have been created after the disappearance of Jesus' body, has nothing to do with him or Christianity, scientists have said. Instead, the mystery marble tablet more likely belonged to a Greek tyrant called Nikias, whose grave was desecrated after his death, around 30 to 20 B.C.

The marble tablet, also known as the Nazareth Inscription, is a slab measuring 23 inches in height and 14.7 inches wide. It is written in Greek and appears to have been issued by a Roman ruler identified as Caesar. The text on the tablet says tombs and graves should not be disturbed and bodies should not be removed. Doing so, it says, is a capital offense.

The tablet was owned by Wilhelm Froehner, who bought it in Paris in 1878 and kept it in his private collection until his death. Five years later, in 1930, the text was published for the first time. In his notes, Froehner said it had been "sent from Nazareth," which led it to be connected to the death of Jesus. It was thought the tablet may have been issued by the Roman emperor after Jesus' body went missing from his tomb.

"The marble was long linked with Christianity because Nazareth is known for literally nothing else but Jesus of Nazareth," Kyle Harper, from the University of Oklahoma, told Newsweek. "I have been fascinated by this mystery for years, and I wanted to partner with scientists to use geochemical analysis to unlock the origins of the stone."

Harper and colleagues have now published research to show where the marble used to create the tablet originally came from. Their findings are published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The team was provided with a small sample of the marble to carry out analysis on it. With this, they were able to trace it back to a quarry on the Greek island of Kos, far from Nazareth. "We got lucky in that we had a direct match with a rather unusual marble quarry—not one of the big Mediterranean export centers—and that we know of a famous person whose tomb was scandalously violated from exactly this place," Harper said.

ancient greek stock
Stock photo of ancient Greek text. Researchers have said a marble tablet thought to be linked to Jesus was actually issued after the desecration of the tomb of a Greek tyrant. iStock

The "famous person" they connected with the tablet was Nikias of Kos, a tyrant who ruled this region of Greece around 30 B.C. When he died, his grave was desecrated. According to the researchers, a poet from the time wrote about the event: "Observe the fate of Nikias of Kos. Having already been laid to rest among the shades, his corpse was dragged out into the sunlight. For the people of the city pried open the bars of his tomb, and dragged out the wretch for the punishment of a second death."

Nikias would likely have been a strong supporter of Mark Anthony and Cleopatra before they were defeated by Rome. The team says the tablet was probably issued by Emperor Augustus "to establish law and order in the eastern Mediterranean in the years after he had defeated Antony and Cleopatra at the Battle of Actium" following the incident with Nikias' tomb.

In terms of Froehner, they say the collector and/or the people he bought the tablet from "were duped by a clever merchant." They continue: "The violated tomb and removed corpse in question on the Nazareth Inscription are not those of Christ, but Nikias."

Jonathan Prag, Professor of Ancient History at the U.K.'s Univeristy of Oxford, who was not involved in the research, commented on the study. He told Newsweek the findings were "perfectly plausible" but that finding the origin of the stone does not necessarily show the origin of the inscription. He also said a next step could be to compare the language of the text to other inscriptions from Kos from the same period, as well as texts from other regions—including Nazareth. He said it would also help to find out if marble from Kos was ever imported to the Nazareth region, which would give an insight into patterns of economy and trade at the time.

This article has been updated to include quotes from Jonathan Prag.