Tombs, Ordinances and Graffiti
Tomb Inscriptions – late 30’s C.E.?
“Several of the tombs in the Dominus Flevit catacombs outside Jerusalem bear inscriptions like, ‘Jesus, have mercy’, and ‘Jesus, remember me in the resurrection’, inscriptions thought to date from the 40’s or late 30’s, and indicating the presence in Jerusalem from a fairly early date of a community that believed in resurrection and in the power of someone named Jesus to see the believer safely through death and beyond.”
– Alan Millard, Discoveries From the Time of Jesus
The tombs were discovered during the rebuilding of a Franciscan chapel and excavated from 1953 to 1955.
“A tomb of the Late Bronze period gave finds which are important for the civilization of Jerusalem just at the time of its conquest by the Hebrews. A necropolis used from 136 BC to 300 AD produced a great amount of material. The necropolis had two periods each with different styles and cultures. The first, the earlier is characterized by Kokhim (oven-shaped) tombs running from 185 BC, while the second is characterized by tombs with an arcosolium belonging to the 3rd and 4th centuries AD. With the Kokhim tombs are closely connected the sarcophagus and the ossuary; the first cut in hard stone (mizzi) follow the motifs of classical art, both in structure and subject, in close artistic relation with the Tombs of the kings and ‘Herod’s’ of the 1 cent. AD; the ossuaries, on the other hand in soft stone (kacooley) follow a local trade technique with architectonic and floral motifs.
“On the ossuaries were found many more or less symbol signs (crosses, tau, Constantinian monograms) and 43 inscriptions (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) incised or traced with charcoal. Of interest is the recurrence of names common in the New Testament, as Mary, Martha, Philo the Cyrene, Matthew, Joseph, Jesus.”
– Dominus Flevit the site where “The Lord Wept”
Caesar’s Decree – c. 50 C.E.
“A stone slab found in Nazareth, of height 0.61m is inscribed (in Greek) with a decree demanding the death penalty for anyone who broke the seals on a tomb or stole a dead body.” (Attributed date c. 50 C.E.)
– Summarized extract – IVP Three Volume Bible Dictionary (under section for Nazareth)
“It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain undisturbed in perpetuity for those who have made them for the cult of their ancestors, or children, or members of their house. If, however, any man lay information that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing or other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honour the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In the case of contravention I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charge of violation of sepulture.”
– Ordinance of Caesar
“The Emperor threatens the death penalty for interference with, or the removal of bodies from, tombs, may belong to any date from Augustus to Claudius.”
– Summarized extract – Peakes Commentary of the Bible
(Various sections found from index under Claudius’ expulsion of Jews from Rome and Tombs, sanctity of.)
The original owner of the stone left only a short note about its origins when he donated it to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris – “Marble slab sent from Nazareth in 1878.”
“Nazareth may be the place, but the finder could have carried it there from somewhere else, a few days’ donkey journey away, wanting to sell it to Christian pilgrims. Since the nature of the connection with Nazareth is uncertain, no argument linking the stone with the early Christians can rely on its. Unless the stone was set up on Judaea and moved northwards later, Pontius Pilate cannot have had it made, because Galilee was in the kingdom of Herod Antipas, where Pilate had no power. Indeed, even a decree of Caesar would hardly be displayed in Galilee until after Antipas’ reign ended in AD 44. That means it is possible that Claudius made the decree.”
– Alan Millard, Discoveries From the Time of Jesus
“Why would a Caesar have any cause to take such a specific interest in this part of the Empire and in a matter which, apparently, not an issue of Roman state? Surely this would seem to be better resolved by local Government and not one to demand the intervention of the Emperor. However, if the implications of any such alleged activity had affected Rome that would make it more understandable.”
– Mark Carlin
It would be serve us well to remind ourselves that this is not a first person account – although I would still say that those first person accounts became Christian accounts – of the life of Christ. The decree from the Emperor may be conjecture, but it shows that the issue of grave robbing had become raised to such a level of importance that the Emperor of Rome had to actually issue a decree. This could very well be in response to the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. Afterall, what better way to stop such a reckus than to declare it a crime to remove the body of the deceased and to ban the admission of the crime?
Let’s step out a little further. If those tombs are indeed from the 1st century, then it shows that those in Jerusalem understood Christ as divine, urging the theory that the earliest Christology was the highest.