Matthew 2:23, Did Nazareth Exist?

And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

//Some scholars continue to insist that there was never any such city as Nazareth in Galilee. Today’s verse, rather than bolstering the argument for Nazareth’s historic existence, is actually used to argue against it. Scholars doubt that there is any connection between the Nazarenes and the inhabitants of Nazareth; Matthew should have known better. Perhaps Matthew was trying explain the title “Jesus of Nazareth,” while knowing no such place exists?

Why is there any skepticism in the first place? Skeptics point to the fact that Joshua chapter 19 lists all the towns of the tribe of Zebulun. Nazareth isn’t listed. Josephus gives the names of 45 towns and villages in Galilee. Nazareth isn’t on his list. The Talmud names 63 towns and villages. No Nazareth. You can see why some wonder if there really was a “city called Nazareth.”

One strong argument for the historic existence of Nazareth, however, is a large 24” by 15” marble tablet containing an edict of Caesar (either Tiberius or Claudius), found in Caesarea. This artifact was uncovered in three fragments, the final third being discovered in 1962. It is known as the Nazareth inscription since it’s the first known inscription citing the name Nazareth. It contains a list of 24 priests (see 1 Chronicles 25:7-8 for these priestly orders) with their surnames and the locations of the Galilean towns where they relocated following the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D.

The Nazareth inscription is actually famous for a different reason; it contains a strong polemic against tomb robbery, and is thought by some to be a countermeasure taken by Caesar himself in regards to the missing body of Jesus! Had news of the empty tomb gotten back to Rome? Why else would Caesar enforce so severe a punishment for a relatively minor crime?

Sounds a bit presumptious to me, so I’ll let you decide for yourself. Here’s the full text of the edict:


2. It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs–whoever has made

3. them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household

4. members–that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally

5. charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted

6. those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who

7. have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has

8. moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person, I order that a

9. judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in

10. human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat

11. with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to

12. allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if

13. [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under

14. the title of tomb-breaker.


  1. Looks like scholars know more about the past than a person, Mathew, living in the past.
    It makes me think of a story containing references to a city called Troy. Most scholars thought, “there never was such a city”. An escavation proved those scholars wrong and showed that the ancient story was based on a real city.
    The edict is interesting to read.

  2. You presume our second century church fathers guessed correctly about who authored the book of Matthew. But it’s kind of exhilarating whenever a discovery verifies the Bible’s accuracy.

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