The Nazareth Inscription is almost certainly authentic, and it is a rump version of an imperial rescript. It was also almost certainly issued by the Emperor Claudius and most likely in 41 AD when the Jews were in turmoil and right after he had given Judah and Samaria to King Herod Agrippa I. The text of the Nazareth Inscription fits both the vocabulary, style and structure of other known rescripts of Claudius.
As was seen above, Agrippa I was a governmental official in the city of Tiberias in the Galilee when both John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were ministering in Israel. Agrippa’s uncle Herod Antipas certainly knew that Jesus was a Galilean from Nazareth, [Luke 23:5-7] and King Agrippa I also must have known this.
The close connection between the name of Jesus and the city of Nazareth is important for determining the place where the Nazareth Edict was posted. A careful look at the New Testament reveals that the followers of Jesus were at first not called Christians but rather “Nazarenes.” The Apostle Paul when he appeared before the Roman Governor Felix was accused by his Jewish enemies of being: “…a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.” [Acts 24:5 NASV]
It is also very clear in the New Testament that Jesus during his ministry was primarily called “Jesus of Nazareth.” There are many references in the New Testament to “Jesus of Nazareth” or “Jesus the Nazarene.” These references are made by both His followers and His enemies. Everyone who had heard of Jesus knew that he was from Nazareth. The titulus, which Pilate placed over the head of Jesus on the cross, read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” [John 19:19] When Peter appeared before the High Priest and the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:10, he spoke of: “Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.”
Unquestionably, King Herod Agrippa I, who was related to the family of the high priests, would have known that Jesus was from the city of Nazareth in Galilee, and that his Disciples were claiming that he had been resurrected. That King Agrippa I was well acquainted with Christianity can also be seen in his behavior after Claudius added Judea to his kingdom in 41 AD. As soon as he returned from Rome in 41 AD to claim Judea, one of the first things that King Agrippa I did was to persecute Christians in the city of Jerusalem, his new capital.
It is nearly certain that it was King Herod Agrippa I who wrote the letter of inquiry to the Emperor Claudius about how to deal with the new “sect” of Jesus the Nazarene. It is also nearly certain that it was in response to Agrippa’s letter of inquiry that Claudius wrote an imperial rescript forbidding the removal of bodies from tombs in order to counter the Christian doctrine that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead.
It is also nearly certain that it was King Herod Agrippa I who, through his influence on Claudius, had the Nazareth Inscription posted in Nazareth, the home city of the “sect of the Nazarenes.” As was noted above, King Herod Agrippa I may have even used the Nazareth Inscription as imperial authorization for the persecution of Christians and the execution of James the brother of John, see Acts.12:1-3.
The best date for the posting of the Nazareth Inscription is 41 AD. In 41 AD Claudius became emperor and immediately had to deal with a developing revolt among the Jews, both those who were living in Israel and also those living in the city of Alexandria. As was related above, just before his assassination, Caligula had driven the Jews to the brink of revolt by ordering Roman officials to set up his image in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. To deal with this explosive situation in 41 AD, Claudius almost certainly turned to his friend Agrippa I for advice and information.
Since Agrippa I is known to have hated Nazarene Christians and since he also knew, as the Book of Acts records, that Christians were causing an uproar in Jerusalem at the very time when he became king of Judea in 41 AD, it seems nearly certain that it was at this same time that Agrippa I wrote his letter of inquiry to Claudius, and Claudius consequently wrote his rescript letter threatening Christians with death for the removal of bodies from tombs. With Agrippa I’s intimate knowledge of Christ and Christianity, it was almost certainly he who selected Nazareth as the site for the posting of the Nazareth Inscription.
The question that now needs to be answered is: Does the Nazareth Inscription prove the resurrection of Christ. The answer to that question is no. But what it does prove is that the story of the resurrection of Christ was already well known very early, even to the Emperor Claudius in ca. 41 A.D. This fact clearly proves that the story of the resurrection of Christ was widely known almost immediately after His crucifixion. In other words, the story of the resurrection of Christ must have been a story that was circulated by his Apostles themselves, and it was not a later invention by gentile Christians of the post-apostolic period, as a few modern scholars in the past have argued.
The Nazareth Inscription does force modern scholars into making a choice of either believing in the resurrection of Christ or of believing that His disciples stole His body from His tomb in order to perpetrate a great religious fraud. As is true for philosophy, science, and religion; belief is always the key issue.
View Dr. Billington's entire article via PDF here: The Nazareth Inscription