As noted by Maier, all previous Roman indictments of this nature prescribe only a fine for the offender, but this order demands capital punishment. Why should such a strong penalty be levied in Palestine?^15
Although the exact reasoning is not known for sure, scholars have frequently suggested that such an order straight from the emperor can best be explained by the likelihood that Claudius investigated some of the beliefs of Christians after the riots that erupted around the Roman Empire during his reign, events associated with the spread of Christianity (see Acts 17:1–9, for example). Such an investigation would be especially likely in the case of Claudius because of these riots in Rome in AD 49, which caused the emperor to expel the Jews from the city. Suetonius remarks that the troubles were instigated by Christ.^16
Upon examination, Claudius could well have discovered the Christian teaching that Jesus had risen from the dead and may also have heard the Jewish report that the disciples stole the body. This possibility is made more significant due to the Nazareth Decree’s mention of those who would disturb tombs that had been sealed. This is certainly reminiscent of Matthew 27:66, where we are told that the Jews were careful to seal the tomb of Jesus after permission was secured from Pilate. The
12 See the discussion of the Swoon Theory (along with the listed sources) in Chapter 4.
13 On the administering of the coup de gracein these executions, see Hengel, The Atonement, p. 70.
14 See P. Maier, First Easter, p. 119.
15 Ibid., pp. 119–120.
16 Suetonius, Claudius, 25; cf. Acts 18:2.
Nazareth Decree could be a reaction both to the Christian teaching that Jesus was raised and the Jewish contention that the body was stolen.^17