Thursday, 21 November 2013

Where Was Jesus Buried? Evidence for the Resurrection, Part 2

Was Jesus buried in a tomb for criminals or an unused tomb?

Jewish Burial Procedure

The standard procedure for crucified Jews at that time was for a member of the Sanhedrin to ask Pilate for the body to be buried before nightfall, and this is exactly what Mark recorded for Jesus.

This is from Josephus, writing about the Great Revolt, 66 AD, and referring to this very procedure.
Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.
In fact, the Bible has the law from which this procedure was derived.
Deuteronomy 21: 22-23 "if there shall be against someone a crime judged worthy of death, and he be put to death and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree: but you shall bury him on the same day, for cursed of God is anyone hanged."
See also here:

All bodies (criminal or not) would be left in their tomb for up to year for the flesh to rot away, and then the bones placed in an ossuary. For a crucifixion victim, the family would be permitted to collect the bones to be placed in an ossuary in the family tomb.

We can be sure, then, that Jesus was buried. Was he buried in an unused tomb or as a common criminal? There may be a case that rebels against Roman law were held in high regard by the Jewish people, and so were buried honourably, but I would question how the Romans would regard such an act.

Roman Influence

The standard Roman practice was for crucifixion victims to remain on the cross long after death as a warning to others, and Pilate was making a concession to the Jews allowing them to bury their dead immediately. Judea was a hotbed of rebellion destined to erupt a few decades later, and Pilate was charged with keeping the Jews in order. Allowing them to keep their religious laws, such as immediate burial of the dead, was part of that (not that the Romans were always sensitive to the Jews beliefs, far from it on many occasions).

Can you see Pilate allowing Joseph of Arimathaea to take down the body of a rebel against Roman for an honourable burial? That would be entirely contrary to the Roman practice. Pilate wanted to maintain the peace. Allowing the Jews to keep their religious observances would do that. Allowing the Jews to honour a rebel against Roman law would definitely not.

Also worth remembering that Jews at that time made a big deal of honouring the tombs of their holy men. The last thing the Roman's wanted was the tomb of a new martyr who had stood against them (and as the proclaimed "King of the Jews" Jesus automatically stood against Rome).

And then there is the fact that Jesus was considered a blasphemer by the Jewish priests. This makes it very unlikely that Joseph of Arimathea would even want to give Jesus an honourable burial (in later embellishments,  Joseph of Arimathea gets repainted as a Christian himself, perhaps to get around
this problem, but in the original, Mark, that is not the case).

Gospel Accounts

Perhaps now is the time to look at Mark:
Mark 15:42 And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus.
44 And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. 45 And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph.
46 And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre.
47 And Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses beheld where he was laid.
So Mark has Jesus buried on the day he died, and in a sepulchre, hewn from rock, with a stone over the entrance. Not in Joseph of Arimathaea's tomb, not in an unused tomb, not in a special tomb at all. It is only in the later telling that this tomb is Joseph's own tomb, and that it is brand new, leading me to think that these were embellishments added later.

Compare Mark's account to John's:

38 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. 39 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. 40 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. 42 There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

By the time John was written, Joseph had evolved into a Christian, and Jesus' body was laid with 100 pounds of myrrh and aloes, and the tomb has gained a garden. To me, this reeks of embellishment - later Christians want to play down the dishonoured burial of their messiah.

John was written significantly later, and claims like this could be made because people who knew better were dead.

Burial Implies Burial in Joseph's Tomb?

Sadly, some Christians attempt to conflate evidence for a burial with evidence for burial in Joseph's unused tomb. A particularly obvious case is seen here, by WL Craig:
2. As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention.

There was an understandable hostility in the early church toward the Jewish leaders. In Christian eyes, they had engineered a judicial murder of Jesus. Thus, according to the late New Testament scholar Raymond Brown, Jesus’ burial by Joseph is “very probable,” since it is “almost inexplicable” why Christians would make up a story about a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right by Jesus. 1

For these and other reasons, most New Testament critics concur that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea in a tomb. According to the late John A. T. Robinson of Cambridge University, the burial of Jesus in the tomb is “one of the earliest and best-attested facts about Jesus.”
What Craig does here is use the fact that Joseph was likely to be hostile to Christianity to argue that Jesus was buried (and this I agree with). But that very hostility makes it very unlikely Joseph would have buried Jesus in his own unused tomb.

These two web pages do likewise.

Just A Spare Tomb?

There is an argument made occasionally that Joseph of Arimathaea needed to find a tomb in a hurry (he had to get the body buried by sunset at about 6 pm; Jesus expired at 3 pm, and Joseph had to see Pilate in those three hours), and so used his own tomb as a temporary abode. Was Joseph's tomb closer to where the criminals were crucified than the tomb for crucified criminals? Sounds unlikely, but it is certainly possible. If you subscribe to this position, then you are admitting the Bible is wrong where it claims Joseph was a Christian.

There is also the issue that Joseph would want the body out of there fast. The Sabbath was over by sunset the next day; it is entirely likely that Joseph would have moved the body to the proper tomb then. The next day, the women come to the tomb, and find it is empty... So the claim of Joseph using his own tomb because he was running out of time actually helps to explain away the empty tomb on Sunday morning.

However, the real problem here is that there is no evidence to support it.

Yohanan Ben Ha'galgal

From Wikipedia:
Johanan ben Ha-galgol is the name of a man whose remains in an ossuary were discovered by archaeologists in 1968 near Jerusalem. The remains show clearly that the man had been crucified.
Some Christians take this as evidence that Jesus was buried in a decent tomb, eg here:
Know also that conjecture about crucifixion victims being disposed of in a common pit for the executed near Jerusalem suffered a deadly blow in June of 1968 with the discovery of the remains of Yohanan Ben Ha'galgal, a man who had been crucified, yet was then plainly buried in a family tomb.
This argument fails to consider the usual practice of the time. Of course there was no "common pit"; that would contradict Jewish law of the time. Instead, there was a tomb for crucified criminals. the bodies would lie there for several months to a year, at which point the family could collect them, for storage in their own tomb in an ossuary.

Clearly this is consist with Johanan ben Ha-galgol. He was crucified and then put in a tomb for crucified criminals. Later his family collected his bones, leaving them in the ossuary that was discovered.


The most likely scenario from the evidence we have is that Jesus was buried in a tomb, but it was a tomb for criminals.

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