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Saturday, November 14, 2009

More on the Burial of Jesus and the Empty Tomb

In my previous post, I outlined a scenario in which the body of Jesus was taken from the cross and placed in a tomb on Friday just before sundown. The quick burial was carried out by a Jewish benefactor who was concerned that the body hanging on the cross over the Passover celebration would be dishonoring to God. This person, who the Gospels say is Joseph of Arimathea, removed the body at the end of the sabbath (Saturday night) and buried it in the criminal graveyard. Thus, when the women came to the tomb on Sunday morning, the tomb was empty.

I came across a couple of objections to my proposed series of events. One is from the Christian Think Tank website owned by Glenn Miller. Miller argues that Jews could not move a body once it was fully buried. He quotes the rabbinic teaching: Whosoever finds a corpse in a tomb should not move it from its place, unless he knows that this is a temporary grave. . . . Neither a corpse nor the bones of a corpse may be transferred from a wretched place to an honored place, nor, needless to say, from an honored place to a wretched place; but if to the family tomb, even from an honored place to a wretched place, it is permitted, for by this he is honored (Semahot 13:5, 7). Miller says: this is a strong statement of no-movement-allowed. The only exception given is for movement to the family tomb, likely at ossilegium time, but under this alternative interpretation, it could be a trip to the homeland.

First, Miller begins his whole discussion of this topic by stating seven caveats about the rabbinical writings.

1. Is not a legal code at all, but a history of legal and semi-legal debate

2. Described the fictional, idealized world, desired/planned/invented by the rabbi's

3. Was typically not descriptive of a real world, neither past nor present

4. Was not a 'conservative' description of ancient actual laws/traditions (but sometimes preserved legal debates)

5. When it did describe a real world, it sometimes applied to ONLY an ancient one--and not the world of Jesus.

6. When it did describe a real world, it sometimes/often applied ONLY to post-2nd-Revolt Galilee (where the rabbi's resettled)

7. Many elements it 'proscribed' are known to have been not in practice

So, Miller effectively undercuts his own argument. It is not altogether clear if the Shemot was official Jewish practice at the time of Jesus. But even if it was, there is still the very real possiblity that due to time constraints a "full burial" was not conducted on Friday afternoon. As Richard Carrier writes: A clue lies in the earliest report, Mark 16:1-3, which has the women visit the tomb Sunday morning with the intention of opening it and completing the burial (ritual washing and anointing were among the required burial rites). Thus, from the earliest report, they did not regard the burial of Jesus as completed. And Mark also notes the peculiar urgency of the Sabbath. Even before Joseph so much as asks for the body, "evening had already come" (Mark 15:42).

So, it is certainly possible that Jesus was quickly placed in the tomb late on Friday and that the burial, as far as the women knew, would be completed after the Sabbath. Instead, after the Sabbath, the owner of the tomb removes the body and buries it in the criminal graveyard.

Another objection to my theory was raised by a poster on TheologyWeb. She argued that Paul, as a member of the Sanhedrin, would have known first hand from Joseph of Arimathea if he had in fact moved the body and since Luke was a companion of Paul, Paul would not have allowed Luke to include the empty tomb story if he knew it was a mistake.

This is an excellent point. It stands to reason that IF Paul and Joseph of Arimathea were members of the Sanhedrin, then Paul would be privy to the moving of the body on Saturday night by Joseph. Notice I said, “IF.” Do we know that both Paul and J of A were really members of the Sandhedrin? No,we don’t know it. If one accepts the inerrancy of the NT, then one is bound to believe it but inerrancy is another whole assertion to be proven by evangelicals. In addition, I find it strange that if Paul and J of A knew each other, Paul never mentions this fact in any of his writings. It seems that if Jesus really did rise from the dead out of J of A’s tomb, and Paul knew J of A, then he would have said something about it.

So, there is still a lot of uncertainty here as it relates to whether J of A is a real person or someone whose name came to be attached to the story. I tend to think that his name is a later addition to the story.

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