Did Jesus’ Family Secretly Remove his Body from the Tomb?

I get the impression that many conservative Christians believe that the onus is on skeptics to provide evidence of exactly how the body of Jesus left the tomb if it did not leave supernaturally as the Bible claims. This is false. Skeptics are under no obligation to provide evidence that proves one specific alternative explanation. We only need to demonstrate that the little evidence that there is for this claim can be explained by alternative, non-miracle, explanations.

Here is just one possible, alternative, non-miracle explanation:

Not all of Jesus’ family believed that he was the Messiah, the Son of God. Some of them thought he was completely nuts. They also thought that Mary and James were nuts to believe his claims.

Jesus crucifixion was conclusive proof to these skeptical family members that Jesus was NOT the Messiah. Every first century Jew knew that the Messiah was not supposed to die. These family members were deeply ashamed that a member of their family had claimed to be the Messiah and had been hung on a tree by the hated Romans, a curse under Jewish law, proving without any doubt, that he was not the Messiah.

The family expected that the Romans would give them Jesus’ body after he died to bury in a family burial plot (in Bethany), as was the Roman custom. The family was shocked when members of the Sanhedrin requested that the Romans give them the body. Why would the Sanhedrin want Jesus’ body? This was a shocking departure from Jewish custom. The family receives the body, not Jewish authorities. Jesus mother had been right there at the foot of the cross. Why wasn’t the body given to her??

The family was furious.

After the Romans took down Jesus’ body and handed it to two members of the Sanhedrin, a couple of Jesus’ brothers (not James) and a couple of his cousins followed Aramathea and the body, at a distance, to Aramathea’s family tomb, immediately adjacent to Golgotha. They watched, from a distance, as Aramethea prepared the body, rolled the stone in front of the door, and left with other members of the Sanhedrin.

As soon as they were out of sight, the family moved the stone back, took the body out, rolled the stone back into place, and took the body to Bethany, where it was buried in an unmarked grave in the same family plot as Zechariah and Elizabeth. They told no one else, not even Jesus’ mother (or James), for fear of what the Sanhedrin and Romans might do to them. All that mattered to them, is that their brother and cousin was buried in a family plot, as per Jewish custom in their Honor-Shame society, not in the tomb of one of the very men who had voted unanimously the night before to execute Jesus.

Sometime Saturday, the guards show up to the tomb and seal it shut. They do not roll the stone back to verify that the body is there as they assumed no one would have moved the heavy giant stone.

Very early Sunday morning, some of Jesus’ female disciples travel to the tomb. As they reach the entrance of the Garden, they see a man. He turns to look at them…”It’s Jesus!”…but he disappears into the mist of the early morning. The women don’t go any further into the Garden (so they do not see that the stone is still in place in front of the tomb, nor do they see that the guards are still there). They run to tell the disciples the good news. On their way to the disciples they mention to some people on the road whom they know that Jesus is risen! Word spreads rapidly and makes its way back to the guards at the tomb. Horrified that if this claim is true they will be in danger of being executed for not having checked the tomb for the body prior to sealing it, they break the seal, move back the stone…and no body! The guards run to the Sanhedrin to see if they had moved the body on Friday. The Sanhedrin tells them that they will cover for them with Pilate if the guards will spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body.

When the women tell the disciples, the disciples don’t believe it. “You saw the gardener!” they say.

The women return to the Garden to check the tomb…and find the stone rolled away.

And from there, the story takes on a life of its own, with embellishment after embellishment as it is told and retold for three to four decades before anyone writes it down. In the euphoria, excitement, and near hysteria in believing that Jesus is alive again, one disciple after another begins to have false sightings of Jesus, seeing him in the distance or in crowds, and some have vivid dreams where Jesus appears to them in person, allows them to touch him, and even eats fish with them.

And the brothers and cousins never say a word…for fear of their lives.


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