First Century Jews did move the Bodies of the recently Dead

In my ongoing discussions with conservative Christians on Theology Web, I have been told repeatedly that first century Jews would never have moved a recently dead body, therefore, the idea that anyone moved Jesus’ body from Arimathea’s tomb between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning is highly implausible.  However, during an online search for archeological articles regarding the alleged location of the Empty Tomb, I came across the following archeology journal article (The topic of the article is the alleged newly discovered “Jesus’ family tomb” in Jerusalem). The author is a Jewish archeologist who does not believe that this tomb is authentic. However, she makes a very interesting comment. She states that the burial descriptions in the Gospels accurately reflect first century Jewish burial customs! Christians should love that! However, she also makes the following comment:

“When the women entered the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea on Sunday morning, the loculus where Jesus’ body had been laid was empty. The theological explanation for this phenomenon is that Jesus was resurrected from the dead. However, once Jesus had been buried in accordance with Jewish law, there was no prohibition against removing the body from the tomb after the end of the Sabbath and reburying it. It is therefore possible that followers or family members removed Jesus’ body from Joseph’s tomb after the Sabbath ended and buried it in a trench grave, as it would have been unusual (to say the least) to leave a non-relative in a family tomb.”

– See more at:….Ojuu0rpi.dpuf

If this Jewish archeologist is correct about first century Jewish burial customs, her statement above blows the conservative Christian argument that the family of Jesus/some of his disciples/Arimathea/the Sanhedrin would not have moved his body on Saturday night…right out of the water!

Here is the bio on the archeologist:

Jodi Magness is the Kenan Distinguished Professor for Teaching Excellence in Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received a Ph.D. in classical archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.A. in Archaeology and History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She has participated on more than 20 excavations in Israel and Greece, and currently directs excavations in the Roman fort at Yotvata, Israel. Her publications include an award-winning book on The Archaeology of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Eerdmans 2002) and an article entitled “Ossuaries and the Burials of Jesus and James,” Journal of Biblical Literature 124 (2005).

Conservative Christians can no longer claim that it would have been unheard of and highly improbable that any first century Jew would have moved the body of Jesus from Arimathea’s tomb between the Friday afternoon and Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion. 

In the above article, Magness states that if the Gospel stories are true, it would have been a matter of practicality for the Sanhedrin to temporarily bury Jesus body in Arimathea’s family tomb so as not to violate Jewish burial laws on the Sabbath. (It would have taken too long to dig a grave.) However, once the Sabbath was over (Saturday sundown) it would not be unusual for the family to have then been given the body to bury wherever they wished. However, since the family of Jesus was poor, they most likely would have buried Jesus in a dirt grave after removing him from Arimathea’s family tomb.

As mentioned in previous discussions, there is no evidence that anyone in the second or third centuries knew the location of the Empty Tomb.  It is therefore very possible that the Empty Tomb is a myth/legend. But even if it is not, experts state that it would have been custom, and allowed by Jewish law, for the family to have moved the body after the Sabbath was over (Saturday at sunset). According to Magness, it is highly implausible that the body of a non-family member would have been allowed to remain in Arimathea’s family tomb.

Conclusion: Christians CANNOT claim that natural explanations for the early Christian Resurrection Belief are implausible. With the above evidence, not only are natural explanations plausible, based on collective human history and experience they are the MOST LIKELY explanation for this very extra-ordinary, ancient belief.


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