Why was the Sanhedrin unprepared for Jesus’ Death?

One facet of the Empty Tomb story that I find very odd is the lack of preparation by the Sanhedrin for the death of Jesus. According to the Gospels: It was the Sanhedrin who initially arrested Jesus; it was the Sanhedrin who convicted Jesus of blasphemy; it was the Sanhedrin who appealed to Pilate to crucify Jesus as a traitor to Caesar; and it was the Sanhedrin who asked that the legs of Jesus and the two thieves be broken to hurry their deaths prior to the impending Passover Sabbath.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows[g] that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” 37 And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” —Gospel of John, chapter 19

So why in the world didn’t the Sanhedrin have a dirt trench dug, ready, and waiting for the bodies of Jesus and the two thieves? Scholars tell us that the majority of persons who died in first century Palestine were buried in dirt trenches. Why the implied panicked scramble to find a rock tomb into which they could quickly place the body of Jesus (and of the thieves?) prior to the setting of the sun on Friday evening?

If the Sanhedrin had already gone to Pilate to ask that the legs of Jesus and the two thieves be broken so that they would die before sunset, why not ask Pilate then for permission to bury the body, and then quickly bury it in a dirt trench? Why instead send Joseph of Arimathea schlepping back down to Pilate’s residence to ask permission to bury the body in his rock tomb?

If all the details presented by the four authors of the Gospels are historically accurate up to the point of the death of Jesus, it would make much more sense for the well-organized Sanhedrin to have a dirt trench ready and waiting for the body of Jesus. Why would the Sanhedrin put Jesus in a rock tomb among the honored dead of Jerusalem’s aristocracy?? And the idea that Arimathea acted on his own makes no sense either. If he were a “secret” disciple, his act of giving Jesus a noble burial surely would have infuriated the high priest, exposing Joseph as an open follower of Jesus, not a secret one. If Jesus was crucified only because Pilate was afraid of the Jews, as the Gospels tell us, why would the same Pilate then infuriate the Sanhedrin by giving the body of Jesus to someone else who would give him an honorable burial among the nobility of the city??

Here is the remainder of John chapter 19.

After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

It certainly sounds to me that Jesus was buried in Arimathea’s rock tomb as a matter of convenience in a time crunch. But why? The Sanhedrin had planned the death of Jesus for at least 24 hours.

How long does it take to dig a dirt trench??

This detail, along with many others, exposes the Empty Tomb story as just too contrived. No wonder the majority of non-Christian NT scholars doubt its historicity.


9 thoughts on “Why was the Sanhedrin unprepared for Jesus’ Death?

  1. It's kind of hard to prove a negative and rule out any possibilities sometimes.

    So in this case Jesus could have decided to be especially zealous/”rebellious” or however you want to put it, calling himself the Messiah and attacking people in the Temple, which, despite the Passover drawing close, put the position of the Sanhedrin deciding quickly what to do before the Passover begins. So they ended up having the judgment on Holy Thursday and Holy Friday.

    And then they did not dig a ditch because it was not a big issue for them that they cared about. They were not worried about disposing of the body, so they left it to the Romans to do that.

    There is nothing in John 19 that says that the Romans had no place to put Jesus' body, only that Joseph asked for someplace to take it. So it could rationally be that the Romans did have a ditch someplace, but when Joseph as an influential rich person came along they conceded to this.

    Anyway, I do think that there are interesting unanswered questions in the gospels (at least that I don't know an easy clear answer to), like why Jesus died so quickly on Friday, even faster than the other criminals. Maybe it was because he was flogged so much and weak from fasting, as he needed someone to carry his cross. I don't know. Maybe it has something to do with the vinegar potion he drank.


  2. Or it is possible that ALL these details are the inventions of the Gospel authors. Each gospel seems to tell a very different version of the events. But we will never know.

    Bottom line, I do not believe that the Sanhedrin would have been indifferent about the body of Jesus. If they truly saw him as a threat, they would have made sure that his body was buried as THEY deemed appropriate. For them to not have a dirt trench ready and waiting seems too odd to believe.

    And the idea that Pilate would give the body of a man executed for treason against Caesar to a rich Jew to receive a proper burial in a known location seems preposterous. Look at what the US did with the body of Bin Laden. The military made absolutely certain that the body and burial site could not be used as a shrine. The Romans were just as astute about such things. They would not have wanted a traitor to Rome honored as a Jewish patriot.


  3. It's harder to prove a negative, ie that Jesus didn't rise, because people can think up different reasons to explain things.

    For example, you say it's too odd to think they didn't have a trench ready.
    Well, maybe they did have a trench ready. The Bible never says they didnt.

    Maybe Player let Jesus have a nice tomb because he liked Jesus enough and did not judge Jesus a rebel and that was just pressure from the priests that made him crucify Jesus. And Joseph A. was wealthy and got Pilate to agree. It is hard to say 2000 years later.

    I wouldnt use the bin Laden story as evidence. Alot of things about that story is mystery, maybe for political reasons, and it's hard to know what all happened and who did what and why. In a way there is a mystery element like the gospels where accounts are made for certain reasons and only some people know the whole story.


  4. I don't think that Jesus was the big deal the Gospels make him out to be. Philo nor any other contemporary says a word about him. Jesus was just one of many Jews that Pilate executed. Pilate probably didn't even remember Jesus' name a week after executing him.


  5. This discussion about the possibilities of who got custody of Jesus's body and what they did with it leads me to wonder if Jesus’ original followers were just as “in the dark” regarding this matter as we are. Perhaps the women who showed up at the tomb on the third day, found it empty because they were simply misinformed about what had become of Jesus’ body. Perhaps there was some desire, effort, and hope of being able to secure Jesus' body for burial in the borrowed tomb, but which desire, effort, and hope were not realized. So the women returned from the tomb to report that it was empty and voila!—a resurrections myth emerges! Is anyone aware of any scholarly discussion about a “mistaken grave” hypothesis in order to explain the missing body?


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