Was Jesus Given an Honorable Burial?

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When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus.  …  46 Then Joseph[a] bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body,[b] wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb.

Gospel of Mark, chapter 15

Gary:  Notice that there is no mention of Joseph washing the body or applying spices in Mark’s account.  Apparently Arimathea simply wrapped Jesus’ bloody body in a cloth and laid it in the tomb.  Was that an “honorable” Jewish burial?

New Testament scholar Raymond Brown believes that the Joseph of Arimathea Empty Tomb story is historical…but only as described in the Gospel of Mark.  He does not believe that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus as stated or inferred in other Gospels.  He believes that Joseph was a devout, Torah-observant Jew who buried Jesus solely because it would have been a violation of the Law for a body to remain unburied after sunset.  Notice too that in Mark’s account, there is nothing special about the rock tomb.  There is no mention that this tomb was Arimathea’s personal, family tomb or that it was a new tomb.  Let’s hear a little about Jewish burial customs and the Roman custom of disposal of the bodies of those crucified.

Mainstream New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, pp. 1208-1210:

Tacitus reports the actions of Tiberius:  “People sentenced to death forfeited their property and were forbidden burial” (Annals 6.29).

Evidently it was almost proverbial that those who hung on the cross fed the crows with their bodies (Horace, Epistle 1.16.48).

…Discerning Roman legal practices for a province like Judea is difficult.   …Decisions in the provinces dealing with non-citizens were most often extra ordinem, so that such a matter as the disposition of crucified bodies would have been left to the local magistrate.

In charges of treason Roman governors were anxious that the convicted criminal not be regarded as a hero to be imitated.  Whether the case of Jesus should be considered an example of maiestas [treason] is debatable; but if it was, little indeed would be the likelihood that the prefect of Judea would have given the body of this crucified would-be-king to his followers for burial.  …[In Mark], having committed himself to a public action, Pilate would have had to be apprehensive about possible idolizing of Jesus by his followers and about the severity of the emperor in matters related to maiestas.

Gary:  What can we glean here in relation to what probably happened to the body of Jesus?  From the evidence cited, it is probable that Pilate had the power to be flexible; he had the final say.  The question is:  Was Jesus executed for treason?  If the Romans truly saw him as a threat, and that is why they placed the title “King of the Jews” above his head on the cross, to warn any other “Jewish king-wannabe’s” to think twice about making such a claim, it is doubtful that Pilate would have given the body over for an honorable burial.  But if the “King of the Jews” sign was a joke, a form of humiliation, then maybe Pilate wouldn’t have cared what happened to the body.  But if that is the case, why did he give the body to the Sanhedrin (represented by Joseph of Arimathea) and not the family as was the custom?

But let’s say that for whatever reason, Pilate did give the body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea as the representative of the Sanhedrin.  Why would Pilate do this and why would the Sanhedrin want the body?  I suggest that the Sanhedrin wanted the body so that the disciples nor any nationalist could turn Jesus’ grave site into a shrine against Roman occupation.  The primary concern of the Sanhedrin was their own survival; their own maintenance of power over the Temple.  They did not want to allow any action by any Jew that would risk a Roman crack down and occupation (or destruction) of the Temple.

Brown continues:

…The crucial issue in Judaism, however, would have been the type of burial.  The hanged person was accursed, especially since most often in Jewish legal practice this punishment would have been meted out to those already executed in another way, e.g., stoning.  In the Old Testament we see a tendency to refuse to the wicked honorable burial in an ancestral plot (I Kings 13:21-22).  Even a king like Jehoiakim, despite his rank, having been condemned by the Lord for wickedness, had these words spolen of him by Heremiah (22:19):  The burial of an ass shall be given him, dragged and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” 

…The account of the death of Judas in Matthew 27:5-8 shows that the Jews of Jesus’ time would think of a common burial place for the despised, not a family tomb.

Gary:  If the Sanhedrin had instigated Jesus arrest, his trials before them and Pilate, and had asked Pilate to crucify Jesus, why would they turn around and give Jesus’ an honorable burial???  I don’t think they did and I think that Brown’s research proves it.  The original burial story in the first gospel, Mark, did not include an honorable burial.  An honorable burial with spices, etc. does not appear in the Gospel accounts until the Gospel of John, the last gospel written, at the end of the century.  In Mark, Arimathea is not a disciple, only a devout Jew getting a blasphemer’s body into the ground before sunset.   Jesus’ bloody body was put in a rock tomb without any spices.  This was a dishonorable burial.

But if this was a dishonorable burial, why would the Sanhedrin bury Jesus in a rock tomb and not a dirt trench which was the typical means of burial for the lower classes in first century Palestine, according to Jewish scholar Jodi Magness? Why didn’t they have three dirt trenches dug in a criminal plot, ready and waiting for the bodies of Jesus and the two thieves???

Maybe they did!  Maybe they did have three dirt trenches ready for the three crucifixion victims that day but they ran out of time!  The sun was just about to set.  Leaving the bodies above ground would have been a violation of the Law.  To avoid this violation of the Law, especially on a Sabbath Passover, the Sanhedrin temporarily buried the bodies in one or several rock tombs very close to Golgotha.  When the Sabbath was over on Saturday night or even very early Sunday morning, the Sanhedrin moved the bodies to the prepared dirt trench graves in the criminal plot, leaving the stone of the rock tomb rolled back.

Later that morning, the women show up to the rock tomb, and…the rest is history!

 

 

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20 thoughts on “Was Jesus Given an Honorable Burial?

  1. re: “Notice that there is no mention of Joseph washing the body or applying spices in Mark’s account. Apparently Arimathea simply wrapped Jesus’ bloody body in a cloth and laid it in the tomb. Was that an “honorable” Jewish burial?”

    “There is no explicit biblical evidence as to how soon after death burial took place (Deut. 21:23 refers to hanged criminals only), but it is likely that it was ordinarily within a day after death. ” [ Jewish Virtual Library ]

    “The law, therefore, requires even the criminal to be buried who has been put to death (Deut. xxi. 23). So, too, the slain enemy was buried (I Kings xi. 15; Ezek. xxxix. 15), not merely because the dead body defiled the land, but from a feeling of compassion, as is seen in the case of Rizpah (II Sam. xxi. 10; compare Josephus, “B. J.” iv. 5, § 2). While it was incumbent upon the relatives to bury their dead (Gen. xxiii. 3, xxv. 9, 1. 7; I Macc. ii. 70; Tobit vi. 15, xiv. 11), it was regarded as one of the laws of humanity “not to let any one lie unburied” (Josephus, “Contra Ap.” ii. 29 [30] ; Philo, “Hypothetica,” ed. Mangey, ii. 629; Bernays, “Gesammelte Schriften,” i. 277 et seq., who shows this to have been also an old Athenian law of Buzyges).” [ Jewish Encyclopedia – Burial ]

    Deuteronomy 22 “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance.”

    ““They [this is referring to the Idumeaens, a group of foreigners that Josephus considers impious and evil] actually went so far in their impiety as to cast out their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews are so careful about burial rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset” (Josephus, Jewish War, 4.317)

    You sure ask a lot of questions in your post. It almost appears you yourself don’t really have a particular viewpoint, but rather, are asking readers to explain everything to you.

    The first thing you’ve got to decide is whether Jesus was put in a tomb.

    The second thing you need to figure out is what Jewish burial practices were when a person died on the eve of a Sabbath, and the full rituals could not be carried out. You’ll find this info in the Talmud. — Here’s a hint: “Only if immediate relatives cannot arrive in time from abroad, or there is not enough time for burial before Shabbat or a holiday are burials postponed for a day.”

    I think this is all I’m gonna say. You’ve asked so many questions in such a “shotgun” approach, there’s no point in trying to answer anything with specifics.

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    1. The first thing you’ve got to decide is whether Jesus was put in a tomb.

      In this scenario, I am accepting as historical fact that Jesus was buried (at least initially) in J. of Arimathea’s rock tomb.

      The second thing you need to figure out is what Jewish burial practices were when a person died on the eve of a Sabbath, and the full rituals could not be carried out.

      You are assuming that Joseph wanted to give Jesus an honorable burial with full rituals. How do you know that he did? The evidence suggests that he did not want to give a blasphemer like Jesus an honorable burial, just as King Johoachim was not given an honorable burial. What was sufficient in the eyes of the Law was that the body be buried before the sun set. Joseph did the minimum. He wrapped the (unwashed) body of Jesus in a linen and buried it before the sun set.

      Are you implying that Joseph would not have buried ANY Jewish body without full rituals/honorable burial? If so, Brown has given evidence above that this was not the custom in the Old Testament. Do you have evidence that that custom changed in Jesus’ time; that ALL Jews required an honorable burial in Jesus’ time whether they were thieves, murders, or blasphemers?

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  2. re: “You are assuming that Joseph wanted to give Jesus an honorable burial with full rituals. How do you know that he did? The evidence suggests that he did not want to give a blasphemer like Jesus an honorable burial, just as King Johoachim was not given an honorable burial.”

    There’s not one shred of evidence that he *didn’t* want to give Jesus an honorable burial, and the fact that he had the body placed in his own family tomb would indicate that he was at least anticipating that *someone* would perform all the rites. Hence, the reason the women showed up after the Sabbaths with the spices – to complete the rites that could not have been completed on the eve of the Sabbath.

    What I see here is that you’re doing a very massive stretch, providing nothing at all to prove your own point. Where’s YOUR documentation regarding “The Intentions of Joseph of Aramathea”?

    FYI – Jehoiakim was not only not given an honorable burial, he wasn’t even buried at all.

    What I see Brown doing is quoting Tacticus and Horace (of all people). As if.

    What we *know*, both historically and archaeologically, is that crucified victims in Judea were at least *sometimes* buried with a “decent burial”. And, if you don’t know the archaeological evidence I refer to, then go look it up. I ain’t writing a treatise here.

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    1. and the fact that he had the body placed in his own family tomb would indicate that he was at least anticipating that *someone* would perform all the rites.

      There is ZERO mention in the Gospel of Mark that Joseph buried Jesus in his personal tomb or a family tomb. Mark simply states “a rock tomb”. For all we know either he or the Sanhedrin owned or had access to one or several rock tombs next to Golgotha which they used as temporary burial locations when there wasn’t enough time to get the bodies to any other burial place.

      Please provide evidence in Gospel of Mark that proves that Joseph wanted to give Jesus a proper burial. If all Joseph did is what the Gospel of Mark says he did, it was NOT an honorable burial.

      That is probably why the later Gospel authors, especially John with his high Christology, added Nicodemus to the scene lugging massive quantities of spices to anoint the body! They didn’t like Mark’s dishonorable burial scene!

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    2. Hence, the reason the women showed up after the Sabbaths with the spices – to complete the rites that could not have been completed on the eve of the Sabbath.

      If you are going to combine the Gospel accounts, please tell me how Mark’s women were going to open Matthew’s sealed, guarded tomb?

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    3. I agree with you that sometimes crucified Jews were given honorable burials. The question is: Would someone executed for blasphemy against Jewish law and treason against Roman law be given an “honorable” burial? I doubt it.

      Pilate may have allowed the Sanhedrin to bury Jesus’ body 1.) to prevent Jewish outrage and unrest by leaving a Jewish body hanging on a tree on a Sabbath Passover, 2.) to prevent the disciples or family getting the body and making a shrine out of his burial site.

      But I will bet that Pilate only agreed to allow the Sanhedrin to have the body by insisting that the body not be given an honorable burial (no washing, no spices), and that it be(eventually, at least) buried in an unmarked grave that no one could visit as a shrine/memorial. Pilate and the Sanhedrin had a mutual interest not to allow Jesus’ grave to be a shrine of opposition to Rome.

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    4. FYI – Jehoiakim was not only not given an honorable burial, he wasn’t even buried at all.

      More evidence that Jews did not always insist that a dead Jew be buried. The bodies of “wicked” Jews (would that include blasphemers?) were sometimes treated like the carcasses of dead animals…thrown out to rot in the sun.

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  3. You seem to take Brown as “gospel”. Why is that? Because he agrees with your views? Or is it that you don’t really have any views unless you’ve read them in Brown?

    Brown says “[In Mark], having committed himself to a public action, Pilate would have had to be apprehensive about possible idolizing of Jesus by his followers and about the severity of the emperor in matters related to maiestas.”

    How the heck would Brown know this? Does Brown live inside Pilates head, so that he could know Pilates *thoughts*??? No. This is an *assertion* of Brown. And that’s ALL it is. It is *not* “The Truth”. It’s his own random idea. *Maybe* Pilate was concerned, *maybe he wasn’t*.

    But, if he was concerned, most historians don’t give a rip. Jesus got put in a tomb anyway, as far as the majority are concerned. Heck, even Brown thinks the tomb was historical, so I got no idea why he blathers on about Pilate, except that he just likes to think somebody out there hangs on every word he says…

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    1. What are you blathering on about? In this scenario, I am accepting the historicity not only of an empty tomb but of Joseph of Arimathea’s empty tomb! I am not trying to prove that Jesus was (initially) buried anywhere but in a rock tomb.

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      1. I understand that you are not saying Jesus was not put in that tomb.

        What I’m trying hard to understand is how on earth are you going to support this notion of yours that Joe of A didn’t *intend* for Jesus to have a “decent burial”?

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        1. How do you define a “decent” burial?

          All I’m saying is that if we only look at the burial account in Mark, there is no washing of the body, no spices, and the body is not given to the family for burial in a family plot.

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    2. You Christians. You insist on accepting scholarly consensus when it helps your case, but reject it when it doesn’t.

      I, on the other hand, accept majority scholarly consensus on all issues related to the Passion narrative.

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      1. Of *course* believers don’t accept “scholarly consensus” on a great deal of what scholars say.

        Why? Because the “Higher Critics” (although, most don’t use that terminology anymore) proceed from a viewpoint that “there is no God, no supernatural, no miracles”, first of all.

        Second of all, what the majority of them are trying hard to do is come up with a “reconstruction” (just as you attempt to do) that (of course) doesn’t depend on miracles, but equally, said reconstruction is done with no knowledge whatsoever of who the authors were, how and why they were writing, or even an understanding of what type of literature they’re really looking at.

        It’s like a bunch of guys sitting around, inventing their own “reconstruction” of how John Lennon wrote “Lucy in the Sky With Diamands”, putting all kinds of interpretations in there, talking about how Lennon had chosen to use a mixolidian scale followed by a pentatonic in the 8th measure, and so on — and if you asked Lennon about it, he’d just say “I just made it up, and it doesn’t mean a thing, and I’ve got no idea what a patagoniac is”.

        For me, I like reading stuff by “The Critics”, but, it’s not as if I think *any* of them have anything more than theories, on top of an agenda.

        Case in point: The dating of the gospels (that has “scholarly consensus”) is based on nothing more than the contention that Jesus couldn’t really have predicted the destruction of the Temple.

        In other words, *real scholarship* takes a back seat to a bias against the possibility that Jesus might really have predicted the Temple destruction. In fact, it takes a back seat even to the possibility that Jesus simply might have made a good guess.

        So now, instead of *really* knowing when the gospels were written, we have these dates that are based on nothing more than bias.

        Heck, *scholars themselves* ought to reject that kind of thinking. But, they don’t.

        A lot of Christians surely do. But, it’s not because Christians can’t be scholarly. It’s because of the very clear and obvious bias that directs other scholars.

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        1. Of *course* believers don’t accept “scholarly consensus” on a great deal of what scholars say. Why? Because the “Higher Critics” (although, most don’t use that terminology anymore) proceed from a viewpoint that “there is no God, no supernatural, no miracles”, first of all.

          That tired. old argument falls apart when one realizes that both Raymond Brown and NT Wright doubt the traditional authorship of the Gospels. Brown specifically states he believes that the evidence indicates that neither eyewitnesses nor the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels; that one generation separated the eyewitnesses and the four evangelists. And NT Wright has said that “I don’t know who wrote the Gospels, nor does anyone else.”

          So why do two highly respected, moderate Christian scholars who both believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the historicity of the Empty Tomb doubt the traditional authorship of the Gospels: Because of the EVIDENCE! NOT because of a bias against the supernatural. That argument fails!

          And if the Gospels were written by non-eyewitnesses then their reliability as “eyewitness testimony” goes out the window. Christians are left with hearsay. And hearsay is not considered a reliable form of evidence, especially when it claims about the reanimation of dead corpses.

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        2. Case in point: The dating of the gospels (that has “scholarly consensus”) is based on nothing more than the contention that Jesus couldn’t really have predicted the destruction of the Temple.

          I agree with you. It is impossible to date the Gospels. Even NT Wright says that. But he also says that no one knows who WROTE the Gospels. And that is a bigger problem for Christians than a lack of specificity on the dating of these books is for skeptics.

          In other words, *real scholarship* takes a back seat to a bias against the possibility that Jesus might really have predicted the Temple destruction. In fact, it takes a back seat even to the possibility that Jesus simply might have made a good guess.

          Raymond Brown believes that it is possible that the Gospel of Mark was written prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE but yet can also admit that there is a lot of literary and theological embellishment in the Gospels. That is why I like him. I don’t detect a lot of bias in his work. He lets the chips fall where the evidence indicates. That doesn’t mean he is always right but I tend to look at his scholarship, NT Wright’s scholarship, and Bart Ehrman’s scholarship. I believe that the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of the three. (I have found Ehrman to be very impartial. He frequently disappoints skeptics on his blog by knocking down many far-fetched atheist arguments against Christianity. He has a bias against the supernatural, true, but otherwise I find him pretty impartial and honest).

          BTW: Bart Ehrman also believes it is possible that Mark was written before 70 CE. His explanation of Jesus’ prophesy? Lucky guess.

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          1. nice diatribe. I could have saved you a lot of effort if I would have not left out the “most of” in this sentence: ” Why? Because [most of] the “Higher Critics” (although, most don’t use that terminology anymore) proceed from a viewpoint that “there is no God, no supernatural, no miracles”, first of all.”

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            1. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of scholars do not believe in the traditional authorship of the Gospels, including moderate scholars like Brown and Wright. If this majority only consisted of liberal Christians and atheists/agnostics then your accusation might be valid. But since it includes EVERYONE except very conservative/fundamentalist Protestants (with very few exceptions), I don’t think your accusation is at all believable or valid.

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  4. BTW – the ONLY bias I referred to was regarding the dating of the gospels. And, I pointed out what the well-known, openly-acknowledged bias is: Jesus couldn’t have predicted the desruction of the Temple

    But, in these last two posts of yours, WHAT IS YOUR POINT? And, what, in God’s name, does it have to do with what we’re talking about?

    You’re bringing up all these questions about whether Joe of A “intended” to give Jesus a decent burial (and there he is, putting Jesus in his own family’s tomb?), and quoting Brown, quoting Tacticus and Horace about stuff that had no real relevance to Roman practices in Judea, and blablabla…

    What happened with THAT topic?

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    1. Where did I say that it is an historical fact that J. of A. did not intend to give Jesus an honorable burial???

      No where.

      What I said is that if we only look at Mark, it doesn’t appear as if J. of A. gave Jesus an honorable burial. Is it possible he didn’t have time to wash the body and apply the spices and intended to do it later? Sure! But that is reading a lot into a passage that certainly sounds like J. of A. had no interest in Jesus’ burial other than to make sure the body was under ground by sunset.

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