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.
…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!