If one reads the Gospel of John, one sees that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus applied massive quantities (100 pounds!) of spices to the body of Jesus as part of an honorable Jewish burial.
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.
—Gospel of John, chapter 19
Now let’s read the burial account in the Gospel of Mark. Notice any differences or discrepancies?
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. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead; and summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph[l] bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body,[m] 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. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body[n] was laid.
—Gospel of Mark, chapter 15
Notice that Joseph (alone), takes down the body, wraps it in a cloth, places it in a rock tomb, and rolls the stone in front of the door. That’s it. Mary Magdalene and another woman watch Joseph place the body in the tomb. There is no mention that they help in the burial.
Now let’s see what happens next in Mark’s Burial/Tomb scene.
When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?”
—Gospel of Mark, chapter 16
The women come to the tomb on Sunday morning bringing spices to anoint the body. Why would the women bring spices to anoint Jesus’ body if they had watched Joseph and Nicodemus apply one hundred pounds of spices to the body on Friday??? Let me rephrase that question:
Why would Mark’s women come to the tomb on Sunday morning with spices to anoint Jesus’ body when they had observed John’s Joseph and Nicodemus apply 100 pounds of spices to the body on Friday?
This combined story makes no sense!
However, if we stop insisting that these stories were meant to be literal, historical accounts; that they can be combined to give one harmonious historical story, we realize that John’s account is most likely a literary embellishment for the purpose of maintaining the overall theme of his Gospel: That Jesus is the Eternal Word; the Almighty King of Heaven and Earth. And the King must be buried as a king with massive quantities of spices, in a rich man’s tomb, with proper burial honors.
In Mark’s Gospel, the blood hasn’t even been washed off Jesus’ body! No spices are applied. He is buried in “a” tomb. There is nothing special about this tomb. This fits the overall theme of Mark: Jesus is abandoned by everyone in his death, even by God who has “forsaken” him. He is given a dishonorable burial. However, his soon to be announced resurrection will vindicate his victory over death and over his maltreatment by all humankind.
Beautiful, expertly written, fascinating stories…but how much of them can we believe is historical?
Answer: Very hard to say.