Who Buried Jesus II?

In the previous section I noted the apparent non-Orthodox burial tradition that Jesus was buried by his enemies, not his friends as the Gospels would lead us to believe. The Gospel of Peter states:

And then they plucked the nails from the hands of the Lord and laid him upon the earth: and the whole earth was shaken, and there came a great fear on all.

…yet oddly enough the Apostle Paul is quoted as saying (Acts13:29):

When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.

…[they being the rulers and people of Jerusalem.] This fragment seems even more unlike the tale about Joseph of Arimathea – whom Paul doesn’t mention – and more like an early tradition that avoided the Great Gospel Edit. All the Gospels have been subtly “retouched” by scribal copying over time, harmonising in ways that might cover-up conflicting points-of-view. Some conflicts did escape – John pointedly says Jesus carried his own cross, flatly denying a role to Simon of Cyrene. Also John’s Jesus dies almost serenely, without any great heart-rending cry, nor fantastic signs in the Temple or tombs of Jerusalem. And Mary heads to the tomb on Easter morning without any materials for preparing Jesus’ body, probably because Joseph and Nicodemus had already covered the corpse in “75 pounds” of myrrh and aloes. Again utterly unlike the Synoptics. And there’s no mention of Mary and the other women watching where Jesus was buried, perhaps again because Joseph & Nicodemus are in charge of that too.

Noted Bible Scholar Raymond Brown notes:

A sermon in Acts 13:27-29 reports: “Those who lived in Jerusalem and their rulers…requested Pilate to have him killed; and when they had fulfilled all that was written of him they took him down from the tree and placed him in a tomb.” John 19:31 tells us that the Jews asked Pilate that the legs of the crucified be broken and they be taken away. A variant reading at the end of John 19:38 continues the story: “So they came and took away his body.” Similarly in Gpet 6:21 we read, “And then they [the Jews] drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord and placed him on the earth.” Justin (Dialogue 97.1) phrases the burial thus: “For the Lord too remained on the tree almost until evening [hespera], and towards evening they buried him” – in a chapter where the context suggests that “they” may be the Jewish opponents of Jesus rather than his disciples.

[Reference… Raymond Edward Brown, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (New York: Doubleday, 1994), pp. 1218-1219. From Pete Kirby’s Internet essay on the Empty Tomb, conclusions my own.]

In the end what we might be seeing is how successive Gospels have “written in” Joseph into the fold of believers in JC. In Mark Joseph was one of the “bad guys”, the Sanhedrin, who buried JC out of pious commitment to a Deuteronomic command. He becomes more ambiguous in Matthew and Luke, and is made a secret disciple in John. Why? Notice also that John studiously avoids making Mary, and the other women, witnesses and burial attendants at the tomb – the men give JC a royal burial (75 pounds of aromatics remember.) Perhaps in the original version the first burial is a hurried emergency burial because the end of the day is approaching and to not break Deuteronomy‘s command (no bodies on trees overnight) Joseph, and the burial team (implied because the dead thieves were being interred too), had to commandeer an empty tomb to store the bodies for later disposal, perhaps the next day in a mass grave with a bucket of lime to sanitise the decaying remains.

If Mary had seen the burial, and not the next-day removal, she may well have come back to the other disciples with news of an empty tomb – and no one would ever know any different. In Mark and Matthew the disciples run off and are “told” via angelic vision to go to Galilee. In Peter and, perhaps, John 20, the disciples retreat to Galilee in fear for their lives. There, after an indeterminate time, they experience the Risen Jesus on a hill-top (Matthew 28: 16,17) – at least some of them do – and return to Jerusalem with an “infectious vision” convincing Jesus’ Brother James and eventually Saul/Paul.

To me, on my agnostic days, that seems like enough of a trigger, at least a decent throw-away line when arguing with Believers, that by the time anyone, enemy or friend, thought to check for an Empty Tomb or find JC’s body there was nothing to be found. However that might not be enough to explain how that Resurrection Belief kicked off. But what kind of Resurrection is it that gets this reaction:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.

3 thoughts on “Who Buried Jesus II?

  1. It is interesting that some pieces of information are considered plausible and other are not. Why couldn’t Joseph of Arimathea, his uncle and supporter (though somewhat secret supporter), want to secure the body of Jesus? He was wealthy; he had a tomb lying empty, awaiting his future demise; he loved Jesus and didn’t want his body desecrated; and he had access to the powers that be to obtain the body after the cruxifiction.

    As far as the body’s preparation, let me quote from the book “Jesus the Christ” by James E. Talmage. “At the earliest indication of dawn, the devoted Mary Magdalene and other faithful women set out for the tomb, bearing spices and ointments which they had prepared for the further anointing of the body of Jesus. some of them had been witnesses of the burial, and were conscious of the necessary haste with which the corpse had been wrapped with spicery and laid away by Joseph and Nicodemus, just before the beginning of the Sabbath; and now these adoring women came early to render loving service in a more thorough anointing and external embalmment of the body.” pp. 475, 476.

    So both accounts were there, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the night of the cruxifiction, and the women the following Monday, when they came to do the rest.

  2. Pardon me. Two corrections. (That’s what I get for writing quickly and going from memory.) I don’t know where I got that Joseph of Arimathea was Jesus’ uncle. For some reason I thought so, but I’ve found no evidence of it, when double checking. Also, it would have been Sunday morning the women came to anoint the body. I was thinking of our current beginning of the week, not Jewish, hence my “Monday.”

    Another note, this time on Nicodemus. He visited Christ at night (John 3), defended him to the Pharisees (John 7:50), as well as helped in his burial (John 19:39). It seems he was a believer, but didn’t have enough backbone to be a public supporter.

    Matt. 27:57, Mark 15: 43-45 Luke 23:50-51, John 19:38 all say that Joseph of Arimathea was a believer in Christ, though according to only one source (John 19), a somewhat secretive one.

  3. Hi Jen

    As you may notice when reading the Gospels “Mark” doesn’t call Joseph a believer in Jesus, just a pious man, and a member of the Sanhedrin – the same group who, supposedly, ordered JC to death. Joseph, in obedience to Deuteronomy, would have wanted all the crucified people that day to be buried before sundown.

    Both “Matthew” and “Luke” handle the apparent contradiction differently – that Joseph both ordered JC dead and buried him. “Matthew” calls him a rich man and says nothing about him being a councillor, but calls him a disciple. “Luke” says that Joseph didn’t agree to their decision, not that he was a believer. And “John” says nothing about a trial before the Sanhedrin at all.

    Interestingly “John” focusses blame on the family of the High Priests and their cronies, calling them “the Jews”. He says nothing about the Sanhedrin, which makes me wonder what he’s telling us. One theory is that the other Gospels were written while the High Priests were still in power (up to about 66 AD), and so they couldn’t outright accuse them of being Jesus’ judicial murderers.

    All that aside I think the extra-biblical evidence is that Jesus was buried by his enemies. Quite possibly they had no interest in what happened to his body and by the time the disciples marched back into town proclaiming “He is Risen!” there was no body left to refute them. From an epistemological point of view I am not sure how we can ever know any differently – all the claims to eye-witness testimony in the Gospels is compromised by their variance. The only thing they agree on is an empty tomb.

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