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Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 1

The most important thing about this post is – that you need to read yesterday’s post!   Here I am including a section from my book How Jesus Became God that deals with the question of whether Jesus was actually given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  In my book I begin by doing a detailed analysis of the biblical accounts in order to show that Paul did not know of any such tradition and that it was probably not in circulation prior to the Gospels, and that even within the NT there are conflicting accounts of Jesus’ burial.  Then I get into more detailed historical argumentation.  Here is the first of two bits from this argumentation, straight from my book:

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In addition to the rather general considerations I have just given for calling into question the idea that Jesus received a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea, there are three more specific reasons for doubting the tradition that Jesus received a decent burial at all, in a tomb that could later be recognized as emptied.

 

Roman Practices of Crucifixion

Sometimes Christian apologists argue that Jesus had to be taken off the cross before sunset on Friday, because the next day was Sabbath and it was against Jewish Law, or at least Jewish sensitivities, to allow a person to remain on the cross during the Sabbath.   Unfortunately, the historical record suggests just the opposite.  It was not Jews who killed Jesus, and so they had no say about when he would be taken down from the cross.  Moreover, the Romans who did crucify him had no concern to obey Jewish Law, and virtually no concern about Jewish sensitivities.  Quite the contrary.  When it came to crucified criminals – in this case, someone charged with crimes against the state – there was regularly no mercy and no concern for anyone’s sensitivities.   The point of crucifixion was to torture and humiliate a person as fully as possible, and to show any bystanders what happens to someone who is a troublemaker in the eyes of Rome.  Part of the humiliation and degradation was being left on the cross after death, to be subject to the scavenging animals.

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Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 2
New Thread on the Burial of Jesus

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    danielkurtenbach  July 2, 2014

    I would think that (at least some) Christians would embrace the “no decent burial” position, because (a) it takes Christ’s sacrifice – his torture, humiliation, and death – to a whole new level; (b) it shows even more powerfully that _all_ of the dead from all time, even if there is no longer any trace of a corpse, can have the Resurrection; and (c) it seems much more in tune with how Jesus lived and what he taught — wouldn’t Jesus be embarrassed at the notion of being covered with a fine linen shroud and being buried in some rich man’s whitewashed sepulchre?

  2. Avatar
    Matilda  July 2, 2014

    It seems that they MUST read the “decent burial” interpretation into the scriptures or else there would be no resurrection and there would be no Christianity. This “decent burial” is a really flimsy argument to base an entire religion upon! The more I read the more amazed I am that the spin and torque of what you point out is really in the Bible has become the bedrock of what we are fed as the truth! I’m further amazed that in the 21st century people still believe in it.

    • Avatar
      danielkurtenbach  July 3, 2014

      I don’t think Jesus (or any one else – when the time comes) needed a decent burial (or an intact body) in order to be physically resurrected by the power of God. But as a story designed to “flesh out” the Resurrection (pun intended), a “fresh” burial, followed by an empty tomb, is a lot less icky than the alternatives.

      • Avatar
        danielkurtenbach  July 4, 2014

        That is to say, belief in Resurrection of the physical body does not hinge on the decent burial of an intact corpse. For people who believe in an omnipotent God, resurrecting the original body (even one that has been eaten by birds or decayed into nothingness) is no big deal. The empty tomb is a powerful image, but only in the light of what comes after: Jesus appearing to others in the flesh. It is the physical appearances to witnesses that makes the Resurrection believable (to persons of faith). As Bart points out, there are many possible, everyday explanations for an empty tomb; but seeing, touching, and hearing a person who is supposed to be dead? The empty tomb has really just become shorthand for the whole experience of the risen Christ, which includes his bodily appearances to his disciples.

        • Avatar
          Matilda  July 6, 2014

          Thanks, I am going to re-read How Jesus Became God. Coming from a 21st century perspective it seems like Jesus would have been a zombie. The entire mind set of that is just too nasty for words. I always thought of the resurrection as a spiritual one in my religious days. I never could be a really good Catholic and believe in a bodily one. The human mind is such a mess of fears and non-sense. Poor Jesus, don’t you think he’d be really angry with what has become of him? Never mind, I’m rambling.

        • Avatar
          Scott F  July 15, 2014

          It is interesting that, according to the Gospel accounts, no one believed that Jesus was resurrected based on the empty tomb. It was only when Jesus started appearing to people that they believed.

  3. Avatar
    JEffler  July 2, 2014

    Interesting read. If I may ask you though, in the reaction of Pontius Pilate where he did not ‘find fault’ in Jesus Christ as mentioned in the gospels (John 19:6, Luke 23:4, Mark 15:13-14, Matthew 27:23-24) Wouldn’t it not be outlandish to say Pontius Pilate didn’t necessarily feel the need to keep him on the cross to be eaten by dogs? What I mean by this is that IT MAY SEEM MORE plausible to leave a condemned criminal (like a murderer, or capital punishment against rome) to be humiliated. Because of Pontius Pilate’s view of Jesus being “innocent” (as declared in ALL 4 gospels) wouldn’t it be plausible to say that if Joseph of Arimathea wanted to bury him, Pontius Pilate would allow it? After all, he didn’t feel the need to punish Jesus. right?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 3, 2014

      You’ll notice the “did not find fault” motif actually gets bigger and bigger in the later and later Gospels. I think it is a Christian invention. If Pilate found Jesus innocent, he would not have crucified him….

  4. Avatar
    BuckNash  July 2, 2014

    I’ve read a number of your books and find your views very insightful. You may have already written about this in a book I haven’t yet read. Regarding whether or not Jesus was taken down from the cross and buried, I think Mathew 28 11-15 is a very interesting passage. I would interpret this passage to mean that by the time the book of Matthew was written the belief in the burial and the empty tomb (regardless of whether or not there was a burial and an empty tomb) was so firmly established even among many non-believers that some of these non-believers were saying “yes the tomb was empty but the body was stolen.” I can’t see any other reason “Matthew” would have included this passage unless he is trying to use some type of elaborate ruse, such as the forger of one of “Paul’s” letters did when he warned the reader to beware of Pauline letters which had been forged.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 3, 2014

      Yes, I agree. By Matthew’s day — 50-55 years later — it was widely said that the tomb was empty, and Jewish opponents came up with an alternative explanation.

      • Avatar
        JEffler  July 3, 2014

        Interesting. Do you think Paul (1 Corinthians 15:4-“That he was buried”) believed Jesus to be buried in a tomb? Do you think the burial tradition was an early “invention” or that it happened during the times of the gospels? If it’s an early invention, how early do you think it is?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2014

          It assumes he was buried *somehow* — possibly in a trench-grave.

          • Avatar
            JEffler  July 24, 2014

            How do you think that the tomb narrations got “invented”? And what would be a reason that they would invent that if he was buried in a trench grave?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 26, 2014

            Lots of options. One is that some early Christians wanted to emphasize the physical nature of the resurrection and so wanted to tout the idea of an empty tomb.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 2, 2014

    I have previously read this section in your book, but rereading parts of what I have already read in the context of this website is often quite helpful.

  6. Avatar
    MikeyS  July 2, 2014

    Just a couple of comments really. One was that we are told the romans crucified thousands of Jews and so why make one exception? The other is that hollywood has Jesus carrying his own cross from after the trial to Golgotha and so isn’t it highly likely there would be thousands of crosses or poles at Golgotha empty and one more wasn’t necessary UNLESS of course that was part of each Jew’s punishment to do that but would be too time consuming by the Romans. Again no historical evidence for this?

    As an aside, I have often wondered if it was the Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus as the Gospels say and the temple guards that arrested him etc. Why did they not just stone him at dawn the next day before any crowds could gather? Indeed like they apparently did Stephen and James? In some ways James must have been very well known as the leader of the Christian Jerusalem Church and even that didn’t stop him getting stoned.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 3, 2014

      They couldn’t stone him because the Romans did not allow them to perform capital punishment at this time.

      • Avatar
        MikeyS  July 3, 2014

        Hi Bart, are you sure about that as I thought the Jewish authorities were allowed to judge people on breaking the Torah/OT laws and that included stoning them to death as indeed they did to Stephen and James. The Romans convicted and crucified by breaking their laws and for sedition etc.

        Some say the story of the stoning of Mary Magdelene/Adultress and Jesus intervening with his ‘He who is without sin, cast the first stone etc. was made up but no other text suggested that stoning was forbidden by the Romans but rather confirms their judicial religious authority.

        Are you just guessing here Bart? I would hate to disagree with your expertise.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2014

          There were occasional “lynch” mobs (thus both Stephen and later James) — but Romans did not allow the local authorities the right to execute criminals. The adulterous is not Mary Magdalene, and that story was only a later addition to the fourth Gospel. It was not originally there.

      • Avatar
        lbehrendt  July 4, 2014

        Bart, do you mean that there was some change in the law or the practice, so that the Jewish authorities could not perform capital punishment in 30 CE, but they could do so in 50-60 CE? I’ve never heard this before. What support do you have for this statement? Where can I find out more about this?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2014

          Under direct Roman rule, they were not allowed to execute criminals. There’s a famous article by Sherman-White that shows this — you can probably find it easily enough by google search.

          • Avatar
            lbehrendt  July 5, 2014

            Bart, thanks for the note. The scholar you are referring to must be A. N. Sherwin-White (different spelling – I know you’re out of the country and away from your library). But doing the Google research you recommend, it does appear that opinion is split here. Helen Bond writes in “Pontius Pilate In History and Interpretation” that “There is not enough evidence to determine whether or not Jewish courts could inflict the death penalty at this period; scholarly opinion is sharply divided on this issue. The Roman governor would doubtless wish to maintain his jurisdiction in political offenses but it is not impossible that Jewish courts were able to execute when their own Law had been contravened.” Paul Winter has a terrific article available online arguing that the Jews could have executed Jesus without Pilate’s help. http://www.scaview.org/pages/pdf/The%20Trial%20of%20Jesus.pdf

            I don’t have an opinion of my own here (not yet, anyway), but thought I should note that this question does not appear to be settled.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 6, 2014

            Yes, Sherwin’White’s article is a response to Winter, and he shows convincingly that Romans reserved the right of execution to themselves. I haven’t read the two articles in years, but I can say that Sherwin-White is widely thgouth to have won the day. Helen Bond is probably simply being diplomatic about the debate. Does she, or anyone else, actually cite any single case when, during Roman rule, a Jewish court in Judea found someone guilty of an executable offense and then carried out the sentence? I don’t know of a case.

          • Avatar
            lbehrendt  July 6, 2014

            Bart, obviously we don’t have much documented proof of what Jewish courts were doing in Jesus’ day, and to do justice to this topic would probably require a good library (for example, I can only find summaries of Sherwin-White’s arguments online). The cases I’ve seen mentioned in my short and inadequate research are: the trial and stoning of Stephen (Acts 7:54-8:2), the trial and stoning of James (Josephus and Acts), the trial of Paul (Acts 23:26), the near-stoning of the adulterous woman in John, and a burning to death of a priest’s daughter mentioned in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 7:2). There are the many references in the NT to Jews seeking to kill Jesus, though it’s not clear that they sought to do so legally. (There’s also the death of John the Baptist, but that does not appear to be on point.) There is literary evidence that the death penalty for wrongful entry into the inner courts of the Jerusalem Temple was still in effect. Yes, for certain: some of these accounts may be legendary, others may be literary devices, others may be anomalies (for example, James’ execution took place when no Roman governor was present) and others may be examples of mob violence.

            There is the mirror-image question, of cases where the Jewish authorities turned criminals over to Rome for execution. Doubtless there were such cases, though they may prove only that Jewish authorities could choose to execute criminals or have Rome do it for them. What we really need to see are cases that “hold” that only Rome could perform execution. On this point, we DO have Josephus’ report that the high priest Ananus was deposed by the Romans for his capital sentencing of James, which argues at least for some amount of Roman oversight over any Jewish right to execute. In this regard, John 18:31 is peculiar, in that the Jewish authorities and Pilate seem to argue the point! If only Rome could execute Jesus, why does Pilate seem to be arguing the contrary? (Yes, this is literature and not a court transcript.)

            In “An Introduction to the New Testament,” Raymond Brown posits that “except for certain agreed-on crimes, only the Roman governor of Judea could order execution.” (p.357 n. 61) Elsewhere (probably in his “The Death of the Messiah”), I understand that Brown argued that the Jewish authorities retained the power to execute criminals for violations of moral or cultic laws, though others have suggested that this power applied only for wrongful entry into inner Temple precincts.

            Agreed, from what I’ve seen, the Sherwin-White opinion predominates.

            Yes, Helen Bond seems like a very nice person!

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 7, 2014

            Yes, the instances that are known (the ones you cite) are of lynch mobs (but the adulterous is apocryphal, produced from outside Palestine well over a hundred years later; and the Mishnah was codified over 150 years after Jesus; its accounts cannot be trusted as historically reliable for the earlier period; Paul was not executed; so really it’s James and Stephen — assuming those are historical, and I doubt if Stephen is). I’m surprised that Brown argued something different — I’d have to see what he has to say. I don’t recall that he did.

  7. Avatar
    John123  July 2, 2014

    Bart,

    I think Craig Evans has given good reasons to think that Jesus could have been removed from the cross (his pg. 78 addressing your argument on your pg. 162 is just one). But even if I assume that Jesus was left on the cross, I am having problems with your hypothesis. How would you answer the following two questions?

    1) If crucifixion victims were left just outside the walls of Jerusalem where everyone walking by could see them, then a lot of people who left Jerusalem on Sunday and later (after the festival and the Sabbath were over) would have seen Jesus still rotting on the cross. With so many people seeing Jesus still rotting on the cross on Sunday and later (including those retuning to Galilee), how in your mind could a belief emerge and survive in Galilee, and in other places as it spread, that Jesus was raised on Sunday, let alone buried two days earlier? (Buried/raised on third day is part of the earliest Christian beliefs — 1 Cor 15:4.)

    2) If Jesus was left on the cross, why in your mind would a legend emerge that bothers with Jesus being buried; why not simply have the women find Jesus’ body gone from the cross on the third day?

    One last question. Have you ever considered the possibility that Jesus was removed from the cross and buried in a trench grave (as archaeologist Jodi Magness says would have been the expected burial if Jesus was removed from the cross)? This would seem to make sense of a lot of things. It would make sense of Joseph not being mentioned in 1 Cor 15:4 or Acts 13:28-29 — Joseph (if he was the one who buried Jesus) was not a Christian; he was just a Jew carrying out the Jewish law to bury a corpse before sunset. It would also explain the intent behind Mark’s burial story and why he used a rock-hewn tomb — the trip to the trench grave and the time required to complete the ground burial was cut short by sunset, causing Joseph to put Jesus temporarily in a rock-hewn tomb next to the site of the crucifixion where the women could see WHERE his body was placed, which lays the foundation for what comes next – the discovery of that burial place empty.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 3, 2014

      The people who started the claim that Jesus was raised were in Galilee by that time: they didn’t stay in Jerusalem to see if they too would be crucified! In any event, the empty tomb tradition cannot be traced to the early years of Christianity. Paul seems not to know about it in the 50s. It first appears in Mark’s Gospel around 70CE; by that time everyone who was around at the time was probably dead. (Not that anyone would remember this particular crucifixion)

      Burial: it was so the “empty tomb” could be “proof”.

      As you’ll see, I don’t think a decent burial in a trench grave is probable either (although it’s *more* probable) than the Joseph of Arimathea tradition.

      • Avatar
        Matilda  July 3, 2014

        This gets so confusing. Was there anyone back then that could have been talking about a spiritual resurrection rather than a physical one? Could they have meant that they saw Jesus in a kind of metaphysical form? That would seem more plausible and easier to accept.
        Thanks

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2014

          Yes, I discuss that in my book How Jesus Became God. You should read it!!

          • Avatar
            Matilda  July 6, 2014

            I did but I will give it a re-read. It still boggles my mind! After years of Catholicism it is all hard to digest sometimes. I love your books. They have answered a lot of questions that have been lurking around in my mind unresolved.

  8. Avatar
    FrankJay71  July 3, 2014

    I think I brought this up before, but IN Josephus, Jewish Wars, Book 4, chapter 5, verse 2 he writes:
    “Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun”
    He seems to imply that it was fairly common to bury to bodies of the crucified. He doesn’t specify “crucified by The Romans,” but is there something else he could have been talking about? Did the Jews crucify there own condemned at this time?

  9. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  July 3, 2014

    I’m still convinced that Jesus’ corpse did not matter for the belief in him having been resurrected. One of the disciples, back in Galilee, suddenly became convinced that Jesus had been ‘resurrected’, ‘exalted’, whatever and was now ‘in Heaven’ or ‘back with the Father’, waiting to come back in a ‘glorious body’. The apparent defeat was actually a victory! Paul still got this but later on it got misunderstood and people thought they were talking about a sort of revivification, with a reanimated corpse walking out of a tomb.

  10. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  July 3, 2014

    (in addition to my earlier comment) But if one assumes there was a burial there’s the odd suggestion in the Gospel of John that the (first?) tomb where Jesus’ corpse was put after the crucifixion was simply chosen because it happened to be *near and empty*. No indication that it was Joseph of Arimateah’s! The idea then being that JoA had the body moved first thing the Sabbath had ended to give it a decent burial. That’s why the tomb was empty when the women came on Sunday morning. The women, not knowing who JoA was, would wonder what happened (although some wondered where ‘they’ had taken the body).

  11. Avatar
    nazam44  July 3, 2014

    Hi, Dr.Ehrman. Is it’s probable that since Pilate had a soft spot for Jesus, that he allowed a decent burial on this occasion?

    Thank you.

  12. Avatar
    John123  July 3, 2014

    Bart,

    Your book says that the only reason the burial tradition came into being is to set up the discovered empty tomb legend. Since “buried” appears in 1 Cor 15:4, the discovered empty tomb tradition would have been in existence then too. If not, why in your hypothesis is “buried” in the earliest creed if Jesus was left on the cross?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2014

      I don’t think he was left on the cross for years; he was probably on there for some days, and then put into some kind of common grave. So he *was* buried. Just not by Joseph of Arimathea on the day of his crucifixion, in my opinion.

  13. Avatar
    John123  July 3, 2014

    You keep saying that the disciples returned to Galilee and did not see Jesus rotting on the cross in Jerusalem. But what about everyone else who was at the Passover festival from Galilee who knew Jesus? They would have left Jerusalem on Sunday, after the festival and the Sabbath had ended (on Sunday). With so many people seeing Jesus still rotting on the cross on Sunday and later, how in your mind could a belief emerge and survive in Galilee, and in other places as it spread, that Jesus was raised on the third day?

    Also, if Jesus was left on the cross, why in your mind would a legend emerge that bothers with Jesus being buried; why not simply have the women find Jesus’ body gone from the cross on the third day? (You forgot to answer this question before.)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 5, 2014

      I think the idea that Jesus was well known and that his crucifixion was a bit deal to anyone (other than himself and his immediate followers) is probably not right. It’s what we naturally think, of course, but the whole affair may have passed virtually unnoticed — another rotting corpse on a cross. The burial legend emerged so Christains could say the tomb was empty. That required a tomb!

  14. Avatar
    John123  July 5, 2014

    Okay, I see what your hypothesis is now. You think “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4 refers to Jesus being buried in a common grave after he had rotted for some days on the cross. And then some decades later, the tradition of a burial in a rock-hewn tomb (by Joseph of Arimathea) came about in order to set up the discovered empty tomb tradition. So in your hypothesis, the disciples thought Jesus was raised from the initial common grave.

    But surely the Romans must have left crucifixion victims on the cross for more than three days. If Jesus’ followers knew that Jesus would have been left on the cross for more than three days, how could they come to believe that Jesus was raised “on the third day” (1 Cor 15:4)?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 6, 2014

      I’m not sure they thought through it all the way you’re suggesting. Jesus was crucified; they fled town; later (three days later?) Peter or someone had a vision of Jesus; he was convinced that he was now alive; and either because of Scripture (Hosea 6:2 or the story of Jonah) or because of the nature of the vision, began to say that on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead. Since the disciples lived in Galilee and had probably never left it before, they may not have ever seen a crucifixion (there weren’t Roman troops stationed in Galilee) and may well not have even known what the standard practices were.

      • Avatar
        VirtualAlex  July 28, 2014

        In his book, Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection, Kris Komarnitsky goes into some detail about the raised-on-the-third-day tradition, and how it may have begun. But I simply can’t remember what he said. Great book – yours too, Bart.

  15. Avatar
    John123  July 5, 2014

    One other question about your hypothesis that “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4 indicates a belief by Jesus’ disciples that Jesus was buried in a common grave after having rotted for some days on the cross. Why would Jesus’ disciples simply assume such a thing; i.e. how would they know that Jesus’ bones did not just slowly fall off the cross and get taken away and eaten by dogs?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 6, 2014

      The carcasses are generally assumed to have been removed after a few days, in part so the upright could be used again.

  16. Avatar
    John123  July 5, 2014

    Actually, I have yet another question with regard to your hypothesis that Jesus’ followers thought he was raised from a common grave after rotting on the cross for “some” days. If bereavement hallucinations are what caused Jesus’ followers to think he was raised, then the hallucinations had to come after Jesus’ followers thought he was already removed from the cross. Can you please give me an idea of how many days you are thinking passed before the disciples started having bereavement hallucinations and how many days you think crucifixion victims were normally left on a cross? It would seem to me that the Romans would have left bodies on the cross for weeks or months. Are you proposing that the bereavement hallucinations did not start for weeks or months after Jesus’ death?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 6, 2014

      My view is that the disciples fled Jerusalem soon after Jesus’ arrest, and so did not actually see him get crucified (they are not at the crucifixion scene, e.g., in the Synoptics). My hunch is that one of them (Peter, I suppose) had a vision soon after they had gotten outta there — maybe even the third day! who knows?

      • Avatar
        kidron  July 14, 2014

        I am not sure who fled Jerusalem after the crucifixion. There is ample evidence that James stayed in Jerusalem and was even known as the first bishop of Jerusalem. After all, Paul himself bears witness that James and the other pillars of the church were active in Jerusalem and quite visible to the Romans and leading Jewish rulers.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 14, 2014

          James probably would not have been there at first, since he wasn’t a follower of Jesus during his life. My guess is that after some time some of jesus’ folowers (including now James) came to Jeruslaem, possibly expecting Jesus to return there very soon.

  17. Avatar
    John123  July 6, 2014

    Okay, I see what your hypothesis entails now. You think the Romans buried crucified bodies after only “a few days” after death. And to account for the belief that Jesus was “buried and raised on the third day” in the earliest Christian creed (1 Cor 15:4), you think Jesus’ disciples, being from Galilee, did not know standard Roman practices for crucifixion and so imagined this time being even shorter, assuming that Jesus had been buried by the Romans less than 48 hours after his death (dead on late Friday, raised sometime before sunset on Sunday, which was the third day). Do I got that right?

    Just curious, do you have any evidence that, in peacetime, the Romans removed crucifixion victims from the cross and buried them after only “a few days”? I can see the possibility of this in times of uprising where the Romans were crucifying thousands and needed to reuse the upright, but actually, in times of uprising, I would expect the Romans to bury the body as soon as the person was dead without even waiting a few days so that they could get the next victim up on the cross. They might even hasten the whole process with a spear to the torso. But in peacetime, where the reuse of the upright was not critical, I would expect the Romans to leave the body on the cross for a long time (weeks or even months) in order to make a political statement. It also seems possible to me that they would never bury the body, just letting the elements take their toll on the body until there was nothing left. Are you sure you got your facts right that, in peacetime, the Romans removed crucifixion victims from the cross and buried them after only “a few days”?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 7, 2014

      My sense is that “on the third day” arose in order to show a fulfillment of Scripture (probably Hosea 6:2, or the story of Jonah); whether the earthly disciples of Jesus held to this view is hard to say.

      No, there’s not a stitch of evidence that Romans removed victims *earlier* in times of peace than in times of war. Leaving them on the crosses was, in part, how they kept the peace! See my posts on this, starting today! (We don’t have evidence, that I’m aware of, about spears to the torso, btw).

  18. Avatar
    John123  July 7, 2014

    How can you now say that the earthly disciples of Jesus may not have held to the view that Jesus was raised ON THE THIRD DAY? This belief is expressed in the absolute best piece of Christian origins evidence that we have (1 Cor 15:4), you accept it in your book, and you even said earlier in this very thread: “They fled town; later (three days later?) Peter or someone had a vision of Jesus; he was convinced that he was now alive; and either because of Scripture (Hosea 6:2 or the story of Jonah) or because of the nature of the vision, began to say that on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead.”

    If Jesus’ disciples thought Jesus was raised on the third day (which would be Sunday), then in order for you to account for the word “buried” in the creed (1 Cor 15:4), Jesus’ disciples would have had to assume that Jesus was removed from the cross and buried within 48 hours after his death (dead on late Friday, raised sometime before sunset on Sunday). Do you really think it is plausible that Jesus’ disciples were so clueless about Roman crucifixion practices that they would have thought that the Romans removed Jesus’ body from the cross and buried it within 48 hours after death?

    Also, you misunderstood my second question. You are the one who is saying that, in peacetime, the Romans removed corpses from the cross and buried them after only “a few days”. What is your evidence for this? I would think that, in peacetime, the Romans would leave corpses on the cross much longer and possibly even never remove them; just let them decay in the elements (as opposed to during uprisings where the Romans would need to remove the body fairly quickly in order to reuse the upright).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 8, 2014

      Well, we’d have a better idea about what the disciples believed if we had some writings from them! “The third day” is a theological construct, as I try to show in my book.

      On your second question: I don’t know of any evidence one way or the other — but I’m open to hearing of any!

  19. Avatar
    John123  July 9, 2014

    I think virtually everyone agrees that 1 Cor 15:4 reflects the beliefs of Jesus’ disciples. If you agree with this, are you saying that you do not think “on the third day” in 1 Cor 15:4 was understood by Jesus’ disciples in plain and simple chronological terms, i.e. as refering to Sunday? If not, on what page of your book do you address this? I did not read anything in your book that led me to think that you thought “on the third day” was taken to mean anything other than, plain and simply, three days time. You even wrote in your “Personal Stake” post, “Of course, if Jesus was buried (say) 5 days later, then obviously he was not raised on the third day, as Christians have always said (so far as we know).” This sure seems to me to suggest that you have always thought that “on the third day” in 1 Cor 15:4 means a simple chronological time of three days. Have you now changed you mind, or is it your position that 1 Cor 15:4 does not even reflect the beliefs of the disciples?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 10, 2014

      My view is that we have no way of knowing what, for example, Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, James the son of Alphaseus, Thaddaeus, and Simon the Canaanite (and most of the others) believed. How could we know? Paul explicitly says that he met only with Cephas. (That in itself is odd — why didn’t he meet with any of the others, if he was in Jerusalem for two weeks).
      In any event, I think the idea that it was on the third day came about because once Peter (presumably?) had a vision of Jesus soon after his death, they together thought this must have been a fulfillment of Scripture and latched onto the three-day motif from there. They probably did think that it actually happened on the third day.

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    John123  July 9, 2014

    Ah, okay, I found it in your book now. You say, “The idea that Jesus was raised on the third day is NOT NECESSARILY a historical recollection of when the resurrection happened, but a theological claim of its significance” (pg. 140). However, you seem to be hedging your bet by using the phrase “not necessarily”, so let me ask you this question if I may. IF “on the third day” was meant in simple chronological terms (i.e. Sunday), do you really think it is plausible that Jesus’ disciples were so clueless about Roman crucifixion practices that they would have thought that the Romans removed Jesus’ body from the cross and buried it within 48 hours after death?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 10, 2014

      They wouldn’t be the first or last religious people to believe something contrary to probability….

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