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Could Jews Bury Crucified Victims? Most-commented Blog Post: #7

April 23, 2022

As we celebrate our ten-year anniversary of the blog (April 18) by reposting the ten most commented-on posts, here now is #7, with 198 comments.

Let me say that I think this is one of my most important posts in the history of the blog, since it argues against a view that most NT scholars simply assume to be right without ever thinking about it….



Did Romans Allow Jews to Bury Crucified Victims? Readers’ Mailbag January 1, 2018

January 1, 2018

Here on the first day of the new year, I was digging around on the blog and I found a post that I *meant* to make a couple of months ago that I never did.  Don’t remember why!  But here it is.  It is from the Readers’ Mailbag, and about a very interesting and controversial issue: would the Romans have allowed anyone to bury Jesus the afternoon on which he was crucified?  I think not, even though I’m in the decided minority on that one.  Here’s the post:




QUESTION: In Josephus’s Jewish Wars he states: “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.”

It looks like (to me) that the Jews were allowed to bury the crucified before sunset – how do you interpret this passage?


I dealt at length in a number of posts, some years ago, the evidence of Josephus that Jews were allowed to bury crucified victims before sundown (since I don’t think they allowed Jesus to be buried that day).   Those posts were in response to Craig Evans’s claims that the Joseph of Arimathea story (where Jesus is said to be buried) fits perfectly well with standard Roman practice.  I heartily disagree(d).

Here is what I said about this particular passage in Josephus:


We come now, at last, to the best argument in Craig Evans’ arsenal, in his attack on the views of Jesus’ burial that I set forth in in How Jesus Became God.  The argument is this: in one passage of Josephus’s writings, in an extremely brief few words (it’s only half of one sentence) (this is the only half sentence in the entire corpus not only of Josephus’s 30 volumes of writing but in the entire corpus of pagan and Jewish literature of all of antiquity that makes this claim) he explicitly indicates that Jews buried victims of crucifixion before sunset.  Craig’s commentary on the passage amounts only to two sentences.

At the end of the day I don’t find even this piece of evidence persuasive, and in this post I will explain why.   This will be a long one:

First I quote the passage, also found in Craig’s essay (pp. 78-79).  This is in reference to events transpiring in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War, and to violent cruelties happening within the city before the Romans arrived:

“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” (Jewish War, 4.317)

This would be a good time to review what I said several posts ago about the need to be consistently critical when we are dealing with our sources.  At every point the historian – if she or he wants to be a historian and not an apologist for a particular point of view, ideology, or theology – has to subject the historical sources at our disposal to critical evaluation to determine if and how far they are historically trustworthy.   And so here: is Josephus telling the truth when he says that Jews (sometimes? usually? always?) buried victims of crucifixion before sunset on the days of their deaths?  If so, we have a very neat indeed tie-in to the Gospels of the New Testament, where the otherwise unknown Joseph of Arimathea does just that with the body of Jesus.

To evaluate Josephus’s comment, we should first consider its context.  The quotation above occurs in a passage in the Jewish War when there was terrible infighting within Jerusalem, as the Romans were bearing down on the city, and the leaders of one of the conflicting parties invited the foreign Idumeans into the city.  They came in and brought horrible slaughter and bloodshed with them.  It’s a complicated historical situation and not easy to summarize neatly.  You can read the account here:

Josephus wants to stress that those whom the Idumeans killed were dishonored: they were not given decent burials.  He contrasts this heinous behavior with that of “the Jews,” who allegedly buried even crucified victims in accordance with the Law of Moses, before sunset.

Several things to say here, each individual point being important, in my opinion:

1.  Josephus does not say who crucified these Jews who were given decent burials.  The normal assumption is that he means that these people were crucified by the Romans rather than by the Jews.   That may be the correct reading, although he is contrasting how the Idumeans treated people they killed with how Jews acted — so is it not in reference to people that Jews executed?   It’s worth remembering that, at earlier periods (e.g., under Alexander Jannaeus in the Maccabean period) we do know that Jewish leaders crucified Jews.  Is that what Josephus is referring to?  I’m inclined to think so, but one could argue either way.

2. Even if he is talking about Jews typically burying victims crucified by Romans (of which we have no other record, apart from the legend of Joseph of Arimathea) another bit of doubt is cast on his claim by the fact that two of his goals in writing are:

a.  To celebrate the great piety of the Jews.   Remember how Josephus does this elsewhere, in ways that simply cannot be believed:  he actually claims that Jews executed their children when they planned to do something unjust to their parents!

b.   To exonerate the Romans, in part by saying that the war was not their fault.  Here the implication would be that the Romans were highly merciful, even allowing decent burials contrary to their own customs.  Again, contrast those hated Idumeans.

These two objectives are never far below the surface in Josephus’s works – and they dictate what he has to say, so that he often stretches the truth in order to make his point.  Is that the case here?

3.  It is important to note that in this short statement, Josephus does not say that burial of crucified victims had been the Jewish custom from time immemorial.  He is writing about events that transpired 35-40 years after the days of Jesus, in a very different circumstance.  It’s not immediately obvious that he can be taken to mean this always, or typically, happened – only that it was, in his claim, something that took place in his day.

4.  More important – this is probably the key point – his statement is simply not true as a general practice.   During the Jewish War, about which Josephus is writing, there were massive crucifixions.   At one point, the Roman general Titus was capturing and crucifying 500 Jews a day – a day! – in front of the walls of Jerusalem, while those inside looked on.  There is no one on the planet (now or in antiquity) who honestly thinks that Jews inside Jerusalem regularly left the relative safely of the walls to ask the Roman commanders for permission to take down the bodies because they didn’t want their laws to be broken.  Why not?  Because it was a time of war.

5.  In other words, even if Josephus’s statement *were* true – even if this was a Jewish practice – it was not true all the time, but only in some circumstances, when the conditions allowed.  For most of the crucifixions of the first century, conditions did not allow.

6. Did conditions allow in the case of Jesus?   At this time, around 30 CE, the Romans were not laying siege to Jerusalem and there was not a war going on.   But it’s important to look closely at what Josephus actually says.  When he says that “even malefactors” who were crucified were given decent burials, for the term “malefactor” he uses a generic term (καταδικη).  He uses the term or its derivatives 17 times in his surviving writings, always to refer generally to someone who is condemned to something (e.g., slavery, dishonor, or crucifixion).   In none of the 17 times that he uses it does he use it to refer to someone who was condemned to crucifixion as an “enemy of the state” or an “insurrectionist.”   Jesus in the New Testament is never referred to with this term (translated here as “malefactor”).   When he is crucified, he is not simply “condemned.”  He is charged with calling himself the King of the Jews – i.e., it is a charge of political insurgency.  He was an enemy of the Romans.

7. Most people who were crucified throughout the Roman empire in times of relative peace, in Judea or elsewhere, were simply “malefactors” – e.g., murderers, robbers, runaway slaves.   If Josephus is right in the claim that I’ve quoted  – i.e., if he is not exaggerating the piety of the Jews in order to have a nice contrast with the Idumeans and to emphasize the benevolence of the Romans – and if it is the case, as it *has* to be, that he does not and cannot mean that Jews *always* buried crucified victims (since they didn’t for many thousands), then it may be plausible (though I’m not convinced it’s true) that in times of peace, Jews were sometimes given the right to bury some crucified victims when they were guilty of lesser crimes, when they were simply “malefactors,” as opposed to being “enemies of the state.”

8. The reasons Jesus would not have been one of these for whom burial would be allowed are the ones that I have given extensively over the course of the past three weeks.  To sum it up, not only during war but also in times of (relative) peace the Romans publicly humiliated and tortured to death enemies of state precisely in order to keep the peace.  Jesus was condemned not for blasphemy, not for cleansing the temple, not for irritating the Sadducees, not for bad-mouthing the Pharisees, not for … well, not for anything but one thing.  He was crucified for calling himself the King of the Jews.  Only Romans could appoint the King.  If Jesus thought he himself was going to be the King, for the Romans this would have been a declaration of war (since he would have to usurp their power and authority to have himself installed as king) (I’m talking about how Romans would have interpreted Jesus’ claim to be king, not what he himself may have meant by it).  They may have found it astounding, if not pathetic, that this unknown peasant from the rural hinterlands would be imagining that he could overthrow Roman rule in Judea.  But Romans didn’t much care if someone was a megalomaniac, a feasible charismatic preacher, or a bona-fide soldier in arms.  If the person declared “war” on Rome – which a claim to being the King amounted to – the Romans knew how to deal with him.  He would be publicly tortured and humiliated, left to rot on a cross so everyone could see what happens to someone who thinks he can cross the power of Rome.  There was no mercy and no reprieve.  And there was no decent burial, precisely because there was no mercy or reprieve in cases such as this.  After the point was made – after time, the elements, and the scavengers had done their work – the body could be dumped into some kind of pit or common grave.   But not until the humiliation and the punishment were complete.  Yes, it’s true that in Jesus’ day, the country was not in armed rebellion against Rome.  There was a general peace.  But this is the very reason *why* there was peace.   Would-be offenders – insurrectionists, political enemies, guerilla warriors, rival kings, enemies of the state – were brought face to face with the power of Rome in a very gruesome way, and most people, who for as a rule preferred very much not to be food for the birds and dogs, stayed in line as a result.

9. In sum, even if Josephus is stating a general practice among Jews (I’m not sure we can trust that he is.  But even if he is), it is not a practice that applied to times of war or threats of war.  As we have seen repeatedly in the past three weeks, it did not apply to enemies of the state.  Jesus was an enemy of the state, crucified for calling himself King of the Jews.

2022-04-11T09:47:06-04:00April 23rd, 2022|Public Forum|

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  1. Seeker1952 April 23, 2022 at 9:37 am

    Is it accurate to call the love of God and neighbor that the historical Jesus preached “unconditional love”?

    Even if Jesus preached a command of unconditional love, is that an accurate description of God’s love for human beings—as preached by Jesus? God will punish and/or annihilate those who don’t repent and follow the love commandment. God may always be ready to forgive but personal reform seems to be necessary to avoid ultimate punishment/annihilation.

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:35 pm

      I’m not sure he would put it that way, but if you’re to love your enemies, then presumably there aren’t conditionst to it. As to God, Jesus also believed in divine judgment, so love apparently has its limits!

  2. Seeker1952 April 23, 2022 at 10:09 am

    How literally did the historical Jesus mean for people to take teachings such as “turn the other cheek” and others in Mt 5:38-42? (Assuming ideas like these go back to the historical Jesus)

    To me this direction goes beyond even love of enemies. It’s one thing to continue to love one’s enemies but quite another to offer no resistance to insult and injustice. For example it doesn’t seem to allow for the kind of non-violent resistance practiced by Ghandi and Martin Luther King—or for women to resist spousal abuse.

    Some commentators might say that Jesus was using exaggerated rhetoric to make a point. Others might say that Jesus considered resistance and the like to be of no importance in comparison with the certainty that God’s kingdom was going to come any day. Did the historical Jesus mean something like this or did he mean it more or less literally?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:35 pm

      My sense is that he meant it, and that modern commentators simply don’t like what Jesus’ ethics were because they are completely impracticable in the real world. But who says Jesus has to be practicable?

      • AngeloB April 25, 2022 at 11:26 pm

        Was Jesus’ commandment practical in his day?

        • BDEhrman April 26, 2022 at 4:09 pm

          Not particularly. He seemed to think that it could lead to suffering and even martyrdom.

        • BDEhrman April 26, 2022 at 4:10 pm

          Not particularly. He seemed to think that it could lead to suffering and even martyrdom.

  3. jayakron April 23, 2022 at 10:13 am

    If Jesus was viewed as a distinct threat to the Roman state, what explains Pilate’s reported lack of interest in even prosecuting him? John 18:38 “I find no basis for a charge against him.” All the gospels portray Pilate as being unconvinced that Jesus did call himself King of the Jews and thus an enemy of the state. If what the gospels say about the interactions between Pilate and Jesus is fiction, the Joseph of Arimathea story was also fiction, and the tomb stories were likewise fiction. The gospels were only historically accurate about the crucifixion?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:37 pm

      Pilate gets *increasingly* unwilling to execute him over time; line up the Gospels chronologically, and Pilate gets more and more innocent. And there’s a fiarly obvoius reason. If Pilate found him innocent, who is the guilty party?? Christians altered the stories over time.

  4. RICHWEN90 April 23, 2022 at 10:52 am

    I’m curious about mass graves, probably outside the old city walls somewhere– there must be many thousands of skeletal remains to be unearthed but I haven’t heard much about such excavations. All or most of those remains should show signs of the sort of bone trauma that you would expect from crucifixions. I wish I could remember where I read this but I was under the impression that Jews executed either by stoning or by hanging by the neck, from a “tree”. In some sources the cross seems to be confused with a tree or vice-versa. Are references to a tree to be taken as actually referring to a literal tree, or a gallows, or a cross?? Probably not a clothes tree…

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:38 pm

      Well, since a cross was made from wood it could be called a tree. But Roman crucifixion was very different from Israelite practice of sometimes hanging the corpse of a disgraced person on a tree.

  5. donrowlett April 23, 2022 at 11:56 am

    Hi Dr Ehrman,

    (off topic)

    I donated a gold blog membership to someone, and they refuse to read it. Is it possible to transfer the remaining months to a different person with a different email address?

    Thanks again for the amazing scholarship!

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:38 pm

      Sure! Just click help and send a note to support.

  6. DoubtingTom April 23, 2022 at 12:28 pm

    I just read Josephus’ account that Prof Ehrman provided a link to. Neither the Idumeans nor the Zealot sect already in Jerusalem had any qualms about leaving Jews unburied regardless of how they died. According to Josephus they intentionally left those they killed by any means unburied. This occurred only 40 years after Jesus death. I don’t see how Jews would have been so scrupulous about Jesus’ body

  7. RM April 23, 2022 at 12:46 pm

    This, combined with the empty tomb story being a trope of stories where an individual is deified and Paul only being able to point to visions convinces me the empty tomb story is just fake.

    But this also means, remarkably that within 40 years people are inventing full on fabricated aspects of the story in order to justify their theological creed. Paul merely interprets his vision his own way-whoever is inventing this story is doing it do justify their version of God and their understanding of the purpose of the messiah. Also the claim women wouldn’t have invented the story is bunk like you say-plenty of reason for them to do so and find appealing a movement where they can have some significance and purpose. Theyd have EVERY REASON to like, fabricate and invent that kind of a story.

    So this early, whether its interpreting dreams or just fabricating stories Jesus is a kind of fabulists dream. Ever since then people have been interpreting their visions or just making things up to have the Jesus of their preference. He is the world’s singular most malleable character!!! 2000 years if this and it was up and running in the first 40.

  8. TomTerrific April 23, 2022 at 1:22 pm

    Why is it traditional to depict Jesus nailed to the cross and the two criminals tied to their crosses?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:42 pm

      It’s to show that Jesus suffered *more*.

  9. wpoe54 April 23, 2022 at 6:13 pm

    If the Romans had any understanding of what Jesus’s followers believed, it wouldn’t make sense for the authorities to allow Jesus’s body to be taken down and buried with reverence in a tomb that could become a place of pilgrimage, which is likely what the tomb would have become even if no claims of resurrection had surfaced.

    But aren’t the stories of the empty tomb independently verified, though with variations? The history of Roman crucifixion practices aside, is there less reason to believe the empty tomb stories (for whatever reason it was empty) than stories about the last supper, for instance, or the trial?

    I’ve read theories that, assuming the empty tomb stories had some truth to them, it was the Jewish authorities who took the body exactly to keep the tomb from becoming a shrine – a plan that backfired spectacularly. I don’t put much stock in the idea, but it highlights the fact that neither the Romans nor the Jews had good reason to allow the body to be taken down.

  10. brenmcg April 23, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    In Antiquities Book 20 ch 5 Josephus tells of a roman soldier who when plundering a Jewish village tore up a copy of the law of Moses. And that when a Jewish delegation demanded Cumanas the governor punish the soldier he ordered him to be beheaded for fear of sedition.

    In Book 19 ch5 he tells us Claudius ordered that the Jews should be allowed to keep their ancient customs and to keep their own laws only.

    And in Book 20 says James the brother of Jesus was executed on the order of the High Priest and against the wishes of the Romans who subsequently removed the high priest from office.

    Don’t the new testament passion and burial accounts therefore fit excellently with Josephus’ version of 1st century Jewish/Roman relations?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:44 pm

      You may want to read more Josephus.

      • brenmcg April 25, 2022 at 8:23 am

        The NT tells us the chief priests demanded Pilate execute Jesus, and he conceded in order to avoid an insurrection. If Josephus tells us a previous governor did the same to a Roman soldier they’d certainly do it to Jesus.
        Josephus tells us the chief priests wanted to kill James and not the Roman rulers. In excellent agreement with the NT.
        He tells us the Jews were allowed keep their customs – can’t we conclude they would be allowed take someone down from the cross to be buried before nightfall? especially if the Romans never wanted to kill him in the first place?

        • BDEhrman April 26, 2022 at 3:56 pm

          You may want to look up my discussoin of the Josephus passage in the blog (do a word search for Josephus); he isn’t saying what you may be thinking he is….

          • brenmcg April 26, 2022 at 5:29 pm

            Which Josephus passage? about James the brother of christ? I can’t find it in a word search.

            Is he not saying Ananus took advantage of a temporary break in Roman rule to form a sanhedrin of judges and have convict and execute James as a breaker of the law, and that when the Romans found out they removed Ananus from power?

          • BDEhrman April 28, 2022 at 5:41 pm

            The one you quoted. I deal with the problems with Josephus’s claims that Jews were allowed to bury crucified victims before sundown.

          • brenmcg April 30, 2022 at 8:48 am

            In antiquities 19, Josephus has Claudius order “It will therefore be fit to permit the Jews, who are in all the world under us, to keep their ancient customs, without being hindered so to do. And I do now charge them also to use this my kindness to them with moderation; and not to shew a contempt of the superstitious observances of other nations, but to keep their own laws only.”
            This seems to be about all religious laws and customs. He also says Claudius was reinstating these rights they had had since Augustus and that it was Caligula who removed them. So it would have been this way under Tiberius also.

            If the Jews understood Jesus as being executed at their request for blasphemy wouldn’t they have wanted and been allowed to remove the body for burial before sundown?

          • BDEhrman April 30, 2022 at 1:50 pm

            They would have wanted to and no they would not have been allowed to. Claudius is not referring to customs of removing the bodies of crucified victims from their crosses; he is referring to their practices of worship and their oddities, including the rather acute issue of refusing to worship the Roman gods.

          • brenmcg May 1, 2022 at 7:25 am

            I think Claudius’s letter seems to be a general edict on religious freedom. All other nations have the same freedom and Caligula was told it was only the Jews who refused to put up a statue to him in their temple.

  11. JKS April 23, 2022 at 9:38 pm

    To the best of my knowledge, Dr Bart, there is a similar crucifixion issue u have never addressed. It is my understanding that to maximize the humiliation, the Roman crucifixion victim was always crucified nude. With the exception of Michelangelo, Jesus is always depicted crucified wearing a loin cloth. Some Christian scholars claim that in deference to Jewish sensibilities concerning public nudity, the Romans always used loincloths when crucifying in Israel. But these Christian scholars never cite any evidence for their claim. Dr Bart, do u have any thoughts or evidence as to whether the Romans acquiesced to Jewish nudity concerns when crucifying in Israel?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:48 pm

      Nothing ever suggests they did.

  12. JesusChristDivided April 24, 2022 at 12:45 am

    So, why did the Nazarenes lie? If Jesus hung on the cross over the Sabbath and feast, surely people noticed. Would not the miracle of rising from the dead after a week of decomposition and animals feeding be even more impressive? Why did the Nazarenes lie?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:49 pm

      Rumors are never lies. They ust start.

      • JesusChristDivided April 25, 2022 at 4:26 pm

        Ouch! Well, that is highly suggestive that you don’t think any Gospel material is reliable. I have read most of your books, but I don’t recall such a bold statement. Do you cover this in “Jesus Before the Gospels”? Or, “Misquoting Jesus”?

        Thank you

        • JesusChristDivided April 26, 2022 at 3:17 pm

          I just want to add that I have some strong evidence that Jesus survived the Crucifixion.

        • BDEhrman April 26, 2022 at 4:02 pm

          ?? I do think there is reliable material in the Gospels though. I’ve talked about that repeatedly in my books and on the blog. Why do you think I’m saying otherwise? (You asked why someone would lie about the body and I said that rumors do not require lies; I wasn’t making a comment on whether anything in the Gospels actually ahppened.)

          • JesusChristDivided April 27, 2022 at 11:22 am

            Well, I respect your genius, but this argument, which denies that the Nazarenes knew how long Jesus was on the cross, suggested that you had come to a new opinion. It is not credible that Jesus rotted for a week in full view, but people inadvertently started a rumor that Jesus was only on the cross for seven hours. If Jesus was still being crucified, the facts were hanging out there, literally. Also, “man dies by crucifixion” is not an interesting headline nor a basis for religion.

            There are many hints in source materials that the Crucifixion was a staged event. Jesus suffered certainly and faced a serious risk of actually dying, according to our modern understanding, but events were manipulated to give him a high probability of survival. He did survive, at least one of his followers said so, and this version of the story ended up in Revelation and the Qur’an.

          • BDEhrman April 28, 2022 at 6:13 pm

            Who started the rumors? Where were they at the time? How long after the fact?

        • AngeloB April 26, 2022 at 5:37 pm

          Watch the latest debate between Bart and the Catholic apologist Akin on YouTube. Akin goes through point by point where Bart agrees with the Gospels.

  13. Apocryphile April 24, 2022 at 1:40 am

    I get what you’re saying, I’m just wondering how the legend of the empty tomb could have developed in the relatively short span of 40 years from when Jesus was crucified to when the Gospel of Mark was written ca 70 CE? Do you think where Mark may have been written was at a far enough remove from Jerusalem and the actual events that transpired there around the year 30 for there to have been time and space enough for this (ostensibly) unlikely tomb legend to have developed out of whole cloth?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:50 pm

      Not sure what you mean about the relatibvely short span of 40 years? Rumors start overnight, even in our day and age when we can actually CHECK. And even checking doesn’t stop them. We have tons of rumors from the ancient world about miraculous events (say in Roman and Greek circles at the time) that no one thinks are historically right but that started right away, not decades later.

      • Apocryphile April 25, 2022 at 1:00 am

        Sure, I just meant that if Jesus were indeed simply left on the cross and not buried, wouldn’t anyone among his followers have remembered that fact? I can see how the rumor/legend of his resurrection could easily have come about if someone found his tomb empty, but that sort of presupposes a general belief that he was laid in a tomb to begin with. If the facts on the ground were that he was not buried, it’s hard for me to see how this legend could have taken off with such alacrity among his immediate followers, who knew better.

        • BDEhrman April 26, 2022 at 3:49 pm

          I think that Mark and Matthew are probably right that hte disciples did not stay in Jerusalem but got out of town, a day before planned, once Jesus was arrested. Possibly with some urgency. So I don’t think they were there for the crucifixion and burial.

  14. geomir April 24, 2022 at 3:40 am

    Sorry for writing off topic!
    Is it true that the trip to Croatia, to Split and Dubrovnik has been canceled again?
    The post of that trip disappeared from the blog ???
    What is the reason?
    Maybe for the third time I will be more lucky ??? !!!

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:51 pm

      Yup, they canned it. Couldn’t get people to sign up, especially just now.

  15. Middlesworth April 24, 2022 at 8:23 am

    Wouldn’t “crucifixion victim” be the right term? As I see it, “crucified victim” implies a victim of something who happened also to get crucified, while “crucifixion victim” means “victim of crucifixion.” After all, we say “murder victim” rather than “murdered victim,” “snake-bite victim” rather than “snake-bitten victim.”

  16. thelad2 April 24, 2022 at 9:21 am

    Hello, Bart. A related question: If Jews gave proper burials to victims of Roman crucifixion before sundown, why is it that a group of Jesus’s female followers waited three days (according to the Synoptics) to clean and prepare the body? Wouldn’t that need to be done before the burial? Thanks.

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:52 pm

      In the Gospels it’s because the sun was setting and they couldn’t do it on Friday night (since that’s the beginning of Sabbath)

    • Celsus April 25, 2022 at 9:03 am

      The Greek word translated as “crucified” also had the connotation of to just “suspend.” When the Jewish authorities executed people for religious crimes by stoning, they “suspended” the dead body on display until sundown. It seems most interpreters just automatically think Josephus must be referring to *Roman crucifixion* but notice how there is no mention of Romans in the passage at all. To be fair, Josephus does use the same word when referring to Roman crucifixion but the fact that Josephus is not specific in the passage plus the citation of Deuteronomy seems to make a reference to a post mortem suspension by the Jews at least an equally likely reading.

      I also don’t think enough attention has been paid to the fact that most likely Jewish crucifixion victims would already have designated graves prepared. Since burial was the utmost importance and crucifixion was a regular occurrence, it seems that some system would be in place to take care of burial rather than a wealthy member of the Sanhedrin needing to provide his own family tomb.

  17. KevinK April 24, 2022 at 10:53 am

    One contextual question that I have is did Rome allow special dispensation for Jewish practice and rituals relative to other cultures that were under Roman rule? I know they liked that Judaism was ancient and perhaps this moved them to make special exceptions for the religion and practices perhaps?

    • BDEhrman April 24, 2022 at 8:53 pm

      Yes, for some things. Never for sedition and insurrectdion, but for not having to worship Roman gods e.g.

  18. Stephen April 24, 2022 at 4:51 pm

    In her recent book GOD: An Anatomy, Francesca Stravrakopolou, a Hebrew Bible scholar who researches and teaches at the University of Exeter, UK, has a picture of a First century inscription from the Temple Mount warning in Greek, “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and forecourt around the sacred precinct. Whoever is caught will himself be responsible for his consequent death”. For me this raises the question of what actual capital powers the Temple authorities possessed. Could they actually execute some foreigner who violated access prohibitions?

    I’ve always heard that the Jews could not execute offenders so this is why Jesus was turned over to the Romans. But we have the account in Josephus of the death of James and the account in Acts of the death of Stephen, as well as the inscription quoted above. So what is the current thinking among historians of the period? If the authorities wanted Jesus to be executed would they have had to turn him over to the Romans?


    ps : Prof Stavrakapolou’s book is terrific by the way.

    • BDEhrman April 26, 2022 at 3:36 pm

      Yes, that’s a famous inscription/warning. I don’t think we have any record of it being enforced, so it’s hard to know what they woudl have done had it been violated. And yes, Romans did not allow Jewish authorities to execute criminals. That’s not to say mobs couldn’t, and that’s what’s happening with James and Stephen.

  19. Podesta April 25, 2022 at 6:44 am

    Thanks Dr Ehrman; – Bart.

    This has been an interesting and helpful read.

    Best regards.

  20. mini1071 April 26, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Professor, a related aspect of the Gospel story I (and perhaps others) would like your thoughts on is the likely historicity of the “triumphal entry into Jerusalem” . That seems important in setting the context to the crucifixion.
    Was he the popular messiah nominee arriving in glory through the golden gate known to many citizens of Jerusalem who would be around after the crucifixion and interested in his outcome?
    Or, was he a Galilean hillbilly who shot his mouth off about being Gods anointed who was summarily disposed of by the Romans… and just another crucified Jew nobody paid attention to? Seems the triumphal entry may have been a literary device to turn the latter into the former…

    • BDEhrman April 28, 2022 at 5:30 pm

      I don’t think the Triumphal Entry can be historical. I discuss this at length in my book Jesus Before the Gospels. The Roman governor came into the city on this occasion with troops, stationed at hot points, precisely to prevent any kind of crowd incident like this. If it had happened, Jesus would have been arrested on the spot.

  21. Brittonp April 26, 2022 at 11:25 am

    Assuming Jesus was crucified for an act of sedition, and knowing he had disciples. It does not appear there was any significant effort given to capturing his disciples. What does this suggest about threat the authorities believed Jesus and his disciples presented? Could it be the authorities / Pilate didn’t take Jesus as serious threat instead of just a foolish man they would make an example of? Might this make it more likely Jesus’ body be released?

    • BDEhrman April 28, 2022 at 5:37 pm

      They appear to have gone only after the leader. They did that sometimes, if the others didn’t seem like they were any kind of threat (e.g., in the case of John the Baptist)

  22. RandyRoss April 27, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    I have thought the burial of Jesus more likely, because: (1) the Gospels were written for an audience in the Roman Empire who presumably were familiar with the practices surrounding crucifixion – more familiar than we are – and the writers would not include such a basic “fact” as Jesus’ burial if everyone knew that this sort of thing simply never happened;
    (2) Matthew 28:11-15 tries to counter the story, “still told among the Jews to this day,” that Jesus’ disciples had snuck in and stolen his body. If the stronger argument from Matthew’s Jewish contemporaries had been as you say — that Jesus could not have been raised from the tomb because his body was never placed in it, but was left to rot — would not that have been the story that Matthew had to counter?
    (3) Also, the “empty tomb” stories seem so central to the resurrection accounts – but why bother with the tomb at all, if that never happened, since the real miracle for them is not a missing body but the resurrected Jesus?

    • BDEhrman April 28, 2022 at 6:19 pm

      1. 80-90 % of the empire lived in rural areas and had never seen a crucifixion; Most people (including Jesus and his followres) almost certainly had never even seen a Roman soldier! 2. Yes, 50-55 years later some Jews knew that Xns were saying Jesus was raised and his tomb was empty, and then came up with a counter narrative; 3. the empty tomb stories functioned as an additional *proof* for the resurrection, just as today.

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