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Crucified Bodies and Scavengers

As I have indicated in earlier posts, some years ago now, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, one of the leading scholars today discussing the historical Jesus, made the argument that rather than being properly buried, Jesus’ body may have been eaten by scavenging dogs. You can see his discussion in his popular book, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. (Crossan does not believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead; but he does consider himself to be a Christian.)

At the time I thought that it was an outrageous view, and that Jesus was almost certainly buried by Joseph of Arimathea immediately upon his death. In some of my posts I have raised some reasons for doubting the Joseph of Arimathea tradition. Recently I finally got around to doing some actual research on the question. It turns out that it was widely known and accepted in antiquity that to be crucified meant to be food for scavengers. This was part of the torture (while living) and humiliation (after death). The crucified person was unable to move hands or feet, obviously. I used to think how awful that might be not to be able to brush flies off one’s face. But that’s not the beginning of it. What can you do if a crow goes for your eye? Or for your bleeding wounds (from being flogged)? Not a damn thing.

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Decent Burials for Crucified Victims
Women Who Did Not Doubt the Resurrection



  1. Avatar
    tcc  October 20, 2012

    So, basically, Jesus likely never got a proper burial, and was either thrown into a body pile or was eaten by vultures or other animals?

    Holy crap, no wonder his friends were grief stricken. That’s a friggin’ terrible way to die. I’ve got a lot of problems with Christianity, but I can’t help but sympathize with these ancient people who had to go through shit like this–and having a leader who you admired so much die in such a way makes the vision of the resurrection make a lot of sense, from a psychological perspective.

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    jimmo  October 20, 2012

    When you read Hengel, Lüdemann, Theißen, etc., I am curious whether you read the original or an English translation.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 21, 2012

      I read them in English whenever a translation is available! For this current book, virtually everything I need is in English. For hard scholarship — like my book on Forgery and Counterforgery [to be published in just about a month now!] — there is simply no way getting around reading German.

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        DPeel  October 22, 2012

        Will Forgery and Counterforgery be for the general audience? When is the publication date?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 22, 2012

          It’s written for scholars, but parts of it will be accessible for other readers. In a few of my posts on the blog I’ve talked about the book and given some previews, and a number of people have commented that they didn’t understand why I kept stressing that it was for scholars, when it seemed all right to them!

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    maxhirez  October 20, 2012

    Related to the imagery of the first paragraph I have to recommend the movie “The Mill and The Cross” which is actually about the making of the Brughell the Elder painting “The Procession to Calvary.” It is incredibly beautifully shot and is a fascinating look into Flemish history, Christianity, a slice of art history and Spanish subjugation. Also it’s on Netflix streaming right now so it’s practically free. The scenes of “crucifixion” are rather graphic, including but not limited to the crows going for the eyeballs.

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    Yentyl  October 20, 2012


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    FinixAgnostic  October 20, 2012

    Eh, Scavengers… It Happens..

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    Adam  October 21, 2012

    So would it be right to say you think story of the empty tomb is completely unhistorical?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 21, 2012

      No, I would say that it is not a certain “fact” that Jesus was given a decent burial and that hte tomb must have been empty (as Christian apologists love to claim).

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