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Did Romans Allow Jews to Bury Crucified Victims? Readers’ Mailbag 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:

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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?

RESPONSE:

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:

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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: http://sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/war-4.htm

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:

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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, if Josephus’s statement *was* 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, run-away-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.


Can Historians Be Neutral?
Are There Cut-and-Paste Jobs in the New Testament? The Case of 2 Corinthians

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Comments

  1. RonaldTaska  January 1, 2018

    There is a lot here, but, as usual for the debater that you are, you compile quite a list of evidence. Thanks.




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  2. wostraub  January 1, 2018

    Bart, is there any modern archaeological evidence of the mass burials of crucifixion victims? You note that once taken down the bodies were typically dumped into a mass grave. This certainly must have been the fate of thousands of Jews crucified outside the Temple walls during fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      No, none of these sites has been uncovered. Archaeologists have found only one set of skeletal remains of a crucified person, and it was in an ossuary (= bone box).




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      • Lev
        Lev  January 2, 2018

        In that case, where is the evidence that the Romans disposed of the remains of bodies in mass graves/burial pits?

        Does Josephus or other ancient authorities mention this method of burial by Romans authorities? Perhaps even in Rome or other cities governed by the Romans?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          I’m not sure if he does. Often Gehenna is mentioned as a place of mass disposal, but I’m not sure if it has ever been excavated.




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          • Lev
            Lev  January 3, 2018

            Do I recall correctly that Peter and Paul’s bodies were handed over after execution, and allowed to be buried?

            I can’t place it now, but I seem to remember reading that their bones (I think they were described as trophies) were accessible to view in the catacombs of Rome in ancient times.

            If true, doesn’t this mean that even tyrants like Nero (or his underlings) handed over the bodies of executed Jews for decent burials? In Peter’s case, he was blamed for torching the capital city – and other than assassinating the Emperor, I can’t think of many worse crimes he could have been executed for.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2018

            No, we don’t have any information about their corpses.




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          • Lev
            Lev  January 5, 2018

            I’ve managed to locate the quote:

            “But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church.” Caius, Presbyter of Rome c200, quoted by Eusebius, Church History, Bk 2, ch 25.

            Eusebius adds “This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.” ibid

            Does this not show that the church was able to recover the corpses of Peter and Paul, and give them a proper burial?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 7, 2018

            No, it shows that in the fourth century that is what people were claiming. If they could recover the corpses — why don’t we have them?




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          • Lev
            Lev  January 7, 2018

            Fourth-century claims? Cauis was a second-century figure who had seen the remains himself and identifies where they can be found.

            “If they could recover the corpses — why don’t we have them?” We do.

            Remains of Peter: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/24/vatican-st-peters-bones-display-pope-francis

            Remains of Paul: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/5685157/Bone-fragments-confirmed-to-be-Saint-Paul.html




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 8, 2018

            I’m afraid there’s no way we have the remains of Peter or Paul. Whom do you imagine saved them?




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          • Lev
            Lev  January 8, 2018

            “I’m afraid there’s no way we have the remains of Peter or Paul.”

            The Vatican seems pretty sure we do have the remains and they are always very cautious over making such claims. Anthropologists who have studied the bones recovered from St Peter’s tomb concluded that they belonged to a man, between 60 and 70 years of age; about 5 feet, 7 inches tall; and of robust constitution. The Vatican hasn’t permitted the sarcophagus of St Paul to be opened, but a tiny hole was drilled and a fragment of bone was removed for carbon 14 testing. It confirmed that the bones belonged to someone who lived in the 1st or 2nd-century. Pope Benedict and Francis have concluded these are the remains of Peter and Paul.

            “Whom do you imagine saved them?”

            I imagine that their remains were saved by friends of theirs. Paul greets several influential Christians in his epistle to the Romans, specifically those in the households of Aristobulus (the grandson of Herod the Great and brother of Herod Agrippa I) and Narcissus (Tiberius Claudius Narcissus, a wealthy freedman of the Roman emperor Tiberius), and Herodion (a freedman from the household of the Herods). It seems that there were influential Christians in the Church in Rome who, like Joseph of Arimathea, were able to petition those in power in order to take possession of the corpses of Peter and Paul.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 9, 2018

            I think the problem is imagining a scenario in, say, the persecution of Christians by Nero for the fire in Rome, in which friends of Peter or Paul could have made a request of the emperor who would have then given to them the bodies of their beloved departed. I don’t know of any analogy to that to make it plausible.




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      • Robert  January 2, 2018

        In addition to this poor crucified Yehohanan that you are referring to, it was thought in the 70s that some of the crucified remains of Mattathiah Antigonus II, the last king of the Hasmonean dynasty, had also been found in an elaborate ossuary. This identification fell out of favor with the analysis of Patricia Smith, who thought the remains might be those of a woman and she did not think that the nail passed through the bones of the hand. In part, because of newer electron microscope evidence that apparently shows that the nail did indeed pierce the bones of the hand, Yoel Elitzur, Israel Hershkovitz, and James Tabor have returned to the initial identification of Antigonus II. At any rate, it might indeed be the archeological remains of a second crucified person whose bones were later deposited in an ossuary.

        https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/.premium-1.587977

        https://jamestabor.com/the-abba-cave-crucifixion-nails-and-the-last-hasmonean-king/

        http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/spring-2016/article/a-crucified-king-of-the-jews-found-in-a-jerusalem-tomb1




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        There’s no doubt thousands of Jews were crucified on locations adjacent to Jerusalem, and there is no way the bodies could have been buried individually. Many archeological digs have been done in and around the city. Have you any idea why no remains have been found? Oops, the next post asks the same question.




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  3. talmoore
    talmoore  January 1, 2018

    I think it’s important to distinguish two different events here: 1) taking down a dead body before sunset, and 2) giving the body a “decent” burial.

    Over Christmas CNN was running their Finding Jesus series. I was watching the Shroud of Turin episode and I noticed something about their dramatization of Joseph of Arimathea before Pilate. Joseph was not specifically requesting that Jesus’ corpse be taken down from the cross. It was kind of taken for granted that Jesus’ remains would be taken down. Joseph was only requesting the body itself, so that he could give it a decent burial. And Pilate wasn’t asking Joseph why he should take down the body, but said Joseph could only have it if Jesus was really dead. So that got me thinking. I went to the gospel accounts themselves to see what they say.

    Mark 15:42-46 — 42 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 bought a linen cloth, and taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth, and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock.

    Matthew 27:57-60 — 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

    Luke 23:50-53 — 50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph, who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid.

    John 19:38-42 — 38 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.

    Sure enough, none of the gospel accounts shows the removal of the body to be an issue. Indeed, the only real issue seemed to be how a Galilean peasant could receive a proper burial in Jerusalem, and the gospel’s resolve that issue by bringing in Joseph. Now, one would think that if critics of Christianity would question how a nobody like Jesus could get a decent burial (prompting the introduction of Joseph to answer those critics), that those very same critics wouldn’t also question why Pilate would so readily let a crucified corpse be taken down, seemingly without issue, if it goes against everything everyone knew about the Romans and crucifixion at the time. That is, one would think that the gospel writers would need to explain that inconsistancy in their narrative, as well, ostensibly with a simple reference to Deuteronomy 21:23. But none of the gospel writers seemed to feel the need to explain themselves, which suggests that none of their critics took issue with it.

    So to recap:
    Remove the remains before sundown? No issue.
    Give the remains a decent burial? We have an issue.

    To me this strongly suggests the taking down of Jesus’ body is historically plausible, maybe even likely, considering factors I’ve brought up before on the blog (viz. the Levites’ fear of human remains finding their way into the city and defiling the Temple). But, also, that Jesus’ body receiving a decent burial was just implausible enough that Christians had to bring in a side character, a wealth benefactor who could donate a tomb within which Jesus’ remain would be laid.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      My strong sense is that Levites’ fears would have no persuasive power for Pilate or his troops.




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      • talmoore
        talmoore  January 2, 2018

        Yeah, I don’t know about that. Pilate may have been ruthless, but I can’t imagine he was that foolish.

        Let’s say that as many as half a million people were in and around Jerusalem at the height of the Passover festival (that would be about a quarter of what Josephus says), which I don’t think is that unrealistic. If Pilate’s intention was to prevent a disturbance or a riot, why would he purposely insult both the religious authorities running the festival and those Jews clearly zealous enough to make the pilgrimage? That would be like trying to prevent a tiger from attacking you by prodding it with a stick. It’s an unnecessary provocation.

        No, the more I read and research and think about history and human nature, the more reasonable it appears to me that Pilate would try to be reasonable during such a volatile time. If you add these several considerations together — the gospel writers not feeling the need to explain why Pilate would let Jesus’ remains be taken down, the priests and Levites concern over human remains contaminating the Temple, Pilate’s need to not unnecessarily incite the crowds by being blatantly disrespectful of their religion — that, to me, suggests that that part of the narrative is not only plausible, but probably historical. I would go so far as to say that during times of peace the norm was to remove the remains of those crucified in and around Jerusalem before sunset. All year. Every year. That’s why critics never felt the need to question that part (one would think Celsus would have brought it up). That’s why the gospel writers didn’t feel the need to answer that criticism (note Justin Martyr’s Trypho doesn’t seem overly concerned with it). Because it was already assumed to be reasonable.

        Now, the really unreasonable part is the decent burial. That’s why the gospel writers had to go through the whole spiel about Joseph of Arimathea. That’s the part that the audience and critics found hard to believe. That’s why that part is of questionable plausibility and historicity.




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        As you know, Bart, Josephus recounts a tale in which he, himself, was given the unusual privilege of taking down a couple of crucified friends of his, one of whom survived.This was at a later time and under a different Roman hierarchy; do you think it actually happened?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 22, 2018

          Yup. It was a *completely* different situation (both the historical context and Josephus himself)




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    • Tony  January 2, 2018

      1) Mark is the sole source for Joseph of Arimathea. The other three just copy.

      2) Mark uses two sources for Joseph. The first is a fictive recreation of Priam, who in Homer seeks the body of Hector.
      The second is Gen:4-6, where Joseph the Patriarch ask Pharaoh for permission to bury Jacob (Israel).

      3) Arimathea. is an invented name: in Greek: ari is best, math is teaching/doctrine, aia is place. So, Best Doctrine Town.

      4) Never watch the CNN finding Jesus stuff. It is mind boggling stupid fantasy. Fake news… Happy new year.




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        This guy is really a prize. I’m sure Mark was well acquainted with the works of Homer, which he studied while enrolled in Hebrew University.




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  4. Seeker1952  January 1, 2018

    I personally have a lot of trouble being objective about issues like this. It does seem inherently unlikely that the Romans would have any concern at all about the burial of a crucified man, much less one crucified for political reasons and especially if there were a large number of other crucifixions that same day. On the other hand, Jesus’s burial is, if not crucial, at least extremely important for Christian belief. It leads to the empty tomb which in turn is thought to be a major support for the resurrection’s historicity.

    I have trouble separating what I want to be true (or what’s consistent with my current beliefs)–from a religious (or non-religious) standpoint– from what the evidence indicates. And then I start arguing against my own biases which further complicates things and leaves me undecided.

    Do you have any suggestions for how to be objective regarding issues like this? Maybe it would help to first figure out where the burden of proof should be. Does historicity demand something like clear and convincing evidence that something happened–so that any significant doubts require rejection of the supposed incident? Or just that one thing is more likely to have happened than another?

    If nothing else it shows how difficult–and possibly unreasonable–it is for faith to depend so much on history. At best maybe history can only keep something-that’s critical for faith-from being clearly unreasonable.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      I think I’ll post on that. Short story: best way to be objective is to imagine you are someone who takes the other point of view and dream up teh best arguments you can think for it. And yes, history is always a matter of what is more probable; and whoever makes an assertion bears teh burden of proof.




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  5. Telling
    Telling  January 1, 2018

    When it comes down to the important question, it is not whether Jesus was buried, or even crucified, but is, rather, how we are to obtain the promise of eternal life.

    Yet, some of my Christian friends have said if there is no Resurrection there is no Christianity, We’re thus talking very high stakes, for the Christian.

    I would like to now introduce the Gnostic god Abraxas, who is greater than the Christian god. Abraxas is both good and evil, differentiating him from the lower Christian god who is “all good” and is thus incomplete..

    As per the Crucifixion, Abraxas is the crucifier and the crucified, the mighty and the weak, the oppressor and the condemned. In nature this is paramount, the stalker and the prey are Abraxas who commands the very narrative from which life is revealed..

    The rooster is the symbol of Abraxas who crows out at break of day ushering in the beginning of a new world. When the cock crows after Peter’s three-times denial of the three men crucified, Abraxas is ushering in such new era, revealed as the three-dimensional spatial reality on the heels of the previous formless night.

    The Crucifixion thus holds a a very different significance under this greater God and is not fundamental to our salvation. But the rooster is!

    As an historian this may be outside your area of research, but I’m wondering if you have any ideas or thought,s about the link between the rooster and Gnosticism.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      Not really. But here’s a bit of trivia for you. If you add up the numerical equivalences of the name Abrasax in Greek, it comes to 365. Go figure.




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      • dankoh  January 2, 2018

        Does that mean those born on Feb. 29th are condemned to Limbo?




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      • Telling
        Telling  January 3, 2018

        I see that our different spellings have to do with the Greek and Latin versions.

        Might the name Abrasax have been back-engineered so that it adds up to the right numbers in advance?




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  6. Lev
    Lev  January 1, 2018

    Really interesting – thank you, Bart.

    I understand that Romans allowed nations they conquered to continue some of their customs, and one such custom was the Jewish ban on images of humans in Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate minted coins in Jerusalem in AD 29, 30, and 31, and I’m told that Caesar’s image does not appear on any of them, but they do appear on Roman coins outside Jerusalem.

    Could Pilate have conceded over burial rights also? Granted this may not extend to those accused of treason, but as Pilate did permit some local customs, does this not open up sufficient space for Josephus’ claim over burial rights to be taken seriously?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      I think I’ll add this to the readers’ mailbag. My view is that there’s no way Pilate would have done this. Everything we know about him points in precisely the opposite direction.




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      • Wilusa  January 2, 2018

        Frankly, I can’t help thinking Pilate didn’t give a hoot about any of this! It wasn’t as if Jesus had been a thorn in his side for some time, as John the Baptist had with Herod Antipas. Jesus was a nobody, whom Pilate had probably never heard of before that day. “He’s been calling himself the future King of the Jews? OK, crucify him.” Pilate signed off on the order, then never thought about it again. He was probably thinking more about when he could get out of Jerusalem, and back to Caesarea!

        Given that, I think it’s very possible that anyone who wanted Jesus’s body could have claimed it – possibly, with a small bribe to a guard. I’m not saying that *did* happen. But I don’t see a reason why it couldn’t.




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        Pilate was a sleazebag. It seems possible to me that he would have taken a bribe–if Joseph A offered one, but the gospel guys probably wouldn’t have wanted to include that fact.




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      • zdutra00  March 4, 2018

        Hi Bart,

        If Pontious Pilot did “wash his hands from the innocent blood of Christ”, would that mean perhaps they Jesus wasn’t being crucified for being a political threat to Rome? Was the hand washing part maybe not accurate? Thanks for all you do! – JD




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        • Bart
          Bart  March 5, 2018

          YEs, that’s what Matthew’s trying to say. It’s important to notice that none of the other Gospels has this event, which makes most critical scholars suspect that it’s a Matthean invention.




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  7. Pattylt  January 1, 2018

    The crucifiction problems leads me to have a question about the Romans and the empty tomb story. One thing that has always seemed so fantastical about the empty tomb story is, “where are the Romans”? As the empty tomb story was told and spread wouldn’t the Romans have sent soldiers out looking for an escaped prisoner? Wouldn’t Christians have been questioned for aiding and abetting or grave robbing (a serious offense to Romans). From the Roman point of view Jesus was a condemned criminal and if he was supposedly now walking around again would not everyone associated with him or anyone claiming to have seen him also have been taken into custody including women? Joseph of Arimathea would have been 1st on the list yet he completely disappears from the story. No one in Acts even seems to know about an empty tomb. The likelihood of the Gospels and Acts to completely ignore what would have really happened if an empty tomb story began shortly after Jesus’ death tends to make me think there wasn’t an empty tomb story until later. The Christians at Jesus’ execution knew where the body was and it wasn’t walking around Jerusalem. Your thoughts, please?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      Interesting points!




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        Sure, but I propose Pilate doing this very thing in my historical novel, “The Murdered Messiah.”




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  8. dankoh  January 1, 2018

    How do you deal with the question that Fredriksen raises, that no one else was arrested with Jesus, as she thinks would have been the case had the Romans been seriously concerned with sedition? (I also have to wonder why no one arrested the apostle – Peter? – who cut off a soldier’s ear during Jesus’s arrest, surely a crime the Romans would not have overlooked.)




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      We have other instances in which a leader was taken but his followers not — John the Baptist, for example.




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      • dankoh  January 2, 2018

        Yes, that is a good point. But why wasn’t Simon Peter arrested for attacking a slave with a sword in the presence of the Roman soldiers? (John 18:10).




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          That’s why I think the story of the swords in the garden is a later legend. I deal with this in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.




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          • godspell  January 12, 2018

            The idea seems to have been they buy swords, and never use them. It was clearly difficult and expensive for most civilians to obtain deadly weapons back then (let it not be said the ancient world was inferior to ours in all respects).

            Jesus sees maybe two swords and said “This will suffice.” So unless he thought he could multiply them like loaves and fishes, he never meant for any violence at all to take place–but it was important, symbolically, for them to have swords, so they could put them aside.

            John finds this unsatisfying–the sword should be used (how can you just let him be taken away without doing anything?) but then Jesus can prove his superiority by telling Peter to put the sword aside, then healing the wounded man. John’s Jesus is always in complete control of every situation.

            Who knows if they actually got any swords at all, but we see enough versions of this story to think it’s a memory, not a complete invention–Jesus sometimes talked about how he’d come to bring a sword. If you want, you can use this to try and prove Jesus was really a zealot who tried to foment rebellion. (And sell a lot of books.) But my sense is that Jesus just wanted a few swords, to prove they could have fought back, and didn’t.

            It’s also provocative for them to have weapons, and without provocation, there’ll be no sacrifice, which is necessary for the Kingdom to come. But Jesus needs for his disciples to live, so they themselves must not engage in any violent act.

            As you say, the tendency was to arrest and execute the leader–decapitate troublesome movements. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Somebody says he’s a prophet or the Messiah. Prophets and Messiahs don’t get killed. So–kill them. Problem solved. God allowed them to die, so they weren’t who they said they were. The movement dissipates. The concept of martyrdom was not well-established in the Roman world. Victory through defeat. You can destroy my body, but not my idea.

            It’s become stronger since then. I wonder how much of that is due to Jesus?




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        It’s interesting that the writer mentions Paula Fredriksen, whom I met and chatted with at the SBL convention in Boston. Paula took my novel, “The Murdered Messiah,” with her to Jerusalem, where she’ll be teaching at the Hebrew University until June.




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    • Rick
      Rick  January 2, 2018

      Wasn’t that a servants (of the high priest’s) ear? It is in John anyway, written 60+ years later…Which brings up a point perhaps… Professor, any impact on potential historicity that the taking down is not mentioned by Paul and all the Gospels were (probably for Mark) after the destruction of Jerusalem well away from anyone who could yell ….. Whatever they would yell about fictions?




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        I don’t think Peter cut off the soldier’s ear, any more than I think the Temple Guard or Roman soldiers would need Judas to point out Jesus. He’d been preaching (teaching?) in the Temple and both Guards and soldiers would have been tracking him and wouldn’t need any help in identifying him.




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  9. Silver  January 1, 2018

    You have written “… is Josephus telling the truth when he says …” You give good reasons for your feeling that he may be mistaken re burying crucifixion victims. However, this raises questions as to whether there are other times when his accounts may be inaccurate. Do you know of other instances when his history may be in doubt? I have read that his dating of Luke’s census may be wrong thus giving credence to his Nativity account. Is there other evidence to support the date of AD6 for Quirinius’ census?
    It seems that Josephus is appealed to frequently in matters relating to the New Testament and so it is concerning that at crucial points he may be suspect.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      Yes, there is no doubt that he is often inaccurate; this can be demonstrated by comparing what he says about the same incidents in Jewish Wars and in Antiquities. On the dating of the census, I don’t really know off hand, but my sense was that there was some archaeological evidence (coins?) to date the governorship of Quirinius.




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  10. Tony  January 1, 2018

    Point 8 paints an interesting scenario, but it implies that Jesus had a self-destructive inclination and was suicidal in his proclamations. Were the Romans really as hard-nosed as that, and would they kill just based on some peasant’s unarmed messianic verbal aspirations?

    Also in the Jewish War, Josephus relates the story of Jesus ben Ananias . This Jesus prophesied (correctly) the destruction of Jerusalem, much to the annoyance of his involuntary audience. The locals complained the the governor, who, after applying enhanced interrogation, found that Jesus ben Ananias was mentally incompetent and released him. The Romans later killed this Jesus by means of a catapulted rock during the Jerusalem siege.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus_ben_Ananias

    The Jewish War was published mid 70’s. About the right time for Mark’s literary creation. Could Jesus ben Ananias have been a source of Mark’s Jesus?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      Short answer: yes indeed.




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      • Tony  January 2, 2018

        Tony: Could Jesus ben Ananias have been a source of Mark’s Jesus?

        Bart: Short answer: yes indeed
        ———————————————-

        You finally saw the light!




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          You asked “could” (!)




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        • talmoore
          talmoore  January 3, 2018

          But if Jesus ben Ananias is an historical person, and Jesus ben Ananias is the “inspiration” for the Jesus of the Gospels, then doesn’t that make the Jesus of the Gospels based on a real life historical person? And, therefore, doesn’t that totally undermine the Mythicists’ claim that Jesus wasn’t an historical figure?




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          • Pattycake1974
            Pattycake1974  January 5, 2018

            Good point




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          • Tony  January 5, 2018

            I never said that the Gospel Jesus is based on Jesus ben Ananias (JbA). I asked the question whether JbA COULD have been A SOURCE, (one of many sources), for Mark’s gospel Jesus. Bart concurred, and scored a “gotcha” because I wrote “could”. In other words, it’s possible – but everything is possible, (probable is another matter).

            Obviously, Mark’s Gospel Jesus and JbA are not one and the same. Josephus JbA probably did exist, Mark’s Gospel Jesus probably did not.




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          • talmoore
            talmoore  January 7, 2018

            So what you’re saying is that “Jesus” could have both existed and not existed at the same time.

            And we’re the ones who are supposed to be confused.




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        This is perhaps the most surprising thing I have ever read on your blog. Mark based his Jesus on this madman? Wow!!




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    • godspell  January 8, 2018

      I see basically no similarity in the stories.

      At all.

      And Paul wrote decades before that.

      And yes, he’s writing about a real person, who has a real brother, and real disciples, who Paul has met. Paul also says Jesus was crucified and then appeared after he was dead, to hundreds of people. Jesus Ben Anaias just died, and nobody saw him afterwards? You know why? PEOPLE WERE RELIEVED NOT TO HAVE TO LISTEN TO HIM ANYMORE.

      So all you’ve proven (that we already knew) is that Jesus wasn’t the only apocalyptic prophet running around Palestine in that era. Or the wackiest.

      Some people just refuse to see the light.




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      • HawksJ  January 11, 2018

        “Paul also says Jesus was crucified and then appeared after he was dead, to hundreds of people.”

        You seem to use this statement as evidence that Paul is reliable, when, in fact, it demonstrates precisely the opposite.

        The fact that he is willing to makes claims like ‘and then to more than 500 at one time’ – an astounding fact attested by nobody else – proves that he makes it up as he goes along.




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  11. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 1, 2018

    I agree that Josephus’s statement was taken out of context, but it’s still odd that no one contested his burial considering all of the other rumors and disagreements circulating about him. No one said he never existed and no one said he wasn’t buried. At least, I haven’t come across it so far or recall reading it on the blog.

    I also tend to believe Josephus knew quite a bit about Jesus and wrote some of the TF. Reason being, he showed an inclination for the supernatural in his writings. When he wrote about visions and the star in the sky, his tone sounds fascinated and excited. What’s more exciting than a miracle-working rabbi who came back from the dead?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      I’m not sure that we *know* what everyone was or wasn’t saying. We have no evidence from the first 40 years apart from Paul.




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      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  January 2, 2018

        My last-ditch effort to prove Jesus was buried in a tomb—maybe:

        Nearly every aspect of Jesus’ life was discussed and nit-picked in the ancient world except for his burial: his birth—normal like everyone else, born of a virgin, bastard due to adultery; his death—died by crucifixion for treason (accidental truth), died due to a false accusation of blasphemy; died because he volunteered himself as a sacrifice; or he only appeared to die because he was a phantasm; his resurrection—his body was stolen; made post mortem appearances while others doubted it or said there was no resurrection of the dead. He was thought to be crazy, demonic, a miracle worker, the son of God, preexistent, a sorcerer, a prophet….

        And then there’s his burial—buried in a tomb purchased by Joseph of Arimathea. And that’s pretty much it. It’s one of the few stories that doesn’t deviate. I see it like his parables and apocalyptic warnings. There’s no real motivation for sticking it in there. He didn’t *need* a decent burial because as Paul said, he was already cursed, what did it matter after that? Paul doesn’t even qualify burial as a necessary component for the messianic prophecy or as he wrote—according to scripture. Mark puts him in a tomb so he can get these three women there so they can figure out he’s raised from the dead so they can then go tell Peter? That’s extremely convoluted. The Gospels made it up because the Jews needed to follow their laws when all of the other major argumentative points (birth, death, & resurrection) made about Jesus’ life had nothing to do with following their laws and everything to do with prophecy, his divinity, and proving he was the messiah. The burial story has no function for any of those things.

        Of all the stories that could have been shown as a blatant lie, Jesus’ burial should have been one of them but was not a point of contention for anyone. Could everyone have really been so oblivious to the apologetic motivations of Christians that the hostile accounts also missed it? Even Lucian of Samosata neglected the opportunity to call it out.

        There’s all of these sources that lead us to believe it was impossible for Jesus to be buried but they either have no connection to Jesus’ life, no awareness of his life, or if they did know about his life (Josephus; we could even count Josephus’s interpolator) they forgot to tell us.




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  12. anthonygale  January 1, 2018

    Is it not true that the Romans granted Jews other exemptions out of respect for the antiquity of their religion? And there were precedents of ruthless prefects backing down when Jews offered their necks when given a “this or your neck” choice that highly offended them? And doesnt Paul say that Jesus was buried, who wrote much closer to Jesus’ death and knew eyewitnesses? I dont think any of that proves Jesus was buried, but offers support that it is plausible.

    If you think the story about Joseph of Arimathea burying Jesus was an invention, then what do you think the purpose of the invention is? Perhaps to address the issue of people knowing that Jesus getting a burial would have been unusual?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      The evidence about Pilate was quite the opposite. He appears not to have given a damn about Jewish sensitivities. I’ll post on that. The reason for the Joseph of A tradition is that someone had to make sense of how it could happen (which had to happen for the tomb to be empty, obviously) if it normally wouldn’t happen. Hey, someone asked!




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      • anthonygale  January 2, 2018

        I realize that the criterion of independent attestation is only one of the criteria used to determine likelihood of historical accuracy. But in this case you have John and the Synoptics agreeing that Jesus was buried by Joseph of Arimathea (or at least someone named Joseph or from Arimathea) and Paul also saying that Jesus was buried. And (I realize you have doubts about it) you have the historian Josephus saying that crucified Jews were allowed to be taken down. When it comes to independent attestation by early sources, that seems about as good as you get regarding anything about Jesus life.

        From what you argue, the likelihood of Jesus being buried doesn’t fit into the context of Roman practices or what Pilate would have allowed. But there was already precedent of the Romans allowing Jews exemptions (e.g. participation in imperial cult) due to the antiquity of their religion. And Pilate backed down at least once. I see that you’ve talked about the incident regarding the Roman standards before. I agree it by no means shows that Pilate was sensitive to the Jews. But it does show that he backed down at least once when the Jews were so offended they would rather die then back down themselves. Considering how impure a corpse was considered, might the Jews have made a similar stand? And if Josephus was correct about the Romans allowing crucified Jews to be taken down, wouldn’t the process have been started before Pilate was the prefect? If the practice was already in place, is it likely he would have changed it? Were Pilate’s predecessors any nicer? Would the prefect have made the decision or might that have been done at a higher level?

        That was a lot of questions and comments. To be more concise:

        1. The criterion of independent attestation seems passed with flying colors.

        2. It doesn’t fit with Roman practice, but Jews were given other exemptions out of respect for the antiquity of their beliefs, so the possibility of another exception to normal practices by no means seems inconceivable.

        3. Pilate didn’t care about what the Jews wanted, but if Jews were granted this exception, the practice could (probably would?) have been established before Pilate and the decision made by someone else. It seems easier to believe he would tolerate a pre-existing exemption even if he wouldn’t have been inclined to create it.

        4. Pilate backed down at least once when the Jews were enough offended, and considering how impure a corpse was thought to be, that might have been something offensive enough for him to have conceded.

        I realize that out of those, only #1 is evidence to support the possibility that Jesus was buried. The others are points that make the possibility seem more plausible (to me at least).




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          I wouldn’t say flying colors: we have two sources from near the end of the second century who attest it. My view is that it is a legend that had sprouted up a couple of decades before that, spread around to various early Christian communities. Jews were definitely not given exceptions for capital crimes, and what we know of Pilate decidely shows he didn’t give a damn about their sensitivities. Maybe I’ll post on that!




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          • anthonygale  January 3, 2018

            If, and I acknowledge it is an “if”, there was a tradition of allowing Jews to take down crucified victims, would it not have likely begun before Pilate? Because he wasn’t the first prefect, Jews would have been crucified before he came along, and Jews could be crucified elsewhere in the empire. I think that’s significant because it seems much easier to believe that Pilate would have simply allowed such a tradition to continue than it is to believe he would grant favors out of kindness. If he didn’t initiate the tradition, or otherwise wasn’t the decision maker (e.g. someone above him allowed the exception), his lack of sensitivity isn’t as central to the specific question.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2018

            And there is not a single piece of evidence that *any* of the Roman rulers of Judea made an exception when it came to crucified victims.




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          • anthonygale  January 3, 2018

            Perhaps this is a dumb question, but why would the empty tomb have been necessary? Especially if it would have been so unusual. Is the burial story necessary to know that Jesus was crucified? I think that is a clear no. Is the burial story necessary to say that Jesus is resurrected? It seems that most of the characters in the Bible believe in Jesus’ resurrection not because of the empty tomb but because he appears to them. So I don’t think the burial story is necessary to believe in the resurrected Jesus either. In fact, if the claim would have been so unusual, would inventing a story about Jesus being buried have not raised concerns about the credibility of the story teller? I am wondering if the burial story also passes the criterion if dissimilarity. Flying colors or not, its hard to argue that it doesn’t fair well with attestation (all four gospels, Paul, and Josephus – that’s pretty good, for a detail about Jesus’ like at least)




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2018

            Neither Paul nor Josephus mentions the empty tomb. That means we have early attestation from two sources, Mark and John, from 40-60 years after the fact.




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        There’s no doubt Pilate detested the Jews, but on the other hand, he couldn’t really have believed that Jesus of Nazareth was a real threat to his regime. He might well have enjoyed torturing and crucifying the poor guy, especially if he believed the Jews would agonize over it. But that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have agreed to someone (a prominent citizen?) taking down the body. The guy was dead–who cared what happened to his body?




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  13. anthonygale  January 1, 2018

    When you have these debates about the resurrection, it seems like apologists take a Sherlock Holmes approach. If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however unlikely, must be the truth. When they argue against the various explanations for why the tomb was empty, do you ever just say: I think the story was made up. How can anyone say, from a logical standpoint (faith is another matter), that is less likely than a resurrection?




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  14. PeteSammataro  January 1, 2018

    Is it plausible that Joseph of Arimathea bribed Pilate for permission to remove Jesus’s body? Perhaps Pilate was as corrupt as he was brutal? Or am I grasping at a straw that doesn’t really exist?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      It’s possible, of course, but to me at least it does look like straw-grasping.




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  15. Jon1  January 2, 2018

    Bart,

    I think you are totally wrong about this burial question and your judgments on Jewish War 4.317 seem strained, but instead of arguing the nuances of Jewish War 4.317 that you bring up, I’ll just ask you another question about this passage. Jewish War 4.317 says that the Idumeaens “cast away their dead bodies *without burial*”. That is precisely what you are saying happened to Jesus’ body after X days of being on the cross – the Romans cast his body into an open pit without burial. How then, according to your theory, did the earliest Christians come to think that Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4)?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      The same way they came up with all sorts of things — masses of things — about Jesus that were not historically right, that he was born in Bethlehem, walked on the water, multiplied loaves, raised the dead, and and and…..




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      • Jon1  January 2, 2018

        Bart,

        If the Romans cast crucifixion bodies into an open pit without burial, why would Jesus’ original followers make up a story about Jesus being “buried” (1 Cor 15:4) before the discovered empty tomb legend came about?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 3, 2018

          In 1 Cor. 15:4 “buried” is *proof* that he was really dead, just as his “appearances” are proof that he was really raised.




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          • Jon1  January 3, 2018

            Bart,

            Talmoore is hitting the nail on the head on other aspects of this issue. You might try engaging more with his arguments. As to your response to my little area of query, let me get this straight. You think all of Jesus’ *original disciples*, knowing that Jesus was cast into an open pit and never buried at all, agreed to say in their earliest teaching/preaching creed that Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4) in order to emphasize/prove that Jesus died? So you think “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4 was not a legend but an outright lie by Jesus’ original disciples. Do I got that right?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 5, 2018

            No, that’s not what I’ve ever said. I’m not sure why you’re twisting what I’ve said in order to challenge it.




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          • Jon1  January 5, 2018

            Bart,

            I’m definitely not trying to twist your words, I’m just trying to understand how you account for the word “buried” in the early creed (1 Cor 15:4). Didn’t the early creed come from Jesus’ original disciples? If so, then you seem to be saying that Jesus’ original disciples just made up the claim that Jesus was buried (in order to prove that Jesus was really dead) even though they knew he was never buried. So they lied. What am I missing?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 7, 2018

            I”m not sure where the creed came from. Paul doesn’t attribute it, for example, to Peter, James, or John. I am *not* saying that one or more of the actual twelve (eleven) disciples made up the claim that Jesus was buried. I never have said this, and I’m not sure why someone would think or claim it’s what I said!




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          • Jon1  January 5, 2018

            Bart,

            I just noticed in your book HGBG (pg. 155) that you say, “If the followers of Jesus knew that he ‘had’ to be buried in a tomb – since otherwise there could be no story about the tomb being empty – and they had to invent a story that described this burial, then the only ones who could possibly do the deed [i.e., Jesus’ burial] were the Jewish authorities [as suggested in Acts 13:29]….Possibly this is the tradition that lies behind 1 Corinthians 15:4 as well: ‘and he was buried.’”

            So you seem to actually think there was already a discovered empty tomb legend when the 1 Cor 15:3-5 creed came about, and that is what motivated the word “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4. Now do I understand you correctly?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 7, 2018

            Yes, I grant in the book (with some hesitation) that prior to Paul’s conversion of the Corinthians (in the 40s?) there may have been a tradition that Jesus was buried.




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          • Jon1  January 7, 2018

            Bart,

            I am surprised that you do not think the creed in 1 Cor 15:3-4 was known and endorsed by Peter and James. Paul met with Peter and James three years after his conversion (Gal 1:18-19) and again fourteen years later (Gal 2:1-9). It is a carefully worded creed indicating wide use for teaching and preaching and Paul says he “received” it from someone else (1 Cor 15:3), so leaders in the Christian community would seem the logical source of the creed, and Peter and James would seem the logical choice at one of those meetings. At the very least, it seems unlikely that a discrepancy such as “buried” in a core teaching/preaching creed would not be noticed at one of those meetings with Peter and James. But I think I can come at this from a different direction. Let me ask you this: Do you think Paul thought there was a discovered empty tomb? If not, where in your mind did Paul think Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4)?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 8, 2018

            I’m neutral on whether this was a creed known to Peter and James; my view is that anyone who makes a historical assertion bears the burden of proof. On Paul and the empty tomb, I would assume he *does* know of that, though it is very curious he never mentions it. It is widely thought among Pauline experts that he did *not* know about this tradition.




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          • Jon1  January 8, 2018

            Bart,

            You are blowing my mind here. I have never been able to figure out from your writings that you thought Paul believed there was a discovered empty tomb. This changes everything. So just to clarify, you think even those who originated the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed (whoever that was) also believed there was a discovered empty tomb, i.e., that “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4 *always* referred to a rock-hewn tomb burial by Jewish authorities (minus Joseph of Arimathea). Do I got that right?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 9, 2018

            Again, I don’t understand why you think I’m saying something that I’ve never said. When Have I said anything about a rock-hewn burial tomb or to what 1 Corinthians “always” referred to. A “tomb” is any repository of a corpse; it is empty of that corpse when the body is no longer there. Paul, in my view, thought the body was no longer there, wherever it was buried in whatever kind of repository.




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          • Jon1  January 9, 2018

            Bart,

            The confusion comes from pg. 155 of HGBG. Maybe it would help if you could be more specific. Can you please answer this question: Where in your mind did Paul think Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4), and by whom, and in what kind of tomb/grave? If you don’t know, can you at least list the options that you think are plausible?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 11, 2018

            He never says.




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          • Jon1  January 11, 2018

            Bart,

            I think you missed the second part of my question. I know Paul does not say, but can you even *think* of any burial scenario that Paul and the originators of the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed could plausibly have had in mind when he/they said Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4)? They had to have something in mind! I can’t think of an answer that is compatible with the other views you have on the subject of Jesus’ burial/non-burial.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 13, 2018

            I can think of lots of scenarios — but they’d be no different from the ones you could think of. The problem is that Paul gives no hints.




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          • Iskander Robertson  January 12, 2018

            1.is it possible that author of acts only knows Isaiah 53 as his source for the info that Jesus was buried by his enemies?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 15, 2018

            Yup! But in the Gospels he is buried not by an enemy. Not sure what Paul thought.




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          • Iskander Robertson  January 12, 2018

            In 20,000 words Paul mentions no one witnessing burial , joseph of a and women witnesses to the discovered tomb. If the guy is talking about WITNESSES IN the creed, then why aren’t the witnesses who discovered empty tomb not mentioned?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 15, 2018

            He appears not to know the empty tomb tradition!




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          • Jon1  January 13, 2018

            Bart,

            In HGBG (pg. 155), you say, “If the followers of Jesus knew that he ‘had’ to be buried in a tomb – since otherwise there could be no story about the tomb being empty – and they had to invent a story that described this burial, then the only ones who could possibly do the deed were the *Jewish authorities* themselves…as in Acts 13:29. Possibly this is the tradition that lies behind 1 Corinthians 15:4 as well: ‘and he was buried.’”

            You are saying here that the earliest burial tradition imagined the *Jewish authorities* doing the burial. I previously asked you to clarify if you meant that a rock-hewn tomb was in sight in this earliest burial tradition and you said no. The only other place I can think of that the Jewish authorities could have buried Jesus is in the ground. So is that what you think is the tradition that lies behind 1 Cor 15:4?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 15, 2018

            As I keep saying, we don’t know. That means we don’t know if the author (whoever it was) thought of a rock-hewn tomb, a shallow grave dug in the ground, or … anything else.




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          • Jon1  January 15, 2018

            Bart,

            You are saying here and in HGBG (pg. 155) that some kind of *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend lies behind the word “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4. There are only three choices I can think of. You already shot down one that I brought up (a rock-hewn tomb burial by the Jewish authorities and subsequent discovered empty rock-hewn tomb). The second burial/discovered empty burial location legend I can think of is a *ground burial* by the Jewish authorities and subsequent digging up of the grave by Jesus’ followers to find nothing. This seems a highly implausible legend to develop for a variety of reasons. The third burial/discovered empty burial location legend I can think of is a ground burial by the *Romans* and subsequent digging up of the grave by Jesus’ followers to find nothing. This too seems a highly implausible legend to develop for a variety of reasons. Which of these do you think is plausible, or what other possible burial/discovered empty burial location legend could lie behind the earliest creed that Jesus was “buried” (1 Cor 15:4)? Surely the creed had something in mind! What could it possibly be?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 16, 2018

            I didn’t shoot it down. I don’t know why you twist what I have said. But I think we should bring this discussion to a close and move on to other things.




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          • Jon1  January 16, 2018

            Bart,

            I previously asked you if you thought the *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend that lies behind 1 Cor 15:4 was “a rock-hewn tomb burial by Jewish authorities (minus Joseph of Arimathea)” and you replied, “I don’t understand why you think I’m saying something that I’ve never said. When Have I said anything about a rock-hewn burial tomb…”. Now you say that you never shot down this possibility and think I am trying to twist your words (which I am definitely not). What gives? All I am asking is what kind of burial you think Paul and the originators of 1 Cor 15:4 had in mind when they said Jesus was “buried”. I apologize if I have misunderstood something you have said previously.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 17, 2018

            You’re still not understanding me. I’m not affirming or denying that it was a rock-hewn tomb that lay behind 1 Cor. 15:4. I’m saying we don’t know because the text doesn’t indicate one way or the other. One more time: we don’t *know* what they had in mind. They don’t tell us.




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          • Jon1  January 17, 2018

            Bart,

            Ok, I get it, you’re just saying we don’t know what kind of *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend lies behind 1 Cor 15:4, and you don’t want to speculate that deep.

            Let me ask you about something else you said in this thread. You said in reference to 1 Cor 15:3-4: “I’m neutral on whether this was a creed known to Peter and James.” How can you be neutral on this? In order for there to be a *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend in this creed, it would seem that your position would *have* to be that the first hand witnesses and leaders of the early church (Peter and James) did *not* know of the creed.




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 18, 2018

            No, that’s not my view. We don’t know who knew of this creed other than Paul (prior to the time he established the Corinthian church) and the Corinthians themselves.




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          • Jon1  January 18, 2018

            Bart,

            I totally get that we don’t know who knew of the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed other than Paul and the Corinthians. But you are also “neutral on whether this was a creed known to Peter and James”, which means you accept it as a *possibility* that Peter and James knew of the creed. But if Peter and James knew of the creed, wouldn’t that mean they were spreading a *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend and, in your mind, is that really possible with them being firsthand eyewitnesses and all?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 20, 2018

            Sorry, but I don’t grant the hypothetical.




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          • Jon1  January 20, 2018

            Bart,

            You said you “don’t grant the hypothetical” that Peter and James knew of the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed. Why not? You said you were “neutral on whether this was a creed known to Peter and James”. Why wouldn’t you grant the hypothetical that they did know and then answer a logical query about where that leads — wouldn’t that mean that Peter and James were spreading a *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend and, in your mind, is that really possible with them being firsthand eyewitnesses and all?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 21, 2018

            Being neutral means that I don’t agree with a positive assertion that I’m neutral on.




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          • Jon1  January 20, 2018

            Bart,

            One other question too. If you think there is a *discovered empty burial location* tradition behind the word “buried” in the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed, on what evidence do you conclude it is a legend? All scholars I have read who think the *discovered empty burial location* tradition is a legend think it developed quite late and point to Paul’s lack of knowledge of it as their primary evidence. Are you alone in thinking that this tradition is both a legend and that the users of the early creed thought it was historical?




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 21, 2018

            But I don’t think that. Why would you imagine I think that?




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          • Jon1  January 21, 2018

            Bart,

            You think there is an invented *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend that lies behind 1 Cor 15:4 (HJBG pg. 155)…right? So when the users of the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed said that Jesus was “buried”, do you think *they* thought Jesus was really buried and his empty burial location found, or do you think *they* thought this was a legend? The latter seems somewhat ridiculous to me (but please correct me if you disagree), which is why I asked you: “Are you alone in thinking that this tradition [the tradition behind ‘buried’ in 1 Cor 15:4] is both a legend and that the users of the early creed thought it was historical?” All scholars I am aware of who conclude the discovered empty burial location is a legend think the creed and Paul knew nothing of it.




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          • Jon1  January 22, 2018

            Bart,

            Apparently I am misunderstanding you, so let me ask this in a different way. Maybe you can tell me at which point I am misunderstanding you:

            1] You think there is an “invented” *burial/discovered empty burial location* legend that lies behind the word “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4 (HJBG pg. 155)…right?

            2] If #1 is true, when the users of the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed said that Jesus was “buried”, do you think *they* thought Jesus was really buried and his empty burial location found, or do you think *they* thought this was a legend?

            3] If you think the users of the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed thought Jesus was really buried and his empty burial location found, why do you think the creed, Paul, and Acts 13:29-30 seem to know nothing about a burial location found empty? Why do you propose a tradition was in existence (the discovered empty burial location tradition) when the three earliest pieces of evidence speaking on this topic say nothing about a discovered empty burial location, but instead only mention that Jesus was “buried”? You are the first scholar I have ever seen propose such a thing. Do you know of any others who think like this? It would seem to make a lot more sense if there existed *first* a burial tradition and then *later* a discovered empty burial location tradition came into being. Your position seems to go against hard evidence!




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 23, 2018

            I think I”ve tried hard enough already. Sorry!




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  16. Gary  January 2, 2018

    How does Craig Evans and other conservative Christian scholar-apologists respond to this specific evidence against their position?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 2, 2018

      They say, “Oh yeah??? Says WHO???” Well, OK, not quite like that. Actually I’ve never seen Craig’s response to my arguments on this particular point.




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      • turbopro  January 2, 2018

        If you’re interested, and, have a few minutes, you may enjoy his brief rebuttal in this brief interview at Acadia College:
        –> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YC1GyMXDfzM

        Response to burial issues starts @4:05

        His main beef: you neglected to engage properly the archaeological evidence, and exacerbated this by your indulgence, if you will, with Crossan’s view as expressed in his (Crossan’s) “Who killed Jesus.”




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  17. godspell  January 2, 2018

    I would agree what Josephus says in this context doesn’t prove much of anything.

    I remain agnostic on the subject of Jesus’ burial. It’s in Mark, and as you yourself have pointed out, the earliest verson of Mark ends in a way that is anything but comforting–and is downright confusing. Strange confusing things do happen, in all eras of history–things that logically should not have happened, but did anyway. Future historians may well conclude that many events we have recently witnessed are impossible, or at least highly implausible. I often conclude this myself. How blessed we are to live in an age of miracles. :\

    Why would the Romans allow Jesus to be buried? Perhaps because, as you say, they realized as the case went on that they had the wrong guy. That he never had any military aspirations. That he’d turned over a few tables at the temple, that he was mainly contesting with other Jews about fine points of religious practice, that he was talking about a Kingdom of the mind that could only happen if an all-powerful being sent a supernatural messenger to overturn earthly kingdoms (an idea that existed in their own religious beliefs–see Euripides–and to talk about it was not treason). They started to believe that, from their perspective he was, to commit an anachronism, cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

    And of course, that he had very few supporters in the city, or anywhere else.

    But once this process had started, it was impossible to stop. Appearances must be preserved. The wheels of justice must continue turning. Pilate may have uttered a few vaguely sympathetic words. Since until recently, there was no evidence of his existence other than the gospels, we can’t assume everything about him other than his being the Roman governor is made up. You can recognize the propaganda aspects of the gospel accounts (convince the Romans we’re not in league with those rebellious Jews they’re crucifying by the cartload) while still figuring they had something to work with there. Pilate was probably a fairly intelligent man, and he knew a non-threat when he saw one. He didn’t care much either way, but he knew.

    And you know, I bet there were high-placed Jews who also thought crucifying Jesus was overkill. There would have been differeing currents of opinion in all groups, as there always are, throughout history. And they would have been horrified at the thought of a man with a reputation for personal sanctity being thrown into a rubbish pile to be eaten by dogs. He may have been a heretic, a madman, but he was one of them. He had lived all his life as an observant Jew.

    You can write the story a million ways, and any of them could be what happened. Or none.

    Because the story we have is dubious, that doesn’t mean the correct response is to say “The exact opposite of that story is what happened.” We don’t know. We do know that it came to be believed that he was buried, and then somehow got UNburied. Nobody believes there’s a tomb somewhere with his body in it. (Okay, probably somebody somewhere does believe that.)

    I think we can assume Josephus was faithfully reporting on something he’d heard about, but nobody is religiously invested in his story (except as evidence of a completely different story). We should discuss the crucifixion story AS IF nobody has a dog in that fight.

    And that would be the greatest miracle of all.




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  18. gchrist4  January 2, 2018

    I’m starting to wonder how much about Jesus’ life has any basis in reality. Clearly the birth stories are made up. Your recent post about Jesus being referred to as “the son of Mary” makes me question if Joseph was a fictional character; and Paul’s letters – our only witness who knew Jesus’ brother and Peter – says nothing about Jesus’ life. I just wonder if the gospel stories are all seeded from the same legendary source and just appear to be multiply attested (i.e. the same oral tradition split and branched and were written down in the different forms of Mark, Luke, Matthew, etc.). The other disconnect I see is how Christianity disappeared in Judea in one generation while flourishing in the areas Paul spread it. It feels like Christianity was built on legendary stories about Jesus of Nazareth in the Greco Roman world with little to no connection to what a thoroughly Jewish nobody from a backwater (or his immediate followers) would have actually done or said. Like there is Paul’s Jesus and the legendary Jesus of the gospels and Paul’s letters attest to those differences. He mocks James and Peter and claims his gospel is different and straight from basically this “other” Jesus. Am I far off track?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 3, 2018

      I discuss all this in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.




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    • godspell  January 12, 2018

      By the same token, people had forgotten about William Shakespeare for some time after his death, and now he’s everywhere, but people now claim somebody else wrote the plays, only they can never prove it, which never seems to stop them.

      What you’re observing is a process called ‘history.’ Over and over again, we see people who didn’t seem important at the time of their lives turning out to be very very important, and people who everyone thought were important turning out to be much less important than anyone thought. Memories of real people get distorted and exaggerated and combined with memories of other people, to the point where they wouldn’t recognize themselves if they read the histories.

      It works best if you realize that nobody is trying to fool you, but people didn’t have phones with cameras in them, or phones of any kind, and even now, with all that stuff to record history on, people still get really confused ideas about other people and events they did not witness, or events they did witness.

      History is about calming down, and thinking as logically as possible about what we know about who did what when.

      And when you do that, it becomes very clear Jesus was a real person, who did and said many (but not all) of the things attributed to him, and would be really really surprised by what posterity thinks of him, or even by the fact there still is a posterity, because God was supposed to have transformed the world a long time ago, into something where none of this would matter anymore, but it does anyway.




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  19. ddorner  January 2, 2018

    Would Jesus’ followers have waited around to find out exactly what the romans did with the body if they weren’t expecting a resurrection? It seems to me the only people who would know exactly what happened to Jesus’ body would be the romans. Specifically, the soldiers who’s job it is to take the bodies down.

    So when Paul mentions Jesus’ burial he is not basing it off of his own “knowledge” per-se (i.e. he went and checked), but rather traditions that were already in circulation?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 3, 2018

      I think the answer (about did the disciples stay around) is: certainly not. On Paul: yes!




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      • godspell  January 3, 2018

        Bart, I think we should remember that a lot of Jesus’ followers were women, and women were generally not treated as threats by the Romans (unless they had large military forces at their command, like a certain Queen of Egypt)–and women often are tasked with tending to the dead, particularly in situations like this.

        Mark’s account does have a certain narrative logic to it that the other gospels do not. Interesting that the later gospels did not assign this central role in the story to women.

        I certainly do not believe everyone connected to Jesus left Jerusalem after the crucifixion, but it would have been nigh-suicidal for the male disciples to have stayed very long.

        Of course, they are strangers in the city, few people know them there, and the Romans can’t very well put up wanted posters with their pictures on them, so a few could have hung around a short time–we shouldn’t underestimate the power Jesus had over his people, the love they felt for him–and the guilt that would have followed their failure to save him.

        But again, the women would have been less likely to incur suspicion, and frightened as they might have been, their devotion to Jesus, perhaps the only man who ever treated them as equals, might have been even stronger.




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      • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

        I don’t think it’s “cerIain” the disciples ran away. Some time after Jesus’s crucifixion–I don’t know if it’s clear when–they were back in Jerusalem. When and why? I think the story of their frightened departure was an invention to make the so-called “Jerusalem Church” look bad, particularly because they remained Jewish and participated in Temple rituals.




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  20. mkahn1977  January 7, 2018

    Dr.!Ehrman,

    You mentioned that the Jews rather than the Romans may have took down their own crucified subject for a decent burial, but I thought the Jews stoned their victims. When and why would the Jews crucify their own ?




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 7, 2018

      There are records of Jews crucifying their own in the Maccabean period, but not when the Romans were in charge.




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      • mkahn1977  January 10, 2018

        Somewhat related to Jesus’s burial- the gospels talk about women coming to the tomb to wash the body and adorn it with spices- I thought that the custom was that people contaminated themselves being exploded to dead bodies and therefore avoided “defiling” themselves. Was this a pagan funerary practice that got amalgamated with early Jewish-Christian memory?




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        • Bart
          Bart  January 11, 2018

          It was absolutely the custom to take care of corpses for burial, usually by family members.




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          • mkahn1977  January 11, 2018

            OK- was the custom to prepare the body for burial? Or was there a custom to visit the body after death and continue some type of offerings? I’m just confused the women would go to the tomb after unless there was some custom (like placing stones at a gravesite today).




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          • Bart
            Bart  January 13, 2018

            To prepare the body for burial. The idea in the Gsopels is that the body had been hastily placed in a tomb, but not properly prepared, because it was almost Sabbath; they were goint to do the job.




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  21. Iskander Robertson  January 7, 2018

    Dr Bart

    How would you address the following:

    Quote:

    For example, if the Gospels were written after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, why dont they make it abundantly clear that Jesus’ prediction came true?

    For example, that is precisely what Luke does in Acts (11: 27): ‘During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)’

    He wrote after the event came true and states it plainly. But he doesnt do the same with Jesus’ prediction – because he completed his writings before the event occurred?

    Dr Bart

    In what way would the narrating of the destruction of the temple be relevant to the audience of acts?

    I note that none of Jesus’ desiples or Jesus himself was involved in the destruction of temple ,yet the prophets who came to Antioch talked about happenings in the ROMAN world




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    • Iskander Robertson  January 7, 2018

      Could it be possible that even if temple was destroyed, Luke writing in another country would be ignorant about it BECAUSE HIS SOURCE HAD no idea about the destruction?

      Luke not knowing what really took place would not risk having his messiah make false prediction ?




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      • Bart
        Bart  January 8, 2018

        I think anyone connected with Judaism at the time would have known full well about the Jewish War.




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        • AnotherBart  February 5, 2018

          Dr. Ehr said:
          ||||| I think anyone connected with Judaism
          ||||| at the time would have known
          ||||| full well about the Jewish War.

          Mr. Me responds:
          \\\\ Plus anyone living somewhat near
          \\\\ the Mediterranean Sea.
          \\\\ Word-of-mouth news travelled fast.
          \\\\ Especially news of destroying an entire city.




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    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2018

      They don’t *need* to point out that it happened; everyone knows it did. If they claimed it *did* happen then they would be showing the reader that their accounts were written decades after Jesus’ life, and they didn’t want anyone to be thinking about that.




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    • llamensdor  January 21, 2018

      The story of Jesus’ “prediction” was written after the Temple was destroyed.




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      • AnotherBart  February 4, 2018

        Philo (d. <50 CE) wrote about the destruction of the temple. It was not a fantastic, supernatural prediction. It was logical.

        (188) And he with difficulty, sobbing aloud, and in a broken voice, spoke as follows: "Our temple is destroyed! Gaius has ordered a colossal statue of himself to be erected in the holy of holies, having his own name inscribed upon it with the title of Jupiter!"

        (189) "And while we were all struck dumb with astonishment
        ………. others arrived bearing the same sad tale."

        http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/yonge/book40.html

        (BTW: I hit Command -F in Chrome on a webpage in order to search through massive text for a particular phrase: a little box top RHSide pops up where I can enter search criteria)




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  22. Celsus  January 16, 2018

    Hi Dr. Ehrman, I’d like to add something in support of your first argument where Josephus may not necessarily be talking about crucifixion performed by the Romans. Josephus uses the word άνασταυροΰν in 4.317. This word is commonly translated as “crucified” in his works however, there are places where he also uses it to indicate post-mortem suspensions such as in Antiquities 2.73 where he talks about the fate of the baker from Genesis 40. In the story, the pharaoh is said to decapitate the baker and hang his body on a pole. Josephus also uses the word in Antiquities 6.374 where he talks about hanging the dead body of Saul on display.

    “άνασταυροΰν, as used by Josephus, does not mean “to crucify” in a traditional sense. In some texts, Josephus uses the verb in connection with executions by sus­pension, in which nailing sometimes was a part. However, since he also uses the verb when he refers to an act of displaying mutilated corpses, it is obvious that the usage of the verb covers both suspension forms, i.e., both execution by suspension and suspension of corpses……However, none of these texts shows explicitly that the suspension at hand really is a crucifixion. In the end, there are no firm crucifixion accounts in the corpus Josepheum……Sixth, it is main­ly the Romans who use the suspension punishment against the Jewish people in Josephus’ texts. It is, however, not possible to exclude the pos­sibility that Josephus understood the prescribed punishment in Deuter­onomy 21.22-23 as a reference to execution by crucifixion. If this as­sumption is correct, the Jewish people used crucifixion according to Jose­phus’ accounts of the events under the Hasmonean ruler Alexander Jan­naeus (BJ 1.97/113 [par. AJ 13.380]).” – Gunnar Samuelsson, Crucifixion in Antiquity, pages 110-111

    So instead of Josephus necessarily talking about Roman crucifixion he could be talking about Jewish post-mortem suspensions like in the case of the blasphemer in Antiquities 4.202 or (mistakenly/correctly?) assuming that ancient Jews practiced crucifixion. What do you think about this?




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  23. mkahn1977  February 3, 2018

    Any ideas or theories where the Joseph of Arimathea legend comes from?




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 4, 2018

      I’ve wondered if the name means something like “the best disciple,” and that it’s a legend to justify the claim that there was an empty tomb (which requires there to be a tomb!)




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      • mkahn1977  February 4, 2018

        Your may have answered orcwrote about this before, but where did we get an empty tomb from if people of Jesus’s status were left to rot or their remains were thrown in a common grave? Did one of the gospel writers find a passage in the Hebrew bible that they took as prophecy that Jesus would be buried on a rich man’s tomb?

        Are you still working on a book about Christian appropriation of Jewish scriptures? I recall you posting or writing about that once.

        Thanks




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        • Bart
          Bart  February 5, 2018

          Partly that, and partly because they wanted to be able to cite *evidence* that Jesus was raised, and for that you need and empty tomb, and for that you need a tomb!




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  24. jamal12  February 11, 2018

    professor Ehrman you mention a very good point there that makes me think of Another Jesus.”Insurrectionist” ties in very well with Jesus Barabbas.That was the reason he was imprisoned and I reckon he is the one who bit the dust in the place of Jesus.




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  25. 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  February 14, 2018

    There was much written on this subject within this blog, and I may have missed it, but I didn’t see a discussion of the factor that many people were visiting Jerusalem for Passover at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus. I would think that it is plausible for a Roman governor to have Jesus’ disciples take down the body of Jesus and bury him. This would make the invitation of Joseph of Arimathea to Pilate appear to me a very practical way of avoiding further conflict and possible riots. The fact that the population of Jerusalem during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion would seem to be a major factor. Do you have any comments on this, Dr. Ehrman? Thank you.




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    • Bart
      Bart  February 15, 2018

      Most anything is possible, of course; but it would mean that he did the same for the two other people crucified that morning, and all those the next day and the next…. And if this was the policy, why would Joseph of Arimathea need to ask for the body?




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      • AnotherBart  February 16, 2018

        Indeed, Pilate did do the same for the other two that day. The Jewish leaders did not want the bodies (not body, bodies!! plural!) there during the special Sabbath. That’s why the Roman soldiers broke the crucified thieves’ legs, and punctured Jesus’ side. (John 19:31-33)

        Joseph of Arimathea (probably wealthy & influential) along with Nicodemus (member of the Jewish ruling council & secret follower of Jesus) were calling dibs on the body before someone else (Roman soldiers?) did something with him (mass grave for the bodies of crucified murderers?)

        Pilate found no guilt in Jesus.




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      • 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  February 16, 2018

        This is historical speculation on my part but to answer your question: 1. Maybe due to the Holy Days crucifixions were minimized; 2. Maybe allowing thieves to decompose was not much of an issue while honoring Joseph of Arimathea’s request would prevent rioting over a popular figure among Jews and those coming in to visit the city who may have heard about him.




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    • Jon1  February 16, 2018

      Bart and 1jdefrancisco,

      The Jewish authorities may have needed to ask for Jesus’ body as a matter of procedure to reinforce that Pilate was really in charge. This is suggested in Digesta 48.24.1: “the bodies of those who have been punished are only buried when this has been requested and permission granted”.

      And yes, the two with Jesus would have been buried by the Jews as well (if they are not fictions), as well as any others crucified during the Passover festival. If it was rare that a crucifixion and a major Jewish festival occurred on the same day, then it would not be surprising that such exceptions are not mentioned in the literary record. In contrast, there is not a single source that mentions the Romans ever removing crucified bodies from the cross and disposing of them further, let alone covering them with dirt, which in my mind is a *far* more difficult absence from the literary record to explain for Bart’s hypothesis that the Romans eventually buried Jesus’ body.




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    • AnotherBart  February 16, 2018

      It appears that Pilate’s shift from persecutor to placater is due to the following:

      1) Pilate was likely appointed by Sejanus c. 26-27 C.E.*
      2) The highly anti-semitic Sejanus wanted to destroy the Jews. Pilate was following his orders.
      3) From 26-31 C.E. Sejanus was in control of Rome while Tiberius was on ‘vacation’
      4) Oct 18, 31 C.E. Tiberius had Sejanus executed for treason.
      5) Tiberius then determined that Sejanus’ charges against the Jews were fabricated. **
      6) Tiberius then ordered his governors to respect Jewish customs c. 32 AD. **
      7) Tiberius also tried and executed Sejanus co-conspirators until 34 CE*

      Therefore, in 32 C.E., Pilate, who had been persecuting Jews under Sejanus, was suddenly under orders to stop. At that point, he had every reason to prove his loyalty to Tiberius, to placate the Jews, to punish ‘only the guilty’** and to be fearful when the Jewish leaders threatened him by saying “If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar”**** (non es amicus Caesaris)***

      *DeLashmutt, Gary, “Sejanus and the Chronology of Christ’s Death”
      **Philo, EMBASSY TO GAIUS, XXIV. 159-161
      ***Dennison, James T. “Tiberius Caesar” [K:NWTS 20/3 (Dec 2005) 26-38]
      ****John 19:12




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  26. JDexter  February 27, 2018

    In “How Jesus Became God” you describe an “almost certain” pre-Pauline creed excerpted from 1 Corinthians 15, where one of the lines read “And he was buried”.

    Of course, pre-Pauline could mean something written maybe only 10 years before Paul wrote the letter, but regardless, does that provide additional attestation to the burial of Jesus?

    Thanks




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2018

      It could be one month earlier! But yes, Paul thought Jesus was buried. But he doesn’t explain what he means by that.




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  27. fred  February 28, 2018

    Dr.Ehrman, I have another question about the burial issue:
    1Cor15:4 contains the line, “Jesus was buried.” As I understand it, the Greek word for “buried” connotes an honorable burial, not being thrown in a mass grave nor eaten as carrion. Is this true? If so, it implies there was an early tradition about Jesus being buried.
    1) Doesn’t the early date suggest the disciples in Jerusalem (the “pillars”) were either a source for it, or at least were aware of it?
    2) How could such a tradition come about if it was known that crucifixion entails non-burial? Would the originators of the tradition (possibly disciples) have been unaware of the practices? What about Paul, who seems to have been an educated man – why would he accept it?




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 2, 2018

      I don’t know if that’s true or not. You’re saying that placing a corpse in an unmarked grave without a ceremony would not be a “burial”? I wonder what it would be then.

      1) No, a date doesn’t tell youa source. 2) Bodies, or what was left of them, *were* disposed of.




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      • ftbond  March 3, 2018

        re: “You’re saying that placing a corpse in an unmarked grave without a ceremony would not be a “burial”? I wonder what it would be then. ”

        It would have been an atrocity.

        Burial – qabar (in Hebrew), thapto (in Greek) – both mean “burial with rites” or “burial with honors”.

        Every single use of qabar (translated thapto in the LXX) (or applicable derivative in the OT is in reference to a HUMAN internment with ritual. This is not a word like the English word “bury”, In English, we bury humans, cats bury poop. But in Hebrew, humans receive qabar, cats “cover over” or “hide” poop. However, humans that do not receive qabar are said to have been “covered over” (or, some other descriptive is used). That is, if they did not recieve qabar, then *something else besides qabar happened with their bodies”. And, that means they did not recieve “proper burial” (qabar).

        Paul says that Jesus was “thapto’ed” – “qabar’ed”. He was the recipient of “internment with ritual”.

        So, you ask, “if a Roman digs a trench and throws a body in it and covers it with dirt, is that not burial?”

        The answer: That is NOT “qabar”, that is NOT “thapto”. That is “digging a hole, dropping a body in it, and covering it over like cat poop”. According to Paul, Jesus was “thapto’ed”, “qabar’ed”. Interred with ritual.

        Throwing Jesus’ body into a trench is no different than the Nazis digging a trench and burying murdered Jews at Auschwitz. That is NOT “qabar”, that is NOT “thapto”. That is the very *antithesis* of “qabar”.

        I can’t stress enough: Neither qabar nor thapto refer to the English verb “to bury”, which can be used in regards to cat poop, garbage, buried treasure, OR a human burial. They both refer specifically to “internment of human remains, with honors”.

        Could a body be given a legitimate “qubar” (thapto) in a grave dug in the ground? Of course. Provided the hole was dug by Jews, and provided that the *honors* or *rites* prescribed were performed.

        See: LSJ
        See, e.g., Franco Montanari, The Brill Dictionary of Ancient Greek, ed. Madeleine Goh and Chad Schroeder (Leiden: Brill, 2016).
        See Brown-Driver-Briggs




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        • Bart
          Bart  March 4, 2018

          I don’t understand what Hebrew has to do with it. Paul didn’t know Hebrew and was writing in Greek.




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          • 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  March 4, 2018

            Dr. Ehrman, how do we know for sure that Paul did not know Hebrew?




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          • Bart
            Bart  March 5, 2018

            It’s not an absolute certainty. But his native language is obviously Greek and when he quotes Scripture it is not in the form found in the Hebrew text but in the Greek (Septuagint). Anyone who thinks he knew some *other* language obviously has to show some evidence of it, and there doesn’t seem to be much. (Since most Jews in the Diaspora knew their local languages, and possibly Greek, but not Hebrew)




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          • ftbond  March 4, 2018

            and that’s why I also talked about “thapto”, which is Greek. It’s used, of course, in the Septuagint as the translation of qabar. And, of course, Paul would have been speaking of “burial” as Jew, regardless of what language he used. And a burial, by definition, *is* a “decent burial” to the Jews; otherwise, it’s not a “burial” – whether it’s called qabar or thapto. And, in any case, the Greek word “thapto” basically refers to “giving honors”, only coming to mean “burial honors” through common use.

            See LSJ, Autenieth, Middle Liddell




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          • Bart
            Bart  March 5, 2018

            The question is what thapto meant to a Greek speaking person, not so much what it might have meant in a particular body of texts. If it translated qabar — what else did it translate? What term would a Greek-speaking person use to refer to placing a corpse in the ground?




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          • AnotherBart  March 4, 2018

            Dear Sir:

            Could you possibly be projecting our own monolingual (uniquely American) culture into Paul’s life experiences? Many Europeans are raised speaking 3 or more languages and look down on English-only-speaking U.S. citizens as stupid and lazy.

            My father-in-law’s 170+ page family history and dissertation were 100% written in English, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t also 100% fluent in Italian. He was.

            There may not be evidence in Paul’s ‘undisputed’ letters that he knew Aramaic, but, frankly, it is a stretch to therefore conclude that Paul didn’t know, Aramaic, especially since he was, primarily, missionary to the Gentiles, while Peter was, primarily, missionary to the Jews.




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          • Bart
            Bart  March 5, 2018

            As you might imagine, this is one of the most important issues that biblical linguists are concerned about: which languages does an author know? It is never a matter of simply saying that if a person spoke Greek, that was his only language — especially among the highly educated in the Roman world.




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          • AnotherBart  March 6, 2018

            Ah! So, if I understand correctly, you’re *not* saying that he didn’t know *Aramaic*, but you *are* saying he did *not* know Hebrew. Yes?




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          • Bart
            Bart  March 6, 2018

            I don’t think there’s any good evidence that he knew either one.




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          • AnotherBart  March 6, 2018

            well, here’s one word: “Cephas”!!

            You don’t think Acts 21:39-40 lends evidence?

            Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. ….
            Paul ….. motioned to the crowd. ……,
            he said to them in Aramaic:….




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          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2018

            Just because I call my colleague Zlatko doesn’t mean I know Croatian!!




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          • AnotherBart  March 8, 2018

            LOL!!! True!
            And just because “Zlatko” always writes to you using the Kings English, doesn’t mean HE doesn’t know Croatian! 🙂




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  28. ftbond  March 5, 2018

    Dr Ehrman –

    re: “The question is what thapto meant to a Greek speaking person, not so much what it might have meant in a particular body of texts. If it translated qabar — what else did it translate? What term would a Greek-speaking person use to refer to placing a corpse in the ground?”

    Isn’t a text simply the written version of what someone would verbally say? Most everything I write certainly is.

    If LSJ, Autenreith and Brill cannot come up with some other use for “thapto”, except to mean “to honor” (and later understood as to mean specifically to honor with burial or cremation) in all their extensive textual research, and if every instance of thapto in the Septuagint is in reference to a human burial with honors, then, I got no idea what else we can go on. We certainly can’t go by modern Greek.

    So, the deal is this: In Hebrew, Absalom was “covered over with stones”, and the Egyptian that Mose killed was “hid” in the sand. These were *not* translated as “thapto” in the Septuagint. So, it would seem that the Greek-speaking translators did not see “thapto” as being an appropriate word to use in these instances, because they, on purpose, chose to translate these instances otherwise.

    The REAL question is “since you are the one calling this into question, can you provide some reason for questioning it”? I mean, what else do you have to go on? If you have some ancient text that uses thapto for something besides “to give honors”, and later, “to give honors in burial or cremation”, then please provide the evidence. Otherwise, I’m not really sure why you’re trying to cause doubt over Paul’s usage.




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2018

      The fact that a word *used* to mean one thing is not evidence for what it means later. Think: “dandelion” or “conversation” or “amazement”. Thapto came to be used to refer to simply putting a body in the ground, as I understand it. Notice, e.g., that it is used of Annanias and Saphira at the beginning of Acts 5. Nothing indicates there was any ritual — just a disposal of the bodies.




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      • ftbond  March 8, 2018

        There is not one thing in the text of Acts 5 that suggests a “disposal of bodies”. You’re reading that into the text. What the text says is that Ananias was “thapto’ed”, and his wife was “thapto’ed beside her husband”. If it were a mere disposal of bodies, I would assert that it would say something along the lines of “they threw his body in a pit and covered it with stones”.

        What you’re attempting to do is take a word that, in every single instance in the LXX and in the vast collection of Greek texts analyzed by people who are truly professional in their studies of such things, means “burial with honors” and turning it into something else, with absolutely no textual basis to go on whatsoever.

        And, the ancient texts are all we have to go on. If we’re just going to be making stuff up, then that’s OK. We can all write fiction and call it history. But if the verb “go” means “go” in every single previous instance in which we find it used, then I would suggest it does, in fact, mean “go”.

        If you really need to somehow demonstrate that Paul, for example, didn’t mean “burial with honors” (1 Cor 15), then I’d sincerely suggest you say “sure, Paul *says* Jesus was ‘thapto’ed’ (buried with honors), but, he didn’t know first hand, and, that’s just the story he was told, and repeated”. At least you don’t have to fight this battle about longstanding definitions of words, and having precisely no “ammo” to use in the fight.




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        • ftbond  March 8, 2018

          Dr Ehrman – with great apologies for multiple posts…

          The word that would be used for simply burying something in the ground, like cat poop, would very likely have been “krupto”.

          It is precisely this word – (a form of it, egkrupto) that is used in the Septuagint in Exo 12:2, when Moses “hid” the Egyptians body. Some translations say “hid [it] in the sand”, because that is, in this case, the implication of the word.

          As per LSJ: “2. cover in the earth, bury, Hes.Op. 138, S.OC621 (Pass.); χθονί ib.1546 (Pass.); “τάφῳ” Id.Ant.196; ἐν κατ ώρυχιib.774; κατὰ χθονός ib.25; “ὑπὸ γᾶν”Pi.P.9.81; “γῇ κ.” Hdt.2.130 (Pass.), cf. S.Ant.946 (lyr., Pass.):—Pass., “Τιτῆνεςὑπὸ ζόφῳ . . κεκρύφαται” Hes.Th.l.c.; “ἐνβένθεσιν νᾶσον κεκρύφθαι” Pi.O.l.c. “




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          • Bart
            Bart  March 8, 2018

            κρυπτω, of course, means “to hide” or “to conceal”




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        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2018

          Yes, if you assume that thapto means: burial with ceremonies, then of course it would mean that wherever it occurs. Being hidden in the ground may be an alternative way to say it.




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  29. 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  March 7, 2018

    Much of Western Biblical scholarship places a heavy emphasis on the Greek language. There are some exceptions, e.g. the Jerusalem school which places an emphasis on Hebrew, Israel Bible Center which places an emphasis on “Judean Greek” (using Greek while thinking in a Jewish mindset). Also, there is a significant lack of emphasis on Syriac Aramaic. Do you have any thoughts on these other “non-koine Greek” perspectives? Thank you.




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2018

      I’m not sure about something called Judean Greek, or what evidence there might be for it. And I’m not sure what you mean by a “lack of emphasis” on Aramaic. Do you mean among philologists who work in ealry Christianity?




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      • 1jdefrancisco@comcast.net  March 8, 2018

        “Judeo Greek is simply a specialized form of Greek used by Jews to communicate. This form of Greek retained many words, phrases, grammatical structures, and patterns of thought characteristic of the Hebrew language. We have similar examples in other languages: the well-known Judeo-German (Yiddish), Judeo-Spanish (Ladino), and the less familiar Judeo-Farsi, Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-Italian, and Judean-Georgian languages. ” – see https://israelbiblecenter.com/the-original-language-of-new-testament/ As far as Aramaic/Syriac is concerned, I see little emphasis on the Peshitta NT or Old Syriac Gospels which date back to the 2nd cent. CE in a Semitic context but much emphasis on a Greek NT from a Greco-Roman context which might not have matched the mind-set of Jesus and his Galilean disciples. IMO this may have created a distorted interpretation of the NT texts which eventually resulted in the Christianity we have in the West today.




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  30. JRH  March 30, 2018

    Dear Bart,

    This really isn’t on topic, but is there any evidence of “cross pollination” between Greek myths and Hebrew myths? Did the two cultures know of each other and/or interact much?

    For example, I’ve heard there are similarities between Jesus and Hercules. Also both Jews and Greeks had a similar view of the afterlife. Persephone and Jesus both visited the underworld.

    Both Greek gods and Hebrew Yahweh have very human flaws, (jealousy, rage, and far from omniscient.) Also, along with Yahweh, the ancient Hebrew religion had devils, angels, and other beings such as the ones who took human wives in Genesis 6:2. So like the Greeks, the ancient Hebrews were polytheistic.

    Is there any reputable book or scholarly work on this subject?




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    • Bart
      Bart  April 1, 2018

      My former colleage John van Seters made a career arguing that a good bit of the Hebrew Bible “borrowed” and transformed Greek traditions.




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