I have not covered all of the points that Craig Evans makes in his essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which is his response to the position I stake out in How Jesus Became God. My view is that Jesus probably was not given a decent burial on the day of his death by the otherwise unknown figure, Joseph of Arimathea. In this thread I have tried to focus on Craig’s main points – but I will be happy to address any of the others if anyone is interested. In my judgment, despite all the various issues he raises there are really only two of that are directly relevant and that need to be taken with utmost seriousness: Josephus appears to say that Jews were allowed to bury their dead (Craig makes two arguments about this) and we have the skeletal remains of one crucified victim from Judea at about the time of Jesus.
First I’ll be dealing with the evidence from Josephus. My view is that of the two arguments Craig makes, based on Josephus, the first also carries almost no weight and the second cannot mean what he claims it does.
His first argument seems straightforward, but in fact it is a bit convoluted – I will have to unpack it to explain why I do not find it persuasive. This will take two posts. Here is the argument, in Craig’s own words.
“Josephus asserts the same thing. The Romans, he says, do not require “their subjects to violate their national laws” (Against Apion 2.73). The Jewish historian and adds that the Roman procurators who succeeded Agrippa I “by abstaining from all interference with the customs of the country kept the nation at peace” (Jewish War 2.220), customs that included never leaving a “corpse unburied” (Against Apion 2.211).
Craig has made a clever move here, combining fragments of what Josephus says in one book devoted to one topic with another from another book on another topic, and then a third from the same book as the first. The first and third quotations come from Against Apion, a book in which Josephus, near the end of his life, defends Judaism against the attacks of a pagan opponent, Apion. In this book Josephus argues, among other things, that Judaism is a very ancient and therefore respectable religion, that the slurs against it are unfounded, and that it is a highly moral and socially conscious religion. The other book is called the Jewish War; it is a six-volume historical narrative that describes the history leading up to the Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE, and that gives a blow-by-blow account of the war itself by someone who was intimately connected to it, first as a general in the Jewish army, and then as the liaison between the combating parties, serving as an interpreter for the Romans, written after he had been appointed a kind of court historian by the Roman emperor Vespasian, to whom he had surrendered in the course of the war.
So, what do we make of Craig’s concatenation of these three passages from Jospehus? It would help to take them one by one.
1) The first one from Apion 2.73 (reread it, above). I would like to make two points about it:
- a. Josephus is not talking about burial laws or customs. You can read the passage on line for yourself. Josephus is referring to the national law of the Jews that did not allow them to make images, let alone images of foreign rulers. If Jews were required to make images, it would be a violation of their religious tradition – as in, e.g., the Ten Commandments. Josephus is saying something specific here: when the Romans conquered Judea, they did not force them to break their national laws against idolatry and so they exempted them from requiring images of the emperor, allowing them, instead, to pray for the emperor and sacrifice on his behalf in order to show all due honor to him. Josephus is not talking about *all* Jewish practices; only about their customs with respect to idolatry.
You may say in response that even though…
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