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Jesus Burial: My Personal Stake in the Question

Now that I have devoted two posts to presenting (part of) my argument for why I think Jesus was probably not given a decent burial – the posts were portions of a chapter lifted from How Jesus Became God – I am in a position to begin to respond to the counter-arguments of Craig Evans, my evangelical friend and naysayer, whose essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right” is widely seen – at least by people who have said anything to me about the matter – as the best contribution in the response book How God Became Jesus.   In my replies to his arguments, I will call him “Craig,” hoping that this does not smack too much of over-familiarity.  But, well, we’ve known each other for thirty years, have worked together on various film projects (documentaries that we have both in), and have had a number of cordial public debates.   Referring to him as “Evans” might seem a bit contemptuous.

And truth be told, I’m not at all contemptuous of his scholarship or of this particular contribution to the discussion of whether or not Jesus was given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  As I have said a couple of times already, his essay evokes considerable historical knowledge and demonstrates a wide-ranging familiarity with all of the literary and archaeological evidence, every piece of which is brought to bear on the problem.   And so I mean no disrespect when I say that I think that Craig is completely wrong to intimate that the historicity of the burial tradition is a slam-dunk case.  In my view his arguments are not convincing and time after time the evidence he adduces does not appear to say what he claims it says.

I will not discuss each and every point, sentence, and word in Craig’s rather long essay but will take on the arguments that strike me as the strongest and most important.  If anyone thinks there is yet some other point that he raises that I need to address, when I’m done with these posts, just let me know and I’ll be happy to do so.

Before giving a summary of the key points and my response to them, I want, in this post and the next, to make two general points.  The first is of a personal nature and is of almost no relevance to much of anything.  But it’s one that I want to make because I think it only fair that everyone’s cards are clearly on the table for all to see.   It’s also one that may be somewhat surprising to readers – even to Craig – to the extent that some may think that I’m not telling the truth.   But I am, and here it is.   In terms of what I personally believe and of what really matters to me, on the personal level …

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Why Romans Crucified People (The Story Beyond the Cross & Nails)
Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 2



  1. Avatar
    mary  July 6, 2014

    Thank you Bart, I am truly looking forward to you next post.

  2. Avatar
    Steefen  July 6, 2014

    Jesus was not given a decent burial because Jesus did not exist as a singular person. The Book of Revelation reveals this. So, some of the historical people who factor into a composite Jesus did get a decent burial.

    [At about Chapter 17 of the Book of Revelation, ] the storyline goes past what is “forseen” in the Gospels or recorded by Josephus, and looks into the future. In effect, the author is speaking directly to those in the future who are able to decode Revelations. The following chapters describe the “mystery” of Rome and what will befall the city for casting a “magic spell” by which “all nations were led astray.”

    Emperor Domitian is envisioning the anger at the Caesars for creating a false religion…

    The disclosure concerning the “mystery” links back to the preface of Revelation where God describes a “mystery” of Satan who has a synagogue of people claiming to be Jews but are not.

    Rome’s great mystery is Christianity, a religion that–as Revelation playfully “reveals”–was a “synagogue” ruled by Romans who were claiming to be Jews but where not.

    As legacy was a main goal of literature, Flavian Emperor Domitian would of course use Revelation to try and frame how posterity would view him.

    Chapter 11: Revelation and Domitian’s Imperial Cult
    page 318
    Shakespeare’s Secret Messiah
    by Joseph Atwill

    Joseph Atwill’s chapter 11, proves his thesis.
    When you read Atwill’s extended case for his thesis, you will be incapable of disproving it.

    Another sampling: the churches in Revelation are actually locations of Imperial Cult temples and worshipers. Revelation is about the Roman empire and how the Flavians incorporated Judaism into the Emperor cults of Vespasian and Titus.

    Another sampling from Atwill’s case:

    The first five angels who blow trumpets are representations of the Caesars that Suetonius recorded as having been deified.

    The first angel [in Revelation] is Julius Caesar who had his most famous battle campaigns “on the earth.” The second is Augustus who had his most famous victory over Marc Anthony on the sea. The third angel is Claudius who was poisoned which is why the name of his star is wormwood, well known as a poison. (The author of Shakespearean literature understood Revelation’s typological level as evidenced by the character Hamlet muttering “wormwood” over and over again in Claudius’s presence.)

    Note: Claudius is the uncle of Hamlet, the uncle who poisoned Hamlet’s father.

    The fourth angel who “blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon” represents Vespasian, who had the pairing of solar and lunar eclipses occur during his consulship.
    We await your acknowledgement that the thesis is correct: the Flavians did graft themselves onto Christianity.

    In all fairness, I will read what you, Dr. Ehrman, have written here: https://ehrmanblog.org/futuristic-interpretations-of-the-book-of-revelation/
    Your post is dated Feb 28, but I don’t know what year. Hopefully you and the webmaster can do something.

    Thank you.

    • Avatar
      Steefen  July 8, 2014

      URL correction (the one above is for non-members) This one is for members.

      Bart Ehrman:
      I try to show, as succinctly as I can, why Revelation is best not interpreted as referring to future events to transpire in our own day.

      I agree because the tribulation in Revelation may refer to two things that already happened: 1) The Jewish Revolt of which 144,000 survived (12,000 of each of the 12 tribes of Israel)–speaking symbolically; and, 2) the tribulation of Emperor Domitian killing the pope Clemens who represented his father (Vespasian) and his brother (Titus), Father and Son of the gospels as they tried to make a less militant Messiah tradition in Palestine–this tribulation was Domitian making way for his version of Christianity where he was Christ rather than his father and brother.

      Domitian, as the historian Suetonius explains, insisted on being addressed as Lord God in Revelation; his servants were required to where white, the servants of “Lord God” wore white, the priests of “Lord God” wore white robes and crowns as in Revelation, Domitian rode a white horse, as in Revelation. “Lord God” Domitian was in charge of the seven temples in Asia Minor and as there are seven temples turned churches as the Flavian emperors worked through their Christ complexes.

  3. Avatar
    natashka  July 6, 2014

    That was a great point to make.
    I think many Christians won’t even consider some historical facts clearly because, as you said, they are fearful that if he was not buried…it means the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
    If it does not have to mean that, then more will be more open-minded to look for the factual, historical truth. And that’s always a good thing.
    And if he was buried, it doesn’t mean he was resurrected, either (as you say).
    I like and agree with what you said in one recent radio interview…that if indeed he was buried, and if Mary M went and found he was gone— the first natural thought would be: *Hey, I’m in the wrong tomb*. Or, *Hey, someone took his body*.
    I’ve always thought this and wondered why so many considered the tomb moment as a place to jump to the conclusion that he’d been resurrected. I think Craig does this, yes?
    It makes no sense to me, never did. His step-by-step logic on the resurrection fumbles on the very first step he always uses (“All scholars agree that….”. Wrong. They do not. )

    The funny thing about watching Craig debate is…he seems like such a nice, smiling, polite person. I want to shake him, but…he’s like the Stepford Apologist)

    Looking forward to the next posts on this!

  4. Avatar
    Jim  July 6, 2014

    On a youtube clip of Craig Evans discussing his chapter in HGBJ, he makes a comment (in what I perceive as somewhat accusatory) implying something to the effect that you didn’t consult with experts on 1st century Judaism regarding burial traditions of Jewish victims in their homeland. (btw, I don’t know how he would actually know that to be the case). If it’s ok to ask, what is the general opinion of someone like Jodi Magness on the likelihood of decent burials for crucified victims during the Pilate era in Judea for the crime of treason against the Empire? One again, no need to reply if this is a hornets nest type question.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 7, 2014

      Ha! That’s a good one. So, did anyone ask him how he would know? That’s kind of like when he wrote, in a book, that I became an agnostic because I realized there were differences in our manuscripts!! 🙂

      Jodi’s a great archaeologist and we are very good colleagues. But she simply is wrong on this one, imho.

  5. Avatar
    Matilda  July 6, 2014

    I think the major bearing it has on the matter is this; if the Bible is wrong on the burial story than it can be said to be wrong on the resurrection. If the Bible is the inerrant word of God than one wrong makes the entire thing suspect especially now when we know physical resurrection does not happen. That is probably why fundamentalists cling to the story. The Bible can’t be wrong.
    And the three days later issue- I seem to remember in my readings that three days meant something. Was it Egyptian, or pagan? I can’t remember now but 3 days has some meaning. I’ll try and look it up. At any rate perhaps that was why the three days was incorporated into the story.
    As for the Romans, ha a nasty lot they were but then so was the rest of the world. Barbaric and cruel, superstitious, and ignorant was this entire species. To expect anything else is just naïve, imo.

    • Avatar
      Matilda  July 6, 2014

      so to continue… Besides Mithras and the Egyptian religions, I have been reading about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Apparently there are 3 stages of dying. They seem similar to what apparently happened to Jesus. http://www.near-death.com/experiences/buddhism01.html
      Although it takes 49 days to get thru. the process there are 3 stages, 3 being that magic number again! I think like language, religion is just a never ending evolution of strange ideas that get melded together, fly apart to reunite again in one varied form or another. Bart, you are getting this from a person who is NOT a scholar so don’t be to hard on me!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 7, 2014

      Yes, if one holds to inerrancy then obvioulsy Jesus must have been buried by Joseph of Arimathea! On three days: see Hosea 6:2 and the story of Jonah — these may have led to the Christian belief that Jesus was raised on the third day.

    • Avatar
      zadojla  July 7, 2014

      “…three days later…”

      I may be confused, but when they say “the third day”, isn’t the starting day is included in the count (Good Friday to Easter Sunday)? The way we modern folk express numbers, we would say “two days later”. I have seen the same sort of counting applied to other, unrelated, medieval topics.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  July 8, 2014

        It’s usually explained that in ancient Jewish reckoning any part of a day counted as a whole day: so part of Friday, all of Saturday, and part of Sunday would count as three days later.

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  July 14, 2014

          Well, even in modern English “the third day” is a sensible way of expressing it! It’s only “three days later” that has a different meaning.

  6. Avatar
    Hana1080  July 6, 2014

    I’ve just started reading (thank you again) but it seems to me that if this link in the burial story line is amiss then what else is too ?

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 6, 2014

    Like you say near the end of the post, the burial question is important because it has a lot to do with whether or not the Bible is historically reliable and that question is important for many, many reasons including the use of Bible quotes to support various theological and political positions.

    I look forward to the next post. Although I have listened to many of your youtube debates and interviews, including those with Dr. Evans, I am now working my way through all 27 of your youtube debates and interviews and am finding them most helpful. Binging on them is sort of like binging on “House of Cards” episodes, plain addicting.

    As always, your “personal” digressions are your most interesting posts.

  8. Avatar
    toejam  July 6, 2014

    Totally off-topic, so feel free to ignore for another time: I know one of the big points you stress when considering the historical Jesus is that Jews prior to Jesus weren’t expecting a ‘suffering Messiah’, they were instead expecting some sort of victorious general or priest, and that it was only after Jesus’ failed Messiahship that Christians flipped back through the OT and found passages such as Isaiah 53 etc. and declared that they must have been referring to the Messiah all along, which they believed to be Jesus.

    I’m reading Carrier’s new book at the moment, and this is one point where it seems he makes a fair challenge – that there were Jews who were expecting a suffering Messiah (p.73-81, “Element 5”). He points to the Dead Sea Scrolls (11Q13 in particular, which links the cut-off priest of Daniel 9 to Isaiah 52 that who will lead them to God’s day of Peace/Salvation [p.533 of Vermes’ English translation]. Carrier is aware that the original author/s of Daniel did not see it this way, only that it was later interpreted in this way at least by the Qumran community), as well as Talmudic texts that start using Isaiah 53 and other references to a suffering one for Messianic prophecies (citing Sanhedrin 98b and 93c and Sukkah 52a-b). His argument to counter the lateness of these texts being that non-Christian Jews would not have made these links after Christianity got going knowing that is what Christians were claiming, and so these Talmudic texts may well preserve pre-Christian traditions.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this…

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 7, 2014

      Well, it’s a rather idiosyncratic argument (he *used* to argue that Daniel proved that there was a pre-Christian suffering messiah; sounds like he’s had to change his tune!). But I’m out of the country and don’t have my books with me, so can’t really say anything informed about 11Q13.

    • Avatar
      mahass  July 8, 2014

      Since this is the first comment I have seen in my own research field, I just wanted to mention that the rabbis of the Talmud show startlingly little knowledge of Christian theological claims surrounding Jesus’ death/suffering. In fact, they evince no knowledge of the Christian claim that Jesus is the messiah. So, I don’t think Carrier can claim that the later rabbis would have avoided discussing a suffering messiah because of Christian theological arguments that the rabbis themselves show no awareness of.

    • Avatar
      TimONeill  July 9, 2014

      Cazrrier’s odd claims about a pre-Christian expectation of a Suffering Messiah have been critiqued in detail by Thom Stark, who is (unlike Carrier) an actual textual critic with the linguistic and textual background to show where Carrier got all this hopelessly wrong. You can read Stark’s extensive analysis and dismissal of Carrier in the following posts:




      In typical style, Carrier tried to counter Stark’s critique and then ended up pretty much ignoring most of it, though Stark’s later posts demolish Carrier’s defence. I was wondering if Carrier is still clinging to this stuff in his new book. It doesn’t surprise me that he is – he has never been known to admit he’s ever been wrong about anything.

  9. Avatar
    Hank_Z  July 7, 2014

    Bart, is it accurate to say that Craig has a significant personal stake in this matter because part of his religious beliefs about the Bible are at stake?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 7, 2014

      Yes, I’d say he does have a lot at stake, as one who is personally committed to the historical accuracy of the New Testament. But even so, his arguments need to be evaluated on historical grounds, one way or the other.

  10. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 8, 2014

    Nothing you say here is surprising to me. I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead (that’s how Catholics would phrase it: “rose” under his own power!). And I have a non-miraculous explanation of the “empty tomb” that satisfies me.

    I think there must be two classes of advocates of the “empty tomb” story, among people interested enough to be thinking about it at all. Those who want to believe Jesus was resurrected, and feel threatened at the thought of any part of the traditional story’s not being true. And those who don’t believe in a resurrection, but *either* think that a portion, at least, of the “empty tomb” story’s being true makes it easier to understand why some of the earliest believers jumped to the conclusion they did…*or*, deep down, just like the *story* so much that they don’t want to give it up. I’m not sure which of those descriptions fits *me*!

  11. Avatar
    EricBrown  July 15, 2014

    I’ve always felt that the empty tomb, even if historical, is rather weak cheese as proof of “resurrection.” Proof, perhaps, of a stolen or relocated corpse, but what does that show? Alluding back to previous posts, a putative complete reversal in Pilate’s character on this one occasion is perhaps more miraculous than a missing body!

  12. Avatar
    gavm  March 5, 2015

    bart i have to say i strongly disagree with you.
    if it were shown that jesus wasnt buried in a tomb but was chewed by dogs on the third day, christianity would be in tatters. im not saying it there wouldnt be any christians left, but it would be a prob so big for the faith that JC would need to come back and sort out the mess.
    from a sceptical point of view, if he was given a decent burial it does seem strange that nobody went to the location of the tomb after claims were made that jesus had been raised. the claim about the resurrection mostly likely occurred pretty early on (from what the experts tell me, yourself included).

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