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Josephus and the Burial of Jesus

I have devoted a large number of posts to going carefully through the main arguments that Craig Evans makes in his critique of the position I take in How Jesus Became God with respect to the burial tradition, in his essay, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   To this point I have been trying to argue that the accumulation of arguments in and of itself does not constitute a “cumulative argument.”  Each of the accumulated arguments has to carry *some* weight if the overall argument is to carry *much* (or a lot of) weight.  And in my judgment, none of the arguments that I have adduced and responded to so far carries much, if any, weight.

Some of you will probably disagree with me, and that’s fine.   But I do hope that I’ve shown that I’m not the uninformed skeptic that Craig portrays in his essay.  At times, reading it, I felt like I was being lectured to.  On the other hand, maybe Craig feels the same way in reading my responses (he’s not on the blog, but I have a sneaking suspicion that these posts have made their way to his computer screen for his reading pleasure) (Hi Craig!).

I am now in a position to consider two final arguments.  I have saved these until last because in my opinion they are his strongest ones, and I think most anyone reading his essay will agree.   He actually gives rather short shrift to one of them, which strikes me as odd and counter-productive for his own case, since he could have hammered it home.  In fact, my view is that he should have written his essay stressing these two arguments and used everything else as auxiliary backups, in very brief order, since in fact on their own none of the others, on close inspection, as I just pointed out, actually seems to carry much (or any) weight.

So, in my next several posts (the final ones of the thread, for which we can all be grateful) I will address the two arguments that are most important:  (1) The Jewish historian Josephus appears to say that the Romans allowed Jews to practice their burial customs (whether he actually says that or not will be part of our question); and (2) We have the remains of a crucified victim with a nail still attached to his ankle, showing that *this* crucified Jew, at least, was buried.

Before addressing these important points (neither of which convinces me, as you may have suspected [!]), I realize that I need to provide a bit of background on Josephus, to help make sense both of what Craig says and of my response to him.   So, for some very basic background to bring you sufficiently up to speed, in case you’re not already, I include the few introductory comments that I devote to Josephus in another one of my books (my NT textbook).   As follows:

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  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 24, 2014

    Thanks for the review of Josephus. I also thought that you were being “lectured to” or worse when I read their group book.

  2. Avatar
    TomTerrific  July 24, 2014

    This post seems to be cut off mid-thought.

    Am I missing something?

  3. Avatar
    Steefen  July 24, 2014

    Bart Ehrman: “…someone like Jesus, an “enemy of the state” who was executed for treason.”

    Jesus wasn’t an enemy of the state until Palm Sunday week and the Jews brought him to Pilate’s attention?

    John the Baptist supposedly preached “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
    Jesus, continuing the element of John the Baptist’s message also preached, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
    Neither of these two instances made either of the two speakers “enemies of the state.”

    John the Baptist was not executed for treason by Pontius Pilate (26 – 36 A.D. after Gratus before Marcellus) under the reign of Tiberius.

    John the Baptist, in the gospels, not necessarily in Josephus, preached a kingdom other than the Roman Empire for which people should set priorities.
    Jesus preached a kingdom other than the Roman Empire for which people should set priorities.
    This gets a pass by Rome.
    Both speak of a Kingdom of Heaven which implies a king–and that king is not Tiberius.
    That’s a little bit too much leeway.

    So, what made Palm Sunday and Monday’s turning over the tables treason?

    The turning over the tables was not an act of treason, it was an act, as reported by the gospels, of Temple spiritual integrity: “Is all this commerce a house of prayer or what?”
    Even this does not sound right. This sounds right if Jesus was not Jewish and thought all the slaughtering was not necessary. A Jewish Jesus would have known the necessity for sacrifices to be arranged. He didn’t like the layout of Herod’s Temple? Prayer is done in deeper courts of the Temple. Passover is not Yom Kippur.

    Yom Kippur (Hebrew: יוֹם כִּפּוּר, IPA: [ˈjom kiˈpuʁ], or יום הכיפורים), also known as Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people.[1] Its central themes are atonement and repentance. Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day with an approximate 25-hour period of fasting and intensive prayer, often spending most of the day in synagogue services.

    Leviticus 16:29 mandates establishment of this holy day on the 10th day of the 7th month as the day of atonement for sins. It calls it the Sabbath of Sabbaths and a day upon which one must afflict one’s soul.

    Leviticus 23:27 decrees that Yom Kippur is a strict day of rest.

    I’d like to make a criticism that a singular biblical Jesus did not make a scene on Passover saying this is a place and time for prayer. It is not historical.

    Okay, and it’s not a reason for treason against Rome. So, we’re left with Caiphas explaining to Pilate that Jesus’ entry was Jesus’ way of saying, I, like Solomon, am a Davidic king of Jerusalem and the Jews. Then, in Roman simplicity, they put this over his cross and crucify him.

    Now, if Jesus’ entry is not historical, we have a problem.

    Dr. Ehrman, I have a problem with the Monday event (turning over the tables) of Passover Week. Is there any criticism of the Sunday event, the manner in which Jesus entered Jerusalem?

  4. Avatar
    Clayton Strand  July 24, 2014

    Flavius Josephus adopted Vespasian’s family name (gens), like all freedmen, when he was released from slavery and granted Roman citizenship.

  5. Avatar
    fultonmn  July 25, 2014

    I’ve read a lot of “Josephus said . . .” on this blog and elsewhere; now it means a lot more. What a life he led! First thought to come to mind was Ko-Ko from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado (but I’m twisted that way):

    Taken from the county jail
    By a set of curious chances;
    Liberated then on bail,
    On my own recognizances;
    Wafted by a favouring gale
    As one sometimes is in trances,
    To a height that few can scale,
    Save by long and weary dances;
    Surely, never had a male
    Under such like circumstances
    So adventurous a tale,
    Which may rank with most romances.

  6. Robertus
    Robertus  July 25, 2014

    ” If Josephus says that Jews buried their dead on the day of their deaths (he actually, it will be important to note, does NOT say that they always did!) …”

    Does Craig Evans say or imply that Josephus said this?

    “In a couple of places in his writings Josephus may indicate that Jews in Judea were allowed to bury their dead. We will want to look at these carefully, and consider whether they are applicable to the case of someone like Jesus, an “enemy of the state” who was executed for treason.”

    Raymond Brown is very good on this point, but perhaps you can go further in helping us understand how Pilate and his personal, Caesarean, and local Roman troops interacted with the local Roman government of the sunedrion? That would be very cool.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 26, 2014

      Craig argues that it was standard Jewish practice for Jews to bury their dead on the day of their deaths.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  July 26, 2014

        But does he say this with respect to all victims of crucifixion? Does he distinguish between an honorable burial and dishonorable one? Paul seems to have been taught that Jesus was buried. If that was not an accurate tradition, it was at least invented and repeated by some people that thought it plausible.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 27, 2014

          I too think Jesus was buried, in some fashion, some days after he was dead.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  July 27, 2014

            How can we possibly know how many days after he died that he was buried?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 28, 2014

            I don’t think there is any way to know.

  7. Avatar
    lbehrendt  July 25, 2014

    Bart, I know this is off-topic, but I see that The Teaching Company has released a new course from you on How Jesus Became God. For those of us who haven’t read your book yet and want an audio-only experience, would you recommend this course, or an audio version of the book? Can you give discerning shoppers the 411?

  8. Avatar
    FrancisDunn  July 25, 2014

    Dr Ehrman: I just wanted to let you know that I have downloaded from The Great Courses your latest course “How Jesus Became God”…I am looking forward to this course. If anyone is interested in downloading this course they need to go to http://www.thegreatcourses.com. I have downloaded all of your other courses. I have found them rich and rewarding. Keep up the good work.

  9. Avatar
    mark  July 25, 2014

    The Great Courses has recently started releasing courses that are put together out of already released material, like “The Joy of Ancient History”. Is your new course “How Jesus Became God” like that too (recycled from other courses you have already made), or is it all newly recorded material? It was released today and I’ll get if it’s new, but I’m not interested in buying stuff I already have. I don’t remember you mentioning that you went to record it, so I was surprised to see it and was wondering if it’s new or recycled.


  10. Avatar
    hwl  July 26, 2014

    Larry Hurtado has published a commissioned article-review of How Jesus became God:
    (I recommend save the article 1st time round as access will be restricted to non-subscribers after a limit of reads is reached)
    While Hurtado and yourself continue to have significant points of disagreement, do you think he represented all your views correctly?
    A blog post would be helpful.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 27, 2014

      I devoted several posts to the blogpost that he made on his own blog, that was the basis for the review in the Christian Century. After he and I exchanged emails he indicated that he would correct some points to appear in the review. I have not checked to see if he did so.

  11. Avatar
    Steefen  August 31, 2014

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m reading http://biblehub.com/greek/4676.htm for the definition of soudarion means a head cloth (for the dead). Can you find any evidence that Jews of the first century used soudarions in burials. If they do not, Lazarus and Jesus didn’t receive Jewish burials.

    Would you agree that soudarions were used in Roman burials?

    Would the use of a soudarion be a major breech in Hebrew burials? Would a proselyte have the option of using a soudarion, not as bound to Hebrew tradition has a Hebrew?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 31, 2014

      I’m not an expert. But I’ve always thought that the author was simply using the Latin term for the cloth.

  12. Avatar
    Theonedue  December 22, 2015

    Say the account of miracles occurring during the Jewish War actually happened as reported by Josephus. Why didn’t John, who was written in 85 a.d or later, report that account that thousands would have seen in Jerusalem?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 22, 2015

      Because he wasn’t writing about the Jewish war. Most authors in the Roman world writing around 85 CE didn’t report what happened in the war.

      • Avatar
        Theonedue  December 22, 2015

        Do you think he completely fabricated the account of eyewitnesses reporting the signs in the sky or did a bunch of eyewitnesses decided to lie and say there saw signs in the sky for some reason?

        • Bart
          Bart  December 23, 2015

          These aren’t the only two options. Rumors start without malicious intent, all the time, every day!

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