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Josephus’s Clearest Claim about the Burial of Crucified Victims

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.   Tomorrow I will deal with the second best – an argument from archaeology.   Craig makes a somewhat bigger deal of the second best; in fact he throws off this, his best argument rather quickly.  But it’s the most important point of the many (many!) issues he raises.   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:  I’m getting a bit weary of this topic and want to bring it on home….

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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The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan and Their Significance
More on Josephus and Jewish Burial Practices



  1. Avatar
    gavriel  July 29, 2014

    To point 9: It is probably true that Pilate executed Jesus “for calling himself the King of the Jews”. But that does not rule out the possibility that Pilate knew that Jesus himself was a harmless religious sectarian with a strange religious belief that would never pose any threat to the Romans. He might have accepted a proposal from Caiaphas for removing a possible cause of upheaval in the temple area here and now. Once agreed, they looked for a formal accusation that would be most damaging to the central beliefs of the small and otherwise harmless group of disciples.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      As with all theories, one needs to be able to look at the actual *evidence*. So, yes, it’s possible! But the question is always why one should choose to think so….

      • Avatar
        gavriel  July 31, 2014

        Right. And I think the foremost “why” is that the disciples were not rounded up when they returned to Jerusalem, still under Caiaphas and Pilate.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 1, 2014

          Romans and others often just went for the ring-leader when there were uprisings. (E.g., John the Baptist)

          • Avatar
            gavriel  August 3, 2014

            But then there was a new ringleader, Peter, who probably left out temple-cleansing from his activities. The next ring-leader, James, did something that made later Jewish authorities execute him. Doesn’t this show that the temple Priesthood really was the decisive force here leading to the execution of Jesus.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2014

            I don’t see that Peter not cleansing the Temple tells us much. And the reasons for James’s execution seem completely diffrent from Jesus’. I don’t think there’s much doubt that Jesus was killed for calling himself “King of the Jews.” That’s a charge the Romans would take note of. Jesus was not killed on the charge of blasphemy or of Temple cleansing (though the act in the temple may have been what raised the ire of some of the priests)

  2. Avatar
    JudithW.Coyle  July 29, 2014

    Then there is Barabbas. If Pilate went so far as to offer the people a choice and was shouted down, why would he later allow for Jesus’ body to be removed from the cross?

  3. Avatar
    Joseph  July 29, 2014

    Are there clear and concise words used by ancient authors to indicate the methods of execution? So that we may know how it was carried out and whom was doing it. Is there any evidence that terms like crucifixion were loosely used?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      No, there are no literary descriptions of the actual process of crucifixion. How we wish there were!

  4. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  July 30, 2014

    The fact the Romans affixed a sign, “And above His head they put up the charge against Him which read, “THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.” (Matt. 27:37) suggests they would leave him on the cross indefinitely so many passerbys might see it and drive the lesson home.

  5. Avatar
    Scott F  July 30, 2014

    I know that you are tired of this subject but, as it comes to its climax, I want to thank you. This kind of exposition is enormously helpful in teaching your lay readers the proper ways to approach historical sources and clims based on them – even yours 🙂

  6. Robertus
    Robertus  July 30, 2014

    “… 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).

    The historical value of this text is that Josephus seems to indicate an awareness of a specifically Jewish approach to administering crucifixion as a form of capital punishment. There are a few other indications of this, and Geza Vermes argues this case. You admit this at an earlier date, eg, under Alexander Janneus. When do you think it stopped and what is the evidence that it stopped?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      It seems to have stopped when the Romans took over.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  August 6, 2014

        What is the best evidence for this being the case?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 6, 2014

          Sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring to. When you reply to a point, you need to make sure I know what the point is!

          • Robertus
            Robertus  August 6, 2014

            I had asked when you thought the Jewish administration of crucifixion as a form of capital punishment had stopped ***and what is the evidence that it stopped***? You answered that it seemed to stop when the Romans took over, but I am still wondering about the evidence to support this view.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 7, 2014

            Oh, OK, I see. Roman legal historians have argued about the question. The consensus now seems to be with Sherwin-White, that Romans did not allow provincials to engage in capital punishment, but reserved the right of execution for themselves. I don’t have a reference to his famous article with me here, but possibly someone else on the blog can track it down for us.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  August 7, 2014

            Thanks. Helen Bond presents a nice concise summary in her thesis, Pontius Pilate in history and Interpretation, p 28:

            Although the evidence from Judaea is not entirelyconclusive and the precise competence of the highest Jewish courts is still ahotly debated issue’, the prevailing scholarly opinion is that Judaean courts didnot have the right to carry out a capital sentence. This would have preventednative courts from eliminating the leaders of pro-Roman factions. Sherwin-White argues that the only places which were allowed to retain the right ofcapital punishment were highly privileged communities known as civitateslibertae, ‘communities which for past services to the Roman state were madeindependent of the authority of the Roman magistrates in local administrationand enjoyed unrestricted jurisdiction over their own citizens’2 . No suchextraordinary concessions were likely to be found in Judaea. The Jewishauthorities may however have been able to convene a court to discuss a capitalcase and even to reach a verdict, but the final decision seems to have rested withthe governor. The gospel accounts of the execution of Jesus of Nazareth backthis up, indicating that after a preliminary hearing by a Jewish court the case hadto go before the governor.

            Note 1. Evidence generally brought in favour of the Jewish courts having capital powers under theRomans are: the rule concerning Gentile trespassers in the temple (War 6.124-226, Antiq15.417; also confirmed by an inscription, RA 23 (1882) p220) which may be anextraordinary concession; the execution of any Jew trespassing in the Holy of Holies (Philo,Leg 307) which may be simply hypothetical; the death of James (AD 62, Antiq 220.200-203)hich occurred at a time when Judaea had no governor and may have been illegal; and thedeath of Stephen (Acts 6:12-15,7:57-59) which may have occurred during the reign ofAgrippa I (AD 41-44). Winter suggests that the penalty of strangulation was introduced afterthe deprivation of the Jewish right to judge capital matters in AD 70 (Trial, pp 67-74);however, this theory has not been proved.

            Arguments in favour of the curtailment of Jewish powers of capital punishment are:the statement of in 18:31 (though this could be theologically motivated); the gospel accountsgenerally; and several rabbinic sources, though it must be admitted that these can only be usedwith care – Mcgillat Taanit 16, Mekhiltas of R. Ishmael, Simeon ben Yohai on Ex 21:14,jSanh 1,1/18a, jSanh 7,2/24b, Avona Zarah 8b, Sanh 4/a. For a fuller analysis of theserabbinic texts see Lemonon, Pilate, pp 81-90. See more generally Catchpole, Trial, pp 236-234; Lohse, TDNT, 7 p 865; Kilpatrick, Trial.


  7. Avatar
    Wilusa  July 30, 2014

    I certainly accept all your reasoning where Josephus is concerned. I don’t think anyone who knew how many of Craig Evans’ quotes were out-of-context would be impressed by his arguments. Thanks for giving us all this info!

    But, as always, I’m not willing to rule out special situations. I still find it easier to understand how many people could have come to believe Jesus had risen from the dead if (a) they’d already been hoping it would happen, and (b) there were reports that his body had been placed in a specific tomb, and the tomb had later been found empty.

    I think of this as applying not to the disciples, but possibly to a larger group (40 or so?) of admirers who’d followed them to Jerusalem that week. With the disciples later feeling humiliated that they’d fled, and hadn’t been the ones who found the empty tomb.

    If that happened, I think the best explanation for the tomb’s being empty is that the person who’d put the body in it (before sunset) had never meant interment there to be permanent. He was probably appalled when his involvement came to light. And he’d promised whoever had taken the body for permanent burial that he wouldn’t reveal where it was; So he kept his mouth shut, never confirmed or denied anything.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      I lay out my views about all this at greater length in How jesus Became God. I try to show there that even in the NT the empty tomb is not what leads people to believe. It is always the appearances of Jesus.

      I also think that when people want to argue that an exception was made in the case of Jesus, it’s because in the back of their minds (if not in the front!) they are thinking that of course since Jesus was and is special, he must have received special treatment. But I don’t think there’s any way that Pilate knew anything significant about him, let alone thought that he was someone special.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  August 1, 2014

        But I’m not contradicting any of that!

        You’ve said elsewhere that after the disciples (or some of them) became convinced Jesus had been raised from the dead, they began claiming this was the “first fruit” of the coming general resurrection. I’m suggesting that in the first days after his death, some other Galileans who’d believed in him, and traveled to Jerusalem because they knew he was going there, conceived the idea – on their own – that God *might* restore him to life as the “first fruit” of that general resurrection. They might have been especially likely to clutch at that desperate hope if they didn’t see any of his disciples as capable of “replacing” him.

        Already having that hope, they *would* have been apt to jump to an otherwise ridiculous conclusion when they heard about the empty tomb. They would still have been talking about it when they got back to Galilee; the spreading rumor might even have influenced the disciples’ “visions.” The disciples, convinced by their “visions,” might then have been mortified at *not* having stayed in Jerusalem and been among the discoverers of the tomb; hence their later having been written into the story.

        If that was the case, the NT writers would have treated the “empty tomb” story as they did partly because the disciples had always been uncomfortable with their (claimed) role in it…but *mostly* because people who weren’t believers to begin with had dismissed it as laughable. (“*Of course* the tomb was empty – the disciples had moved the body!”) Given the obviousness of that reaction, I find it hard to believe those NT writers would have included the episode if some part of it wasn’t true.

        And I’m not saying Pilate saw anything “significant” about Jesus – quite the opposite! I’m suggesting that he saw Jesus as so *in*significant that after he’d issued the death sentence, he didn’t care enough to pay close attention to what was going on. (I’m still wondering whether, in any other week of the year, crucifixions for crimes against the state would have taken place in Caesarea. If so, that in itself would have made this case “unusual” – few clear precedents.)

  8. Avatar
    Shubhang  July 30, 2014

    Professor Ehrman, I recently read that outside of the New Testament, there is no known reference, literary or archaeological to a place called ‘Arimathea’ – would that further weaken the burial argument? I would imagine that if Arimathea was made up, so might Joseph of the aforementioned. Or is that line of reasoning not as strong? Would be great to have your views on this

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      I’ve been puzzling over it — I don’t know why someone would make up an Arimathea if it didn’t exist. But then again, if it didn’t exist, there could not have been a Joseph who was from there!

      • Avatar
        Shubhang  August 1, 2014

        Well to add on to that point, in a couple of places I’ve seen it asserted that ‘Arimathea’ means ‘best disciple town’ – not knowing Ancient Greek, I wouldn’t know about that, but based on your knowledge of Greek, does that sound about right? I don’t know if serious scholars agree with the ‘best disciple town’ theory but the thinking is that someone (Mark?) made up this name to contrast the cowardly disciples of Jesus who fled when he was arrested with what the ‘ideal / real’ disciple would have done. Given that Mark consistently caricatures the disciples as, for lack of a better word, dimwits, maybe this is another Markan literary motif?

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  August 1, 2014

        But it’s been identified with a place called something like Ramathaim-Zophim (sometimes shortened to Ramatha or Ramah), four miles from Jerusalem. The question in my mind is whether that community existed in Jesus’s time, or only later.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 1, 2014

          If that’s what it was called, I’m not sure why he wasn’t called Joseph from Ramathaim or form Ramatha or from Ramah…..

          • Avatar
            Wilusa  August 2, 2014

            Come on. You can’t accept that after decades of the story being passed on by word of mouth…possibly begun by Galileans who’d heard the place name only once…”Ramathaim” couldn’t have morphed into “Arimathea” (however that’s spelled in Greek)?

            In the same length of time, *something* – thought by some to have been “Kerioth” – *undoubtedly* morphed into “Iscariot”!

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 2, 2014

            The problem is that it is in fact widely doubted! 🙂

  9. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  July 30, 2014

    Also, I’d hate to be the guy who tells Pilate, “Oh yeah, one of Jesus’ sympathizers came by and we let him take the body.” I can’t imagine a Roman soldier wanting to deliver that news or Pilate authorizing its removal.

  10. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  July 30, 2014

    Do you know if Dr. Evans has written a response to your extensive analysis about the burial of Jesus?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      Not to my knowledge. But, judging from how things work, I’ won’t be surprised if he does. (!)

  11. Avatar
    sashko123  July 30, 2014

    I also wonder about the following argument: The use of passive voice (“even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried”) makes it unclear who is sentencing, taking down, and burying. Josephus seems to suggest that during the war, Jews were themselves taking down the bodies and burying them. However, in the NT accounts, a Jew (Joseph of Arimathea) either asks permission from Pilate for the body, takes it away, and buries it (Matthew and John) or asks Pilate for the body, takes it down himself, and buries it (Mark and Luke). So the situations on the ground differ significantly between the two events, and we are back to the threshold question of whether Pilate would have handed over the body to satisfy Jewish sensibilities. Probably not.

  12. Avatar
    Steefen  July 31, 2014

    Bart Ehrman: 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

    Steefen: There was a non-Roman appointed queen in Jerusalem who converted to Judaism, took Jewish vows not for 7 but 14 if not 21 years. Her son, a prince, was not appointed by Rome.

    Princess Diana was not just a princess in England, she was the people’s princess, and across the Atlantic, we embraced her too and mourned her loss.

    Queen Helena of Adiabene had a child named Izates. As the Gospel according to John calls Jesus “only begotten son” Izates, in Josephus is called only begotten son. Men in his royal family wore crowns of thorns. Izates father was known to be a man of wisdom in the court of the Roman emperor. The wisdom of Izates father could well be the wisdom of the parables in the gospels. Izates in his famine relief fed 5,000 on multiple occasions. Roman Catholicism hails Mary full of grace. As mentioned above, Queen Helena with her purity of conversion to Judaism was also full of grace. She too bore an only begotten son.

    If Mother and Child loved Jerusalem so much that they became de facto Queen Mother and Prince-to-be-king, it is absolutely imperative that we question the special care that is given to crucifying royalty.

    We have the the gospels with less historical intent than the works of Josephus. There is more proof of the historicity of Queen Helena whose golden candlestick in the Temple was carried away by Titus than there is for the Gospel’s Mary, if she’s a different person.

    In my book, the Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy, I mention that where Josephus speaks of the only begotten son of Monobazus, he also speaks of this son being the result of royal sibling incest, which Virgin Birth does well to conceal.

    When Queen Helena and her prince, son-to-be-king became de facto royalty for the benefit of Jerusalem, adorning the temple, taking vows, Prince Izates becoming circumcised, and with grace, preventing a famine when Rome is not known for out-gifting them, they were not enemies of the state or declaring war, then.

  13. Avatar
    Slydog1227  July 31, 2014

    Or perhaps Josephus is speaking precisely about the burial of Jesus himself, as he has heard the story related?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      Seems unlikely. He doesn’t mention Jesus in the Jewish Wars and does not seem to be referring to a specific instance.

  14. Avatar
    lbehrendt  July 31, 2014

    Bart, one problem with Evans’ argument here is that it “proves too much.” The Gospels themselves do not indicate that Jewish crucifixion victims were routinely removed from the cross and buried. According to the Gospels, the removal of Jesus’ body from the cross had to be specially requested. Moreover, this wasn’t a routine request. It came from a rich and prominent member of Jewish society, and was made to Pilate himself!. Mark’s Gospel even goes so far as to tell us that the request was made “boldly”! But Craig’s argument seems to indicate that Jesus’ body should have been removed from the cross as a matter of routine, or that the request for his body could have been made to the Roman soldiers in charge of the crucifixion.

    A second problem is one of timing. If Evans is right, then Jesus’ body should have been cut down before sunset. But if I’m reading the Gospels correctly (I depend on computer tools to understand the Greek), Mark and Matthew say that it is was already evening (Καὶ ἤδη ὀψίας γενομένης) when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for the body. This raises a question whether Jesus’ body could have been removed from the cross before sunset — is sunset when evening begins, or does “evening” mean that sunset is approaching? In any event, the Gospels do not indicate that Joseph seeks the removal of Jesus’ body because it’s the Jewish custom to remove all crucified bodies before sunset. Mark indicates that Joseph sought Jesus’ body because the Sabbath was fast approaching, and John indicates that Jewish leaders did not want Jewish crucifixion victims hanging on crosses over a Sabbath. In other words, the concern seems to be about the sunset before the Sabbath begins, and not just any sunset. I cannot find any indication in the Gospels to support Evans’ contention that the Jews would not allow Jews to remain on a cross over an ordinary sunset.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2014

      Interesting points!

    • Avatar
      sashko123  July 31, 2014


    • Avatar
      ftbond  October 11, 2018

      re: “Mark and Matthew say that it is was already evening (Καὶ ἤδη ὀψίας γενομένης) when Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to ask for the body. This raises a question whether Jesus’ body could have been removed from the cross before sunset — is sunset when evening begins, or does “evening” mean that sunset is approaching?”

      The word we translate as “evening” simply means “late”, as in “late in the day”. And, 4, 5, 6 oclock – when the sun sets (at that time of year) at about 7, is certainly “late in the day”.

      The evening, for an ancient agricultural society with no electric lights, was the hours leadingg up to the twilight. After dark, you went to bed. There was no “late news” to watch on TV. So “Late in the day” – which we translate as “evening” – was the hours shortly before dark.

      Bottom line: “evening” for them, back then, was something different than evening is for us. For us, it’s after we get off work at 5:00, go home and have dinner, then spend a few hours watching TV – all for a bedtime of 11:00pm. Bedtime for them was 7:30…

  15. Avatar
    rbrtbaumgardner  August 1, 2014

    I’m sitting here wondering if having the crucifixion the day before the Sabbath isn’t a literary device. I don’t know enough about the New Testament by far to say, but why wasn’t Jesus crucified some other day of the week. Why have crucifixions on the day just before the evening of the Sabbath, particularly of the Passover. Wouldn’t the Romans simply be inviting requests for removal of the bodies before the Sabbath begins if such requests were made? The timing strikes me as curious.

  16. Avatar
    qaelith2112  August 4, 2014

    Prof. Ehrman, were the Roman subjects actually allowed to administer capital punishment without involving the Roman government? Some suggest elsewhere that they had no authority to do this, but then the gospels would seem to imply that it was commonplace (or at least that it happened on occasion) for the crowds to haphazardly pick up a bunch of stones to throw at a perceived wrongdoer (adulterer, blasphemer, whatever). I’m left not being sure whether this didn’t actually happen, or happened despite Roman orders to the contrary, or if Rome actually allowed for it to happen in some way.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 5, 2014

      The best legal experts appear to think that the answer is no. But the Romans couldn’t stop mob violence (which is what’s going on in the Gospels). Just as our own federal government does not allow my city of Durham to execute criminals on its own, but hate-murders do happen with alarming frequency.

  17. Robertus
    Robertus  August 6, 2014

    “5. 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.”

    Why is this “the key point” if no one in their right mind disputes it? If no one disputes it, it seems rather inconsequential.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 6, 2014

      It’s the key point not because it’s disputed but because Craig doesn’t, in my opinion, recognize its force, as I try to explain.

      • Robertus
        Robertus  August 6, 2014

        I don’t see how it has any force. If the normal Jewish process of crucifixion, if there ever was such a thing, was interrupted by the war and seige against Jerusalem, how does that affect the question of whether or not there might have been a Jewish method of crucifixion some 40 years prior to the war and seige?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 7, 2014

          It appears that under the Romans, there was no normal Jewish process of crucifixion. Alexander Jannaeus was during the Maccabean period.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  August 10, 2014

            But, above, you yourself say ‘there is no way to know’ if Josephus was exaggerating to make his point. And, in addition to Alexander Jannaeus, there are other examples brought up by those that take a contrary position to yours. In addition to the other examples given above regarding capital punishment in general, Geza Vermes also points to the Targumim of Ruth and Numbers and the Sifre on Numbers as later evidence for continued Jewish acceptance of crucifixion as a Jewish form of capital punishment. Even the strongest statement from the Talmud that claims the Sanhedrin had lost the power of capital punishment only dates this loss of authority to around 30ish CE and not earlier.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 10, 2014

            Alexander Jannaeus, to repeat (!), is not relevant to the question, because he was a ruler during the Maccabean period, not when the Romans were in charge. The rabbinic literature is not relevant because it is also not from the time we’re talking about. Historians have to go on the basis of probability, not on the basis of what they grew up thinking!

          • Robertus
            Robertus  August 10, 2014

            No need to repeat; I was speaking of the evidence that historians cite aside from, in addition to, the evidence from the Hasmonean period. The later evidence is not direct evidence of this period, but it indicates that there might be continuity. The closest evidence of this period is the gospel of John and Josephus. The dismissal of Josephus’ reference to this practice because it did not endure during the time that Jerusalem was under seige and at war with Rome and ruled by insurgents is not a strong point, and hardly the key point.

  18. Avatar
    kbakalar  August 13, 2014

    Giving your conclusion, either the Gospel writers were unfamiliar with the Roman practice of crucifixion or they were confabulating. Is there a reason to think they were unfamiliar with the practice? For example, had it gone out of fashion by the time they were writing? On the other hand, if they were knowingly confabulating, what reason wouuld they have to think that their readers would not notice?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  August 13, 2014

      They may not have known all the ins and outs of crucifixion practices; since they were all from rural Galilee they may, in fact, never have seen a crucifixion. I wish we knew!

      • Avatar
        kbakalar  August 13, 2014

        Now you have me confused. I have the impression from your notes and lectures that the gospel writers were literate, educated Greek speakers, not illiterate, Galilean Aramaic speakers. So my question stands: were these literate Greek speakers unfamiliar with the aftermath of crucifiction, or were they trying to pull a fast one on the reader?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  August 15, 2014

          Oh, sorry. I thought you were asking about the disciples of Jesus, not about the authors of the Gospels. By the time the Gospel writers had inherited the stories, the account of a special request by Joseph of Arimathea was already firmly in the tradition, and they simply accepted it, not having worked out carefully the implausibilities that it entailed (just as as been true for *most* Christian readers of the Gospels over the ages).

  19. Avatar
    prestonp  August 31, 2014

    Overthinking something can happen, too, and this is a case of that, imo.

    • Avatar
      kbakalar  September 1, 2014

      Preston P I hope you are not accusing me of overthinking! I did not reach the conclusion Bart provided on my own, and I am grateful for his help. You may accuse me of being slow witted.

  20. Avatar
    walstrom  September 7, 2014

    SIDEBAR QUESTION: How is it the Jews could freely execute Stephen by stoning, yet they had to defer to due process with Roman bureaucracy for Jesus? Isn’t it a demonstrable, historical fact Jews were NOT allowed to execute their criminals?

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