Here is a section from my book How Jesus Became God  (HarperOne, 2014) that deals with the question of whether Jesus was actually given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  At this point of my discussion I am not looking into the question of whether it is plausible that Jesus would be buried on the day of his execution given what we know from other historical sources, about Roman practices, but at general problems with the reporting in the Gospels.


According to our earliest account, the Gospel of Mark, Jesus was buried by a previously unnamed and unknown figure, Joseph of Arimathea, “a respected member of the council” (Mark 15:43) – that is, a Jewish aristocrat who belonged to the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling body made up of “chief priests, elders, and scribes” (Mark 14:53).  According to Mark 15:43, Joseph summoned up his courage and asked Pilate for Jesus’ body.  When Pilate learned that Jesus was already dead, he granted Joseph his wish, and he took the body from cross, wrapped it in a linen shroud, “laid him in a tomb which had been hewn out of the rock,” and then rolled a stone in front of it (15:44-47).  Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary saw where this happened (15:48).

Let me stress that all of this – or something very much like it – needs to happen within Mark’s narrative in order to make sense of what happens next, namely that on the day after the Sabbath Mary Magdalene and two other women come to the tomb and find it empty.  If there were no tomb for Jesus, or if no one knew where the tomb was, the bodily resurrection could not viably be proclaimed.   You have to have a known tomb.

But was there one?  Did Joseph of Arimathea really bury Jesus?

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