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Decent Burials for Crucified Victims: A Blast From the Past

My post a couple of weeks ago about the burial of Jesus (understandably) struck a nerve for some readers; I was just now digging around in the archives, and see that I addressed most of the important issues, head on, in this rather controversial post I made back in 2012.  All these years later, I'm still open to being convinced otherwise!!! ********************************************************************* In my previous post I quoted a number of ancient sources that indicated that part of the torture and humiliation of being crucified in antiquity was being left, helpless, exposed not just to the elements but to scavenging birds and other animals. These sources suggest that the normal practice was to leave the victims on the cross to be pecked and gnawed at both before and after death; in some instances there are indications that this would go on for days. And so the question naturally arises if the same thing could be expected in the case of people being crucified in Judea around the year 30 CE. As I pointed out John [...]

Jesus’ Death and Resurrection for Salvation; Paul’s Collection; and My Sunday Mornings: Readers’ Mailbag June 11, 2016

Did all the early Christian groups agree that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought salvation?   Why was Paul gathering money for the Christians in Jerusalem?  And, well, what do I myself now do on Sunday mornings since I don’t go to church?   This is this Weekly Readers’ Mailbag, with the normal range of unrelated but interesting questions!  If you have a question you would like me to address, ask away!   QUESTION: To which of the other early variants of Christianity does this creed (1 Cor 15:3-5) apply just as well as to the proto-orthodox? If it applies to most just as well, then Paul could have been the founder of the proto-orthodox variant of Christianity.   RESPONSE: Ah, good question!   Just to refresh everyone’s memory, this is the passage where Paul indicates that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” and that “he was raised from the dead on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”  So the question is: did all early Christians agree that it as the death and [...]

The Reversal of the Disciples’ Decisive Disconfirmation

In my previous post I argued that the crucifixion of Jesus, rather than being the fulfilment of his own and his disciples’ hopes, was the utter and virtually irrefutable destruction of them.  He, and they, had expected that God would intervene in the course of history to bring his good kingdom on earth, destroying the forces of evils – including the ruling powers of the present – and installing Jesus and his followers as rulers of the new order.  Jesus would be the messiah and his followers would be his co-regents. Instead, Jesus was arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and crucified.  This was not an end that ANYONE anticipated for a “messiah.”  And this kind of fate showed conclusively to anyone paying attention that Jesus was not, after all, the messiah.  He was just the opposite of the messiah.  Instead of a figure of grandeur and power who had destroyed the enemies of God, Jesus was a weak and insignificant figure who had been crushed by his enemies.  No greater disconfirmation of his expectations could be [...]

2020-04-03T13:05:31-04:00December 8th, 2015|Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

The Crucified Messiah in 1 Corinthians

Historians usually have reasons for what they say; that is, when they make a historical claim, it is almost always based on a close reading of the surviving sources.  When it’s not, they’re just blowin’ smoke.  But if they’re blowin’ smoke – that is, taking a guess –they’ll usually tell you.   I suppose that’s one difference between an expert (in any field) and an amateur: the expert actually has a deep and nuanced reading of the sources that informs his/her views. I have to say, as you probably have noticed in your own areas of expertise, it is pretty easy if you are an expert to know who else is an expert and who is not.  I say that as someone who is an expert in one or two areas, but an amateur in thousands.  When I have an interpretation of Hamlet or Lear that I bounce off my wife – who is a hard-core, internationally recognized expert on Shakespeare – I realize that, for the most part, I’m just taking a stab at something [...]

2020-04-03T13:09:50-04:00November 5th, 2015|Paul and His Letters, Public Forum|

The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan and Their Significance

I plan to make this the last post responding to Craig Evans’s article, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” in which he attempts to refute my argument in How Jesus Became God, that Jesus was probably not given a decent burial on the day of his crucifixion.   Several readers have asked me interesting questions about this or that thing that I’ve said, and I may try to answer these questions in a few days or, well, eventually; but for now, this will be my last post on it.   It think maybe this thread has been more than enough! I have dealt with a wide range of Craig’s arguments, and have saved his two strongest arguments for last.  In my last post I dealt with the claim of Josephus that Jews (always? usually? sometimes?) buried crucifixion victims before sunset, and I showed that as a general statement it simply isn’t true, and argued that in any event it would not have applied to a case such as that of Jesus, one who was crucified as [...]

2020-04-03T16:39:45-04:00July 31st, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus, Public Forum|

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 [...]

2020-04-03T16:39:56-04:00July 29th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

More on Josephus and Jewish Burial Practices

In my previous post I began to deal with the first of two arguments that Craig Evans provides from Josephus.  Craig wants to argue that Josephus, a first-century Jewish authority, explicitly indicates that Romans allowed Jews to provide decent burials for their dead.   In this first argument Craig provides a concatenation of passages from Josephus that together, Craig argues, indicate that Jews would not leave a corpse (such as that of Jesus) on the cross, but would provide a burial for it.  Here is the argument again. “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). I dealt with the first quotation in yesterday’s post, where I pointed out that in Against Apion Josephus is not referring to burial [...]

2020-04-03T16:40:04-04:00July 28th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Does Josephus Show that Jews Always Buried Their Dead?

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, [...]

2020-04-03T16:43:17-04:00July 27th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Early Judaism, Historical Jesus|

Did Roman Laws Require Decent Burials?

In my previous post I tried to show why Craig’s argument that Roman governors on (widely!) isolated occasions showed clemency to prisoners (those not sentenced to death) has no relevance to the question of whether Jesus, condemned to crucifixion for treason against the Roman state, would have been allowed a decent burial, contrary to Roman practice.   The “clemency” argument – even in the sources that Craig himself cites, only seems to show that in cases that were completely unlike that of Jesus himself, Roman governors could on rare occasions be merciful and/or bribed. Craig goes on to say that this clemency was extended to the burial of executed criminals.  Now in theory, this should be relevant to the question of whether Pilate showed mercy on Jesus by allowing his body to be buried on the day of his execution.  But when you actually look at the evidence, once again it is not relevant – or rather, as in the other cases, it actually supports the view that is opposite to the one Craig wants to [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:21-04:00July 11th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Roman Authorities Show Clemency?

In my previous post I began to discuss Craig Evan’s essay “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right,” which was his attempt to show that the views I set forth in How Jesus Became God were flawed.   In his view, the New Testament portrayal of Jesus’ burial is almost certainly historical: Jesus really was buried, in a known tomb, on the afternoon of his death, immediately after he expired, by Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin who had, the night before, called for his execution.   My view is that this is entirely unlikely, that Jesus was probably left on his cross to suffer the ravages of time and, possibly, scavenging animals, as was the practice of Romans for crucified victims.  In no instance was this practice more constant than in the case of “enemies of the state,” anyone, for example, who was involved in an insurrection or who threatened a violent opposition to Roman rule (or was thought to have threatened).   Jesus himself, of course, was executed on just this charge, of [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:29-04:00July 10th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Did Romans Allow Decent Burials?

Now that I have restated my views about the burial of Jesus by citing two passages from How Jesus Became God, and emphasized one particular general point – that it is of utmost importance to remember why Romans crucified people, and in particular why they crucified those who were guilty of insurrection, the threat of insurrection, or high treason (a point that I cannot stress enough: Jesus was executed for calling himself the King of the Jews – a political charge of treason against the state) – I can now begin to summarize the counter-arguments that Craig Evans has made in his relatively long response, “Getting the Burial Traditions and Evidences Right.”   Despite this title, and despite the respect I have for Craig as a scholar, I have to say that in my judgment he gets virtually all the evidence(s !) precisely wrong. He focuses his counter-argument on two of my main points: the Roman practices of crucifixion and the character of Pontius Pilate in particular.  I will respond to all of his major claims [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:41-04:00July 8th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Why Romans Crucified People (The Story Beyond the Cross & Nails)

This is part 5 in a thread of my responses to Craig Evans, who has argued against the positions I take in How Jesus Became God.  Here's the beginning of the thread. Most people acquire their knowledge about ancient Roman crucifixion from the accounts of Jesus' crucifixion in the Gospels. They learn the stories about the cross, the nails, the "King of the Jews" sign nailed above Jesus' head, and the agony he endured. But there's another side to the story. By studying the facts of Roman crucifixion, including their methods and process, you'll find that crucifixion was about a lot more than pain and punishment.  Their goal was absolute humiliation. Why is this important? Because you must understand the REASON the Romans crucified people in order to understand an important position I take in my book, How Jesus Became God, which Craig Evans has attacked.  In the book, I argue that it is likely that Jesus was not given a decent burial, as described in the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea and his [...]

2020-04-03T16:45:54-04:00July 7th, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

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 [...]

2020-04-03T16:46:03-04:00July 6th, 2014|Bart's Critics|

Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 2

This is the second of two posts in which I lay out (part of) my case for why I think Jesus was not given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  I am not devoting a post to the second of my three specific arguments – where I talk about typical Roman burial practices for criminals – simply because Craig Evan’s does not do much with it in his counter-argument.  But my section on Pontius Pilate is especially important, as you’ll see when I begin to summarize and respond to Craig’s essay. ***********************************************************   The Policies of Pontius Pilate in Particular My third specific reason for doubting the burial tradition has to do with the Roman rule of Judea at the time.  One of the chief regrets of any historian of early Christianity is that we do not have more – lots more – information about Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea from 26-36 CE, who, among many other things, condemned Jesus to be crucified.   What we do know about him, however, all points in [...]

2020-04-03T16:46:11-04:00July 3rd, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Argument Against Jesus’ Burial in HJBG, Part 1

The most important thing about this post is – that you need to read yesterday’s post!   Here I am including a section from my book How Jesus Became God that deals with the question of whether Jesus was actually given a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea.  In my book I begin by doing a detailed analysis of the biblical accounts in order to show that Paul did not know of any such tradition and that it was probably not in circulation prior to the Gospels, and that even within the NT there are conflicting accounts of Jesus’ burial.  Then I get into more detailed historical argumentation.  Here is the first of two bits from this argumentation, straight from my book: ******************************************************************   In addition to the rather general considerations I have just given for calling into question the idea that Jesus received a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea, there are three more specific reasons for doubting the tradition that Jesus received a decent burial at all, in a tomb that could later be [...]

2020-05-27T15:37:06-04:00July 2nd, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

New Thread on the Burial of Jesus

As many of you know, when my book How Jesus Became God appeared in March, a response book appeared, simultaneously, in which a group of evangelical Christian scholars provided their contrary views on many of the topics that I dealt with.  They called their book – to no one’s real surprise! – How God Became Jesus.   I devoted one post to their book on May 2, and you may want to look at that again if you’re interested. The five scholars who produced the response each wrote an essay or two on various aspects of my discussion – e.g., Michael Bird on whether Jesus thought that he was God; Simon Gathercole on what the earliest Christains thought about Jesus; Charles Hill on issues related to later debates over Christology on the church.   Also contributing were Chris Tilling (the one of them I don’t know) and Craig Evans. I thought some of the essays were learned and interesting, though not entirely relevant to the claims or arguments of my book; others I thought were a bit [...]

2020-04-03T16:50:44-04:00July 1st, 2014|Bart's Critics, Historical Jesus|

Pilate and Barabbas

I have received a number of interesting responses to my comments about Pontius Pilate, the Romans’ use of crucifixion, and the likelihood that, as a rule, Romans did not allow decent burials for the victims but left them to scavenging birds and animals -- helpless, defenseless, and in agony. A couple of people have suggested that since Pilate had the custom of releasing a prisoner to the crowds during the Passover, this would show a basic interest in placating the crowds and might suggest that he would indeed be willing to observe Jewish custom and law by removing the bodies and allowing for proper burial. This account of Pilate’s willingness is, of course, in all the Gospels (Matthew and Luke have picked it up from Mark) (it is not in the fragment of the Gospel of Peter that we have). I appreciate this comment, and I realize that there was something going on in the back of my mind that I should have put up front even before I started talking about Pilate not caring [...]

Decent Burials for Crucified Victims

In my previous post I quoted a number of ancient sources that indicated that part of the torture and humiliation of being crucified in antiquity was being left, helpless, exposed not just to the elements but to scavenging birds and other animals. These sources suggest that the normal practice was to leave the victims on the cross to be pecked and gnawed at both before and after death; in some instances there are indications that this would go on for days. And so the question naturally arises if the same thing could be expected in the case of people being crucified in Judea around the year 30 CE. As I pointed out John Dominic Crossan maintains that this was indeed the case and that Jesus corpse probably met the same fate. I used to think that was a ridiculous position to take, but now I’m not so sure. To decide the issue, one needs to consider the ancient evidence, not simply go on what your personal opinions are based on what you’ve always heard and [...]

Crucified Bodies and Scavengers

As I have indicated in earlier posts, some years ago now, New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan, one of the leading scholars today discussing the historical Jesus, made the argument that rather than being properly buried, Jesus’ body may have been eaten by scavenging dogs. You can see his discussion in his popular book, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. (Crossan does not believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead; but he does consider himself to be a Christian.) At the time I thought that it was an outrageous view, and that Jesus was almost certainly buried by Joseph of Arimathea immediately upon his death. In some of my posts I have raised some reasons for doubting the Joseph of Arimathea tradition. Recently I finally got around to doing some actual research on the question. It turns out that it was widely known and accepted in antiquity that to be crucified meant to be food for scavengers. This was part of the torture (while living) and humiliation (after death). The crucified person was unable to [...]

Was Jesus Given a Decent Burial (By Joseph of Arimathea)

One of the most pressing historical questions surrounding the death of Jesus is whether Jesus really was given a decent burial, as the NT Gospels indicate in their story of Joseph of Arimathea. Even though the story that Joseph, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, received permission to bury Jesus is multiply attested in independent sources (see, e.g., Mark 15:43-47; John 19:38-42), scholars have long adduced reasons for suspecting that the account may have been invented by Christians who wanted to make sure that they could say with confidence that the tomb was empty on the third day. The logic is that if no one knew for sure where Jesus was buried, then no one could say that his tomb was empty; and if the tomb was not empty, then Jesus obviously was not physically raised from the dead. And so the story of the resurrection more or less required a story of a burial, in a known spot, by a known person. For some historians, that makes the story suspicious. There are real grounds [...]

2020-04-03T19:18:58-04:00October 10th, 2012|Book Discussions, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|
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