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The Skeletal Remains of Yehohanan: Readers Mailbag October 8, 2017


I have received the following question


One thing came to mind during the discussion of whether crucified persons were buried.  There is a case where an ossuary was found with a nail through the ankle bone.  [I think it was ankle, might have been wrist.]  Obviously this was an exceptional case; as I recall, there are some 900 bone boxes in Israeli museums and this is the only such case, where according to Josephus hundreds (thousands?) were crucified in 1st Century Palestine.  But at any rate, what do you make of this exceptional case?



I dealt with this issue on the blog several years ago, while I was responding to the claims of my scholarly colleague Craig Evans, who maintained that Jesus must have been buried right away, not left to hang on the cross for days, as I had argued in my book How Jesus Became God.  Craig was asserting the traditional Christian view (as found in the Gospels), and he mounted a number of arguments based on various pieces of evidence.  I responded to them one at a time.  You can see the entire thread if you look back at posts from July 2014.

Here is where I deal with the evidence of “the crucified man” — the skeletal remains of a person from about Jesus’ time with the crucifixion nail still in his ankle!  Even if you don’t read the other comments I made about Evans’s arguments (back in 2014), this one can make sense and deals with an issue that is both important and interesting.  Here is what I said back then.


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 an enemy of the state.   Today I deal with the second argument that had been seen by some readers to have a good deal force: an archaeological discovery of a crucified man.  Once again, I do not think this provides Craig with the evidence that he wants and needs in order to make his case.

Let me first introduce what this evidence is.   What follows is a very brief description of the discovery of the skeletal remains of Yehohanan, the crucified man.

This is drawn from my textbook on the New Testament:


Crucifixion is mentioned in a wide range of ancient sources, and there are occasional references to the various ways Romans (who did not invent the practice; it was used by the Persians much earlier) performed the deed.  But there are no explicit descriptions of how it was done.  Nor until fairly recently, there was not a single piece of archaeological evidence to explain the practice.

In 1968, however, a significant archaeological discovery was made in a suburb of Jerusalem: an ossuary with the skeletal remains of a man named Yehohanan (= John) who had been crucified.

Yehohanan had been nailed to an upright beam of wood through the ankle; but the nail hit a knot in the wood and bent, making it difficult to be removed after his death.  And so a chunk of the wood was broken off, and Yehohanan was buried with wood and nail still attached to the ankle bone.

The discovery of his remains caused quite a sensation, and experts who have examined them have drawn some important historical findings.  Yehocanan, who would have been 5 feet 5 inches tall and probably in his mid twenties, was nailed through the ankle on to the side of the upright beam; his arms were evidently tied rather than nailed.

It seems doubtful, however, that this was the normal mode of crucifixion — the early traditions about Jesus, written by first-century persons who presumably understood the practice quite well, presuppose that he was nailed in both wrists (= hands) and feet (see John 20:25).


                In considering Craig’s argument that this important archaeological finding shows that it was Jewish custom to bury a crucified victim on the day of his death, one point is important to stress.  It is a point that Craig and I agree on.   Jewish ossuaries (bone-boxes) were often used to house the remains of multiple persons.   In an earlier post I mentioned the discovery of the ossuary of Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ death.  It was discovered in a tomb with a number of other ossuaries.  One of them had the skeletal remains of six individuals.   The ossuary containing the ankle bone of Yehohanan contained the remains of two other persons as well.   That will be worth remembering.

The discovery of Yehohanan’s remains may well be significant.   For Craig they are highly significant.  For one thing, this is our *only* archaeological evidence of the practice of crucifixion.  And for Craig it is highly significant that it is precisely of a man who was buried.  Doesn’t this show that Jews buried crucified victims?

To that argument you may have several responses.  My own responses include the following:

  • Since this is the only crucified victim whose remains are known to survive, out of the many tens of thousands of people crucified in the ancient world, it cannot be used to establish a “practice” or a “pattern” of burial.  One instance is not a pattern.  It is an instance.  Is it the exception or the rule?  There’s simply no way to know.  I wish there were!
  • More significant: the excavator of the tomb indicated that it gave signs that the family connected with Yehohanan was aristocratic and well-placed.   That was not the case of Jesus.  We know that aristocrats sometimes carried clout that no one else did (Josephus himself, for example, who was at the very top of the aristocratic-elite-heap, was able to assert his considerable influence to have three associates of his taken down off their crosses because of his personal connection with the general Titus; no one else would have dared even try!).   Did one of Yehohan’s relatives assert influence to retrieve his body?  Again, there’s simply no way to know.
  • Yet more significant: for what was Yehohanan crucified?   Sometimes lower level criminals may have been allowed burials – if we can trust Josephus that far.  And so was Yehohanan not a lower level criminal but, like Jesus, an enemy of the state?  Nothing indicates so.  Was he, instead, a low life (despite family connections)?  We don’t know.  Was he a favored slave who had run away?  (Probably not.)  Did he insult a Roman soldier and club him over the head?   Did he steal the Roman governor’s favorite horse?  Did he get caught sleeping with the daughter of the local centurion?  We have NO IDEA why he was crucified.  And so we have no way of evaluating whether he shows that someone crucified for calling himself King of the Jews would be given a decent burial.  His remains simply give us no evidence for the one point we’re interested in.
  • Most significant of all:  how long was Yehohanan on the cross after he died?  WE HAVE NO WAY TO KNOW.   Was he taken off the cross the afternoon of his death?  There is no evidence.  Was he left to the elements and scavangers for several days, as was the Roman practice?  We have no evidence.  So is his ankle bone evidence for bodies being taken from their crosses on the days of their deaths?  No, it is no evidence.  (Let me stress in this connection: I DO think that Jesus’ remains were eventually buried.  That is, the Romans did *something* with his corpse, presumably after a few days; possibly they dumped it in a common grave.  So too Yehohanan’s relatives, as aristocrats, may have been allowed – after some days – to place his body in a tomb, from which they retrieved his skeleton a year later).

Craig tries to anticipate this problem in his comments by arguing that the skeletal remains of Yehohanan show that his legs were broken.  And why broken?  Ah ha!  It must have been to speed his death!  Why would someone do that?  Because he had to be buried before sunset!  And so there *is* evidence that Jewish victims were buried before sunset!  Right?

Well, unfortunately, no.    There is one problem that Craig himself rightly admits in his article.   Did the bone damage occur while Yehohanan was alive or while being removed from the cross?   The expert who did the forensics analysis of the skeleton (well, one of the two – Joe Zias, whom I mentioned before), the analysis that Craig, I, and everyone else in the known universe relies on, believes that the bone damage was done *after* Yehohanan had been dead – e.g., when being removed from the cross.   Experts claim that there could be considerable damage to the remains when trying to remove nails and such.  So the legs were not broken to facilitate death.

But there’s a bigger problem.   The ossuary that contained Yehohanan’s ankle and those bones.  Well, the bones were not connected to the ankle.  And the ossuary contained the skeletal remains of two others.  And so, as Craig himself says:  “Indeed the talus under question may actually belong to one of the other two individuals, whose skeletal remains had been placed in the ossuary” (p. 84).  Yes indeed.  That’s a very big problem.

Let me stress as emphatically as I can that I wish we had archaeological evidence that could help us know more about the crucifixion of Jesus.  It would be of utmost significance even if we had any archaeological evidence to help us know, in general, whether it is likely that Romans overlooked their normal practice of leaving crucified victims on their crosses when it came to Jews in Judea. We do know that they did not overlook the practice in times of war.  And we recognize the ideological reasons for the practice in the first place.  Part of the punishment of crucifixion, in addition to the rather nasty fact itself of being tortured to death, was not to be allowed a decent burial.   Anyone who crosses the power of Rome is faced with that power in the most brutal way possible.  The person is rendered helpless on a cross to die a slow and excruciating death in full public view, and after death to be left to the elements and the scavenging animals.  The Romans wanted to exercise that power in *particular* for enemies of the state.  Rome punished these people severely, and did not care if the locals found it offensive to their cultural or religious sensitivities.

Jesus was condemned as an enemy of the state.   Given all the balance of probabilities, one way or the other, as adduced by Craig in his article and by me in my book and in this response, I think it is most likely that he did not receive a decent burial by Joseph of Arimathea, or by anyone else, on the day of his death.  He was probably left on his cross for days, in accordance with standard Roman practice.   Only then were his remains removed and “buried.”   In such a case, this would probably mean being thrown into a common tomb, where decomposition would continue relatively quickly, until he very soon would no longer be recognizable.

If you belonged to the blog you would get meaty posts like this *all* the time!  So why not join?  It won’t cost you much, and every penny goes to help the needy.  So there’s no downside!

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  1. Avatar
    godspell  October 8, 2017

    Leaving aside the question of Jesus’ burial, here’s an interesting question raised by this discovery. So the legs of crucified people might often have been broken in the course of removing their bodies from the cross.

    We know there were probably few if any of Jesus’ followers there to witness what happened to him. They would have fled in terror of meeting the same fate, disheartened and disoriented. But he would have had at least some followers who lived in Jerusalem, and who were not going to run for the hinterlands. And they would have wanted to find the master’s remains, if possible.

    Suppose they found him–with his legs broken–that could have led to the story of a soldier breaking his legs with a club to finish him off. Let’s remember the truly exceptonal level of devotion these people felt for Jesus–if they hadn’t, would we be having this conversation now?

    I never understood that, incidentally. The thing about the legs. That part of the Passion story never made sense to me. I broke my ankle once. Hurt like hell, laid me up for months, but it didn’t kill me. People break their legs all the time. Buster Keaton broke his neck doing a stunt for a movie, and he just had headaches for a while, a doctor pointed out the healed break to him in an x-ray, years later. People come out of car accidents with all kinds of important bones broken, spinal cords severed, and live to tell of it.

    There were much better ways for a well-armed Roman soldier to finish somebody off than hitting his legs with a club. Granted, the shock might kill some, given the severe bodily stress they were already under, but it’s not a reliable system, and as you would doubtless point out if I didn’t do it first, the whole idea of crucifixion was to inflict the most drawn-out excrutiating death possible. Cruel and Unusual Punishment is precisely what they’re going for. The good old days, right? (Surprising how many ‘Christians’ are nostalgic for that, but then again, it was under Christianity that we began to question it.)

    Why would they just make up the story about the broken legs? It had to come from somewhere, even if it was just a misunderstanding, a garbled piece of data. They found a body with the legs broken. They believed that body was Jesus.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  October 10, 2017

      I read in a Wikipedia article about crucifixion that in ancient Rome itself (the time period wasn’t made clear), breaking of legs was one of *several* methods of hastening victims’ deaths. I don’t recall the other methods. But the *reason* for hastening deaths was said to be that the guards weren’t free to leave the site until the victims were dead.

      I was so interested that I e-mailed the person named as the source (on a university faculty in South Africa) to ask if he’d tell me *his* source. But he never replied.

      You make a very good point, about this method of hastening deaths not seeming very practical, since the victims still wouldn’t die immediately. But might the intent have been that the few minutes before their deaths would be more agonizing than anything they’d experienced before? (Without being able to use their legs to push themselves up, the struggle to get air into their tortured lungs would have been horrific.)

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 16, 2017

        I agree it could have been to cause pain, but it could just as easily be that legs were broken simply in the process of removing the bodies of the victims from the cross.

        What I’ve learned, from Bart and other historians, is that a lot of what we ‘know’ about this era is supposition and hearsay. We have actual data, but not nearly enough of it.

      • Avatar
        qazarly  November 10, 2017

        Yep, I read the wiki entry.
        I also looked for sources and found none. All references to the crucified having their legs broken can be traced back to John’s gospel.
        There are no other sources.
        Everyone has assumed that this is a common Roman practice, without any evidence.

        Having legs broken as a form of punishment is well documented, but not for crucified victims.

    • Avatar
      Wilusa  October 10, 2017

      I later realized you didn’t think the breaking of legs would be extremely painful. I’ve heard that it would have *caused* extreme short-term suffering, for that reason I mentioned – the victims’ not being able to use their legs to push themselves up.

      But I’ve remembered something else: a reason to doubt legs were broken when Jesus was crucified, or that broken legs played *any* part in the story. In the one Gospel where broken legs are mentioned, the author says Jesus’s legs weren’t broken, because he was already dead. And that supposedly fulfilled a “prophecy” about none of the Messiah’s bones being broken. I’m sure Bart would say that was a misinterpretation of whatever that Old Testament passage really meant. And the author’s having wanted to make that *claim* makes the entire passage suspect.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 16, 2017

        Now here’s a good example of supposition and hearsay.

        I fractured my ankle (broke two of the three bones), and it was really painful and frightening. However, there was a certain numbness at first. Now granted, nobody hit me with a club. I slipped on black ice. I was in a lot of pain after it happened, and I was in a lot of pain after the surgery.

        You were going to be in a lot of pain on the cross, whether you could push yourself up or not. Maybe they broke legs to speed things up a bit, since that would prevent people delaying the inevitable any longer. But what were they pushing themselves up on? If their feet were nailed in place, which we know was a regular feature in crucifixion, they were pushing themselves up on the nail fastening their feet to the cross. That sounds incredibly painful to me. And how long could you possibly do that? How much of a hurry were the soldiers in, when the whole point is to give the crucified as drawn out a death as possible?

        I forgot that passage that says his legs were not broken. Which makes my original post suspect. 🙂

    • Avatar
      markedward  October 10, 2017

      As I’d been taught: with their arms forced out and up, their rib cage would be compressed, eventually leading to asphyxiation. Nailing their legs to the upright beam would take pressure off the rib cage because they’d no longer simply be hanging. Breaking their legs would remove that upward support, hurrying the asphyxiation.

      The Gospel texts specifically say Jesus’ legs were *not* broken because he had *already* died. You’ve gotten that detail backwards.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 16, 2017

        I did, sorry. And how many times did I hear that passage read aloud as a boy?

        Which only goes to show you can’t trust memory.

    • Avatar
      mannix  October 11, 2017

      Here’s an explanation I heard once about broken legs. Whether it’s true or not, I will leave to experts like you and Bart. It has to do with fixation of the body on the cross and pulmonary ventilation:

      When placed on the cross it is postulated the hips and knees were fully flexed, contrary to the popular notion they are extended. The flexion puts pressure on the abdomen, which in turn constricts the volume of the chest cavity and inspiratory capacity. To counter this, the crucified victims would try to extend their knees and hips to increase the capacity to breathe adequately. If the legs are broken they would be unable to get purchase at the site where the feet are nailed and could not increase their inspiratory capacity. Consequently they would eventually suffocate sooner than otherwise. According to the theory, the soldier(s) saw Jesus was already dead and didn’t bother to break his legs (which conveniently fulfilled some other prophecy about “not a bone being broken”).

      Therefore legs were supposedly broken to *hasten* death. This would make sense if the victims had to be taken down the same day, but would be difficult to explain if they were left up to *prolong* death, as Bart proposes.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 16, 2017

        Entirely possible none of the gospel authors ever witnessed a crucifixion.

        Those of the original disciples who did were probably being crucified themselves.

    • Avatar
      Pattylt  October 11, 2017

      From what I have read, the breaking of the legs caused the victims to suffocate as they were no longer able to support their weight which caused the inability to fully inflate their lungs. Once the legs were broken they were only able to take very shallow breaths which wasn’t enough to oxygenate their bodies. What I am not sure of is if this applied to arms that were placed over the head and/or extended sideways. I think either position would cause the slow suffocation as the diaphragm wouldn’t be able to fully inflate in either position. If Jesus did not have his legs broken then his rapid death is even more questionable? Or, to Christians, more miraculous?

  2. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 8, 2017

    I’m surprised forensics specialists could not distinguish which bones came from which individuals in Yehochanan’s ossuary. Single bones, much older than these, are sometimes used to establish the size, age, and species of their owners. Did the examiners explain why they could not be certain whose body the nail was in?

  3. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 8, 2017

    I certainly agree that those recovered bones don’t prove anything.

    I happen to think the “empty tomb” story – with a natural explanation – is possible. The notorious corruption in my state’s legislature makes me leery of accepting that “officially endorsed” procedures in the Roman Empire always worked the way they were supposed to work.

    But…for me (not a believer in Jesus’s supposed “resurrection”), it’s hard to understand why scholars *care* so much! IMHO, anyone who believes Jesus was a deity capable of reappearing, alive and well, days after a very public death, should think it *doesn’t matter* what had happened to his body during those days. It’s just a bit of mildly interesting trivia.

  4. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 8, 2017

    P.S. to previous: I realize •fundamentalist• scholars want to believe the Bible is inerrant. But there’s no way to get around the fact that there are inconsistencies among the Gospels – even in the details of the “empty tomb” story.

  5. Avatar
    Tempo1936  October 8, 2017

    It also makes sense that the disciples immediately fled to Gallilee since they knew their beloved leader was facing such a horrible death. The idea Jesus was placed in a common grave is so negative and devastating, it is no wonder that the stories about Nicodemus Giving Jesus an honorable burial and the empty tomb were created.

  6. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 8, 2017

    Trying to remember, without looking things up… I think Bart’s other arguments against the veracity of the “empty tomb” story included the very interesting point that Gospel stories of this type, in their earliest form, often didn’t name a person at all. And in the retelling (say, in later Gospels), names, and more and more details, were added. I’m sure he said that was the case with the “empty tomb” story. Somehow, I have the idea he said it originally had “the Sanhedrin” burying Jesus! And I *know*, of course, that in a late version, “Nicodemus” suddenly turned up as a companion to “Joseph.”

    *Any* mention of the Sanhedrin has to explain the supposed fact that they’d voted unanimously to condemn Jesus. But that could have been a false statement. Or they could have had a bare *quorum* voting unanimously. Or, as Bart believes, they may never have tried Jesus at all!

    As a person not swayed by arguments about how things were “supposed to” work in the Roman Empire, I still think it’s possible that a wealthy admirer (not necessarily a member of the Sanhedrin) gave Jesus a temporary burial in his family tomb. A real basis for the story, rather than its being made up out of whole cloth. As Bart has said, no one ever cited it as “proof” of a resurrection! And the supposed motive for making it up – showing *some* upper-crust person recognized Jesus’s greatness – seems weak to me.

    • Avatar
      godspell  October 9, 2017

      It’s possible that some remains were salvaged, well after the fact–whether they could even identify the remains by that point is open to question–and some kind of burial was arranged. It would have been a gaping wound in the heart of every surviving Christian that he had been left out there to rot. So they would have found some way to say to themselves that it didn’t happen. And over time, the story would have been dressed up some. To make it more respectable.

      If there had been a respectable burial, arranged by a wealthy man, it seems hard to believe the site would have been lost to time–and we know Jesus is not buried at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. But I could believe there was some much more covert secret burial, and it’s easy to believe the location of that site could have been lost. And replaced with a more suitable group memory.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 10, 2017

        The way I imagine it is that the “wealthy man” – who didn’t want to be involved publicly in any way – bribed a few people to give him the body, then placed it temporarily in his family tomb, just so it would be in a safe place before the Sabbath. A few female followers of Jesus (who didn’t know who the man was) had been lingering near the crucifixion site, and followed him without his noticing. They wrongly assumed the interment in that tomb was meant to be permanent. But by the time they came back, the body had been moved to another place, which was indeed secret.

        If that happened, it’s possible the “wealthy man,” when questioned, denied everything! *That* part of the story wouldn’t have been handed down. And it’s not susprising the location of the “family tomb” isn’t known, because as I understand it, the locations of *many* sites associated with Jesus’s life and death are unknown.

  7. Lev
    Lev  October 8, 2017

    Hi Bart,

    May I ask a personal question? What motivated you to pursue an academic career in biblical studies, and if you had chosen another career, do you think you would have remained a Christian?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2017

      Very long story. I tell some of it in my books. Shortest version: (a) I was a conservative Bible-believing Christian who wanted to learn everything he could about the Bible; (b) I have no idea!

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 8, 2017

    Some final thoughts, re how hard it would have been to have an “exception” made regarding the disposal of Jesus’s body:

    Yes, he’d been crucified for a serious offense. And Pontius Pilate was a brutal Prefect.

    But…to Pilate, Jesus was a nobody, an upstart he hadn’t heard of before that day! He’d probably signed the order for crucifixion, then never thought about it again. I suspect that if someone really did claim the body, they wouldn’t have had to approach Pilate at all – just bribe a guard, or possibly several guards.

  9. Avatar
    ardeare  October 8, 2017

    Interestingly, your ideas are probably the most plausible. For me, being on a seesaw is a mental, emotional, and intellectual apparatus that best fits my mode of learning. What used to be an extremely uncomfortable position of wobbling on issues is now what allows my mind to wonder with the least amount of bias. Questions about whether the Gospel Writers and Paul believed Jesus rose in his earthly body, a body which closely resembled his earthly body, a spiritual body which was only visible through spiritual eyes, or a body that was able to transform itself for different audiences at different times is something I don’t think any of them were completely sure of when they went to their own graves.

  10. Avatar
    Bstevens  October 8, 2017

    Dr. Erhman,
    A little off topic but what is the most credible book you know of about comparative religions? A way to see & show their similarities & differences? Also, could you make a list of scholars that view as “critical”? It would be nice to use as rebuttal against some of the fundamentalist, inerrancy believing friends of mine who seem to never leave me alone. I could show them, ‘look, it’s not just the liberal Bart Erhman, but its also X- name, Y-credentials, & Z- @ this university? That would be awesome!

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2017

      An absolute classic is Huston Smith, The World’s Religions. Possibly the most up to date and helpful is the jointly authored Invitation to World Religions from Oxford University Press.

  11. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  October 8, 2017

    If burying an enemy of the state was not standard practice, then why would the Gospels’ authors write it into their narratives? Joseph of Arimathea was written as a person of wealth and influence; exactly what would be necessary in order to receive a proper burial. (Luke 8:3 also states there were others who were freely giving their money in support of Jesus’ ministry.)

    Plus, in 1 Corinthians 1:3-5, Paul said specifically that Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the third day. No indication of a time lapse between death and burial. He never said that burial was according to the scriptures like the other two events of death and resurrection. It’s not a necessary component to Paul’s theology, and given the fact that Paul believed Jesus to be physically raised from the dead and not spiritually raised makes me think that he was buried. Being thrown into a common grave is not an act of burial. It’s a denial of one, especially for a Jew.

    One other thing that persuades me to believe the tomb story was not fictional is if Jesus died on the cross and hung there for several days, then why claim he rose on the third day? All the other days he was dead before he was thrown into a mass grave didn’t count? There’s no point if he wasn’t given a proper burial. There’s only one scripture in Hosea that says anything about a third day as far as I know–a very isolated scripture. Paul used any scripture he could find to correlate with what happened in Jesus’ life, so since he thought Jesus had risen according to the scriptures, then he had to really reach for the one in Hosea in order to make it work.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2017

      They had to have buried in order to claim he had been raised three days later, which they saw as a fulfillment of Scripture (e.g., Hosea 6:2). The disciples would not have known about the disposition of the body because they had fled to Galilee. But remember, our first record of these events comes to us from 40 years later — not from anyone who would have been around at the time; and the record comes to us from hundreds of miles away from the place where it happened.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  October 10, 2017

        Virtually everybody says Jesus’s followers fled to Galilee. Perhaps, but I doubt it. I think it’s a fable invented by the Pauline people to discredit Peter and the other members of the Jerusalem church. While Peter denying his relationship with Jesus before the cock crows 3 times is also in the anti-Peter tradition. I think it may have happened, but not because Peter was a coward, and in a way it is a refutation of the alleged Galilean flight.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 10, 2017

          Interesting idea. The problem is that Paul never says anything about the disciples fleeing to Galilee.

      • Avatar
        Jon1  October 10, 2017


        I have the same question as Pattycake: why does 1 Cor 15:4 (part of a creed widely dated to within a few years of Jesus’ death) say that Jesus was buried if he was not? Your answer was: “They had to have buried in order to claim he had been raised three days later, which they saw as a fulfillment of Scripture (e.g., Hosea 6:2).” But this does not make any sense. Why wouldn’t Jesus’ followers just conclude that Jesus was raised up to heaven right off the cross on the third day and never buried at all?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 11, 2017

          He was buried. Bodies were always disposed of in one way or another.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  October 12, 2017


            You said earlier, “The disciples would not have known about the disposition of the body because they had fled to Galilee.” So why would the disciples ASSUME Jesus was buried by the third day (1 Cor 15:4) instead of just assuming Jesus was raised right off the cross up to heaven on the third day and not buried at all?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 13, 2017

            Because they thought he went through the entire death process, which in antiquity meant being buried (as the final stage).

          • Avatar
            Jon1  October 13, 2017


            Let me get this straight. You think that even though Jesus’ disciples knew Jesus had died on the cross, and even though Jesus’ disciples knew that the Romans would have left Jesus on the cross for more than 48 hours, Jesus’ disciples decided to just ASSUME he was buried by the third day (1 Cor 15:4) because being buried was what was normally done with a dead person. Do I got that right?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 15, 2017

            I’m not sure what his own personal disciples thought about the day on which he was buried, or even what they knew about standard Roman crucifixion practices (for one thing, in rural Galilee, where they lived, there probably weren’t Roman crucifixions taking place).

        • Avatar
          James Cotter  October 11, 2017

          “Why wouldn’t Jesus’ followers just conclude that Jesus was raised up to heaven right off the cross on the third day and never buried at all?”

          when the gospel writers are creating their fiction, they are fully aware that jesus did not make public appearance. he never rid on a donkey again. he never came out and was seen by the people who got him killed. the gospels cannot have a story that jesus came off from the cross because they know full well his appearances were in unknown private places.

          paul says, “he was buried…”
          where? by whom? who discovered? all unknown and private. did paul being a jew assume jewish burial? if paul thought jesus was a jew and paul was himself a jew, then paul would know that his religion requires a jew to be buried, right?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 13, 2017

            I suppose it’s because they simply assumed that people who died were buried. Being “raised” from the dead is usually thought to involve first going through the entire death process, which includes burial.

        • Avatar
          Jon1  October 15, 2017


          Do you really think it is plausible that none of Jesus’ disciples heard enough about Roman crucifixion practices in their lifetime to know that bodies were left on the cross for more than 48 hours? Said another way, not even ONE of Jesus’ disciples knew about this fact and pointed it out to the others as they were all concluding that Jesus was buried and then raised on the third day? Still further, your proposal seems to require that Jesus’ disciples were actually misinformed about Roman crucifixion practices to the point that they confidently thought the Roman procedure was to remove bodies from the cross and bury them within a day, otherwise Jesus’ followers could easily have concluded that Jesus was raised right off the cross Saturday night (the third day). Do you really think this level of ignorance or misunderstanding about Roman crucifixion could be so wide spread that NONE of Jesus followers knew better?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 16, 2017

            I understand the force of your argument. But we don’t know who started the “on the third day” story, where, when, or in proximity to whom. All we know is that this was not Roman practice. If they made the exception for Jesus, are you saying they made an exception for every Jew they crucified? It would be worthwhile to think about the consequences of that!

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  October 16, 2017

            i quote :

            As Kevin K cleverly pointed out in another comment, why would they even crucify him hours before the Sabbath if they were just going to take him down? Why not lock him up for a few days so they could do it right- leave him hanging as a warning to would be seditionists.

            end quote

            yes, why would they? why not do the job properly? is it possible that jesus was CRUCIFIED BUT NOT HOURS before the sabbath?

          • Avatar
            Jon1  October 16, 2017


            What do you mean “we don’t know who started the ‘on the third day’ story”? It’s part of a teaching/preaching creed widely dated to within a few years of Jesus’ death, so Jesus’ closest disciples had to know about it and almost certainly originated it. To be honest, questioning this almost seems like an intentional distraction. Am I missing something?

            Also, if the Romans made an exception for Jesus and allowed him to be buried by the Jewish authorities before sunset on Friday in deference to Jewish burial sensitivities (in the ground, per Jodi Magness), it does not follow, as you imply, that the Romans made an exception for every Jew they crucified. This was peacetime, Jesus and his followers were not using or even hording weapons so Jesus was not nearly the massive enemy of the state that you make him out to be, and it was a huge Jewish festival, so the biggest threat to Pilate would have been an irrational Jewish uprising for violating Jewish burial sensitivities. Looking good in front of his superiors and making an exception for Jesus to keep the peace makes total sense, AND it makes perfect sense of the words “buried” and “raised on the third day” in the earliest creed. Why do you pick the path of most resistance?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 17, 2017

            I have a feeling this disagreement is not going anywhere…. For one thing, I don’t know when the creed was made up, only that it was before Paul had converted the Corinthians. And we have no evidence of how widely known it was or if, for example, it was known in Palestine at the time. There’s so much that we just don’t know!

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  October 17, 2017

            an off topic question.
            who told disciples “raised on the third day” when paul does not say jesus APPEARED on the third day? how would they know WHEN jesus was RAISED when paul does not even say that jesus APPEARED on the third day?
            notice that in mark and matthew, PETER never goes to check the tomb?
            notice that in paul , it says “he appeared to peter”
            it does not say WHEN he appeared to peter.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 18, 2017

            Presumably the disciples thought what they did before Paul ever came on the scene.

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  October 17, 2017

            Dr Bart, if Joseph of A knew the law in DEUT 21.22-23 and was respected man, then it means he would have to take down the other two dead convicts. if he knew he could take down jesus , why would his concern for the body of jesus NOT extend to the other convicts? if he knew he could not take down each convict and bury them , why would he even bother taking down jesus?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 18, 2017

            I don’t think there ever was a Joseph of Arimathea.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  October 17, 2017


            Our disagreement may be going nowhere, but what is disturbing to me is that you seem to be dodging an unavoidable conclusion that your own hypothesis leads to. No matter when you want to date the origin of the 1 Cor 15:3-5 creed, or who you think may have originated it, there is no reason for the originators to have added the word “buried” into the creed unless Jesus was actually buried, because the originators could have simply concluded that Jesus was “raised on the third day” right off the cross on Saturday night. Therefore, your hypothesis seems to REQUIRE that the originators of the 1 Cor 15:3-5 creed to not only be completely ignorant of Roman crucifixion practices, but to actually believe that the Romans normally removed crucifixion victims from the cross after only one day. This seems implausible verging on impossible to me. You seem to just throw up your arms and say, “There’s so much that we just don’t know”, instead of standing by this conclusion that your own hypothesis leads to. Why do you do that?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 18, 2017

            You’re misunderstanding me. I do think Jesus was buried. Romans always disposed of the remains of the corpse when someone was crucified, so far as we know. But saying “he was buried” does not mean “he was buried that afternoon by Joseph of Arimathea.” The latter is something Paul (notably) never says or implies.

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  October 18, 2017

            paul says “he was BURIED…”
            acts says the ENEMIES OF Jesus BURIED him.

            acts has no idea of jay of A

          • Avatar
            Jon1  October 18, 2017


            I am NOT misunderstanding you. I know fully well that you think Jesus was buried by the Romans (after many days of hanging on the cross). And I never said anything about Joseph of Arimathea (I think he is a fiction). My point is (for the third time) that the originators of the creed THOUGHT Jesus was “buried” before being “raised on the third day”, so they obviously thought Jesus was buried within 48 hours of dying on the cross. The only way I can see that you can account for this timeline in the creed is if the originators of the 1 Cor 15:3-5 creed were not only ignorant of Roman crucifixion practices, but actually believed that the Romans normally removed crucifixion victims from the cross within 48 hours of death and buried them (otherwise the originators of the creed could have simply assumed that Jesus was raised right off the cross on Saturday night and never buried at all). Do you acknowledge that this is a necessary part of your hypothesis? I don’t see any way around it.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 20, 2017

            The third day refers to the third day after burial, not after death (since it is giving a temporal sequence of things — death, burial, resurrection; each is subsequent to the other, so the timing of each is in relation to the one prior)

          • Avatar
            Jon1  October 20, 2017

            Got it. Thanks for clarification.

      • Avatar
        James Cotter  October 11, 2017

        notice that in both mark and matthew PETER is never said to have seen the burial or that he even went to the tomb to check if it was empty?

        if peter never fled, why wasn’t he burying jesus? why did not the secret disciple get any assistance from the “open disciples”

        ” The disciples would not have known about the disposition of the body because they had fled to Galilee”

        or mark is saying that they distant themselves from the dying and rising messiah ?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 11, 2017

          In Matthew Peter went back to Galilee post haste. In Mark he doesn’t help bury Jesus probably because he didn’t want to be nabbed himself.

          • Avatar
            James Cotter  October 12, 2017

            in acts is there any place where the peter or anyone talks about the theft from the tomb? if not, then shouldn’t alarm bells be ringing? if an empty tomb was a known fact and the christians in acts were employing it to argue for resurrection , how does it go missing from their early apologetic?

          • Bart
            Bart  October 13, 2017

            No, the issue of theft occurs only in Matthew 28.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 21, 2017

        I’ve never been satisfied with the “three days” reference being attributed to either that passage in Hosea (if it’s the one I’m thinking of), or Jonah’s supposedly having been in the belly of a fish for parts of three days. Both references deal with people God was supposedly *punishing*. In my fan fiction, I have my time-traveling protagonist – in the year 5 CE – sharing some random thoughts with Jewish friends (one of whom has already suggested something in Scripture may be symbolic):

        “I think the story of *Yosef* may be symbolic. The *name* ‘Yosef’ means ‘he will increase’…

        “We’re told this person is cast into a pit. Supposedly, by his brothers.

        “I see this as a symbolic *burial*. But…don’t forget the meaning of his name!

        “After his brothers have supposedly sold him into slavery, he winds up in Egypt. Here, I think ‘Egypt’ is being used as a symbol for the underworld.

        “What’s actually been ‘buried’? It might be something as simple as a seed, committed to the earth. Or a different type of ‘seed,’ committed to a woman’s womb.

        “But, getting back to Yosef…he supposedly marries the daughter of an Egyptian priest, who serves an earth-goddess.

        “Our ‘seed’ is taking root in fertile soil.

        “And Yosef and his wife are said to have two sons. Their first son is named Manasseh, which means ‘causing to forget’; the second is named Ephraim, which means ‘fruitful.’

        “It’s as if the ‘seed’ – or whatever it may really be – is ‘buried’ on one day. ‘Day’ being used here to mean a period of time, like in the creation story. That day is followed by a day on which it’s all but forgotten – nothing seems to have come of it. *But on the third day, unexpectedly, the fruit appears*.

        “In the story in your Scripture, the Israelites are eventually led back into the Holy Land by Yehoshua – who’s said to be a descendant of *Ephraim*. And they bring the bones of Yosef with them! So in a sense, even he has ‘returned.’

        “The point of the story being, I think, that *nothing of value is ever lost*. Even a worthwhile *idea*. It may have seemed to come to nothing…but it’s taken root in one or more minds, somewhere, and it *will* bear fruit.”

        In my fic, *this* is the “return on the third day ” notion that will affect the resurrection story – influencing one of the people who heard it. (I don’t, of course, have Jesus actually rising from the dead.)

        • Avatar
          Wilusa  October 22, 2017

          When I posted this, I meant it as a reply to a post in which you’d mentioned Hosea…but I couldn’t find it!

          Am I right in thinking the passage in Hosea has God musing about a tribe he’s been punishing? He’s unhappy because he thinks they’ll just expect him to “raise them up on the third day,” and ignore the fact that they haven’t changed their ways. It seems to me that this only makes sense if readers had some *prior* belief about the significance of a “third day”; but in any case, it’s not stated clearly that anyone would be “raised” from the *dead*.

          BTW, in my fic, I also had my protagonist *thinking* that the notion of Yosef’s *bones* being returned, without flesh, might imply reincarnation – *one part of* a deceased person “returning,” with its being understood that the “part” was *really* noncorporeal. But he didn’t mention that to his Jewish friends, who he knew had different beliefs.

          • Bart
            Bart  October 23, 2017

            He is referring to the punishment Israel has suffered at the hands of God; if they repent he will relent and bring them back to life.

  12. Avatar
    Carl  October 9, 2017

    What was the symbolic meaning behind the legend of the upside-down crucifixion?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2017

      It’s found in the Acts of Peter, and Peter explains it: we, as humans, come into the world upside down and so we don’t see reality as it really is; divine reality is not what we expect.

  13. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 9, 2017

    In 1 Cor. 10:20-21, when Paul refers to sacrifices to demons, does he use term to mean malevolent spirits, as in the synoptics, or in the more generic sense of lesser gods/spirits?

  14. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 9, 2017

    1 Cor 10:29: “For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience?” (NRSV) is Paul continuing his own argument or raising an objection from and interlocutor? Can “for” also be translated “but” in this context?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2017

      a) I doubt it; b) usually not.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  October 10, 2017

        Which do you doubt? That he’s continuing his own argument or answering an hypothetical objection?

        • Bart
          Bart  October 10, 2017

          My (a) meant I was responding to your first question.

  15. Avatar
    Wilusa  October 9, 2017

    I’m ba-ack! I guess it’s obvious that I’m more interested in these historical details than in topics related to, say, the Scriptures. (*Any* Scriptures.)

    Just want to mention that I remember a question I asked when these topics were being discussed at an earlier date.

    What would have happened if Jesus had been arrested for this real or alleged crime, in Jerusalem, in any other week – when the Prefect wouldn’t have been there?

    Would he have been sent to Caesarea to be tried by Pilate, and crucified there?

    Sent there for trial, and sent back to Jerusalem – site of the crime and arrest – to be crucified?

    Or would nothing but a summary of the case be sent to Caesarea for Pilate’s review and decision, with Jesus being confined in Jerusalem and ultimately crucified there?

    And Bart didn’t know. (Though I think he pointed out the *unlikelihood* of Jesus’s calling attention to himself in Jerusalem at a time other than Passover Week, when so many people were there.)

    What I’m getting at is that I think there may be *many* historical details that we can never be sure of.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 9, 2017

      To be executed he would have had to appear before the governor, either right then in Caesarea or the next time he was in Jerusalem.

      • Avatar
        godspell  October 9, 2017

        I’ve read conflicting accounts about stoning. Is there any evidence this actually happened then? That’s a form of execution–lynching, really.

        John’s gospel says Jesus was almost stoned once, but we’ve pretty well established that ‘John’ is not a very reliable source.

        • Bart
          Bart  October 10, 2017

          Yes, stoning did happen. (And still does) Paul himself was stoned, as he tells us first-hand.

        • talmoore
          talmoore  October 10, 2017

          Stonings then, as now, were usually extrajudicial. You wouldn’t be sentenced to stoning but, rather, a vigilante mob would be incited into stoning you. If you were convicted by an actual authority, you’d be sentenced to execution by more typical means, such as crucifixion, beheading, hanging, etc.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 10, 2017

        Ah, thanks for clarifying that much!

    • talmoore
      talmoore  October 9, 2017

      If it weren’t the Passover and Pilate weren’t in town, then it’s possible that Jesus and his motley crew would been ignored or, more commonly, run out of town by rock-throwing crowds. But the fact that it was the biggest pilgrimage of the year, with highly volatile crowds, and the Roman authorities were dead set on keeping law and order, then it’s not much of a surprise that Pilate chose to make an example out of someone as low-rent as Jesus.

  16. Avatar
    JoshuaJ  October 11, 2017

    Are the Gospel writers even talking about the same tomb? For example, John 19:41 tells us that the tomb was “nearby” and located in “the place where he was crucified.” But Matthew 27:60 tells us that Jesus was placed in Joseph’s own new tomb. Are we really to believe that a prominent and wealthy man from Arimathea (Matthew 27:57) would choose to place his own family tomb in the very same place where grotesque and gruesome executions were routinely carried out? It doesn’t seem plausible. Moreover, many scholars (Craig Evans, William Lane Craig, Byron McCane, etc.) have suggested that Jesus would have actually been buried in the criminals’ graveyard in accordance with Jewish custom which required a “shameful” burial for executed criminals.This too seems an unlikely location for Joseph’s own new tomb. For according to Jewish law, isolation of the criminals’ graveyard was required in order to protect the righteous dead from the wicked, lest the tombs of the righteous become defiled. I suppose John’s account might be consistent with burial in the criminals’ graveyard, though the “garden” seems an unlikely feature of such a burial place. Is it possible that the Gospel authors, writing as late as they were, did not actually know the true location of the alleged “tomb”? Would this have even mattered to the early (1st century) Christians? How could they not see the inconsistencies in the various traditions?

  17. Avatar
    JoeRoark  October 12, 2017

    Is there any record of females being crucified?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 13, 2017

      None that I know of.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  October 21, 2017

        Re females being crucified: I remembered that I’d once seen a reference to it in Wikipedia’s article on crucifixion. At that time, they *were* saying there was a known portrayal of a crucified female. But now they say: “Wilgefortis was venerated as a saint and represented as a crucified woman, however her legend comes from a misinterpretation of a full-clothed crucifix known as the Volto Santo of Lucca.”

        • Avatar
          Pattycake1974  November 10, 2017

          Hengel mentions a few women who were crucified in his book, Crucifixion.

          • Bart
            Bart  November 12, 2017

            Ah, interesting. I need to look at that again.

  18. Avatar
    SScottb149  May 1, 2019

    Dr. Erhman,
    Thank you for your comments on this topic…I have always found it curious that when people try to make this archaeological find relevant to Jesus, no one ever mentions the other two people crucified with Jesus which we are told virtually nothing about other than they supposedly had their legs broken. Nothing abt their burials, nothing abt their bodies, etc. etc. If they were crucified (presumedly as political revolutionaries like Jesus) and burial exceptions were supposedly made in Jesus’ case, what of the other two? This archaeological find is interesting, but (as you have pointed out), I fail to see the relevance to the “Good Friday” events.

  19. Avatar
    SScottb149  May 20, 2019

    Few people talk abt HOW royal of a tomb Jesus gets in John. My God, they put some much perfume and spices in with the body (which does not make it a quick burial by the way)….that King David himself would have awaken from the Dead and said, “Okay guys this is too much for a freaking King”!

  20. Avatar
    Ferrante83  April 5, 2020

    Dear Dr. Ehrman, I am writing to ask you some questions about four ossuaries that were found in Israel.

    In 1941 E. L.Sukenik and N. Avigad found an ossuary bearing the name of “Alexander son of Simon of Cyrene”.
    A – Do you think it is the same Simon of Cyrene mentioned in the Gospels?
    B – Does the ossuary contain Simon of Cyrene’s bones as well?

    Here in Italy every documentary, book or newspaper article takes for granted that Saint Peter is buried beneath the Vatican basilica.
    In 1953 Bellarmino Bagatti and J. T. Milik discovered a stone box with the name “Shimon Bar Yonah”.
    C – Is it Saint Peter’s burial place?
    D – Is St Peter buried under the basilica?

    In 1990 an ossuary was found in Jerusalem with the inscription “Joseph, son of Caiaphas”.
    E – Does it hold the bones of the High Priest who judged Jesus or only his son’s?

    In 2010 the Israel Antiquities Authority acquired a decorated limestone ossuary from a burial cave in ʾElah Valley. An inscription reads: “Miriam daughter of Yeshua son of Caiaphas, priests of Maʿaziah from Beth ʾImri”.
    F – Is she Caiaphas’s nephew?

    Thanks for your attention.
    Mirko Ferrante, Rome, Italy

    • Bart
      Bart  April 6, 2020

      A and B: I don’t know; C & D: I dont’ think there’s any way we know where peter’s remains were deposited; the idea it was beneath the Vatican is based on legends that apperred only centuries later; E almost certainly yes; F I don’t know.

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