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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 for the suspicion.

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  1. Avatar
    ZachET  October 10, 2012

    What do you make of William Lane Craig’s point that;

    ‘As a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin that condemned Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea is unlikely to be a Christian invention’

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      I don’t see the logic of it in the least!!

      • Avatar
        tcc  October 11, 2012

        It’s William Lane Craig. The dude thinks that you can mathematically prove Jesus’ resurrection. Logic need not apply.

        If this were some alternate universe, you could’ve written a book called “Did Apollonius Of Tyana Exist?” and Craig would’ve debated with you over the historicity of Apollonius’ virgin birth being greeted by dancing swans.

      • Avatar
        kibo32  October 31, 2012

        Regarding William Lane Craig,
        i found a curious post on his website where he claims that Ehrman accepts the four historical facts that he uses for the argument for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/contemporary-scholarship-and-jesus-resurrection
        Can anyone say anything about it?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 31, 2012

          I must say, I think it’s pretty funny that evangelical scholars constantly and consistently bash me for talking about what most critical scholars think and conclude, in light of the kind of rhetoric you find coming from William Craig! In any event, I’ve done a lot more research since I had my debate with him about the resurrection, and since I’ve written and published on the topic. I would say that now, based on my further research, I agree with about 1.5 of his 4 points that he thinks almost everyone agrees with. It is absolutely true that some of the disciples (I’m not sure it was all 11) had a radical turn around after the death of Jesus because they believed he was raised from the dead; and it is true, in my judgment, that this belief was inspired by the fact that one, two, or possibly more (but I doubt too many) of them had “visions” of Jesus after his death (his fourth “fact”). That is not at all the same thing as saying that Jesus appeared to them, of course (that’s why I only half agree with Craig’s third “fact.” They certainly *thought* Jesus had appeared to them; whether he did or not is another question. In fact it is *the* question Craig is trying to answer, so it can hardly be one of the “facts” used to answer it! (Otherwise he is simply assuming his conclusion)

          • Avatar
            kibo32  October 31, 2012

            Dear Dr. Ehrman,

            if i well remember you explicitely told Craig during your debate in 2006 that you don’t think it’s possible to know whether his first two “facts”(the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb) are true and judging by this post i’ve just read you never changed that idea. So unless Craig has pretty much forgot everything you said to him during that debate he’s purposely falsifying your views on the matter. That is quite a severe act if dishonesty.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 1, 2012

            Well, I guess he’s jumping back to a view I held earlier. But you’re right, it’s probably not fair to present that as “my view.”

          • Avatar
            kibo32  October 31, 2012

            To be fair, your opinion was a bit hard to understand from that quote of yours which Craig posted, so, if it’s not of too disturb, could you tell me if in 2003(when you gave that famous lecture for the Teaching Company which Craig cites from) you accepted the historical reliability of the burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea and the empty tomb and LATER you changed your mind, or if you have been having the same idea all along and Craig just misrepresented you?

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 1, 2012

            Yes, I changed my mind. I think good scholars should do that! I wonder if Craig ever has. 🙂

            1
          • Avatar
            kibo32  November 2, 2012

            Since i was working on a series of text videos in which i plan to cover many of the fallacious quotes which Dr. Craig uses in his books and essays, would you be displeased if i were to report your reply at me regarding your chnage of views? It would help me establish my case.

            1
          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 3, 2012

            That’s fine.

    • Avatar
      Spencertashby@gmail.com  September 15, 2017

      Didn’t the Christians claim the Joseph of Arimathea was a Jesus sympathizer? So even if Joseph actually buried Jesus in his own tomb, it could be a Christian invention that he was actually on their side.

      Some theories suggest that if Joseph of Arimathea was simply an esteemed member of the Sanhedrin, that he could have simply taken Jesus’ body to be initially entombed for the Sabbath, but then as soon as the Sabbath ended (after sunset on a Saturday), would have reburied Jesus in a criminals grave, as custom by Jewish law. So then early on Sunday, the tomb would be empty, but not for miraculous reasons.

      This is just a theory. But if the empty tomb is historical, it would be a natural explanation.

  2. Avatar
    Javalos  October 10, 2012

    I recently read an article that Craig Evans posted on the Jewish burial traditions and the resurrection of Jesus. He touched on the argument in your blog about the proper burial. Here is an excerpt from that article.

    “The Digesta refers to requests to take down bodies of the crucified. Josephus himself
    makes this request of Titus (Life 75 §420–421). Of course, Roman crucifixion often did
    not permit burial, request or no request. Non-burial was part of the horror—and the
    deterrent—of crucifixion. But crucifixion—during peacetime—just outside the walls of
    Jerusalem was another matter. Burial would have been expected, even demanded.
    The evidence thus far reviewed strongly encourages us to think that in all probability
    Jesus was indeed buried and that his corpse and those of the two men crucified with him
    would not have been left hanging overnight and perhaps indefinitely, or at most cast into
    a ditch or shallow grave, exposed to animals. Quite apart from any concerns with the
    deceased men or their families, the major concern would have had to do with the
    defilement of the land and the holy city. Politically, too, it seems unlikely that on the eve
    of Passover, a holiday that celebrates Israel’s liberation from foreign domination, Pilate
    would have wanted to provoke the Jewish population. Moreover, it is equally improbable
    that the ruling priests, who had called for Jesus’ death, would have wanted to appear
    completely indifferent to Jewish sensitivities, either with respect to the dead or with
    respect to corpse impurity and defilement of the land. It seems most probable that the
    priests would have raised no objections to the burial of the three men. Indeed, they
    probably would have arranged to have them buried, before nightfall, in tombs reserved
    for executed criminals.”

    Do you think that Jesus could have been an exception to custom Roman practices due to the fact of the timing of the crucifixion? If Romans respected the “peacetime” and “passover” why didn’t they just make a rule to not crucify during these times. Why not wait till the holiday was over?

    (Here is the full article: http://craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      I think this opinion is built a *lot* on surmises and guesses. Pilate would not have cared a toss about the “defilement of the land.” And what we know about him does not suggest at *all* that he was disinclined to provoke the Jewish population. He’s basically just paraphrasing what the NT says, not engaging in a critical analysis of it, in my opinion.

  3. Avatar
    Adam  October 10, 2012

    Very interesting post and thoughts.

    Essentially in the end the the decision to accept or not accept the historical reliability of the account Jesus being buried by Joseph of Arimathea boils down to this: if the Christians who first told the account of Jesus being buried by Joseph of Arimathea were wrong (1) were they being dishonest, insincere, and/or fraudulent? Or (2) were they simply misguided, mistaken, and/or deluded?

    I suspect that some will dismiss your argument (I don’t by the way!) because they think Christians couldn’t have lied about this because they are generally moral, honest, and ethical.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      Well, there are hundreds of instances where we have traditions about Jesus that are not historically accurate (as everyone except for fundamentalists and very conservative evangelicals agree). So the question about Joseph of A. has to be put in that wider context of inquiry, I think.

  4. Avatar
    donmax  October 11, 2012

    WELL SAID!!!

    • Avatar
      donmax  October 11, 2012

      I take it this means you don’t buy James Tabor’s JESUS DISCOVERY, or the theory behind it about finding Joe’s estate with all those burial chambers.

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

        I haven’t studied it at any length, but the professional archaeologists that I know claim that there aren’t any professional archaeologists who buy it.

  5. Avatar
    Jerry  October 11, 2012

    Bart,
    I’ve been reading your textbook on the NT over the last week or so, I’m now on Chapter 21 “Paul and His Apostolic Mission”. Your recent blogs, including this one, ties in with what I’ve been reading so far. Thanks for such a readable book. Looking forward to reading your upcoming textbook on the whole Bible.

    Jerry

  6. Avatar
    Jim  October 11, 2012

    I don’t see the rationale for the Romans to crucify Jesus. It doesn’t appear that he verbalized any anti-Roman propaganda nor was anything anti-Roman alluded to in Josephus’s couple of lines on Jesus. Pilate probably didn’t even know who Jesus was (possibly the bouncing back and forth between Herod was legend).

    It would seem to me that the Jewish religious authorities could have had reason to bring charges (i.e. “a no-name blasphemer”) and since the Romans had the barbeque fired up anyway (couple of other political activists), I’m sure Pilate wouldn’t say no to one more nomination (even if innocent). It might have added to the anti-insurrection ambiance.

    I don’t know how many on crucifixion row were pre-scourged in those days, but this was apparently a nasty protocol. After a good ol’ Roman scourging Jesus didn’t last long on the cross. The Jewish religious authorities probably wanted the place tidied up of cursed items before the Passover festivities began (their main focus), and why would the Romans give a crap about the body? They got their “Rome always wins” point across prior to the Jewish festivities getting underway (good timing for supper conversations). Maybe they didn’t care if the crucifixion SOP (bird pecking etc.) wasn’t perfectly followed as Jesus might have been a freebee anyway. So to me, the Joseph of Arimathea tradition may not be that weird.

    Christian oral traditions no doubt picked up embellishments along the way (there’s an apologist in every crowd). I suppose the real mystery begins with a number of Jesus followers confident that they experienced him in some way (with or without “bones”) after his obvious death. Tough to quantify this without resurrect-ometer readings.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      I’ll deal with the first comment in a separate post.

    • Avatar
      Xeronimo74  October 12, 2012

      Wasn’t it because Jesus was trying to stir up trouble (or religious fervor) in Jerusalem, thereby endangering the peace and the order? The Romans, not wanting to allow an uprising or something similar to happen, decided to take him out and state an example: be quiet or get crucified like this guy!

  7. Avatar
    maxhirez  October 11, 2012

    It’s refreshing to see you referencing Crossan in a less critical context than he usually is mentioned by scholars outside The Jesus Seminar (not that I’m that interested in claims that Jesus wasn’t apocalyptic). Still, it takes some cajones for him to stick to his faith and yet claim that Jesus ended up as 1st century Alpo.

  8. Avatar
    DenaKaAnn  October 11, 2012

    Dr. Ehrman,

    It is in my understanding that it is of common scholarly opinion that the Gospel writers (at least Matthew, Luke, and John) were rather anti-Semitic in nature. Correct? How would you respond to that claim? After reading “The Origin of Satan” by Elaine Pagels, it is a subject that deeply interests me, and I would love to hear your professional opinion on the matter. Thank you!

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      They are clearly anti-Jewish — and the later Gospels (Matthew/Luke/and especially John) even more than the earliest (Mark). I’ll deal with this in a later post. (I don’t call them anti-semitic because the idea that there was a “race” of Semites — in fact, that there were any races at all, in our way of thinking — is an invention of 19th century anthropologists; ancient people didn’t think about it that way).

      • Avatar
        DenaKaAnn  October 12, 2012

        Thank you for your response! Looking forward to the post!

    • Avatar
      Adam  October 12, 2012

      DenaKaAnn, you may want to check out: Terence Donaldson’s “Jews and Anti-Judaism in the New Testament.”

  9. Avatar
    Bill  October 11, 2012

    Are you, if you are going, doing any paper at the AAR/SBL?

    And your words about burial raise more ?’s than answers and really do provide more conversations.

    And too, I find it delightful that you, a ‘non believer’ have a deep friendship with Dale Martin at Yale, an Episcopalin. His Open Yale videos are great.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      Dale and I have been close friends for thirty years. (And among other things, room together at SBL): yes I’m doing a short presentation on a collection of essays on textual criticism that Mike Holmes and I have edited, which is coming out next month from E. J. Brill (2nd edition of The Text of the NT in Contemporary Research: Essays on the Status Quaestionis.

      • Avatar
        Bill  October 13, 2012

        Well both of you are something of a ‘hoot’. I will not be at the SBL/AAR. My wife will. I may send her.

        Bill

    • Avatar
      seeker_of_truth  October 12, 2012

      Ok… I’m guessing SBL is Society of Biblical Literature. What is AAR? American Academy of Religion??

      • Bart Ehrman
        Bart Ehrman  October 12, 2012

        Sorry, yes American Academy of Religion. They hold their annual meetings simultaneously, the weekend before Thanksgiving, this year in Chicago.

      • Avatar
        Bill  October 13, 2012

        About how much time, per given day, do you spend with this site? You do many a service in the offerings and the replys…and I guess you are a workaholic. Thanks for doing this.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 13, 2012

          I try to get it all done in 45 minutes a day; but people are making such long comments adn asking such long questions that it’s getting very hard!

  10. Avatar
    jimmo  October 11, 2012

    The Jewish leadership convincing Pilate to allow a burial thus goes against the criterion of contextual credibility, right?

  11. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 11, 2012

    Over and over again, we seem to reach the conclusion that early Christians just made stuff up to support theological views and it sure seems that way to me. Yet, if so, did they think making stuff up was okay? Moreover, why were they not more concerned about getting stuff historically accurate? Finally, how could they believe so strongly (strongly enough to die) in stuff that’s made up?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      Great question, and probably impossible to know the answer! Stuff gets made up all the time that isn’t historically accurate, without malicious intent. I hear all sorts of stories about *me* that are absolutely not true….

    • Avatar
      Jim  October 12, 2012

      Hi Ronald, I’m not writing because I have any useful answers, but because your question is similar to what I have been asking myself for the past while. I think that the gospels were basically “in house” correspondences where one Christian community wrote to another regarding their understanding of how things went down. This was based in part on the information they had heard from the oral traditions in their neck of the woods (some high quality information and some total BS). Many in this initial group may not have had deception in mind. It was a few centuries later when there was a big push toward “orthodoxy” that their documents were put together in one stack and “blessed as gospel truth” so that you could raise your right hand and swear over the pile. So I’m not sure that many in the early group (however there would have been a few) had deception in mind with their in house correspondence.

  12. Avatar
    toddfrederick  October 11, 2012

    I want to get your opinion on this topic but in a different direction.

    As you know, there are 3 tombs found in 1980’s in Talpiot south of Jerusalem. All damaged and opened by construction work and vandalized even to the extent of some children using skulls as soccer balls.

    James Tabor and others have identified one tomb as The Jesus Family Tomb, another tomb about 200 feet away as that of Joseph of Aramithea’s family and the 3rd tomb totally destroyed. The Arimathea tomb is now sealed and access is by remote camera showing ossuaries with Sign of Jonah artwork designating early resurrection belief.

    In the Jesus tomb, all bones were taken away by the Jewish ultra-orthodox rabbis for reburial, but fragments were let in the Jesus ossuary as were some left in the Mariamini (Mary of Magdaline) ossuary (pardon my spelling…doing this from memory) and DNA was tested to see if they did or did not match.

    The story is that Joseph used a temporary tomb to bury Jesus before sundown Friday and then the body was removed to his own family tombs in Talpiot for permanent burial.

    These tombs have been worked on recently and much media hype and TV documentaries and books made since 2007.

    What are your thoughts on this with regard to your article above?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      I”m afraid I haven’t investigated any of it fully. The archaeologists I know (I know three of the top archaeologists of Palestine in the world) don’t buy it, and tell me that the other archaeologists don’t buy it either. But as I’ve said, I haven’t gone deeply into it (mainly because no one seems to be buying it).

  13. Avatar
    Jacobus  October 11, 2012

    Interesting idea, I think prof. Andries van Aarde of the University of Pretoria would answer the last question with something like, “Well, the Jesus followers had an alternative state of conciousness experience or hallucination.” Prof. what do you make of the story of Tobit and Shalmaneser’s killing of Israelites and leaving their bodies to rot outside after failing to take Jerusalem captive? I know it is fictional, but don’t you think it also addresses something on Jewish sympathies towards their overlords? (Does the question make sense?)

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      Yes, it shows that it was conceivable that some pious Jews would take offense at unburied bodies and would try to bury them. (One difference is that according to the Gospels, the Sanhedrin was partly *responsible* for the death of Jesus, so that one of their members wanting to bury the body seems a bit odd; but I may deal with that in a later post.

  14. Avatar
    Jim Joyner  October 11, 2012

    Selections from Fergus Millar:

    Nothing is described here, however, any more than in the other Gospels, which could count as a formal trial by Pilate. There is no formal accusation and defence; no opinions are asked of the governor’s council; and no formal verdict is pronounced. As with the other Gospels, in John the decision by Pilate to have Jesus executed is not represented as a verdict concluding a trial, but as a political decision taken as a concession to political pressure both from the Jewish authorities and from the crowd.

    Philo’s Against Flaccus happens to provide a precisely contemporary analysis of the susceptibility to such pressure of a Roman governor who feels himself to be out of favour with the emperor (Flacc. 3–4/8–23).

    It is the approach of Passover which dictates every aspect of how the story unfolds, just as, in John’s narrative, Jesus’ life as a Galilean holy man is structured by the need to go up repeatedly to Jerusalem to the annual cycle of festivals. This necessity should, I suggest, be seen as of crucial importance.

    It was not Roman law but their own which made them say, at that moment, “It is not allowed to us to execute anyone.”

    Fergus Millar’s Rome, the Greek World, and the East: The Landmark 3-Volume Set That Transformed The Study Of The Roman Empire University of North Carolina Press. Kindle Edition.

    At the time of his writing, in 1990, Millar did not discuss whether the Romans would or would not allow any Jews to recover the crucified corpse.

    Who crucified Yehohanan, and who let his family or friends recover his corpse for burial in a tomb?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 11, 2012

      Thanks.

      Yehohanan: We wish we knew. But we have no real clue.

      • Avatar
        Jim Joyner  October 12, 2012

        Out of all the archaeologists, historians and biblical scholars who have commented on Yehohanan, no one that I can think of – until now – has suggested we have no clue who crucified Yehohanan. First century, pre-70 Jerusalem, iron nail, olive wood, oil, heel bone, tomb burial, and ossuary. How many options do we have? You really can’t just flick this boogar out of the room!

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  October 12, 2012

          I’m not suggesting that!!! Not in the least! The question was whether we have any idea who buried him — and about that we don’t have a clue, at least one that I know of.

          • Avatar
            Jim Joyner  October 13, 2012

            Ok, my misunderstanding, I was not paying careful attention to your original point, and then I was also thinking of your later post which seems to suggest Jesus was not buried. Let me clarify that I don’t care about the Joseph of Arimathea story. Above you are saying, if I am now following correctly, that no one could approach Pilate to request early removal of Jesus’ body due to the upcoming holy day. But, you also say the Romans would not allow Jesus to be buried properly, and the reported events (even after a critical scrubbing) fails contextual credibility (won’t this make you the first genuine scholar to assert this?).

            I now understand you are not ignoring Yehohanan, a pre-70 Jew, who, after being crucified by Romans, was buried by family and friends in such a way as to allow his disarticulated bones to be gathered into an ossuary, which presumably means he was buried in a tomb. But you are saying that since only one crucified person has been found in a tomb it infers no crucified persons were buried in a tomb, and you are asserting that the same infinitesimal probability applies to Jesus’ burial in a tomb. You know, of course, it is the bent nail that discloses the crucifixion, and without some anomaly there is no standardized way to identify from bones those who were crucified. Almost certainly, the number of crucified Jews who were interred in a tomb was small, but your argument goes farther than that; you are rejecting a multiple-attested tradition because there is available evidence of only one crucified Jew In a tomb.

            Please believe me, I am not trying to frustrate you, or myself, I just sense you are pursuing an innovative view of these events (although I’m sure some angry atheists have tried to plow this ground before, but without your talent and skills). I’m trying to pay attention to your thoughts but I feel you are blowing past important details (for eample, i’m still wondering how you can jettison the DSS and Philo, above). And, I’m puzzled why skilled Roman historians, fully informed about the relevant cultures and facts (Fergus Millar, for example, as I cited above) examined this issue but did not reject the basic burial story; he certainly understands critical reading of NT traditions!

            1
          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  October 13, 2012

            Well, scholars differ on lots of things, and weigh evidence differently. If we all agreed on everything, there’d be no reason to write books! In the present case, a very strong case can be made against contextual credibility. I’m not jettisoning any evidence. I’m weighing all of it. You may weigh it differently from me. (But I haven’t yet laid out the full argument!)

          • Avatar
            donmax  October 14, 2012

            Well, the buck stops with the Romans, and the man in charge was named Pontius Pilate, whether or not we mean crucifixion or burial.

  15. Avatar
    gavriel  October 12, 2012

    I find it conceivable that the jewish leaders passed J. to Pilate in order to have him executed quickly, and so to avoid opposition from minority fractions among the leadership, anything that might prolong the process and in the meanwhile stir up parts of the population of Jerusalem. Pilate would have accepted this, as a way of getting rid of a possible sectarian religious instigator. But it is also conceivable that any jewish leadership fraction would have appreciated a burial for reasons of “defilation of land” during the holy moment of the passover. If such a request was raised to Pilate by anyone with sufficient authority, it would also probably have been accepted. If not, why would Pilate co-operate in the first instance? In any case, the result would have been a common, anonymous grave, indirectly attested by the fact that the alleged grave spotted by the women never became a holy shrine in any way.

  16. Avatar
    z8000783  October 12, 2012

    I am a little confused about how you interpret attestations and would be interested to learn a little more about how it is used.

    I ‘Did Jesus Exist’ you use the evidence of attestation frequently to show that Jesus must have used the words he used and done the things associated with them and decry the argument that these were were made up be Christians after the event.

    However here, you show that the story of the tomb is also multiply attested but you then go on to demonstrate that it is probably false. It appears that attestation counts for little amongst other considerations.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 12, 2012

      Good point! The difference (it’s a BIG difference) is that unlike the multiply attested traditions that I think are probably historical, this one runs smack up against the criterion of contextual credibility. That’s the problem.

  17. Jesse80025
    Jesse80025  October 26, 2012

    I’m wondering how you handle this view in light of 1 Cor 15 which says Jesus was buried. Some scholars date that creed to very early after Jesus’ death and if Paul had met with the disciples, and interviewed them, which you seem to have expressed a belief that he did, then he would have been in a position to know whether the creed was true or not.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 26, 2012

      Yes, Paul knows he was buried. But he gives no indication what that means: buried that day? Three days later? By Joseph of Arimathea? In a common grave? Something else? So it’s hard to use this line as evidence for one view or another: it could be evidence for just about *any* view!

  18. Avatar
    Javalos  October 27, 2012

    If the story of Joseph of Arimathia was just a fictional story, would you say that the earliest this “story” could have been made up and circulated was at least after Joseph’s death? ( CE 45) It only make sense that this would be easier to spread a story as a fact if you can’t talk to the person that is incorporated in the story. Would this also give you a better insight on when the original gospels of mark and John probably were written or at least the when the tradition of the story started? Or would a story like this be likely told while Joseph was still alive?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  October 27, 2012

      If it is a fictional story, then Joseph himself is a made up figure and never really lived. We have no record of his existence outside these passages in the Gospels.

  19. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  December 1, 2012

    Bart, speaking about Joseph allegedly burying Jesus, what do you make of John 19:41-42:
    “Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, *since the tomb was nearby*, they laid Jesus there.”

    That makes it seem like that this tomb was then chosen not because it was Joseph’s tomb but simply because it was an empty one nearby (and because they had to move quickly because of the day of preparation). That would contradict Mt 27:60 because what where the odds that this nearby empty tomb happened to be Joseph’s?

    The theory then is that Jesus’ corpse was only supposed to stay there until the Passover holidays were over, at which point Joseph (and his people) could move the body to Joseph’s actual tomb and give him a proper burial with all the usual rituals there. He supposedly made this immediately at the end of the Sabbath, in the night from Saturday to Sunday. And that’s why the women (who, on Friday afternoon, observed from a distance where the corpse was put) found an empty tomb on Sunday morning, starting that ’empty tomb’ story.

    John also says that Peter and the other disciple, after having seen the empty tomb with their own eyes, then believed Mary Magdalene’s claim that ‘they’ had removed the body: “Then the other disciple, who came to the tomb first, went in also; and he saw and believed. For as yet they did not know the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. Then the disciples went away again to their own homes.”

    The ‘and believed’ there can’t refer to the resurrection, John makes that clear with ‘for as yet they did not know the Scripture).

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  December 3, 2012

      Yes, John’s version is different from the Synoptics, and obviously much later and so even more open to questoin, I would say.

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  December 3, 2012

        Of course. But isn’t it interesting that John, unlike the others, does not claim that the tomb is JoA’s tomb but instead simply a tomb that happened to be nearby and empty? Couldn’t that be closer to the actual truth than the synoptics (IF there was a burial)? It seems to require less coincidences.

        I’m curious though, Bart, and I don’t know if you have already addressed this: if Jesus didn’t get buried (and, for example, moved later unbeknownst to the others) then how do you think this ‘resurrection’ belief started? SOMETHING must have triggered it, no? I’m aware of some theories but I would be interested in knowing yours. Thank you.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  December 5, 2012

          Yup, it’s interesting. But it’s so much later than the other traditions, I’d say it’s hard to know. And yes, I definitely think something started the whole thing. I’ll be dealing with this in the next book. Short answer: I think some of the disciples actually had visions of Jesus after his death. Just as lots of people have lots of visions all the time (e.g., the bereaved). But it’s a long story!

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  December 5, 2012

            Looking forward to your next book then! 🙂

  20. Avatar
    paulpdm  January 2, 2014

    Bart, had sent you an email about your thoughts about Joseph of Arimathea. The search button on the site works great!

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