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Was Jesus Given Special Treatment?

Every now and then on the Blog I get bored with a topic and simply want nothing more to do with it (for a while).  For some reason I feel like that about this question of whether Jesus was really buried on the afternoon of his death.  It’s an effort to respond even to the comments.  But for some reason I can’t seem ever just to let it die (so to speak).   Still, this is my last post about the matter for the next 29 years.  I think.

I just want to make one major point, which probably has relevance to a range of topics we deal with here on the blog.

For most of us, if we had to pick one person to name as the Single Most Important and Influential Figure in the history of Western Civilization, it would almost certainly be Jesus.  Who else would it be?  There are others that people today might choose – Hitler, Constantine, Caesar Augustus, pick your name.  But I think it’s pretty obvious that none of them actually had the historical impact that Jesus has.   Not only is he worshiped by two billion people in our world today, nearly a third of the entire human race, but in terms of Western civilization, what is the single most powerful and influential institution, ever, measured politically, economically, socially, or culturally – not to mention religiously?  Surely, throughout the past 2000 years, the answer has to be the Christian church.  And what is the Christian church?  It is the group of people who worship Jesus.

I would say the only possible contender for Most Important Figure in the history of the West might be Alexander the Great (and I’m sure many of you will have your own candidates).  But still, all in all, I think Jesus is a slam dunk.

Because Jesus is so important for our world, and for our history, and for our civilization, for some reason we just can’t HELP but think that he must have been highly important in his own world, set apart from everyone else at the time.

And so, when we think about his crucifixion …

This post gets controversial.  But it’s a REALLY important question.  To read the post you need to belong to the Blog.  If you don’t belong, you need to Join!  It won’t cost much, all proceeds go to charity, and you’ll be able to read 5-6 of these babies every week!

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Are Paul and Jesus on the Same Page?
Pilate, Who Never “Learned His Lesson”

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Comments

  1. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  January 23, 2018

    “Why didn’t Pilate just give the bodies over, knowing that the crowds would be upset if he didn’t?”

    Good point.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  February 12, 2018

      Because he wanted them to be upset — an excuse for slaughtering them. That’s what finally cost him his job after he murdered Samaritans on Mount Gerizim (36 CE?)

  2. Avatar
    AlbertHodges  January 23, 2018

    A couple of points:

    1) Great observation about Alexander the Great. Whole-heartedly agree with you.

    2) The question regarding the issue of Jesus’ importance really is not the issue here regarding the special treatment he did or did not receive. I concur with your idea that Christ was not important to the VAST majority of those who had even heard of him prior to his death and alleged resurrection. Again, his importance is NOT the issue.

    The issue here is whether or not JOSEPH of ARIMETHEA was important enough or had the influence/ability to convince Pilate to let him remove the dead Jesus to bury him. Based on the texts, there is every reason to believe he does…a rich man who was a member of the Jewish ruling class and Sanhedrin. The texts make it clear that Pilate gave this special treatment at Joseph’s request, not because of the importance of Jesus.

    It is a straw man to say this didn’t happen because Christ wasn’t important enough. The issue is rather was Joseph important enough. You have not address that at all and drawn a conclusion based on your own belief system rather than what evidence exists…and there is plenty of textual evidence that supports the immediate burial of Christ.

    Offered with respect.

  3. Avatar
    nbraith1975  January 23, 2018

    I agree that Jesus is probably the most influential figure in human history. But the big question is – how did a peasant preacher in a tiny corner of the world, whose ministry to the poor lasted less than three years, become the most influential figure in human history – especially when he is only mentioned outside “Christian” writings by Josephus about a century after his death? And those mentions of Jesus by Josephus have been challenged as reliable by credible historians within the last ten years.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      Yup, that’s pretty much what my new book is about. Out in three weeks!

      4
      • Avatar
        llamensdor  February 12, 2018

        It isn’t the “real” historical Jesus who is the most important person in world history, it is the invented and romanticized Jesus. No doubt he was a good, possibly even a great man, but the historical Jesus was co-opted by people, possibly sincere, possibly not, who became mythologized to an incredible extent. It is indeed, The Greatest Story Ever Told. What would have happened in the western world if this myth hadn’t been so artfully developed and expanded is hard to know. While he was always (except for bigots like Reza Aslan), described as a man of peace, his approval and authority were often assumed by warriors and tyrants.

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  January 23, 2018

    “And that all the governors of Judea did this, contrary to Roman practice, for the entire history of the Roman domination of Palestine?”

    Yes, I think every Roman governor removed the bodies of those crucified in and around Jerusalem the same day the crucified were found dead. I think it was standard practice, agreed upon between Rome and Jewish authorities, which is why no one, not even harsh critics of Christianity like Celsus ever question its possibility. Did Jesus receive special treatment? No. He received standard treatment.

    Of course, again, this doesn’t mean Jesus was then placed inside a nice, expensive tomb donated by a wealthy benefactor. His remains were probably disposed of in a manner that most Christians today would find ignominious. And, no, his body wasn’t “raised” afterward.

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      I think if this were true, it would have been widely known and much commented on. We have no reference to this custom in any author, Roman, Greek, Jewish, or Christian. ANd if it was the custom, then Joseph of A. would not have had to ask for the body.

      3
      • Avatar
        gavriel  January 25, 2018

        It seems like the inventors of the Arimathea legend take the Roman practice you describe, as a starting point. But could it be that, since Jesus was delivered to the Romans by the temple authorities, there was also a deal involving Jewish burial practices?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 26, 2018

          There’s no evidence of any such thing, so if it did happen it would be, so far as we know, unprecedented.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  January 25, 2018

        To quote that towering intellectual Donald Rumsfeld: “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.” In the end, we’re both conjecturing. I just think my conjecture has a certain cool factor.

        1
  5. Avatar
    anthonygale  January 23, 2018

    If you don’t mind me asking, because I am curious, why do you think this particular issue is so important to you? I’ve been on the blog almost a year and I think its come up 3 times.

    Personally, I don’t think it likely that Jesus raised from the dead (I’d use stronger language if past beliefs didn’t die so hard). That being said, I lean agnostic but don’t call myself an athiest. For me, it doesnt matter if there was a tomb or not. I doubt there was a resurrection regardless and am not committed either way. But as an athiest, does it matter to you? Like it matters to a mythicist whether Jesus existed or not (I agree that Jesus’ existence is more solid than his burial)?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      Yes, it is, and I think it’s because among all the things I’ve ever written for a popular audience, it is just about the *only* one that is very much a minority position among scholars, that I have not produced any scholarship on, but only addressed at this level. So I’ve felt a need to “make the case.”

      • Avatar
        anthonygale  January 24, 2018

        Do you expect to produce any scholarship on it?

        I’m not a biblical scholar, so I don’t think it’s likely I will point out something about the matter you haven’t heard of, but something did occur to me recently. I agree that the likelihood of Pilate granting an exception is extremely unlikely. What I find plausible is the he would have allowed a pre-existing tradition to continue that someone of a different temperament might have granted. Although Josephus suggests this was the case, the gospels actually support the opposite. That Joseph of Arimathea would need to go to Pilate to obtain the body suggests that the bodies could not be routinely taken down. So if you accept the biblical account, you have to accept that it was an exception, which makes it hard to accept. Unless perhaps Joseph bribed Pilate lol. It does say he was rich, and that is the other golden rule!

        • Bart
          Bart  January 26, 2018

          No, my scholarly work right now is on something completely different. Not enough hours in the day!

  6. Avatar
    ddorner  January 23, 2018

    I find your last few posts convincing. Considering Joseph of A, if he existed, would have had first hand knowledge of how brutal Pilate could be. I don’t think he would have any reason to expect Pilate to give him the body, let alone walk in and ask.

    Furthermore, we know why the story would need to be invented, which is to fuel the resurrection empty tomb narratives. But those accounts are also unreliable historically.

    It seems to me, the story also furthers the idea that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death not the Romans, so there’s an additional incentive to perpetuate the narrative in this way. I think it’s telling that John says Joseph is afraid of the Jews, but not of Pilate.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  January 25, 2018

      The Sanhedrin were the ruling body of Judea. They were on the same team as Pilate. They’d have no trouble asking him for a favor. He’d have no problem giving them a favor. It wouldn’t even occur to Pilate that his followers might steal the body. Again, as the story goes, Pilate never heard from his followers, only his accusers and the rabble.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  February 12, 2018

        It is utterly false to say that the Sanhedrin was “on the same page” as Pilate, although the gospels reporting the fictional trial of Jesus disparage the Jewish leaders in this manner; and even paint Pilate as the good guy. Sure. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s incredible to think a rich man might have access to Pilate, who certainly was corrupt enough to expect, if not a bribe, then a future favor. As for the Sanhedrin, they would no doubt be anxious to avoid a massacre, examples of which Pilate had earlier shown his penchant for, and which ultimately destroyed his governorship.

    • Avatar
      godspell  January 26, 2018

      We don’t actually know that the Sanhedrin wanted Jesus killed. We don’t have any independent confirmation of that. Jesus had challenged their authority–which is the same thing as challenging Rome’s authority. If they say nothing, they risk giving the impression to the Romans that they’re fine with what could be perceived as insurrection (and Jesus had reportedly told his followers to obtain swords, though so few as to make it seem more symbolic in nature–he may have in fact been trying to provoke a reaction).

      They may, of course, have felt that his death would end the problem, and avoid further bloodshed, but it still would have been controversial–Jesus had committed no violent act, had actively condemned violent for any reason. He was an observant Jew, who was reputed to have healed the sick. He had a certain reputation for holiness.

      Nobody can completely control the course of events. Pilate couldn’t control everything the Jews did, nor could they control everything he did, and nobody at all could control Jesus of Nazareth.

      • Avatar
        meohanlon  January 30, 2018

        I think it would be easy for the high priests to convince Pilate of Jesus being a subversive presence in Roman occupied Judea- he’d proven himself to be at the temple- he was preaching things that were undermining their authority, so they already didn’t like him too much. They may have been informed by Herod Antipas that he was a follower of the equally subversive and probably better known Galileean, John the Baptist (based on Josephus coverage). Pilate may have found out independently about this connection if he’d inquired enough. I get the feeling both Sanhedrin and Pilate saw a very powerful magnetism in Jesus’ character that was a true threat, even if he were non-violent, and found out, when after the temple incident they looked into this fiery character with an obvious entourage surrounding him (maybe helping cleanse the temple) and hear rumors of a growing popular movement extending all the way back to Galilee that challenged class separation and hierarchy. There may be some truth to the charges that he got in the way of Roman taxation, and that might’ve been enough for Pilate, who may have grown accustomed to seeing rebellions start this way, to send him to the cross.

  7. Avatar
    HistoricalChristianity  January 23, 2018

    I’m not Bart, but I have the definitive answer. No one knows. Paul didn’t care. The people writing stories about him decades later didn’t know. We don’t even know which stories came to these authors via writings which no longer exist, stories orally passed to them from various sources (credible or not) and which they invented themselves. You might as well ask whether the wallpaper in your heavenly mansion will be blue.

    Mark, the earliest gospel, didn’t even mention the subject. That part was added later. Those diarists who wanted to show a resurrection needed scenarios whereby a resurrection could plausibly be shown as observed. So show him buried in a guarded tomb. Unused meant there were no other bodies in it. They could have described him left on the cross for days while people watched the vultures eat him. That would be distasteful to Jews. It would also make bodily resurrection challenging. Yeah, toss that version of the script and go back to the tomb scenario. For bios narratives, it’s not necessary that all the pieces fit and be consistent.

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  January 23, 2018

    Of course, my previous posts show that I don’t think of it that way, with Jesus being given “special treatment” because he was “important”! I go the other way, speculating that Pilate didn’t give much thought to what would be done with Jesus’s body precisely because the man was a “nobody,” who never had (as Pilate saw it) posed a threat.

    I’m guessing that if Jesus hadn’t been arrested and crucified (with followers claiming he’d been resurrected), his ministry would have petered out, and we never would have heard of him.

    • Avatar
      HistoricalChristianity  January 25, 2018

      As the gospel diarists tell the story, some Jews accused Jesus of being a threat because he was a Zealot. Both Pilate and Herod acquitted him of that charge. But those Jews (and the rabble they roused) made him a threat by threatening to riot. Pilate would have executed Jesus for that reason alone. The story explains why a good man would be executed by Rome.

      The early ministry of Jesus (that of John the Baptist) petered out by the end of the first century, when everyone was forced to admit that the apocalypse didn’t happen. The later ministry of Jesus (as a sage of Second Temple Jerusalem) persists to this day in the form of Rabbinic Judaism.

      We have never heard of lots of people who were arrested and executed by Rome in the first century.

      I partly disagree with Paul. Jesus could still have been the universal sacrifice without a resurrection. The only thing a sacrificial animal has to do is die.

      1
      • Avatar
        godspell  January 26, 2018

        Right. But since Paul believed he did rise, (because he heard Jesus speak to him) there has to be a reason for it, and he, as the prime interpreter of Jesus, as he sees it, has to learn what that is.

        There’s no logical reason to believe anything, you know. Beliefs are never about logic. They’re about trying to find some kind of internal balance. “I know this is right, I know this is wrong.” In terms of pure reason, nothing is ever right or wrong, good or evil.

        Which is why we can’t live on reason alone.

        2
        • Avatar
          HistoricalChristianity  February 5, 2018

          Paul didn’t have to KNOW why Jesus was raised from the dead. All he needed was a hypothesis, either one he formed himself, or one he heard from someone else. Jesus must have been important for God to raise him from the dead. Paul thought it was because God had accepted his death as the universal sacrifice. That was enough for Paul. His hypothesis became his axiom.

  9. Avatar
    Seeker1952  January 23, 2018

    On a different topic, how would we know anything historically about what happened at Jesus’s trial by the Sanhedrin or at his trial by Pilate? It doesn’t appear that any of Jesus’s followers were witnesses (well, maybe Peter at the Sanhedrin but that certainly sounds legendary (eg, the cock crowing two or three times) and even if it wasn’t could Peter have actually heard and seen what was going on at the Sanhedrin?). It sounds like the oral tradition must have started with people imaging what happened at those events rather than with familiarity with what happened from eyewitnesses.

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      Yup, it’s a huge problem.

      2
    • Avatar
      Wilusa  January 25, 2018

      I agree, of course, that the stories were made up. But a believing Christian would say that during the time Jesus spent with his disciples after his resurrection, *he told them* what had happened when he was with the Sanhedrin, and with Pilate. For a “true believer,” no problem at all! Except for differences among the various Gospel accounts – for that, they’d have to say some of the disciples’ memories had been faulty.

      • Avatar
        Iskander Robertson  February 13, 2018

        From a theoretical level, why would Jesus want to inform about Pilate when Pilate remained a disbeliever and jesus was handed over by Pilate? Jesus is said to have been doing teachings, but no one recorded his words even though he allegedly was in hiding for forty days. Why would a post ressurected person want to talk about what Pilate did when sadness and death is no longer a problem ? So if Jesus was partying and full of joy, then why would he ruin the partying b y talking about Pilate and Pharisees ??

    • talmoore
      talmoore  January 25, 2018

      Jesus’ “trial” as portrayed in the gospels is almost certainly entirely fictional. Pilate was probably chomping at the bit to get a troublemaker in his grasp that he could crucify as an example, and Jesus just happened to be one of the unlucky ones. I mean, do you think it was a coincidence that Pilate crucified Jesus and the other two “criminals” within sight of hundreds of thousands of Jewish pilgrims? He was sending a message. “I am the law and order governor.”

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  February 12, 2018

      There was a meeting, perhaps a confrontation, but no “trial.” That’s a later and fanciful invention– and clearly an attractive fiction.

  10. Avatar
    AnotherBart  January 23, 2018

    Sir, have you read the sources below? (I do not mean to insult your intelligence.)

    What you’re saying could make sense if the gospels were all post 70 A.D. documents.

    I believed for decades that they were.

    If there’s any way I could get you to see the strength of the case for Peter’s trip to Rome in 42 A.D. I would. I say that as a non-Catholic.

    John Wenham spelled it out nicely in 1972. (nine pages)
    DID PETER GO TO ROME IN AD 42? By JOHN WENHAM, Tyndale bulletin 23 (1972) 94-102
    http://www.tyndalehouse.com/tynbul/library/TynBull_1972_23_04_Wenham_PeterInRome.pdf
    καὶ πέτραν σκανδάλου

    Then he knocked it out of the park in 1992. (240 pages plus 60 pages of foot[end]notes)
    REDATING MATTHEW, MARK, AND LUKE: A Fresh Assault on the Synoptic Problem, by John Wenham
    https://www.amazon.com/Redating-Matthew-Mark-Luke-Synoptic/dp/0830817603
    καὶ πέτραν σκανδάλου

    But there’s nothing quite like George Edmundson’s 8 Lectures to Oxford University in 1913
    THE CHURCH IN ROME IN THE FIRST CENTURY: An Examination of Various Controverted Questions Relating to its History, Chronology, Literature, and Traditions by GEORGE EDMUNDSON (237 pages plus footnotes)
    https://archive.org/stream/cu31924029214918#page/n19/mode/2up
    καὶ πέτραν σκανδάλου

    Here’s one little tidbit that none of the above mention:

    Romans 9:33
    As it is written:
    “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall,
    καὶ πέτραν σκανδάλου
    and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”

    καὶ πέτραν σκανδάλου
    And a PETER who makes them fall. And the one who believes in him (PETER) will never be put to shame.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      No, I haven’t read any of the links. It’s clear, in any event, that Peter was not in Rome when Paul wrote them in 60 CE, since he is not among those greeted in chapter 16.

      • Avatar
        AnotherBart  January 24, 2018

        Paul wrote Romans in 57, not 60.

        Has it occurred to you that Paul goes out of his way NOT to mention Peter?
        Peter was 1) a non-Roman citizen and (2) a FUGITIVE!!!!

        Wenham wrote in 1972:

        “It is hardly conceivable if we take seriously (as we must) the
        strong tradition that Mark’s Gospel in some way represents
        the teaching of Peter in Rome, and if we take the usually
        accepted view that Peter did not get to Rome until the 60s.

        “If however—as I wish to argue—we put Peter’s first visit to
        Rome in 42, the whole position is revolutionized.

        “I have to confess that such an idea had never made any
        serious impact on my mind till a couple of years ago, when I
        chanced upon a popular book by G. R. Balleine, entitled
        Simon Whom He Surnamed Peter (Skeffington, London, 1958),
        which argued that the ‘another place’ to which Peter went
        after he had been released from prison in Acts 12:17 was
        Rome.

        “The idea was so novel and the implications so far reaching
        that I felt scarcely able to trust my own judgment in
        the matter.

        “Further reflection, however, has made me feel that
        the case is sound and that it should again become a subject
        for serious study by Christian scholars.

        ….

        “Direct evidence for Peter’s movements after the death of
        Stephen are scanty: we find him at Samaria, and (initiating
        the first Gentile mission) at Caesarea and at other places in
        Palestine.

        “During Agrippa’s reign (41-44) he escaped from
        Jerusalem and fled Agrippa’s territory.

        “He was in Jerusalem
        again for the famine visit of Paul and Barnabas in 46 and for
        the Apostolic Council of 49.

        “He visited Antioch (Galatians 2:11)
        and had associations with the churches in northern Turkey
        (I Peter 1:1).

        “In 54 Paul can speak of Peter ‘leading around a wife’,
        presumably moving from place to place in missionary
        work (I Corinthians 9:5).

        “Beyond this we are left to inference……..

        Chronologically the twenty-five year ‘episcopate’ spans the
        period from Agrippa to Nero neatly.

        Agrippa’s reign was 41-44
        and Nero died in 68, which tallies well with Eusebius who dates
        the episcopate from 42 to 67.

        That Peter could have escaped to
        Rome is clear enough.

        ‘There was no small stir . . . over what
        had become of Peter.

        And when Herod had sought for him
        and could not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered
        that they should be put to death’ (Acts 12:18f.).

        Agrippa was
        in deadly earnest and Peter in deadly peril.

        To escape to a
        neighbouring province would have been to invite extradition,
        but the ports (where Peter had friends) were full of ships waiting
        to take the Passover pilgrims home.

        Peter could have escaped
        to Egypt, Ephesus, Carthage, Spain, but none of these places
        claims him.

        The most likely place in the world to harbour an
        escaped prisoner was also the home of a vast Jewish population;

        There seems to be absolutely no reason why Peter should
        not have gone (to Rome), unless Luke’s cryptic statement that he
        ‘went to another place’ proves to be an insurmountable obstacle.

        If Peter went to Rome, why does not Luke say so?

        It is of
        course impossible to know for certain, but it is well to bear in
        mind that Luke is a past master at avoiding things which lie
        outside the scope of his book, and it could be that at this point
        (in Blaiklock’s words) ‘he is preparing to usher Peter from the
        stage, as Paul steps to the forefront.

        The apostle to the Jews
        has played his part.

        He has, in fact, prepared the way for the
        apostle to the Gentiles’.

        To have mentioned Rome at this
        juncture might have evoked a crop of side-tracking questions
        which would have distracted the reader from following Luke’s
        developing story.

        A more probable reason, however, is this.

        If, as we have
        argued, Acts was published in Rome while Paul was awaiting
        trial, and if (as seems likely) it had the part-purpose of inclining
        those in positions of influence to look favourably on Christianity,
        it might not have seemed tactful to call attention to the fact
        that the church of Rome was founded by a much-wanted
        criminal who was a fugitive from justice.

        His alleged deliverance
        from prison by a miracle might not have carried sufficient
        conviction to offset the fact that he was a man wanted by the
        law.

        Looked at in this light the cryptic phrase (which is really
        rather odd) suddenly makes sense.

        Any other destination could
        have been mentioned by name without embarrassment, and
        one would have expected such mention, but Rome was the
        one place that required disguise.

        It thus seems untrue to say that the possibility of a period of
        work by Peter in Rome, beginning some twenty-five years
        before his death, is contradicted by the evidence of the New
        Testament or is inconsistent with the known facts; it also seems
        to say (as we have just seen) that the one superficially
        serious objection to the hypothesis really presents any difficulty;
        furthermore it is untrue to say that the hypothesis is based on
        an argument from silence unsupported by positive evidence.

        The unwavering tradition of the Roman Church is itself weighty
        evidence, and we believe that the literary argument for the
        early date of the Synoptic Gospels provides further evidence.

        In addition, the significance of Paul’s remark in Romans
        15:20-24 needs to be carefully weighed.

        In spite of his longing
        of many years to come to them, he was intending only to pay a
        passing visit to Rome, ‘lest’ (he said) ‘I build on another man’s
        foundation’.

        This suggests (what missionary experience in
        general confirms) that the church of Rome did not arise
        through the chance movements of Christian converts, but was
        in large measure the result of one man’s vision and work.

        Paul’s firmness in this matter gains added point, if the other
        foundation-layer was the very man whom he had agreed was
        to be acknowledged as the leader in the establishment of (predominantly)
        Jewish churches, while he was to be acknowledged
        as the leader in the establishment of (predominantly) Gentile
        churches (Gal. 2:7-9).

        Paul’s concern for the unity of the
        church kept him steadfastly loyal to his agreement.

        C. K. Barrett
        speaks of ‘the delicacy of the situation that leads to the obscurity
        of Paul’s words’ in this passage.

        The delicacy of the relation between the two apostles
        may well have been part of the reason
        for the delicacy of the situation.

        Another scrap of positive evidence is to be found in the
        presence of a Cephas-party in Corinth……….

  11. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  January 23, 2018

    Well said. For the Jewish leaders, Jesus was a false prophet who threatened the religious system For the Romans, Jesus was a threat to Roman rule. He was without honor in his own time. How that all changed with the development of the Christian Church is an amazing story.

    2
  12. Avatar
    Jon1  January 23, 2018

    Bart,

    Red herring and straw man arguments again. Many people disagree with your proposal for the disposal of Jesus’ body do not think “because Jesus is so important for our world, and for our history, and for our civilization…can’t HELP but think that he must have been… set apart from everyone else at the time.” And the choice is not between your proposal or burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s family tomb. There are many possibilities in between.

    But in answer to all of your questions, Jesus (and the two others who were with him, if indeed they are historical) could plausibly have been an *exception* to normal crucifixion procedures because *he was crucified on the eve of a major Jewish festival celebrating Israel’s liberation from foreign domination with tens of thousands of extra Jews in the city riled up more than normal about their nationalism*. For this reason, Pilate could plausibly have not wanted to rile the Jews more than normal and risk a mass riot and loose the peace, which could get him fired. This is the same reason you admit that Pilate backed down in the blasphemous images incident. Pilate *not* backing down in the temple treasury incident makes perfect sense because in that case there was a *massive monetary payoff* that was worth the risk of riot (his bosses in Rome would approve!).

    The above proposal is consistent with Jewish War 4.317, Digesta 48.24.1 (which is not “explicit” in saying what you say it says), the blasphemous images incident and temple treasury incident, and every other piece of evidence on this topic.

    If Jesus’ corpse was given to the Jewish authorities on Friday, an obscure ground burial by the Jewish authorities would seem likely, just like your colleague Jodi Magness says and is outlined by this respected up and coming scholar at: https://celsus.blog/2018/01/20/bart-ehrman-and-jodi-magness-on-the-burial-of-jesus-and-the-empty-tomb/comment-page-1/#comment-7785. This would explain why there is a “buried” tradition in 1 Cor 15:4 but no discovered empty burial tradition in the Creed, Paul, or Acts 13:29-31. In contrast, I cannot find in your book, nor have I been able to figure out here on your blog, how you plausibly account for the word “buried” in 1 Cor 15:4.

    • mwferguson
      mwferguson  January 24, 2018

      Since I saw someone else cite my blog here, I want to clarify that my post is not intended to express disagreement with Dr. Ehrman’s thesis. It is only intended to show that Dr. Magness’ arguments are actually fairly compatible with Dr. Ehrman’s arguments expressing doubt about Joseph of Arimathea’s burial and the empty tomb, with modification on some points regarding Jesus’ burial. The post simply explores another hypothetical angle for a scenario in which Jesus was obscurely buried. Also, the link given was to the comments (and to someone else’s comment, not mine, at that). Here is the link to the blog essay itself: https://celsus.blog/2018/01/20/bart-ehrman-and-jodi-magness-on-the-burial-of-jesus-and-the-empty-tomb/

      • Avatar
        Jon1  January 26, 2018

        Sorry about the bad link to your web page. No intent to suggest that you disagreed with Ehrman or thought he was mistaken on something. Just pointing out that you have a good ground burial scenario that accounts very well for the word “buried” in the 1 Cor 15:3-4 creed, which I see as harder to explain on Ehrman’s hypothesis.

    • Avatar
      Jon1  January 24, 2018

      Bart,

      Three separate commenters on this thread accused you of setting up a “straw man/men” argument. What do you make of that?

      • Bart
        Bart  January 26, 2018

        I think they don’t know what a straw man argument is.

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        • Avatar
          Jon1  January 26, 2018

          Bart,

          Suit yourself, but the straw man I saw you construct thinks “Pilate (politely) complied” with Joseph’s request for Jesus’ body and then Jesus was “given a decent burial with customary care and rituals”. And all of this “because Jesus is so important for our world, and for our history, and for our civilization…[we] can’t HELP but think that he must have been… set apart from everyone else at the time.” None of the above seems to apply to the folks asking questions on the blog.

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          Iskander Robertson  January 26, 2018

          lol

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      Jon1  January 24, 2018

      Bart,

      Can you please provide one example from any ancient source that depicts the Romans removing a crucified body from a cross for further disposal by the Romans? Surely if that ever happened, it would have been widely known and much commented on. We have no reference to this custom in any author, Roman, Greek, Jewish, or Christian.

      1
      • Bart
        Bart  January 26, 2018

        You’re right. All the references are to bodies who were left to rot.

    • Avatar
      Jon1  January 25, 2018

      Bart,

      Why couldn’t Jesus have been an *exception* to normal crucifixion procedures because *he was crucified on the eve of a major Jewish festival celebrating Israel’s liberation from foreign domination with tens of thousands of extra Jews in the city riled up more than normal about their nationalism*. For this reason, Pilate could plausibly have not wanted to rile the Jews more than normal and risk a mass riot and loose the peace, which could get him fired.

      1
      • Bart
        Bart  January 26, 2018

        YOu’d have to say the other two men crucified that day, and everyone else ever crucified in those circumstances for many decades, were the “exceptions” — and we have no record of such exceptions.

        • Avatar
          Jon1  January 26, 2018

          Bart,

          I am proposing that *every* Jew who was ever crucified in Jerusalem *on a major Jewish festival with tens of thousands of extra Jews in the city riled up more than normal about their nationalism* were given to the Jewish authorities for burial on the same day they died. Your objection is “we have no record of such exceptions”. But there are very few days a year that this would apply, and I presume very few Jews were getting crucified in peacetime, so why in your mind should we expect a record of such rare occurrences?

          Also, you assert that the Romans removed crucified bodies from the cross for further disposal by the Romans, and yet we have zero record of such a thing. So why do you require literary evidence in one case but not the other? You seem to have a double standard.

          1
        • Avatar
          Iskander Robertson  January 26, 2018

          is the gospel of mark the ONLY source which says that the jewish people were able to get pilate to do their job hours before jewish holy day?

          • Bart
            Bart  January 28, 2018

            Also the Gospel of John.

        • Avatar
          Jon1  January 28, 2018

          Bart,

          You keep saying, “we have no record of such exceptions”. Why *should* we expect to have a record of Pilate occasionally giving crucified corpses back to the Jewish authorities when he was concerned about losing the peace at major Jewish festivals like Passover?

          1
  13. Avatar
    fishician  January 23, 2018

    Since a place known as Arimathea has never been identified, what’s you best guess as to how the Greek breaks down, i.e., the word’s meaning, if any? Also, can you cite a few ancient sources that discuss the practice of Roman crucifixion?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      I’ve played with the idea that the name meant something like “the best disciple” and that the legend simply called him that. Roman references to crucifixion are scattered: there is no sustained discussion anywhere. But as to bodies being left on the cross, there are lots of side-off-the-cuff comments. I give some of them in my book How Jesus Became God.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  January 25, 2018

        But I’m sure I’ve read, somewhere, that there *was* a place named Ramathaim-Zophim. Not sure exactly where it was, but close enough to Jerusalem that some have thought it was “Arimathea.” Considering that the Gospels were written decades after Jesus’s death, outside Palestine, it’s not impossible that the story could have come to include a (simplified) corruption of that place-name.

        Just as it’s possible that the place-name Kerioth evolved into “Iscariot.” That seems to be the most widely accepted explanation of Judas’s “identifier.”

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    DavidBeaman  January 23, 2018

    I know this is your opinion, but it will remain unresolved because your colleague, Dr. Tabor, thinks that it is possible that Joseph of Aramethia or one of his associates convinced Pilate to let them bury Jesus in a temporary tomb. Later he was moved to what is now known as the Talpiot tomb. There are various political reasons that people want to deny the validity of the Talpiot tomb; however, evidence is mounting in favor of it. So long as equally qualified scholars have differences of opinions about this, it will remain an open possibility.

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    Pattylt  January 23, 2018

    I agree with you, Bart. Pilate’s and Rome’s purpose of crucifixion was humiliation and deterrence. Jesus was essentially a nobody with a small group of followers. Was there even a crowd at the crucifixion? I always figured that it was Mary and maybe a few other women that were even there. Bart, do we know if the Romans or Pilate insisted on the people in the city showing up for a crucifixion? As a resident or visitor, I would have avoided it. People were too busy with the holiday and other problems. The point of leaving the bodies on the cross was to ensure everyone saw the effects since they most likely weren’t there for the initial event. I also think Pilate wasn’t risking much in leaving a Jewish rebel with a few followers that most Jews thought was a bit heretical up on the cross. He was meshuggeneh (crazy)!

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    ardeare  January 23, 2018

    One of the questions that begs to be addressed is why would Mark make a Jewish member of the Sanhedrin a hero in the story? Why would he list Arimathea in the title? It seems that if you’re going to invent Joseph, you shouldn’t link him to the Sanhedrin who had just stood as his accusers. Similarly, it seems that if you’re going to designate a title upon him, you shouldn’t list Arimathea, a place whose historical location is still not known. It would appear the location was probably a sparsely populated area that would have been identifiable to locals, tax collectors, or anyone else who cared to search for it at the time.

    Dissimilarity is a fantastic and difficult to understand methodology and I don’t think anyone has done more to advance its usefulness than Dr. Ehrman. Bart, do you have any thoughts on this? Does the story of Joseph of Arimathea pass the scholarly muster of dissimilarity?

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      He knows that none of the disciples is going to go up to Pilate and ask for the body (else they’d be next); so it has to be someone with influence. No Roman would be interested. So he makes up a Jewish leader to do it.

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      • Avatar
        DavidBeaman  January 26, 2018

        I wouldn’t be surprised if archaeologists dug up some mention of Joseph of Arimathea some time down the road. In the meantime, it’s all speculation, even if based on what can be known contemporarily.

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    darren  January 23, 2018

    Thanks Bart! I know you’re weary of this issue, but it’s one that intrigues me (and others, apparently) and I appreciate the time you’ve devoted to it. In the context that you’ve put it, it certainly does seem most likely that Joseph of Armathea is a legend created later and the fate of the body of an obscure Jew would mean nothing to Pilate. Historically, do we have a sense of whether the first ‘sighting’ of Jesus post-crucifixion was in the Galilee by Peter or in Jerusalem by Mary M?

  18. Avatar
    caesar  January 23, 2018

    On a similar note–I have heard some argue that the reason that Pilate, who wasn’t such a nice guy to the Jews, suddenly had a ‘change of heart’ in October of 31 CE. At that time, Sejanus led a failed revolt against Tiberius. Over the next few years, Tiberius was rounding up possible co-conspirators, and Pilate was doing everything he could not to ‘rock the boat’. So, Pilate became more compliant with the Jews’ wishes, so that nothing negative about him would be reported back to Tiberius.

    This same argument has also been used to support the date of 33 CE for a crucifixion–prior to 31, Pilate would have just casually condemned Jesus to death, without thinking of whether this was a good political move.

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      AnotherBart  January 29, 2018

      I just read this article which supports what you’re saying…. I haven’t verified its references.
      https://www.xenos.org/essays/sejanus-and-chronology-christs-death#_ftnref52

    • Avatar
      AnotherBart  February 2, 2018

      The question of whether Pilate would have respected Jewish customs regarding Jesus’ burial should now be considered a shut case. After 31 CE, Pilate had every reason to be fearful, because the person he’d been taking orders from, Sejanus, had been executed for treason. Tiberius had Sejanus executed 18th October 31 CE. Pilate was likely a Sejanus appointee.

      After Sejanus’ execution, Tiberius was rounding up co-conspirators from 31 CE at least till 34 CE. Some historians say 100’s, others less than 50 were ultimately executed. Pilate had clearly been carrying out Sejanus’ anti-semitic policies, but after 31 CE, he was under orders from Tiberius to respect Jewish customs and the Jews were to be told that punishment was only for the guilty.

      When the Jewish leaders said “if you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar” (non es amicus Caesaris) ” Pilate would have been shaking in his boots.

      1
  19. tompicard
    tompicard  January 23, 2018

    I am not sure about your point
    from your last post
    “he [Pilate] was offensive, intransigent, and brutal”
    so are these same invectives appropriate toward the Sanhedrin judge (was it Caiaphas?) ?

    I mean if Pilate was so obviously BAD, what does it tell you about the guy who brings an innocuous (i.e. harmless) preacher in front of an obviously corrupt judge???

    Was the presiding judge in in the Salem witch trials more guilty of an innocent person’s murder than the prosecutor (Cotton Mather) who brought and testified against that innocent person in the court ? i think you could argue it either way [they are both pretty weak and spineless characters, imho]

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      I’m afraid we don’t have any record of Caiaphas being offensive, intransigetn, and brutal.

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  20. Avatar
    James Chalmers  January 23, 2018

    Was Jesus the most important person in history? What did he do that might have earned him this accolade?

    He did not originate or recast the animating idea or driving force behind his ministry, the expectation that this world of injustice and misery would be supplanted by a new one. Jesus , and he was hardly alone in this, inherited this apocalyptic eschatology from those who had suffered at the hands of the Seleucid kings. He was innovative but also mistaken in his belief that the kingdom would soon come and that he and his disciples would by God’s hand rule over it. If E.P. Sanders is to be trusted, nothing Jesus taught can be taken to be unique or original.

    Was Jesus important? His ideas may not have differed in essentials from those of John before him. His ministry was (it appears) brief and attracted only a few dozen followers. It’s obvious that his followers were extremely devoted, and from the recollections of his message that have come down to us, that he proclaimed the message with extraordinary eloquence. Yet the fact remains the message wasn’t in its essentials innovative, nor was it even after his death embraced by others as he understood it.

    Who invented the world’s greatest religion? Maccabean apocalypticists are entitled to a copyright on half of it, with Jesus earning a share for having put it so well.

    Credit for the other half must go to Peter, Paul, and Mary-to the devoted followers of Jesus who saw him risen from the dead and convinced a few others what they’d seen was really there.

    But among the founders of the world’s greatest religion not to be found is Jesus, who borrowed his own religion from the apocalypticists hoping for relief from economic distress and the oppression of Roman and local oligarchical rule. Those from whom Jesus borrowed are founders of his religion. The founders of new one are those who after Jesus’s death proclaimed him to have been raised from the dead and exalted to heaven from whence he would soon return, bringing with him the kingdom he had himself so winsomely proclaimed.

    Between them (and putting aside Constantine’s claims), the founders of Jesus’s own religion and the founders of the new one centered in the expectation of his or His return, are more important to the rise of Christianity than was Jesus himself.

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    • Bart
      Bart  January 24, 2018

      I don’t think the hisotrical Jesus was at *all* significant in his day. But the “remembered” Jesus changed all history. This is a point I make in my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

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        Eric  January 26, 2018

        Yes, I’d state it more as the “Idea of Jesus” as fashioned by others (such as Paul).

        The nexus of the importance of this (largely imagined) personage would bear close similarity to that of Alexander — the partial syncretization of Greek and “Oriental” culture, Athens and Jerusalem, the two great “cities of Western ideas”

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