Jesus’ Obituary

Jesus’ Obituary October 20, 2013

Tom Verenna shared a really interesting assignment from a class about the historical Jesus that he is taking. It asked students to write an obituary for Jesus. He did something even more interesting with it, creating an epitaph on the model of ancient funerary inscriptions, rather than a modern-day type of obituary.

I won’t summarize it here, since I think it would be interesting for people to try to come up with their own before doing so. But after you do, or even before, you should definitely click through to read it. And then we can talk about points of agreement, disagreement, similarity, and/or difference, if you like.

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  • Andrew Dowling

    Probably one of the most perplexing questions for me when considering the historical Jesus is whether there was a tomb at all. Would his body been thrown in a mass grave or left to scavenging animals like most other crucifixion victims? Does Paul’s absence of any mention of an empty tomb support the hypothesis that the empty tomb stories were later myth (perhaps initially created by Mark the evangelist) meant to convey theological understandings?

    Or was there an actual wealthy Jesus follower (Joseph of Arimathea) who managed to bribe officials to bury the body of Jesus, and the empty tomb stories go back early in the oral tradition?

    I tend toward the former, but I don’t see anything amidst the evidence to completely rule out the latter, especially given its wide attestation, albeit all in fairly late documents.

    • I don’t think that Joseph of Arimathea was a follower of Jesus. In Mark, he isn’t said to be one. And he doesn’t give Jesus an honorable burial, which I don’t think Mark is likely to have invented. Josephus and other sources indicate how important it was to Jews to observe the commandment requiring that bodies be buried before sundown on the day of death, and if the Romans did not allow this to be done at least most of the time, we’d expect there to be expressions of outrage about it in the Jewish literature from this time. And so when those factors are combined with the fact that a tradition that Jesus was buried is at least as old as Paul, I am inclined to think that Jesus was buried, in a tomb for criminals close to the site of the execution.

      • Andrew Dowling

        So Joseph just asked to bury Jesus to follow Jewish custom? And the Romans took pains to individually bury every Jew they crucified? Seems a stretch to me. If you mean a mass grave along with the others crucified, that sounds more plausible.

        • A grave where all criminals executed on that site were buried, yes. The Romans didn’t take pains to individually bury every Jew, but rather than have tumult, they seem to have allowed the Jews to bury their dead according to their customs. And Mark basically says what I am suggesting. Joseph – not a disciple, just a righteous member of the ruling council – places Jesus in “a tomb” with the bare minimum required, nothing that conveys honor (hence the alternate anointings that were pointed to or attempted) and without any of Jesus’ family or followers involved.

          More on this subject from me in this popular book I wrote on the subject:

          • Andrew Dowling

            Ha, little did I know this was a topic you had written a whole book on! 🙂 Thanks for the link.

  • Tom Verenna

    Thanks for sharing this James! I had a lot of fun with this assignment.

  • Apparently, the biography written about the one most call :”Jesus” today is not entirely correct. However, with so much bias created by such a biography it is now difficult to gleam a clear understanding of who Jesus really is, nor what he really said;

    • Wow, what a bizarre website you linked to!

      • Bizarre is a perception James. A perception based on that of limited conceptualization. Seek that which is currently unknown in order to know for much hangs in the balance.

    • newenglandsun

      The flourescent letters! Can’t STAND THEM!!!