Jesus the Exception?

Jesus the Exception? July 27, 2014

While I was traveling recently, lots more appeared in the blogosphere related to the historical Jesus in general, and Bart Ehrman’s book on Christology in particular. Larry Hurtado had a review of the latter published. Jonathan Burke blogged about whether Jesus existed. Cassandra Farrin discussed Jesus’ unique voiceprint.

Bart Ehrman has had a series of posts on his blog related to Craig Evans’ objections to Ehrman’s view that Jesus’ corpse was probably never buried. The posts about crucifixion nails and Josephus deal with what Ehrman feels are Evans’ strongest points.

Both are arguing that Jesus was not an exception to the norm when it came to burials in that time and place. The disagreement is about whether the Romans normally allowed the crucified to be buried. I have yet to read Ehrman’s case in full, but at present my own conclusions agree with Evans’. Josephus emphasizes the importance of prompt burial to Jews, and if observance of this law in the Torah were regularly prohibited, we should expect to hear not only some but a significant outcry about that in our sources.

Matthew Ferguson discussed whether the Gospels are ancient biographies, as well as discussing history and the divine.

Lawrence Schiffman blogged about the Jewish-Christian schism.

Paul Davidson discussed Matthew’s genealogy.

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  • Evan Hershman

    Ehrman is beginning to respond on his blog to Evans’s analysis of Josephus.

  • I’m curious what you think, James, of the question of whether the crucified victims on a Friday would have been killed quickly in order that their bodies could be taken down and buried before the sabbath. Ehrman doubted that Rome would have allowed that, since it would have defeated the purpose of having a long, drawn out, torturous death.

    My own inclination is that the report that the criminals legs were broken, which I think would have resulted in a fairly quick death by suffocation, is rather significant. It sounds as if the Romans had used this procedure before, which means there probably were times when they were willing to shorten the torture.

    • I think the historicity of leg-breaking to speed up death is a distinct question. Even if that aspect of the Gospel authors’ depiction does not reflect historical reality, I would still say that the agreement of Josephus and the Gospels (including the extracanonical Gospel of Peter) on Jews burying even crucified criminals is strong testimony regarding what generally happened. Whether it always happened, and precisely how far the Romans went to accommodate Jewish scruples, is another matter, and much harder to determine.

      • Gary

        “precisely how far the Romans went to accommodate Jewish scruples”…of course, if I was a Roman soldier, and had no hard and fast orders pro or con, I’d certainly prefer the local community clean up the mess on the cross, to make room for a new customer, than be required to cut new lumber. Or pull the corpse off myself. Besides, those iron nails wouldn’t exactly be cheap in those days. Gotta recycle. And let the local rabble do the work. As I remember, there was suppose to be a requirement that a peasant had to carry a soldier’s pack for a distance, if asked. Otherwise, wack-a-mole. So I could see Romans letting Jews bury their dead if no over-riding order was given to make an example of the victim.

  • Gary

    Having read Ehrman’s book awhile ago, seems as though I remember a theme of orthodoxy, transforming Pilate from a bad guy, to a gentler, kinder, guy, all the way to a saint, as time went by. All tending to relate to “not Roman’s fault”, but “Jewish fault”. But I would agree with Ehrman. You don’t crucify someone, and then be a nice guy, not wanting to offend sensibilities. That goes from leaving huge numbers of bodies on the cross on the road after Sparticus, to good old Romanian, Vlad the Impaler. If you want to show who is in charge, you don’t be Mr. Nice. And as far as anything Josephus wrote, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. His patron was Vespasian. He goes into a long dialog in “The Wars of the Jews” about Titus “was very disirous to preserve the city for his own sake, and the temple for the sake of the city”. Josephus tells how he tries to reason with the Jewish rebels. After all, “God, when he had gone round the nations with this dominion, is now settled in Italy” (5.9.3,367). Talk about a suck-up, as he wrote it in Italy. Titus had no problem taking all the plunder in the Temple. So Josephus saying how nice the Romans where, is a little suspect.

    • Gary

      I just mention Vlad, because James just got back from Romania. What was good for the Romans, was good for the Romanians.

    • I agree, and if it were just Josephus mentioning this, I might have doubts. But I would have expected some other Jewish source to highlight it if the Romans generally prohibited burial, just as we see evidence of Jewish discontent at the display of images in Judaea.

      • Ryan

        So where does Pilate factor in? Would he be considerate of Jewish burial law if he was fine with violating their temple? Also, if he did allow for burial would he just have the Roman soldiers throw him in a mass grave? Or is the Joseph burial depicted in Mark more likely?

  • Jim

    Bart Ehrman’s blog provides much more detail on how he arrived at his conclusions re the burial of Jesus than is given in HJBG. In my opinion, Craig Evans in HGBJ underestimated (possibly due to short publication deadline?) how much research Ehrman had carried out in regards to supporting his conclusion. In the end, I’m now left with thinking that it’s a difficult task to establish (historically) whether Jesus was actually buried or not, and both Evans and Ehrman provide good arguments for their respective cases. I’m not a historian, and the old line that “you just had to be there” is where I’m at for now.

    • Andrew Dowling

      Ditto . . .I think it’s one of those things where the reasonable opinion is that the evidence available clearly doesn’t point to one view over the other. I lean towards the mass grave as more plausible given that the Romans were so brutal against hints of insurrection from anyone, IF they give a bone to Jewish sensibilities at all, it’s hard to see them going any farther than simply dumping the body in a pit somewhere.