The Burial of Jesus

The Burial of Jesus April 3, 2015

I wrote the book The Burial of Jesus: What Does History Have to Do with Faith? to mediate historical approaches to the Bible and to Jesus to a Christian audience, and to wrestle with the stories of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection myself, while paying attention to the neglected middle – the traditions about Jesus’ burial, which seem to me to provide a lot more information than tends to be noticed, as we hurry past them to get to Easter.

I have blogged about the book in the past, and have answered questions about it and shared comments from people who have found it helpful. Indeed, I have blogged about the subject of the burial of Jesus quite often, most recently in response to Bart Ehrman’s suggestion that Jesus might not have been buried at all. So this year, let me simply provide a brief quote from the book, and see if it whets anyone’s appetite to read more:

Since historical study deals only in probability, if Christians’ affirmation of Jesus’ resurrection is about the historical question of what happened to his body after being placed in the tomb, then the most Christians can affirm is that the body of Jesus had almost certainly vanished from the tomb. They could presumably further assert, without transgressing the limits of historical inquiry, that it is not impossible that Jesus rose from the grave. Clearly such language will seem a poor and inadequate expression of Christian faith. Even if it were possible to have more confidence about the matter using historical tools, it would still only allow one to say that Jesus probably rose from the dead – a statement that would still be judged a far cry from a Gospel that one can proclaim!

The problem is not with either history or faith at this point. The problem is that Christians often wish to make historical claims without having sufficient historical evidence, as well as at times confusing theological affirmations with historical ones. The question will need to be asked therefore whether resurrection faith is really supposed to be about history at all, whether it is an affirmation about the whereabouts of a corpse. To many Christians, resurrection faith seems to be an affirmation of a different sort altogether.

The second edition of The Burial of Jesus is an ebook published by Patheos Press, and is available on for $2.99.

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  • Based on your previous post, unless we want to call everyone an agnostic who accepts that the probability of the truth of any empirical statements is less than one, then it seems that an empty tomb and a missing corpse are at least part of the data that provide a basis for a resurrection faith.

    • Nick G

      They are not “data” in any reasonable sense, any more than it’s “data” that Mohammad was taken up to Heaven on a horse (for a visit – he didn’t stay), or that Hanuman built a bridge between southern India and Sri Lanka. The texts describing these alleged events are data; the alleged events are merely alleged.

      • I stand partially corrected. I agree the texts are the data. Expert historical interpretation of them, as in the case of Dr. McGrath’s interpreting them as very probably meaning there was an empty tomb and missing corpse, would be the next category. What word should we use to describe that? Then using them as evidence supporting belief in a resurrection would be the next level.

        • Have you read Dr. McGrath’s book? To call his interpretation a support for a literal bodily resurrection is to read him out of context.

          • I confess that I haven’t read it, yet. I thought I had read somewhere that he thought the best explanation was that some of the disciples stole the body.

          • No, he deals with a theft of the body by the disciples as a possible explanation, but not a particularly likely one.

            Through an examination of what we know historically of 1st century Roman executions and Jewish burial practices, he considers it likely that there was a nearby tomb for executed criminals, that would have been shared by many bodies, not just one. He also suggests that the continuous addition of details lending the burial more honor (from Mark, through Matthew and Luke to John) demonstrates that honorable burials were important to the Jews, and that, if the disciples had succeeded in stealing the body and giving it an honorable burial, they would have wanted to brag about it in the gospels. He thus concludes that the empty tomb stories may have originated in some situation in which the body of Jesus could not be found in common tomb shared by the bodies of other crucifixions.

            I appreciate the book primarily because of James’s explication of the historian’s methodology, which is a constant part of the dialogue throughout the book.

            However, the book also makes quite clear that most historians recognize the fact that the gospels cannot be taken at face value. They try to discern kernels of truth in the texts, but such discernment is based on a lot of guesswork.

            But an inability to find the body of Jesus is not necessary to explain the lack of an honorable burial tale in the gospels. A number of scholars have pointed out the similarities between Mark’s empty tomb account and Greek and Roman apotheosis stories in which famous men are deified in their deaths. In many of these tales, as in Mark’s gospel, the disappearance of the body is a sign of the apotheosis of the man. The stories surrounding the death of Romulus are examples of this.

          • Interesting. I found a reference to the translation of Romulus. Is there a story about the resurrection of Romulus? Or other figures, historical or otherwise?

          • The Romulus tale doesn’t include his death, though scholars still refer to his apotheosis as a “resurrection”, and there are plenty of mythologies that do include deaths and resurrections.: Asclepius, Achilles, Alcmene, Apollonios, Aristeas, Memnon … there are even a few in the Old Testament: both Elijah and Elisha perform resurrections on dead bodies.

            Even early Christian sources were aware of competing resurrection myths:

            Justin Martyr:

            “when we say also that the Word, who is the first-born of God, was created without sexual union, and that he, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propose nothing new from what you believe about those you consider sons of Zeus”

            There are quite a few internet sites claiming that Jesus was merely a copy of earlier dying and resurrected God-myths. These sites usually include a lot of bogus information and the overall premise is too simplistic.

            But resurrection miracles are not unique to the New Testament, and scholars have noted that Greek resurrection myths provided ripe ground for the growth of Christianity in the Mediterranean region.

            Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity By Dag Øistein Endsjø


          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Bilbo, if you ever delve into the murky world of Richard Carrier, you will find that Romulus features very prominently. The alleged similarity between Romulus and Jesus is an important part of Carrier’s argument that the two figures were equally fictional.

            Carrier is particularly struck by the fact that Plutarch wrote a biography of Romulus. What he doesn’t mention is that the alleged events which Plutarch recounts would have happened more than 800 years before the time when he was writing. If the Gospels had been written in AD 900, then the mythicists might have a point.

          • Carrier’s use of Romulus to support mythicism is fringe scholarship at best. But no serious historian denies the existence of other resurrection myths before and after Christ.

        • Nick G

          Well “expert historical interpretation” would seem to be an adequate term; and of course, experts can differ in their historical interpretations of data.

        • The expert interpretation isn’t evidence. It is the conclusion of one argument that may used as a premise in a subsequent argument.

          • It isn’t clear to me that it is different from evidence. For example, in a trial, expert testimony is considered evidence.

          • Usually the expert witness’s function is deemed to be providing the jury with assistance in understanding the evidence.

          • Then what would be the difference between data and evidence?

          • That depends upon what you mean by data. I generally think of data as statistical or numerical information which is subject to analysis. Used in that sense, data is similar to evidence in that all observers can pretty much agree on what it is even though they may disagree on interpretation or explanation.

            However, that is not the only definition of “data” that you will find in the dictionary. There are broader definitions that can include factual information which may have already been subject to a fair degree of interpretation. Used in that sense, data is farther removed from evidence.

            I think that we need to be careful in how we use these terms lest we mask how much interpretation is involved. It may not be inherently incorrect to speak of “expert evidence,” but what a court permits as expert testimony is pretty narrowly circumscribed and not directly comparable to the kind of expert interpretation that a historical Jesus scholar might do.

            There is of course no way to escape conclusions and interpretations, but we want to know where they lie.

          • I agree. I think our vocabulary is too deficient in this regard. In this case, if the data are the texts, then there seem to be a number of levels to get to “empty tomb, missing body.” And then from there to “resurrection.”

  • Pausanias

    Price argues that the empty tomb pericope in Mark is not source for information on the historical Jesus. He writes that:

    The Empty Tomb (Mark 16:1-8)

    Crossan (p. 274) and Miller and Miller (pp. 219, 377) note that the empty tomb narrative requires no source beyond Joshua (=Jesus, remember!) chapter 10. The five kings have fled from Joshua, taking refuge in the cave at Makkedah. When they are discovered, Joshua orders his men to “Roll great stones against the mouth of the cave and set men by it to guard them” (10:18). Once the mopping-up operation of the kings’ troops is finished, Joshua directs: “Open the mouth of the cave, and bring those five kings out to me from the cave” (10:22). “And afterward Joshua smote them and put them to death, and he hung them on five trees. And they hung upon the trees until evening; but at the time of the going down of the sun, Joshua commanded, and they took them down from the trees, and threw them into the cave where they had hidden themselves, and they set great stones against the mouth of the cave, which remain to this very day” (10:26-27). Observe that here it is “Jesus” who plays the role of Pilate, and that Mark needed only to reverse the order of the main narrative moments of this story. Joshua 10: first, stone rolled away and kings emerge alive; second, kings die; third, kings are crucified until sundown. Mark: Jesus as King of the Jews is crucified, where his body will hang till sundown; second, he dies; third, he emerges alive (Mark implies) from the tomb once the stone is rolled away.

    The vigil of the mourning women likely reflects the women’s mourning cult of the dying and rising god, long familiar in Israel (Ezekiel 8:14, “Behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz;” Zechariah 12:11, “On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo;” Canticles 3:1-4, “I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but found him not; I called him but he gave no answer,” etc.).

    • Hi Pausanias,

      I’m curious. Did Mark come to the belief that Jesus rose bodily from the dead by reading the story of Joshua and the five kings?

      • Pausanias

        Jesus’ resurrection seems to be a further haggadic midrash of Psalm 16. Peter stressed the significance of the resurrection and cited the prophecy predicting it in Psalm 16: “God raised him up, losing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it … Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we are all witnesses (Acts 2:24, 29-32).” In this case, Psalm 16 was not making a prophesy about Jesus, but rather Psalm 16 was used in a haggadic midrash to invent the story of Christ’s resurrection.

        • Right, but you’re quoting from Acts, which is considered to be written later than Mark. Are you saying that Mark was also influenced by Psalm 16? Or was Mark influenced by Peter and others? Do you believe there was an actual human being, Jesus, around whom all the stories are centered? Or was Jesus made up?

          • Pausanias

            I think Jesus was a real person, but one who’s biography is laden with mythological material. Price also has some interesting comments on the resurrection. He writes that: The Resurrection of Jesus (Matthew 27:62-28:20)

            Matthew had before him Mark’s empty tomb story and no other source except the Book of Daniel, from which he has embellished the Markan original at several points. (Matthew had already repaired to Daniel in his Pilate story, where the procurator declared, “I am innocent of the blood of this man,” Matthew 27:24b, which he derived from Susanna 46/Daniel 13:46 LXX: “I am innocent of the blood of this woman.”) (Crossan, p. 97-98). First, Matthew has introduced guards at the tomb and has had the tomb sealed, a reflection of Nebuchadnezzer’s sealing the stone rolled to the door of the lion’s den with Daniel inside (6:17). Mark had a young man (perhaps an angel, but perhaps not) already in the open tomb when the women arrived. Matthew simply calls the character an angel and clothes him in a description reminiscent of the angel of Daniel chapter 10 (face like lightning, Daniel 10:6) and the Ancient of Days in Daniel chapter 7 (snowy white clothing, Daniel 7:9b). He rolls the stone aside. The guards faint and become as dead men, particular dead men, as a matter of fact, namely the guards who tossed Shadrach, Meschach, and Abed-nego into the fiery furnace in (Daniel 3:22).

            To provide an appearance of the risen Jesus to the women at the tomb (something conspicuously absent from Mark), Matthew simply divides Mark’s young man into the angel and now Jesus himself, who has nothing more to say than a lame reiteration of the angel’s words. He appears again on a mountain in Galilee (Matthew 28:16) which he now says Jesus had earlier designated, though this is the first the reader learns of it. There he dispenses yet more Danielic pastiche: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is based on a conflation of two Greek versions of Daniel 7:14. In the LXX, “to him [the one like a son of man was] … given the rule… the authority of him [the Ancient of Days].” In Theodotion, he receives “authority to hold all in the heaven and upon the earth.” The charge to make all nations his disciples comes from Daniel 7:14, too: “that all people, nations, and languages should serve him” (Helms, p. 141).

          • Understood, but getting back to Mark: Was the idea that Jesus had risen bodily from death already around before the gospel of Mark was written? Or was that idea first introduced by Mark?

          • Mark

            You’d have to think 1 Cor 15 .3ff was an interpolation, and likewise the opening of Romans. It’s all resurrection all the time in Paul.

          • Just trying to understand Pausanias view, especially about Mark, Mark.

    • Cecil Bagpuss

      This looks like another case of parallelomania. If the authors of the Gospels were writing fiction, couldn’t they have used their imagination? Surely they didn’t need to borrow every single detail from the OT and other sources. People like Price and Carrier should know all about the possibility of simply making things up.

      • Pausanias

        I think a serious case can be made for the position that the crucifixion, empty tomb, and resurrection are no more than historical fiction. For example:

        The Passion of the Christ in Mark:

        Likely the clearest Prophecy about Jesus is the entire 53rd chapter of Isaiah. Isaiah 53:3-7 is especially unmistakable: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.”

        The only thing is, as Spong points out, Isaiah wasn’t making a prophesy aboout Jesus. Mark was doing a haggadic midrash on Isaiah. So, Mark depicts Jesus as one who is despised and rejected, a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. He then describes Jesus as wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities. The Servant in Isaiah, like Jesus in Mark, is silent before his accusers. In Isaiah it says of the servant with his stripes we are healed, which Mark turned into the story of the scourging of Jesus. This is, in part, is where atonement theology comes from, but it would be silly to say II Isaiah was talking about atonement. The servant is numbered among the transgressors in Isaiah, so Jesus is crucified between two thieves. The Isaiah servant would make his grave with the rich, So Jesus is buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a person of means.

        Then, as Dr. Robert Price says

        The substructure for the crucifixion in chapter 15 is, as all recognize, Psalm 22, from which derive all the major details, including the implicit piercing of hands and feet (Mark 24//Psalm 22:16b), the dividing of his garments and casting lots for them (Mark 15:24//Psalm 22:18), the “wagging heads” of the mockers (Mark 15:20//Psalm 22:7), and of course the cry of dereliction, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34//Psalm 22:1). Matthew adds another quote, “He trusts in God. Let God deliver him now if he desires him” (Matthew 7:43//Psalm 22:8), as well as a strong allusion (“for he said, ‘I am the son of God’” 27:43b) to Wisdom of Solomon 2:12-20, which underlies the whole story anyway (Miller, p. 362), “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us because his manner of life is unlike that of others, and his ways are strange. We are considered by him as something base, and he avoids our ways as unclean; he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and
        let us test what will happen at the end of his life: for if the righteous man is God’s son he will help him and will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. Let us test him with insult and torture that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

        As for other details, Crossan (p. 198) points out that the darkness at noon comes from Amos 8:9, while the vinegar and gall come from Psalm 69:21. It is remarkable that Mark does anything but call attention to the scriptural basis for the crucifixion account. There is nothing said of scripture being fulfilled here. It is all simply presented as the events of Jesus’ execution. It is we who must ferret out the real sources of the story. This is quite different, e.g., in John, where explicit scripture citations are given, e.g., for Jesus’ legs not being broken to hasten his death (John 19:36), either Exodus 12:10, Numbers 9:12, or Psalm 34:19-20 (Crossan, p. 168).
        Whence did Mark derive the tearing asunder of the Temple veil, from top to bottom (Mark 15:38)? Perhaps from the death of Hector in the Iliad (MacDonald, pp. 144-145). Hector dies forsaken by Zeus. The women of Troy watched from afar off (as the Galilean women do in Mark 15:40), and the whole of Troy mourned as if their city had already been destroyed “from top to bottom,” just as the ripping of the veil seems to be a portent of Jerusalem’s eventual doom.

        And so we can at least propose there may not be any historical content with a fairly comprehensive haggadic midrash reading of The Passion of the Christ in Mark.

        • Mark

          But why are you talking about Mark? Passion, crucifiction and resurrection are also in Paul. This doesn’t make it any more historical of course, but it’s kind of obvious that the later Gospels are pulling all the stops to get every scrap of prophecy validated in every sentence.

          • Mark

            Pardon spelling of ‘crucifixion’…

          • Mark

            By the way, characterizing any of this material as ‘haggadic’ ‘midrash’ is to import categories that developed two, three or four centuries later, and which are in any case (midrash in particular) not intelligibly practiced in greek. It’s total anachronism. By the way, typical ‘parallels’ of the sort mentioned above will be marked in every well annotated div school copy of the text; you hardly need to smoke the trippy-parallels hashish of the Price cult to find out about them.

            By the way, nothing in the area of ‘stauros’ is used in the septuagint of Joshua 10; it is not the mere exhibition of the executed criminal that Paul (or Mark) but the specifically Roman practice of ‘death on a stauros’ which is of course intrinsically an exhibition. Death by hanging as we know it, ‘from a poplar tree’ is also not crucifixion; nor is burning at stake ‘staking’ in the sense of crucifixion. In Joshua 10 mausolea are not mentioned, just a cave.

            We have to remove the stone to get a corpse into or out of a mausoleum even today, but are not aping Joshua 10.

          • Pausanias

            So many comments! It’s getting hard to see who hasn’t been answered lol. The gospel writers were using exegetical techniques to create new narratives from OT scriptures. You can call this midrash or pesher or whatever you like. But they were doing it. I’m off to have dinner

          • Mark

            It isn’t either of them, but obviously radically different. What they are doing is interpreting *recent events* in the light of the received prophecy taken as understood. Of course, they are in fact implicitly interpreting prophetic works as well. But there is no similarity between this and mere interpretation and exegesis of texts or the derivation of morals from them. There are really no good models for a literature of – I don’t know what to call it – prophetic validation, which is clearly the principal purpose of Mark. It is alien to the rabbinic tradition — even the fall of the second temple is not viewed as validating prophecy; it’s basically meaningless except of course as punishment-for-sins in general and general roman criminality. So none of these rabbinical expressions is appropriate. With Paul we are in any case much closer to their sources than they were…

          • pausanias

            Take a simpler example. The infancy narrative of Jesus in Matthew recapitulates the story of Moses. Would we not call that midrash?

            1. The Nativity of Jesus

            On the whole Matthew seems to have borrowed the birth story of Jesus from Josephus’ retelling of the nativity of Moses. Whereas Exodus had Pharaoh institute the systematic murder of Hebrew infants simply to prevent a strong Hebrew fifth column in case of future invasion, Josephus makes the planned pogrom a weapon aimed right at Moses, who in Josephus becomes a promised messiah in his own right. Amram and Jochabed, expecting baby Moses, are alarmed. What should they do? Abort the pregnancy? God speaks in a dream to reassure them. “One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king that about this time there would a child be borne to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through the ages. Which was so feared by the king that, according to this man’s opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child into the river, and destroy it… A man, whose name was Amram, … was very uneasy at it, his wife being then with child, and he knew not what to do… Accordingly God had mercy on him, and was moved by his supplication. He stood by him in his sleep, and exhorted him not to despair of his future favours… ‘For that child, out of dread for whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelites’ children to destruction, shall be this child of thine… he shall deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians. His memory shall be famous whole the world lasts.’” (Antiquities, II, IX, 2-3)

            It is evident that Matthew has had merely to change a few names. Herod the Great takes the role of the baby-killing Pharaoh, and he is warned by his own scribes (along with the Magi) of the impending birth of a savior, whereupon he resolves to kill every child he has to in order to eliminate the child of promise. Joseph takes the place of Amram, though the precise cause of his unease is different. Mary takes the place of Jochabed. A dream from God steels Joseph, like Amram, in his resolve to go through with things.

            The rest of Matthew’s birth story is woven from a series of formulaic scripture quotations. He makes Isaiah 7:14 LXX refer to the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus. It is likely that he has in this case found a scripture passage to provide a pedigree for a widespread hagiographical mytheme, the divine paternity of the hero, which had already passed into the Christian tradition, unless of course this is the very door through which it passed.

            It is revealing that Matthew’s Magi learn from scribal exegesis of Micah 5:2 that the messiah must be born in Bethlehem. This is the same way Matthew “knew” Jesus was born there–it had to be!

            The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt comes equally from exegesis, this time of Hosea 11:1, which allows Matthew to draw a parallel between his character Joseph and the Genesis patriarch Joseph, who also went to Egypt. Matthew also seems here to want to foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus. Note that Isaiah 52:9-10 makes the exodus from Egypt into a historical replay of God’s primordial victory over the sea dragon Rahab, equating Egypt with Rahab. Matthew also knew that Jonah was swallowed by a sea monster at God’s behest, and he saw this as a prefiguration of Jesus’ descent into the tomb (Matthew 12:40). The flight into Egypt has the child Jesus already going down into Rahab, the belly of the sea beast.

            The closest Matthew can come, via punning exegesis, to providing a prooftext for Jesus having become known as “the Nazarene” would seem to be Judges 13:7, “The boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth.” He knew Jesus must be born in Bethlehem yet was called “Jesus of Nazareth,” so he cobbled together a story whereby Jesus was born in Mary and Joseph’s home in Bethlehem, only to relocate in Nazareth (after Egypt) to avoid the wrath of Archelaus (Matthew 2:22-23). Luke, on the other hand, working with the same two assumptions, contrived to have Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth but to be in Bethlehem for the census when the time came for Jesus to be born. In both cases, exegesis has produced narrative.

          • Guest

            I’m not sure what you’re arguing. There is no conviction more commonplace among e.g. ordained clergy than that the infancy narratives are made up to fit with ye olde prophecy. The text is barely avoiding saying as much. We don’t need to enter into the Price parallelism auto-hypnosis, which is a form of religious mania all its own, in order to know this. I don’t see a place for a Jesus infancy narrative in Exodus Rabbah, nor do I see any reflection on the Hebrew of the Exodus’ story in Matthew. So, no, there’s nothing midrashic about it, it is incredibly tiresome to speak this way.

          • Mark

            I’m not sure what you’re arguing. There is no conviction more commonplace among e.g. ordained clergy than that the infancy narratives are made up to fit with ye olde prophecy. The text is barely avoiding saying as much. We don’t need to enter into the Price parallelism auto-hypnosis, which is a form of religious mania all its own, in order to know this. I don’t see a place for a Jesus infancy narrative in Exodus Rabbah, nor do I see any reflection on the Hebrew of the Exodus’ story in Matthew. So, no, there’s nothing midrashic about it, it is incredibly tiresome to speak this way. [Sorry for bizarre double posting; i decided in medias res to get a discus account.]

          • Pausanias

            In “The Jewish Annotated New Testament:,” it is argued that Matthew presents Jesus as “The New Moses.” Co-editor Amy-Jill Levine says this is an example of Midrash. I know this because I E-Mailed her a few years ago and asked.

          • Mark

            In the book it says that ‘some have seen’ a parallel to midrashim on the ‘miraculous birth of Moses’, but does not say that the text of Matthew is itself such a thing. The idea that the Matthew narrative is to be compared with a discussion like — the paragraphs beginning with the one that starts ‘And there went a man of the house of Levi’ — seems pretty forced, especially since Moses and Exodus aren’t under discussion in Matthew. But who cares. It is the purpose of all this mind-numbing quotation of Price’s derealized parallelism auto-hypnosis that I was asking after.

          • Pausanias

            I was just saying in my posts that the three core episodes of Christianity, (1) The Passion in Mark (2) The Empty Tomb and (3) The Resurrection pericopes were historical fiction developed by rewriting Old Testament stories to make it seem like Jesus was fulfilling Old Testament Scriptures. They were doing this to sell the new Jesus religion. The goal of the Christians was to take over the world with the gospels. For instance, we read in Matthew that:

            Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version (NIV)

            The Great Commission

            16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

            AND IN LUKE:

            a. Sending out Emissaries (Deuteronomy 1; Luke 10:1-3, 17-30)

            Just as Moses had chosen twelve spies to reconnoiter the land which stretched “before your face,” sending them through the cities of the land of Canaan, so does Jesus send a second group, after the twelve, a group of seventy, whose number symbolizes the nations of the earth who are to be CONQUERED, so to speak, with the gospel in the Acts of the Apostles. He sends them out “before his face” to every city he plans to visit (in Canaan, too, obviously).

            To match the image of the spies returning with samples of the fruit of the land (Deuteronomy 1:25), Luke has placed here the Q saying (Luke 10:2//Matthew 9:37-38), “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few; therefore beg the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers into his harvest.”

            And Jesus’ emissaries return with a glowing report, just as Moses’ did.
            The first Christians thought that if people would listen to Jesus’ message, it would create a better world. I believe they were willing to die for this cause, and would do anything to bring it about.
            I don’t believe Jesus’ first followers thought he was a miracle worker, because there is no such thing as miracles. The first Christians just put forth the story that Jesus was a miracle worker in order to “wow” new potential followers.
            Just like Apollonius of Tyana had miracle stories to about him that he never really did, so too with Jesus.

          • Pausanias

            That last sentence should have said “Just like Apollonius of Tyana had miracle stories told about him that he never really did, so too with Jesus.”

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            In one of your replies to Bilbo, you stated that Jesus was a real person, but one with an embellished biography. I would be interested to know how much you think is history, and how much fiction. I presume that you accept the crucifixion as fact even if the details are fictional.

            The scholarly consensus is that the disciples had some sort of experience which led them to a genuine belief in the resurrection. Would you also accept this, or do you think that the resurrection was fabricated as a way of keeping the movement alive? That seems to be what you are suggesting.

          • Pausanias

            All of it could be made up, or just some of it could be made up. How could you tell how much is fiction when historical fiction looks exactly like historical fact?

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            So when you said that Jesus was a real person whose biography had been embellished you might have been granting too much to historicism? I would say that if you regard the crucifixion as complete fiction then you might as well go all the way and embrace mythicism.

            You say that the Gospels were written as part of a plan to take over the world. This could then be your own mythicist theory. Jesus was invented for a very particular purpose.

          • Pausanias

            As I said, the event of the crucifixion may have been invented. The implicit piercing of hands and feet in Mark 24 May have come from Psalm 22:16b.
            I hope you have a wonderful Easter!

          • Pausanias

            I should have put a lower case “m” for “May.” Sorry

          • Mark

            Paul thinks his master died on a stauros and doesn’t mention piercing. So, if the ‘event of the crucifixion’ was invented, it is easily provable that it was not invented by Mark.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            And a happy Easter to you too, Pausanias! You will have to forgive me for not finding your theory persuasive. It is, however, certainly memorable. I was particularly struck by the notion that early Christians were seeking world domination 🙂

          • Pausanias

            I’m trying to come a it from an atheist’s perspective. I don’t believe in miracles, and yet the bible has all kinds of stories of Jesus being followed around by disciples who supposedly observed him doing miracles. If I know that Jesus never did any of the miracles (since there are no such thing as miracles), then what am I to make of the New Testament miracle stories about Jesus? I think the miracle stories were made up to sell the religion with the intention of making a better world. Put yourself in an atheist’s shoes. What is to be made of all the stories of Jesus being followed around by a bunch of disciples watching him do miracles. I’m just trying to be consistent with the atheist worldview when reconciling a Godless universe with miracle stories being told about Jesus.

          • Pausanias

            That first sentence should have read: “I’m trying to come at it from an atheist’s perspective.” Sorry, my grammar is almost as bad as my crazy conspiracy theories. lmao

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Pausanias, I appreciate that you are doing your best to understand the evidence within the context of your worldview, but surely mythicism isn’t the answer. It seems to me that mythicism is a theory adopted by a minority of atheists as a weapon against Christianity. I imagine that you have come to atheism yourself because it seems like the only rational position to take. If that is the case, then you don’t want to align yourself with the minority who are more interested in propaganda than rational discourse.

          • Pausanias

            As I said above, I’m not a mythicist. Paul clearly met Jesus’ brother James. I just think that Jesus’ biography was largely embellished with legendary material. I agree with the instances of Old Testament rewriting Price finds in this article, , even though I don’t agree with his conclusion that Jesus started out as a vague savior deity like Dionysus who was later euhemerized.

          • Pausanias

            I don’t see why a conspiracy theory is any less likely than any other explanation. A mythologizing process may be the answer, but maybe it was outright deception. Lying to the masses in order to deceive them for there own good was a well known idea in the ancient world. Plato had the idea of “The Noble Lie” in The Republic. Lucius Annaeus Seneca said “Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.” In Euripides’ “Bacchae” Cadmus says: “Even though this man (Dionysus) be no God, as you say, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him the son of Semele, for this would make it seem that she was the mother of a god, and it would confer honour on all our race.”
            A Christian Conspiracy would fit in nicely with all of this.

          • Ah, mythicist quote-mining at its finest. The issue is not whether anyone has ever lied in the name of religion. People have certainly done so. So too have atheists, and so too have politicians, and so too have parents. This is such a trite point as to be utterly uninteresting. It doesn’t provide a basis for sidestepping the need to discuss what the relevant evidence suggests happened in any given case.

          • Pausanias

            Yes, lying was permitted in the Bible if it was done in the service of God. For example, we read that:

            “And the king of Egypt called for the midwives, and said unto them, Why have ye done this thing, and have saved the men-children alive? And the midwives said unto Pharaoh, Because the Hebrew women are not as the Egyptian women; for they are lively, and are delivered ere the midwives come in unto them. Therefore God dealt well with the midwives.” (Exodus 1:18-20)

            “And the woman [Rahab] took the two men and hid them and said thus: There came men unto me, but I wist not whence they were; and it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark that the men went out; whither the men went I wot not; pursue after them quickly, for ye shall overtake them. But she had brought them up to the roof of the house and hid them with the stalks of flax.” (Joshua 2:4-6)

            “David said unto Ahimelech the priest, The king hath commanded me a business….” (1 Samuel 21:2) [But David was an enemy of King Saul, and was not on the king’s business. We know that God approved of this lie, since 1 Kings 15:5 says that God approved of everything David did, with the single exception of the matter of Uriah.]

            “And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said, I will persuade him … I will go forth and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him and prevail also; go forth and do so.” (1 Kings 22:21-22)

            “And Elisha said unto him, go, say unto him, Thou mayest certainly recover: howbeit the Lord hath showed me that he shall surely die.” (2 Kings 8:10)

            “[Jesus said] Go ye up unto this feast: I go not up yet unto this feast. … But when his brethren were gone up, then went he also up unto the feast, not openly, but as it were in secret.” (John 7:8-10)

            “Was not Rahab, the harlot, justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?” (James 2:25)

            “Raphael the angel answered … I am Azarias.” (Tobit 5:17-18)

            God himself lies by proxy: (see 1 Kings 22:23; Jeremiah 4:10; 2 Thessalonians 2:11)

            I think that the original Christians believed that if they lied about Jesus doing miracles and being resurrected, they could create a better world by getting people to buy into Jesus’ moral teachings. In doing this, they would be doing the will of God by creating a better world. In reality, Jesus never did any miracles, and he certainly wasn’t resurrected, because as we know now miracles don’t happen. I think they were inspired to do this by the idea of the “noble lie,” present in Plato and Euripides (and well known throughout the ancient world), and certainly known to the Greek speaking writers of the New Testament.

          • This seems quite bizarre to me. Don’t most people think that it is OK to lie in some instances, e.g. if the SS came to your door in Nazi Germany and asked, “Are you hiding Jews?”

          • Mark

            What makes you think that e.g. Paul is trying to ‘make a better world’? He seems to think that the world is basically toast. The holiness and non-idolatrousness of his gentile assemblies doesn’t seem to be part of a general plan of improving existing humanity.

            You would be closer to the spirit of the text of Paul in particular, I’d think, if you said almost the opposite. He is executing a quasi-theurgic plan that will involve simply getting rid of most of humanity. It’s a big plan, but the part that the approaching messiah has deputed to him personally is the training of a complement of gentile greeting corps that will be adequate for a decent Entry or Arrival in proper messianic raiment and glory, dripping with the oil of messianic anointment like a potato latke. Most of humanity will of course be unimproved and will disintegrate upon contact with this messiah; Paul is basically trying to get that to happen; and why not? they’re scum! But messianic Entry or Arrival requires that some unknown amount of this scum turn aside from idols etc. The ‘moral’ aspects of Paul’s teaching to his little platoons-of-all-nations, are of course true ‘morals’ in his view; but he is organizing people in accordance with these ‘morals’ as a condition of the messianic/quasi-military discipline that is appropriate to their theurgic role. They help to call down the messiah by burying their idols etc. in accordance with familiar prophetic tropes.

            This would be an exaggeration of course, but much closer to the spirit of things than utilitarian progress and world-improving uplift.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Your timing is excellent. I have just been engaged in a discussion with someone who thinks that the entire scientific establishment is perpetrating a conspiracy to suppress the overwhelming evidence against evolution. This seems to be much the same kind of debate.

          • Mark

            “All of it could be made up, or just some of it could be made up. How could you tell how much is fiction when historical fiction looks exactly like historical fact?”

            You are using Matthew and Luke, from a generation or two later, to prove something that you mean to apply to Paul as well. Paul has birth/passion/resurrection, so the anonymous works we call “Matthew” and “Luke” didn’t make *those* up: if they were ‘made up’, it was someone else, 50-100 years earlier. This procedure can’t discredit Paul.

            Moving now in the other direction: If we happened only to have the later gospels, your reasoning would suggest that they are making up the basic elements, birth/passion/resurrection, themselves. But these crude elements are ‘attested’ outside of them, in Paul, much earlier. So they are to that extent reliable reporters of tradition, if perhaps credulous in accepting it. Your picture of what is going on with the gospels is thus provably false, and we are left, as usual, with no master argument and no conspiracy theory to work with, just the familiar sorting out of the materials characteristic of rational scholarship.

          • Pausanias

            Okay, we’ll agree to disagree. Happy Easter!

          • Mark

            Right, I agree to disagree with 9/11 truthers too. I don’t practice Easter.

          • Pausanias

            Maybe you should try celebrating Easter. All those chocolate eggs might put you in a better mood. lol

          • Mark

            I don’t see why you are naively using Matthew and Luke to get ideas about the secret agenda of ‘the early Christians’, these books are decades and decades after the events. On some views they belong to the 2nd c. That they are decorating events like the Birth, Passion and Resurrection with unending cross-references to the Septuagint *are 1st year divinity school platitudes.* You needn’t bring yourself under de-realizing Pricean auto-hypnosis to see this.

            Paul already has Passion and Resurrection (he even mentions Birth!) and he is acting on a peculiar commission. But doesn’t seem to be using any of the trippy parallels you are working with. He is also not spreading any ‘message’ or ‘teaching’ of Jesus that will make a better world if we practice it (he seems to be aware of some things that surfaced later.) Rather, he is forming small groups in diverse nations in anticipation of the ‘arrival’ of the great ruler, Christ Jesus. He is here following a tide of prophetic and apocalyptic memes about the rule of God over the stupid idolatrous nations, getting enough small groups of ‘holy’ ‘pure’ and ‘righteous’ cadres who have stopped whoring after false gods (and each other, etc.), from enough ‘nations’ to trigger the great arrival. They don’t follow “Jesus’ message” as we have it from later accounts, which is anyway addressed to Jews. Paul’s gentiles are realizing various prophetic images: they are burying their idols, putting fornication etc away with them, and above all preparing for ‘obedience’ to the Davidic messiah, who will put the nations beneath his feet etc. etc.

            His program is not to ‘grow’ a church of well-behaved people to the limits of the earth, in hope of generating a beautiful life for all these well-behaved people. He thinks he has been put on a *finite and temporally limited* mission of constituting an adequate militia to greet the Arrival of the Lord Jesus Messiah — little color guards from all nations, so to say. He clearly expects that 98% of gentiles will crumble upon Arrival and has no interest in them. If he were trying to “save” a maximum number of them, he would stay wherever he is most effective, not take it into his head to go, e.g. to Spain. He isn’t envisaging any life of people together that is not under the direct, perceptible, total rule of the messiah. He doesn’t even mention children, for example, except once in passing in 1 Cor. He has no picture of a pre-Arrival future for mankind at all. In operating with this temporal framework he is presumably on the same page as the Judean and or Galilean crowd he had formerly been clobbering.

            Matthew and Luke by contrast are in for the long haul, ‘even to the end of the world’. Everything has been re-interpreted in this light. The great arrival has been reconceived. They are phenomena of a developed ‘Christianity’ dealing with the cycle of birth and death and so on. The messianic message in its ‘crude’ original state had no use for infancy narratives, wise men, sermons on mounts etc. etc.

            “Miracles” are a red herring, since all sides in all controversies have them, and all sides in all controversies *think the other side has them too.* (Christians have an interpretation of enemy miracles of course.) And all reputable antique authorities on anything will be found to be crediting such things. The problem for historical description of everything in antiquity is discussed with perverse anti-clerical wit in, say, Ramsay MacMullen (for the later period, 2nd c and following.) People presumably credited the tales about Apollonius, though that case seems not too interesting, since it is clearly a 3rd c parody of the gospels.

          • Pausanias

            You’re assuming Paul believed what he was preaching. He may have just been part of the conspiracy to deceive people after he “converted.”

          • Mark

            Paul didn’t ‘convert’ to anything, or pretend to convert to anything, any more than the followers of Sabbatai did – most of the Jewish world, in that case. He seems even to think that he still belongs to the same particular ‘pharisaical’ sub-sub-sect as he did as a student. (His strangely pre-‘rabbinical’ conviction that gentiles do not become proselytes in the messianic period presumably arises from his prior training; he sneers at people who think otherwise as uneducated.)

            Similarly, I don’t ‘convert to Obamaism’ or change my political views, merely by recognizing that Obama is the president — though a new president is likely to alter one’s political views whatever they were before.

            No rational person speaks of a conspiracy in connection with Sabbatai, even though the whole thing was kind of crazy on reflection. They attempt a genuine historical theory of this kind of ‘craziness’.

          • Pausanias

            In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 Paul tells us about the death of Jesus and its relation to Old Testament Scriptures. Paul writes: “Jesus died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and He was buried, and He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” What I have presented above are the scriptures Paul was talking about according to which Jesus died and was raised.
            By the way, Happy Good Friday and Easter to everyone!

          • And a Happy Passover to you, Pausanias. But now I’m even more confused. At first, it sounded like you thought that Mark invented the resurrection story. Now it sounds like you think Paul believed it before Mark. I’m just trying to understand your views.

          • Pausanias

            There could be any of a thousand answers. For instance, maybe the first Christians thought Jesus’ teachings could create a better world, and so they decided to make it seem Jesus was fulfilling all kinds of Scripture in order to sell the new religion. Maybe a better world was a cause they would die for, even if they didn’t believe the theology themselves, except that the theology would be useful in converting people and changing the world. This would fit in with the idea of the Noble lie in Plato’s Republic. Seneca also said religion was “true to the masses, false to the wise, and useful to the rulers.” **************************************************************
            The expected Jewish Messiah could never come because the Jews would never overthrow Roman might, so by a “miracle” a messiah, Jesus, came who fulfilled scriptures in an unexpected way. It fits in too conveniently to be a coincidence.
            Anyway, the first Christians seemed to start with a vague savior myth and fleshed it out using scriptures. Why they were doing it is anyone’s guess.

          • Now I’m even more confused. Who do you think first came up with the idea that Jesus bodily rose from the dead?

          • Mark

            What fits too conveniently? What goyish savior myth could possibly be at work here? The story is quite standard issue seemingly-failed-Jewish-messiah material. Paul and his former enemies weren’t ‘selling a new religion’ any more than Menachem Schneerson was. Yet a new religion came to be, but even to refer to this religion in connection with Paul is basically to buy into that religion. Yet such a religion did come to part thanks (or no thanks) to Paul

          • Pausanias

            What fits all to conveniently is that a messiah came even though no messiah should have been able to come because the Jews were never going to overthrow the Romans.

          • Mark

            Who thought that? Maybe I’m not following, though. Paul still thinks Jesus is going to overthrow the Romans, and even that he will or might live to see it. He thinks he’s a diplomatic-military officer getting goyish cadres in place. It seems like basically every sufficiently feverishly pious Judean for the next 80 years believed this too — accepted, as Josephus puts it “an ambiguous oracle…that at that time one from their country would become ruler of the world”

          • Mark

            What does Joshua 10, your starting point, have to do with anything in the authentic letters of Paul? Mark is presumably getting his framing material (passion, crucifixion, death, resurrection, appearances) from wherever Paul go his less decorated bits of material. Does Paul make explicit use of the suffering servant passages, by the way? I see he’s uses Isaiah 53 1 in Rom 1 , but no suffering servant material. It’s hard to see how could do without this stuff in getting to his understanding, admittedly.

          • Pausanias

            As I said, Paul is clear he thought of Jesus’ death and resurrection in accordance with scriptures (I cited 1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In the Gospels, these Old Testament scriptures were used to flesh out the details of the passion, empty tomb, and resurrection. There is no reason to think Paul had in mind any different scripture than the gospel writers did. Paul just didn’t bother to flesh out the details of the passion, empty tomb, and resurrection. This is consistent with the silence Paul takes on most of the details of Christ’s live in his letters.

          • Mark

            There is no reason to think that the Gospel writers, some of whom may have been writing as much as a century later, according to which of the infinitely many theories on offer, were using the same texts as Paul. If they were then they are likely to be much better sources than I at least am accustomed to suppose.

        • Cecil Bagpuss

          It is certainly possible that there were no witnesses to the crucifixion whose testimony has been preserved, and that Mark’s account is therefore an imaginative reconstruction. It is also entirely possible that the story of the empty tomb is fiction, but the inspiration for that story is far more likely to have come from apologetic considerations about the fate of the body than from a reading of the book of Joshua. The alleged presence of parallels in the Gospel accounts is a poor guide to whether or not the accounts contain a historical core.

          • Pausanias

            As Spong points out, there certainly is a question as to whether there were any witnesses to the passion. Mark tells us that when Jesus was arrested ALL the disciples “took flight and fled (14:50).” There is no reason for Mark to recount the embarrassing abandonment if it were not true. This would mean Jesus in all probability died alone, without any eyewitnesses. This would, of course, have made the details of the crucifixion impossible to record, since no one witnessed the event.

            The passion story also seems fictional because of us being told what Jesus said from the cross, but also what Jesus and the high priest said to each other, and what Jesus and the crowd said to each other (who would have been around to record these conversations?).

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            Yes, that sounds reasonable.

          • Cecil Bagpuss

            I find the mythicist obsession with parallels curious. In Proving History, Carrier talks about the criterion of emulation. Basically, if a passage in the New Testament parallels or emulates a passage in the Old Testament or some other source, then the incident that it recounts probably didn’t happen. The criterion of emulation is a criterion of inauthenticity. It is ironic that there should be such a criterion when you consider how keen mythicists are to trample on the criteria of authenticity.

            Once the followers of Jesus had become convinced of the significance of his death, they may have looked at Isaiah 53 and seen some parallel to a crucifixion. But they must have been looking very hard and been willing to clutch at straws. The notion that someone who did not already have the idea of crucifixion in mind would read Isaiah 53 and think of a crucifixion is completely implausible.

            Anyone using the criterion of emulation to argue that the story of the crucifixion was invented, rather than just embellished, would be making a serious mistake.

          • Mark

            Man this is all really wild. The text says they fled, i.e. evaded arrest. Then it starts going on about Peter, which is flatly inconsistent with what you are saying. In the crucifixion scene an army of Jesus-following women is mentioned, though no one is named. The general atmosphere is one of people in disguises, obscure ear-croppings, unnamed youths escaping naked when their robes are grabbed, etc. etc. There is zero reason to take the description to be depriving Mark of sources … not that I would affirm or deny that he has any good sources. It seems if anything to be calculated slyly to suggest that Peter was the principal source.

          • Nick G

            people in disguises, obscure ear-croppings, unnamed youths escaping naked when their robes are grabbed, etc. etc.

            Sounds like a “Carry-On” film!

    • Michael Wilson

      So we should believe that some writter saw this story and thought it could be adapted for their messiah? How? Did they at random pick it and reverse it so 5 evil kings dead in a tomb become 5 (1) living kings coming out and thought that would be a good messiah myth? This explanation is an incredible stretch of imagination. I suppose any story of sone one coming back from the dead could be explained as inspired by reversing any story of anyone dying using this thought process.

  • I have read your book, but I had forgotten the specific wording:

    “the most Christians can affirm is that the body of Jesus had almost certainly vanished from the tomb”

    Could you unpack that a little, James? Would you say that it is YOUR position that Jesus “almost certainly” vanished from the tomb?

    You do make some interesting arguments in your book that the empty tomb stories might have a basis in some sort of event. But “almost certainly” seems like an extremely tenuous position to take given the disagreements in scholarship, and the lack of reliable historical sources.

    • Andrew Dowling

      I agree. The more I’ve read and thought about it, I don’t see strong arguments against the idea that the empty tomb stories could have begun as late as Mark (being originated there). Outside of the narrative gospel tradition that begins with Mark, Christian literature of the 1st century into the 2nd shows little interest in the empty tomb, which doesn’t support the idea of a robust early oral tradition on that topic.

    • Paul E.

      I would agree with this. I think James is making a “here is the most someone who wants to take that position could say” kind of statement, rather than accepting it, it seems to me. There is, imo, a lot of debate to be had about whether Jesus was buried at all, but even if one would accept that it was more likely that he was buried than not, then the question becomes how was he buried, i.e. was it in a tomb or some other kind of burial. Those questions are difficult enough on their own without building on them and coming to an “almost certainly” on what happened to the body next.

      • Yes, that is what I was saying. It does seem to me that, if disciples went looking for the body of Jesus as the Gospels depict, then they did not find it there, for reasons that we can’t determine but which we could speculate about endlessly. But if, as I suggest in the book and as the endings of the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of Peter suggest, most of the disciples fled back to Galilee and there had experiences which they interpreted as “seeing Jesus,” then they probably had no way of knowing what had happened to the body, and even if they had returned to the tomb to look for it, if I am correct that the tomb was one used for burying executed criminals, it would have been used again since then, and between that and the decomposition of bodies, any chance of identifying Jesus’ body in that tomb would have been minimal, I think.

        • Andrew Dowling

          I’m not convinced the original ending of Mark mirrors Peter’s, but it is striking both have the women fleeing in fear and never telling the disciples.

          IMO this pretty much solidifies the contention that the stories of the woman going to the tomb (Mark, not the expert on Jewish practice, has them there to oddly re-anoint Jesus’s already anointed and entombed corpse . . Matthew unsurprisingly omits that detail) is literary creation and not any sort of historical remembrance.

          • I disagree with your interpretation of Mark. In my opinion, Mark’s Gospel clearly has the women going to try to anoint Jesus precisely because (unless you count someone pouring perfume on him at dinner) he was denied this element of an honorable burial at the time of his burial.

          • Andrew Dowling

            Sure, Mark has them there to anoint him, but

            a) Jesus has already been anointed pre-Passion by the Jersualem woman, who also is one of the few people/disciples not written by Mark to be a complete fool when it comes to their relations/actions towards Jesus . .thus Mark may be juxtaposing the women at the tomb-who eventually flee in terror and tell no-one-against the woman in Jersualem who seems to have clairvoyant knowledge that Jesus is to suffer and die

            b) Even putting a) aside, If Joseph buried Jesus, as a faithful Jew he would’ve washed and anointed the body pre-burial himself. Not just wrapped up the bloody corpse in a shroud and entombed it. So why would the woman go to essentially re-anoint a body days post-burial, a custom that is never described in any ancient Jewish lit? That explains why the two most Jewish Gospel writers, John and Matthew, have the woman going to mourn Jesus and not anoint him.

          • I doubt that anyone thought of the woman’s action with the perfume as anointing for burial prior to Jesus’ death.

            Why would Joseph, as an observant Jew on the ruling council, give an honorable burial to an executed criminal? And if he did so, then why does Mark suggest otherwise? John and Matthew both rewrite Mark in significant ways, with John giving Jesus a historically implausible honorable burial fit for a king.

          • Paul E.

            In your judgment, what is the role of the linen cloth? Is it ceremonial in any way, or more functional in keeping bones together as bodies decompose, etc., or something else/more?

          • It was ceremonial, and especially given the practice of gathering bones at the end of a year and placing them in an ossuary, the keeping of bones together may have been its practical function.

          • Paul E.

            Ok, thanks. Do you think there is any intentional literary/theological connection/significance between the linen cloth on the young man in the garden and Jesus’ linen burial cloth? How about to the white robe of the young man in the tomb?

          • There might be. Marvin Meyer has an interesting study, including not just canonical Mark but Secret Mark:

          • Paul E.

            Thank you!

          • John Thomas

            Read the entire chapter. That was an excellent paper. I didn’t recognize that right before the part where Secret Gospel of Mark was about to start, there was indeed a part in Mark where ‘neaniskos’ whom Jesus loved come forward to ask him how one can attain eternal life even after following all commandments. And Jesus asking him to sell all possessions and to follow him. And the young man was sad as he was very rich. It reminded me of the parable of rich fool that Jesus says in Luke 12:13-21 where rich man is called by God on the same night. So this rich young man also seems to have died the same night he went home sad not able to let go of possessions and follow Jesus, which he eventually does after Jesus raises him from dead. That explains Jesus saying in 10:27 in response to disciples’ question who then can be saved, ‘With man it is impossible, but with God it is possible’. So the young man is made to change his mind following a miracle from God.

            Also that it was ‘neaniskos’ who also appears on the tomb announcing the news of Jesus’ resurrection when women appear at the tomb. Interestingly it is 3 women (just as in Secret Mark), but Salome alone is the common factor (even though Mary is the sister of Lazarus in Gospel of John, but we don’t know that she is Mary Magdalene). The theory that story represents the true disciple of Jesus leaving his white linen (current body) to reappear (resurrect?) wearing white robe (resurrection body) at the resurrection of Jesus seems very interesting. Does the young man theologically represents the state of true follower of Christ – dying along with Christ leaving current body and resurrecting along with him acquiring resurrected body announcing the good news of resurrection to the rest of the world? Who knows?

          • Andrew Dowling

            Do you think the woman anointing Jesus in Mark is historical? I certainly don’t. Makes much more sense as a literary device.

            “Why would Joseph, as an observant Jew on the ruling council, give an honorable burial to an executed criminal?”

            Well that’s the thing; I don’t think he did. I view it as more probable the tale of Joseph and the woman at the tomb are Markan creations. The historical reality being Jesus’s body was buried somewhere, either by the Romans or low-level Sanhedrin contractors, and the disciples never knew where that location was. In congruence with the narratives found in John and Peter, the first Resurrection “appearances” happened some time later in Galilee.

          • I don’t think that Mark invented the dishonorable burial of Jesus. In my book I discuss the question of whether disciples are likely to have gone to the tomb to honor Jesus after the fact, and if so, whether they would have gone intending to leave the body where it was.

          • Paul E.

            I think that if Joseph of Arimathea was a faithful Jew fulfilling a bureaucratic legal obligation, he would have only done that which would have been minimally required. I think washing and anointing a body for burial is a more “personal” legal obligation that was performed by family and friends for the purpose of honorable burial. Joseph, likely fulfilling a bureaucratic role, would have been more concerned with the more “communal” legal requirement of burying a body before sundown pursuant to Deut. 21:23 in order to prevent defilement of the land.

  • Incidentally, Matt Barsotti offers an updated info graphic on the Easter story today:

  • Pausanias

    “Mark you this, Bassanio,
    The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.” (Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act 1 Scene 3) lol
    Once Again, Happy Good Friday and Easter one and all!

  • Frank

    Does history really deal only with probability? Is the Holocaust only a probable event? Is it only probable that Julius Caesar defeated Pompey? Or that Kennedy was assassinated?

    • Nick G

      I agree with you: in the everyday sense of the word, these events (except perhaps Caesar defeating Pompey – maybe there was another general involved, written out of history by Caesar and his successors) are certain; “beyond all reasonable doubt” in the legal phrase. For them to be false, there would have to be some form of wholesale tampering with physical reality, by some supernatural or alien intelligence, or something at least equally far-fetched.

    • It is much easier to talk of proof “beyond reasonable doubt” in the case of recent history. But even then, a conspiracy theorist can find ways of doubting the evidence, and Holocaust denial is, unfortunately, a real phenomenon. But particularly when it comes to ancient history, our knowledge is always probabilistic. The fact that the probability may be so high as to render our knowledge extremely confident doesn’t change that.

  • Kris Rhodes

    The quoted passage is working from a distinction between historical claims and theological claims. It argues that theological claims are not historical claims because historical reasoning fails to justify the certainty that accompanies theological claims.

    But the fact that a method of reasoning fails to justify a claim does not mean that the claim was not meant to be considered under that method. It simply means that the claim, if considered under that method, is found wanting.

    It seems to me that for most people the theological claims about Jesus’s burial and resurrection are also historical claims, because were it proven that Jesus, historically, was not buried and was not resurrected, then the theological claims would lose all appeal for most people.

    • Paul E.

      I disagree with this. I think it would be a big psychological blow to a lot of “conservative” Christians, but if it were proven tomorrow that Jesus was never buried, I think the theological claims would adapt because of the early traditions of spiritual appearances and the lack of any pure theological necessity for a flesh and blood resurrection. Certainly, there would be some historically-based tension with the fact that the tradition of a “burial” (of whatever sort) is just as early as the appearance traditions, but the burial need not necessarily lead to an empty tomb (or other burial place) or any specific type of resurrection.

  • Nick G

    I will get round to buying and reading the book, but probably not this week (two conferences papers to get in by 13th). Meanwhile, I’ve linked to this paper(by a Christian) on the burial of Jesus before, but it is clearly relevant here. tl;dr version: Jesus was subjected to a “shameful burial” in Jewish terms, the gospel burial accounts are heavily mythologised, and probably no followers of Jesus witnessed the burial, or at best only from a distance. Which suggests (this is my take not the author’s) a simple explanation for the empty tomb, if indeed it’s not a later invention: the women went to the wrong tomb (they were strangers to Jerusalem, and if they witnessed the burial, did so from a distance and in a state of great distress), and it was empty because no-one had been put there. The body of Jesus rotted quietly away elsewhere.

  • Pausanias

    The apostle Paul was in on the scam to sell Christianity to the world. Making the world a better place by spreading the gospel was a CAUSE Paul would die for, even though he did not believe any of the miracle stories or think Jesus was divine. Paul was one of the greatest liars in history, telling lies about Jesus that he himself did not believe in order to win converts.

    We know Paul was always lying because he constantly protested that he wasn’t lying. Paul said: 1 “I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie (Gal 1:20).” 2 “I speak the truth in Christ–I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit– (Rom 9:1).” 3 “I call God as my witness–and I stake my life on it–that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth (2 Cor 1:23).” 4 “The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying (2 Cor 11:31).” AS SHAKESPEARE SAID IN HAMLET, “”THE LADY DOTH PROTEST TOO MUCH, METHINKS”


    Paul was a liar who would say or do anything to sell Christianity. Even conservative scholar Gerd Ludemann admits in his article ” Paul The Promoter of Christianity,” that:

    “Until the end Paul claimed that he never consciously abandoned the faith of his fathers and never forsook Judaism. That now seems difficult to sustain; but rather than charge him with duplicity, might we see it as an almost involuntary but necessary strategy on Paul’s part? At a time when things were not going terribly well in the mission field, did he deem it advantageous to curry a bit of favor with the Jewish converts who constituted a significant minority presence in the Roman community?”

    Here is the whole Ludemann article:…..8017.shtml

  • Pausanias

    By the use of Haggadic Midrash, the New Testament writers constructed the stories of (1) The Passion in Mark, (2) The Empty Tomb, and (3) The Resurrection, by rewriting Old Testament scriptures using Jesus as the central character. They did this to make it seem like Jesus was fulfilling Old Testament scriptures. They believed this would help them sell the new religion. The Gospel of John points this out when the author of The Gospel of John has Jesus say: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me (John 5:39).”

    • I think your entire view is based on a misunderstanding of what midrash is, a misunderstanding of what “in accordance with the Scriptures” is likely to mean, and an inadequate attention to questions of historical probability with respect to details, preferring to impose a one-size-fits-all “solution” to everything the relevant sources say, even when (as ts comment thread has shown) your alleged solutions seem not to be aware of all the relevant data, and so create more problems than they solve.

      • Paul E.

        I think this is an important comment to keep in mind when dealing with haggadah or midrash or whatever term one wants to use (I think these terms seem to get confusedly misused, sometimes) in the construction of NT narratives. I think (as you know :)) that OT narratives are sometimes good explanations for the existence of specific details in certain stories, and perhaps for overall structural narrative or character construction. When midrash (or whatever you want to call it) becomes “the” answer, however, it loses its explanatory power, imo.

      • Pausanias

        But do I get bonus points for creativity and thinking outside the box?

  • John MacDonald

    Maybe the women discovering the empty tomb was just a theological literary device. Because it was Jesus who died, women could be thought as reliable witnesses because Jesus was all about breaking down barriers. Recall Paul said “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal 3:28). This would fit in with the tearing of the curtain in the temple (Mark 15:38), and the Roman soldier saying ““Truly this man was the Son of God! (Mark 15:39).”