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.