Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 12: The Entombment

Defending the Swoon Theory – Part 12: The Entombment October 3, 2019

WHERE WE ARE AT

In his Handbook of Christian Apologetics (hereafter: HCA), Peter Kreeft attempts to refute The Swoon Theory, as part of his case for the resurrection of Jesus.  But in order for his case for the resurrection to have any chance of success, he actually needs to refute the more general view that I call The Survival Theory (hereafter: TST), the theory that Jesus survived his crucifixion (i.e. Jesus did NOT die on the cross).  I am examining Kreeft’s nine objections against The Swoon Theory, to see whether they refute TST.  So far, I have shown that Objection #1, Objection #2, Objection #3, and Objection #8 all FAIL to refute The Survival Theory.

I am part way through a critical examination of Kreeft’s Objection #4, the “Winding Sheets” objection to TST:

The body was totally encased in winding sheets and entombed (Jn 19:38-42).

In Part 11 of this series, I pointed out that there are two elements in this objection: the winding sheets and being entombed, and that the winding sheets part of this objection has three different possible interpretations, and that the winding sheets element of the objection FAILS on all three interpretations.

However, we also need to consider the second element of this objection: the claim that Jesus’ body was entombed, placed into a stone tomb, and a stone placed to block off the entrance to the tomb.  That is what we will do in this current post.

 

REASONS WHY ENTOMBMENT IS BELIEVED TO BE RELEVANT

Peter Paul Rubens, The Entombment (1611/12)

 

As with the “winding sheets” element, Kreeft does not bother to provide any indication or explanation of WHY the entombment of Jesus’ body is RELEVANT or SIGNIFICANT in relation to TST.  So, his objection FAILS as it stands.  (That is the sort of problem that happens when one provides an IDIOTIC one-sentence apologetic argument.)  But I am going to go the extra mile, and look at what other Christian apologists have had to say about the entombment of Jesus’ body and WHY this is relevant to TST.

 

Josh McDowell indicates that the entombment is relevant because of the temperature and humidity of the tomb:

The cold damp air of the tomb, instead of killing Him [Jesus], healed Him [according to the Swoon Theory].(The Resurrection Factor, p. 98)

McDowell is expressing skepticism about TST here, so he implies that staying in the “cold damp air of the tomb” for a significant period of time would have killed Jesus off, even if Jesus had survived the crucifixion.

Norman Geisler specifies the duration that Jesus was in the tomb, and Geisler focuses on the problem of Jesus bleeding from his wounds:

…how could a badly injured and bleeding man still be alive thirty-six hours later?  He would have bled to death in that cold, damp, dark, tomb.  (I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, p.305)

For Geisler, the cold and the dampness merely add to the bleakness and misery of Jesus’ circumstances; it is the bleeding from wounds while in the tomb for 36 hours that would have caused Jesus’ death, if Jesus had survived crucifixion.

John Ankerberg and John Weldon also specify a duration of Jesus’ stay in the tomb, but they suggest a different reason WHY this is relevant to TST:

After three days without food or water, He unwrapped himself…”(The Passion and the Empty Tomb, p.185)

Ankerberg and Weldon don’t spell this out, but being without food or water for three days would be hard on a healthy person, so it seems that Ankerberg is implying that being trapped in a stone tomb for three days would have killed a badly injured Jesus, if Jesus had survived crucifixion, because Jesus would have gone without food or water for three days.

The “three days” is an exaggeration, however, because the generally accepted Christian view is that Jesus was buried on Friday evening just before sunset, and the tomb was found empty early on Sunday morning, around sunrise, so Geisler’s “thirty-six hours” more accurately represents the generally accepted Christian view of the duration of Jesus’ entombment.

Hank Hanegraaff makes a point that is closely related to Geisler’s point:

It [the swoon theory] would entail believing that Jesus survived three days without medical attention…  (Resurrection, p.20)

If he had survived the crucifixion, one might claim, Jesus would have bled to death in the 36 hours he remained in the stone tomb, because he would not have received any medical attention for his wounds while remaining alone in the tomb.

Tim LaHaye combines McDowell’s concern about the temperature and humidity of the tomb with Hanegraaff’s concern about the lack of medical treatment while Jesus remained in the tomb:

…if the crucifixion hadn’t killed Jesus, the tightly wrapped grave clothes, the cold, damp, sealed tomb and three days without treatment certainly would have.  (Jesus: Who is He?, p.271)

So, for LaHaye it is the combination of the cold and the dampness in the tomb PLUS the lack of medical treatment for Jesus for a period of “three days” (or more accurately, for 36 hours) that would have killed an already badly injured Jesus, if Jesus had survived the crucifixion.

There is also the problem mentioned by Frank Morison in the title of his book: Who Moved the Stone?  In order for Jesus to appear to his disciples in Jerusalem (or in Galilee), Jesus must first EXIT the tomb, but how could Jesus have “single-handedly rolled away an enormously heavy tombstone…” in order to escape from the tomb? (Hanegraaff, Resurrection, p.20).  This concern, however, is  covered by Kreeft in Objection #7, so this is presumably NOT what Kreeft has in mind in Objection #4.

We can, similar to LaHaye’s version of this objection, COMBINE the various considerations above to formulate a single explanation WHY the entombment of Jesus is believed to be RELEVANT and SIGNIFICANT evidence against TST:

=========================

The Entombment Objection (TEO)

Being in a stone tomb for 36 hours would have killed a badly injured Jesus, if he had survived the crucifixion, because that would involve:

  • Jesus being in cold and damp air for 36 hours
  • Jesus bleeding from various serious wounds, without receiving any medical treatment, for 36 hours
  • Jesus having no food or water for 36 hours

=========================

THE MAIN PROBLEM WITH THE ENTOMBMENT OBJECTION

There are problems with each of the three bullet points here that make TEO a weak objection.  However, there is one obvious and very serious problem that applies to each of the three points:

We DON’T KNOW how long Jesus remained in the tomb.

Specifically, we DON’T KNOW that Jesus’ body remained in the tomb for 36 hours.

First, it is simply NOT A FACT that Jesus’ body was placed into a stone tomb after the crucifixion.  The Gospels CLAIM that this is what took place, but none of the Gospels was written by one of the twelve disciples of Jesus, nor by an eyewitness of the crucifixion or burial of Jesus.  Furthermore, none of the twelve disciples of Jesus were present at the crucifixion or the burial of Jesus, according to the Gospel accounts.

An honorable burial was extremely important to first-century Jews, so there would have been a strong tendency for the followers of Jesus to BELIEVE that Jesus had received an honorable burial, whether this was what actually happened or not.  The Gospels were written BY Christian believers and FOR Christian believers, so they are NOT neutral and objective sources of historical information, particularly on such a sensitive issue as “Did Jesus have an honorable burial after he died?”

Second, if Jesus was still alive after being removed from the cross, and if Jesus’ body was prepared for burial in a stone tomb, as the Gospels assert, then it is likely that someone involved in preparing his body (or who was watching the preparation) would have noticed signs of life in Jesus.  If that was the case, then this person would likely have either taken Jesus away from the tomb immediately to get him to a home where he could recover and be cared for, or this person would have returned a short while later (like an hour after Jesus’ body was placed in the tomb) to transport Jesus to a nearby home where he could recover and be cared for.  So, if Jesus was still alive after being removed from the cross, then it is LIKELY that his body did NOT REMAIN IN THE TOMB for 36 hours.

All three bullet points in TEO assume that Jesus remained in a stone tomb for 36 hours.  This assumption is NOT a FACT; it is a questionable assumption.  If Jesus was actually only in the tomb for an hour or two, then this objection would be insignificant.  If Jesus was actually only in the tomb overnight and left the tomb (or was carried away from the tomb) on Saturday morning, then this objection would be weak and not at all decisive.

In fact, Christian apologists firmly believe that Jesus remained in the tomb for 36 hours because they firmly REJECT the Survival Theory.  If they took the Survival Theory to be a serious possibility, they would have doubts about the assumption that Jesus remained in the tomb for 36 hours.  If Jesus had still been alive when he was removed from the cross, then it is LIKELY that he would have left the tomb (or been taken away from the tomb) on Friday evening or Saturday morning.  So, their confidence in the assumption that Jesus remained in the tomb for a 36-hour duration involves a subtle BEGGING OF THE QUESTION AT ISSUE.  This one problem, this one questionable assumption, makes TEO a weak objection to TST.

 

OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THE FIRST BULLET POINT

Here is the first bullet point of The Entombment Objection (TEO):

  • Jesus being in cold and damp air for 36 hours

One problem to note right away is the VAGUENESS of this point.  HOW COLD was it in the tomb?  60 degrees? 55 degrees? 50 degrees? 45 degrees?  40 degrees? 35 degrees? WE DON’T KNOW what the actual temperature was in the tomb at the time Jesus was placed there.  It makes a BIG DIFFERENCE whether the temperature was 60 degrees as opposed to 40 degrees.

Nobody had a thermometer and took a temperature reading when Jesus was placed in the tomb:

In 1714 Dutch scientist and inventor Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit invented the first reliable thermometer, using mercury instead of alcohol and water mixtures. In 1724 he proposed a temperature scale which now (slightly adjusted) bears his name.  (“Thermometer” article in Wikipedia)

There were no such things as thermometers in the first century.

We could now, in the 21st century, take temperatures inside of various stone tombs in Jerusalem in April for a number of years in order to have some actual FACTS upon which to base an estimate of the temperature of Jesus’ tomb, but the temperature readings would be different in different tombs, and on different days, and at different times of day, and on different years.  So, what we would end up with is a RANGE of actual temperatures inside of various tombs in Jerusalem in April.  We might even end up with a range of temperatures from 30 degrees to 70 degrees.

If we were very lucky the range would be smaller, say 40 degrees to 60 degrees.  But then this would NOT give us a high level of confidence that, for example, the temperature in Jesus’ tomb was less than 50 degrees.  So, actual empirical FACTS about the temperatures inside of stone tombs in Jerusalem in April (which no Christian apologist has ever bothered to determine) would probably NOT do much to avoid the VAGUENESS and WEAKNESS of this point about the air in Jesus’ tomb being “cold”.

The same problem of VAGUENESS applies to the degree of dampness or humidity of the air in the stone tomb.

A second problem is that it is not clear WHY cool air would cause Jesus to die.  None of the apologists who make this point provides a medical explanation for WHY cool air would be deadly to Jesus.  The apologists don’t have the medical expertise and authority to simply assert this to be so, yet they provide ZERO medical evidence to support the claim that cool air (or damp air) would have been deadly for Jesus.  This is one more example of EVIDENCE-FREE Christian apologetics.

Not only do Christian apologists have no clue about how to provide historical EVIDENCE to support an historical claim, but they also have no clue about how to provide medical EVIDENCE to support a medical claim.  Plus, they have no shame in making bold assertions about things that they merely WISH were true, but about which they have no actual knowledge.

In the case of cardiac arrest, it is now common for the patient to be treated by cooling down their body temperature.  This helps to avoid the often deadly problem of reperfusion injury.  When the brain is deprived of oxygen for several minutes (or longer), because of cardiac arrest, resumption of normal heartbeat and circulation reintroduces oxygen-saturated blood to the brain and this often CAUSES biochemical responses where cells in the brain self-destruct, leading to brain damage and/or death.  But lowering the temperature of the patient’s body can help to avoid or reduce such dangerous biochemical responses when oxygen-saturated blood is reintroduced to the brain:

The 2013 ILCOR and 2010 American Heart Association guidelines support the use of cooling following resuscitation from cardiac arrest. These recommendations were largely based on two trials from 2002 which showed improved survival and brain function when cooled to 32–34 °C (90–93 °F) after cardiac arrest. (“Targeted temperature management” in Wikipedia)

 So, if Jesus had experienced cardiac arrest on the cross, then a tomb filled with cold or cool air would have been just what the doctor ordered!

A third problem is that this first bullet point works AGAINST the third bullet point.  If it had been VERY HOT inside the tomb, then that would have caused a living Jesus to sweat profusely and to become dehydrated more quickly.  But if the tomb was in fact cold or cool, then a living Jesus would not have lost much water by sweating, so he could go significantly longer without water without becoming dehydrated.  So, a cool tomb (asserted in the first bullet point) undermines the problem of being without water for 36 hours (asserted in the third bullet point).

A fourth problem is that the first element of Objection #4 (the winding sheets element) works against the significance of this first bullet point concerning the second element of Objection #4 (the entombment element).  If the first element reflects what actually occurred, if Jesus was actually wrapped up in winding sheets to prepare his body for placement in a stone tomb, then that UNDERMINES the significance of being in cool or cold air while in the tomb.  The winding sheets would have acted like clothing or blankets and would have helped Jesus to stay relatively warm, and to avoid hypothermia.

 

OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THE SECOND BULLET POINT

Here is the second bullet point of The Entombment Objection (TEO):

  • Jesus bleeding from various serious wounds, without any medical treatment, for 36 hours

The first problem here is again that of VAGUENESS: “bleeding from various serious wounds”.  How MANY wounds?  WHERE were the wounds located on Jesus’ body?  HOW DEEP and LARGE was each wound?  HOW MUCH BLEEDING was occurring from each wound?  There are ZERO details provided by most Christian apologists on these important questions concerning Jesus’ wounds.

Norman Geisler does better than most apologists on this point in When Skeptics Ask (see pages 120-121).  He focuses on the issue of blood loss, and specifies various wounds:

  • Jesus “had been beaten and whipped repeatedly…with a Roman scourge”
  • A “crown of thorns had been pushed onto” Jesus’s head
  • Jesus “suffered five major wounds” on the day he was crucified [four nail wounds and one spear wound]

A second problem arises concerning these details provided by Geisler:

None of these alleged wounds are historical FACTS. 

There is NO EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT of Jesus’ crucifixion, and most of the details in the passion narratives can be explained as prophecy historicized, as being based on interpretation of Old Testament passages rather than being based on eyewitness testimony.

The scourging of Jesus, for example, could have been created on the basis of this OT passage:

But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:5, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added)

None of the synoptic Gospels states that Jesus was NAILED to the cross.  The word “nails” appears in only one passage in only the Fourth Gospel (John 20:25).   Victims of crucifixion were often TIED or BOUND to their crosses, rather than being nailed to the cross.  The use of nails in the crucifixion of Jesus might have been created on the basis of this OT passage:

For dogs have surrounded me;
A band of evildoers has encompassed me;
They pierced my hands and my feet.
(Psalm 22:16, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added)

None of the synoptic Gospels state that Jesus was speared in his side, nor that the risen Jesus had a wound in his side.  The spearing and the wound in the side of the risen Jesus are mentioned ONLY in the historically dubious Fourth Gospel.  This detail might have been created on the basis of this OT passage:

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.            (Zechariah 12:10, New American Standard Bible, emphasis added)

So, there might well have been NO NAIL WOUNDS in Jesus’ hands or feet, or perhaps his hands were nailed but not his feet, and there might well have been NO SPEAR WOUND at all in Jesus’ side.  If a Roman soldier had used his spear on Jesus’ side, this might well have been a small poke to see if Jesus reacted in pain, rather than a deep thrust of the spear intended to immediately kill Jesus.  Jesus might not have been scourged at all, or he might have, as indicated by the Fourth Gospel, received only a minor whipping, not the more severe scourging that Christian apologists all assume Jesus received.  There might well have been no crown of thorns at all, or there might have been a crown of thorns, but the thorns pointed OUTWARD, not inward towards Jesus’ scalp, so that there would not have been any significant wounds from the placement of the crown on his head.

In short, Christian apologists HABITUALLY IMAGINE a worst-case-scenario concerning the wounds and injuries of Jesus, but they do not, and CANNOT, prove any such wounds or injuries to be historical FACTS.  They don’t even ATTEMPT to do so. Each such alleged serious injury is merely speculation based on various dubious details in one or more of the passion narratives found in the Gospels, none of which was written by an eyewitness of the crucifixion of Jesus.

A third problem with the second bullet point is that IF Jesus had been profusely bleeding from a number of major wounds, that would have been fairly obvious evidence that he was still alive, thus INCREASING the PROBABILITY that one of the persons involved in preparing his body for burial would have noticed this as a sign of life, and then taken steps to get Jesus to a nearby home where he could recover and be cared for.

A fourth problem with the second bullet point is that ALTHOUGH Jesus would not have received “medical treatment” of his wounds while his body remained locked up inside a stone tomb, according to the other element of the “Winding Sheets” Objection:

[Jesus’] body was totally encased in winding sheets…

What sort of “medical treatment” would Jesus have received for his various alleged “serious wounds” that would have helped to stop or reduce blood loss from those wounds?  A common and ancient medical treatment for serious wounds is BANDAGING.

Many Christian apologists quote the exact same passage from David Strauss, a supposed objection against the swoon theory.  Here is a part of that often-quoted passage:

It is impossible that one who had just come forth from the grave half dead, who crept about weak and ill, who stood in need of medical treatment, of bandaging, strengthening, and tender care… (quoted by LaHaye in Jesus: Who is He?, p.272, emphasis added)

Immediately after mentioning “medical treatment”, Strauss specifies the primary sort of treatment that Jesus presumably would have needed: “bandaging”.

But if Jesus’ body “was totally encased in winding sheets”, then basically all of his wounds were bandaged by that action!  Thus, the first element of Objection #4 (the winding sheets element) undermines the second bullet point related to the second element of Objection #4 (the entombment element).

If the first element reflects what actually occurred, if Jesus was actually wrapped up in winding sheets to prepare his body for placement in a stone tomb, then that UNDERMINES the significance of Jesus failing to receive proper “medical treatment” while in the tomb.  The winding sheets would probably have performed the same function as bandages.  The most critical “medical treatment” was, in effect, given to Jesus BEFORE the tomb was closed up with Jesus inside.

 

OTHER PROBLEMS WITH THE THIRD BULLET POINT

Here is the third bullet point of The Entombment Objection (TEO):

  • Jesus having no food or water for 36 hours

The first and most obvious problem here is that people can live for WEEKS without eating any food, so going for one-and-a-half days (i.e. 36 hours) without food is NOT a significant point. That would NOT be likely to cause Jesus to die.  Water, however, is more critical to staying alive in the short term, so that part of this point is more significant.

The second problem is that people can sometimes survive for up to a week without water, and people commonly survive for three or four days without water, so being without water for one-and-a-half days (i.e. 36 hours) is something that most people can do in most circumstances:

The maximum time an individual can go without water seems to be a week…

But one week is a generous estimate. Three to four days would be more typical, especially in difficult conditions like broiling heat.

“You can go 100 hours without drinking at an average temperature outdoors,” Claude Piantadosi of Duke University told Fox. “If it’s cooler, you can go a little longer. If you are exposed to direct sunlight, it’s less.”

(“Here’s how many days a person can survive without waterBusiness Insider)

Since most people can go 100 hours without water, the possibility of Jesus surviving for 36 hours without water would NOT be at all extraordinary.  Thus, this third bullet point is a weak objection, at best, and not in any way a strong or decisive objection to TST.

A third problem with this bullet point was mentioned above.  The first bullet point works AGAINST the third bullet point.  If it had been VERY HOT inside the tomb, then that would have caused a living Jesus to sweat profusely and to become dehydrated more quickly (i.e. in less than 100 hours).  But if the tomb was in fact cold or cool, then a living Jesus would not have lost much water by sweating, so he could go significantly longer without water without becoming dehydrated.  So, a cool tomb (asserted in the first bullet point) undermines the problem of being without water for 36 hours (asserted in the third bullet point).  In cooler temperatures, a person can survive for longer than 100 hours without drinking any water.

 

CONCLUSION

Kreeft’s Objection #4 has two basic elements:  the winding sheets and the entombment.  In Part 11 of this series, I considered three different versions of the winding sheets objection, and found all three to be WEAK objections (the third version actually supports TST).

In this current post, I have examined an interpretation of the second element (i.e. The Entombment Objection), and have shown this to also be a WEAK objection, because (a) the basic assumption that Jesus remained in the tomb for 36 hours is dubious, and (b) each of the three bullet points of The Entombment Objection has a number of other problems that further weaken that objection.  Therefore, Kreeft’s Objection #4 FAILS to show that TST is False, just like the other objections that we have previously examined (Objection #1, Objection #2, Objection #3, and Objection #8).

Given Kreeft’s consistent FAILURES so far, one would reasonably expect his other objections against The Survival Theory to FAIL as well.  We shall see.

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