Category Archives: BURIAL OF JESUS

Joseph of Arimathea met the Roman prefect and requested him for the body of Jesus as the burial had to be completed in a hurry as the next day was the Sabbath. Jesus was entombed in the burial cave of Joseph of Arimathea. Mary mother of Jesus was not present during the burial.

Custodians Of Holiest Christian Site Are Two Muslims

The Custodians Of The Holiest Place In Christendom Are Two Muslims —

It is a little known fact, but a fact nevertheless: the custodians of the key to the holiest place in all Christendom (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher) are two Muslims.

 

Wajeeh

Nuseibeh Opening The Door Of The Church

History Of The Church Of The Holy Sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was built in the year 335 CE by Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine. Tradition has it that she was the one to locate the site of the crucifixion of Jesus.  However very little remains of the original structure. The external façade that is seen today is from the 12th century – the Crusader period. This church is said to enclose the place where Jesus was crucified – Golgotha or Calvary as well as the tomb of Jesus.

About 130 years ago the Protestants went to Jerusalem. They claimed that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher could not be the burial place of Jesus stating that this site was within the city walls and that Jews did not bury their dead within the walls. The Protestants were right about the Jewish practice. But they were wrong about the site being within the city walls. The site was in fact outside the walls of the old city.

The Protestants who have no claim over the Holy Sepulcher found an alternative site which they claimed was the place where Jesus was buried. This was the Garden Tomb. Whether or not this place is the burial place of Jesus, it has the serenity and peaceful atmosphere that befits a holy burial site.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Church Of The Holy Sepulcher

The Different Denominations Sign A Status Quo Agreement

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher doesn’t belong to any specific Christian denomination. In fact the supposed burial place of Jesus was divided between six different denominations. Most of the site is in the hands of the Roman Catholics (Franciscans), the Eastern Orthodox, and the Armenians. A small portion of what was left over was divided between the Syriac Orthodox, the Copts, and the Ethiopians. In spite of that the different denominations never really lived in peace with each other.

Around 1852-53, after hundreds of years of squabbling, disagreements, and wars, the Ottomans compelled the different factions to sign a Status Quo agreement in which they swore to accept the existing arrangement. The agreement was very detailed and included not only partitioning of the territory, but also specified who is allowed to pray where and when, and even who has the right to switch on the lights.

The highlight of the extent to which the status quo was specific is the case of the Immovable Ladder. This is a wooden ladder leaning against the façade of the church beneath the upper right window. There is a history behind the ladder. It seems that when Muslims shut the doors with the Armenian monks still inside the monks used to climb out the window and down this ladder onto a small porch where a rope was kept. The Armenians in the city provided food and drink for the monks which they placed in a pail on the ground. The monks then hauled up the pail using the rope.

Today the church is open every day, and the wooden ladder has become redundant. So why is the ladder still kept there?  The ladder is still there because that is a right given to the Armenians in the status quo agreement. The Armenians still cling to this right and replace this ladder with a new one when an old ladder rots or breaks.

The Opening And Closing Ceremonies

The two Muslims, belonging to Palestinian clans: one man from the Joudeh family and another man from the Nuseibeh family have been the custodians of the entrance to the Holy Sepulcher since the 12th century.

Every morning – 5:30 in the summer, 4:30 in the winter – representatives from the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholics, and the Armenians who sleep inside the church gather in front of a door inside the building. Only Orthodox representatives are permitted to open the small window in the door. The an individual from one of the denominations passes a small ladder through this window. This ritual is performed by the different denomination in turns.

A member of the Joudeh family who is the keeper of the key hands it over to a member of the Nusseibeh family. He then climbs up the ladder to open the lock. After that he climbs down the ladder to open the doors of the church and returns the keys to the Joudeh family member. Every evening at 7:30, after hundreds of tourists and pilgrims have left the church, there is a door locking ceremony which follows the same steps but in the reverse order.

During holidays, such as Holy Week, which ends on a Sunday with the Christian Easter, the intricate opening and closing ceremonies are performed several times a day. According to Joudeh this is an honor that has been with his family since Saladin from 1187.

Why are two people involved in the opening and closing ceremonies? As per Joudeh “My ancestor who was given the keys was a sheik, a highly respected person, who was not supposed to perform physical labor, such as climbing the ladder to open the gate,” Joudeh explained. “That’s why the Nuseibehs were called in to perform this duty.”

References:1) http://jerusalemexperience.com/tour/opening-the-doors-of-the-church-of-the-holy-sepulchre/

2) http://www.travelingisrael.com/church-holy-sepulchre/

Picture credits: 1) Wajeeh http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Muslim-family-holds-key-to-sacred-sepulchre-For-2720014.php
2) Church of the Holy Sepulchre https://www.google.co.in/search?q=Opening+of+Church+of+the+Holy+Sepulchre&biw=1280&bih=639&source=lnms& tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj7yoTRs5fMAhXLm5QKHauzA_4Q_AUIBigB#imgrc=7gL64uZW14wkOM%3A

 

 

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Was There A Conspiracy In The Burial Of Jesus?

The Burial of Jesus – What Probably Happened —

Eight years of research may seem rather protracted even if the subjects are as complex as the tomb of Jesus, the ossuary of James and the role of Mary Magdalene in the early Church and her relationship to Jesus. But eight years is not really all that long when you consider that the study is about events that happened 2000 years ago, when the available literature is not ample and whatever is available is riddled with controversies and contradictions.

Jesus taken down from the cross

(Fig 1) Jesus is brought down from the cross

With the available information and reasonable conjectures the task at hand is to try and resolve the many puzzles and reconstruct what in all likelihood happened.

We have seen what the early and subsequent Christian writers had to say about the significant aspects of the life and death of Jesus, about James the Just and the role of Mary Magdalene.

Separating Fact From Fiction

After the crucifixion of Jesus, there was a scramble for the leadership of his movement. Many of the contenders wrote their own gospels. This is the reason why there was a time when more than twenty gospels were in existence. A few of the authors claimed that the resurrected Jesus appeared to them and their authority to teach his word was received directly from him. And to add credibility to what they preached, they sometimes tailored events relating to Jesus to suit their teachings and the audience for which they were meant. At times they did this by altering some of the events in Jesus’ life to make them appear as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. To those who would not accept Jesus as God, they made him a messiah. For those who were oppressed and longed for divine deliverance they made him god.

We have crucifixion narratives from people who were not even witnesses to the event. We have accounts of the resurrection from people who went into hiding fearing for their own lives. As a consequence, there are different versions of these two seminal events. Mark’s narration of the crucifixion, which was probably the first, involves “a kind of crucifixion drama … compiled to meet the religious needs of a Gentile Church” (1).

As for the resurrection narratives, the versions are even more diverse. There are different claims as to who the resurrected Jesus first appeared. We are also not sure whether he appeared to the apostles in Galilee or in Jerusalem. There are varying reports that he appeared as a spirit and then there are claims that he appeared in flesh and blood (2).

The form of Christianity advocated by James was not a new religion, but “a Jewish messianic movement centered on Jesus”.  On the other hand Paul “pushed Christianity in an increasingly Gentile direction as the first century progressed” (3).

Paul molded a Christianity that had greater appeal and eventually prevailed as the dominant religion. In time Jamesian Christianity was sidelined and much of the other literature was branded as heresy. The fact that Paul wrote about 40% of the New Testament is further proof that “victors write history”.

The Crucified Jesus Comes Back To Life

We know that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus took down Jesus from the cross with the help of the centurion Abenadar. While Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus held the upper body of Jesus the centurion took upon himself the responsibility of drawing out the huge nails that were driven through the palms and feet of Jesus. After Jesus was brought down the centurion trudged off towards Pilot’s house and the two middle-aged men carried Jesus to the well in Joseph of Arimathea’s garden that lay just beyond the city walls quite close to Golgotha.

The two benevolent gentlemen propped up Jesus against the wall of the well and began to wash off the blood in accordance with the Jewish custom (4). Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus then applied myrrh and aloes on Jesus. When they were about it, Jesus began to show signs of life. Were the two men shocked? Far from it! The two had indeed expected just this.  While myrrh and aloes are also used as perfumes, in this instance they were used for their medicinal properties to revive Jesus who was in a state of coma. All indications are that Joseph of Arimathea had made a deal with Pilate.

When Jesus was brought before the Sanhedrin not all members agreed that Jesus had committed blasphemy and deserved to die. For instance Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus argued with the other members of the Sanhedrin that Jesus had done no wrong. Joseph of Arimathea knew that somehow the other members of the Sanhedrin would force Pilate to decree the death penalty for Jesus. He was sure that Pilate dared not go against the committee as the Jewish leaders had threatened to report him to Caesar if he refused to crucify Jesus. So Joseph of Arimathea decided to approach Pilate with a proposal.

It was common knowledge that Pilate was a corrupt procurator. And Joseph of Arimathea being a wealthy merchant offered Pilate a hefty bribe to decree that Jesus be crucified on the day of preparation. This would mean that Jesus would be on the cross for only a few hours. Pilate must have known that Jesus would be drugged and taken down from the cross while he appeared dead.

According to John (John 19:28) Jesus said “I am thirsty”.  In response he was given a sponge soaked in vinegar/ soured wine. The Romans were cruel beyond an extent. They are said to do this to revive the victim so that he is conscious to feel pain. But in the case of Jesus it seemed to have had the exact opposite reaction. After receiving the sour wine Jesus said “It is finished,” and then he bowed his head and lost consciousness. This is probably because that the vinegar was not just vinegar. It was in all likelihood laced with a drug that caused Jesus to appear dead. Belladonna and soporific drugs were common in the Middle East at that time. Some scholars have suggested the involvement of the Essenes who were the followers of Jesus (5).

While it took many hours and in some cases a couple of days for victims of crucifixion to die, Jesus was declared dead after being on the cross for just three hours. From the sequence of events before and during the crucifixion it would appear that there was a conspiracy to make sure that Jesus was not put to death.

After he was convinced that Jesus appeared dead to the handful of onlookers, Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate for permission to take down Jesus from the cross. We are told that at first on hearing Joseph of Arimathea’s request, Pilate is surprised that the request should have come so soon. He carried on the charade by sending a centurion to verify that Jesus was no more. In those days the checks to verify that a person was dead were not as refined as they are today. So probably the centurion decided that Jesus was dead after a visual inspection.

Another factor to consider is that the Jewish leaders went to Pilate and asked that the legs of Jesus be broken. While the legs of the victims on either side of Jesus were shattered, Jesus’ legs were not broken. Roman soldiers were generally known for their cruelty. They sometimes crucified victims in different positions merely for their amusement. It is difficult to believe that they were either compassionate and therefore did not smash the legs of Jesus or that they did not do so because they were convinced that Jesus was dead from a cursory glance at the body on the cross.

We are also told that one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side. And when he saw a mixture of water and blood ooze out he was convinced that Jesus was dead. According to some sources it was not “water and blood” but just blood. Besides who knows for certain one way or the other? After all there were no apostles who witnessed the crucifixion.  As per the Gospels “they all forsook him and fled” (Mark 14:50).

Longinus

(Fig 2) Longinus – the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus

According to apocryphal writings – The Gospel of Nicodemus (The Acts of Pilate) – the name of the soldier who pierced the side of Jesus was “Longinus”. Legend has it that this soldier was partially blind. Of all the soldiers available, why would a partially blind soldier be chosen to deliver the coup de grace and why would he pierce the side of Jesus and not aim for the heart?

Conspiracy Between Joseph Of Arimathea And Pilate

All indications are that there was a conspiracy between Joseph of Arimathea and Pilate to make sure that Jesus did not die as a result of the crucifixion. For whatever reason, there is no doubt that Pilate played the central role in making sure of this. If Pilate did not help to ensure that Jesus was not killed on the cross, why would the calendars of the Saints of the Coptic Church, both in Egypt and in Ethiopia, depict Pilate and his wife as “saints” (6)?

After they had washed him, they carried Jesus inside Joseph of Arimathea’s house and left him there in the care of the Essenes. The two then prepared what looked like a body wrapped in burial linen known in Hebrew as a takrik and in the rabbinic sources as a sadin using the 75 lbs of spices that Nicodemus had brought and whatever else they could use. They then carried what looked like a body in burial linen to the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea as already arranged. At the site of the tomb were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses.

Joseph of Arimathea who was the initiator of the plot knew that sooner or later there would be trouble from the Jewish elders. Because of this he asked the beloved disciple John to take Mary the mother of Jesus and go to Ephesus a place that was familiar to Joseph of Arimathea because of his frequent business trips to England. It is likely that he stopped over on his to and fro trips and had friends there.  This is the reason why both Mary the mother of Jesus and John were absent during the entombment and other than the two men and two women, there were no relatives or followers of Jesus at the burial site.

We know from Matthew 27:57 “evening having come, a rich man from Arimathea coming up to Pilate, requests the body of Yeshua”. We also know from elsewhere in the Bible Mark 15:42 that “Now evening occurring” has been interpreted as “when the sun sets”. So by the time Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate it was already after sunset. And by the time Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carried Jesus to Arimathea’s garden and then prepared what appeared to be his body, it must definitely have been past sunset.

When Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus reached the tomb with what appeared to be the body of Jesus it was almost dark – presumably that part of the day when it was dark, but not dark enough to light a lamp. In addition to the two women – Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses – there were only a few Jewish guards there. The soldiers sat to a side indifferent to the burial rituals and the women stood at a distance still too distraught with the events of the day. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus carried the burial linen with its contents to the tomb’s interior. There they placed the bundle on the bench along one of the walls, opened it, spread the spices on the loculus, folded the linen and kept it to one side and emerged from the tomb to the relief of the women who waited outside. That done the women proceeded to their homes. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus blocked the entrance to the tomb with a golal, bid the guards goodnight and left in the direction of Joseph of Arimathea’s house that was just a short distance away.

Plausible Explanation For The Empty Tomb

This is the only plausible explanation for the empty tomb: the body of Jesus was never interred there. There is no question of the apostles robbing the body of Jesus. They would not dare attempt any such bravado, too frightened for their own lives. As for the bodily resurrection of Jesus being an explanation for the empty tomb, there are no witnesses to the phenomenon and there are too many contradictions to lend credence to the claim.

Could Joseph of Arimathea have executed this plot with only the connivance of Pilate and the help of his middle-aged friend Nicodemus? Seems unlikely! It is quite probable that he had the help of the followers of Jesus and James. If this is so, then we must try and figure out if Jesus and James were Essenes and what Jesus meant to the sect.

 References:
1) https://books.google.co.in/books?id=jaa9CgAAQBAJ&pg=PT77&lpg=PT77&dq=a+kind+of+crucifixion+drama+…+compiled+to+meet+the+religious+needs+of+a+Gentile+Church&source=bl&ots=oRKEeWae-q&sig=HlqUyuMX3OGedPtGCPxyNWljMUM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjVmL6HlPnKAhUTGI4KHSCnABQQ6AEIHTAA#v=onepage&q=a%20kind%20of%20crucifixion%20drama%20…%20compiled%20to%20meet%20the%20religious%20needs%20of%20a%20Gentile%20Church&f=false

2) Bercovitz, J. Peter.  (2004). Resurrection Narratives. Retrieved 2012, from http://www.paulonpaul.org/jesus/narr_3_resurr.htm

(3) Shanks, Hershel & Witherington iii, Ben. (2009). The Brother of Jesus. Harper- Collins ebooks. New York. Pg. 114.

(4) Gibson, Shimon. (2009). The Final Days of Jesus. The Archaeological Evidence. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York.

(5) Kareem, Abdullah . (n.d.). Jesus Survived the Cross. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.answering-christianity.com/abdullah_smith/jesus_survived_cross.htm

(6) Ata ur-Rahim, Muhammad. (1996). Jesus: Prophet of Islam. Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an pg. 37.

Picture Credits:
(Fig 1) Jesus is taken down from the cross https://in.pinterest.com/pin/282741682828797411/

(Fig 2) Longinus https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1280&bih=637&q=Longinus&oq=Longinus&gs_l=img.12..0l10.2184.2184.0.11983.1.1.0.0.0.0.225.225.2-1.1.0….0…1ac..64.img..0.1.224.hJ4zCcGqTKY#hl=en&tbm=isch&q=longinus+moriones&imgrc=fv5ovg5u78T26M%3A

 

Is The Garden Tomb The Tomb Of Jesus?

Another Claimant To The Title “The Burial Site Of Jesus” Is The Garden Tomb

The burial cave that subsequently came to be known as “The Garden Tomb” was accidentally uncovered by a peasant who wanted to cultivate the area and was trying to cut a cistern into the rock. Soon after Conrad Schick, who was the Jerusalem correspondent for many erudite European societies visited the cave.

In 1874 Conrad Schick published his first report about the cave. This report was similar to his other reports that he made out for the learned societies that he represented. In 1892, he published another report hinting that this might be the tomb of Jesus. There were other reports by other correspondents who mentioned the presence of crusader remains in the vicinity. With the arrival of General Charles George in Jerusalem in 1883 the garden Tomb became decisively significant. (1)

General Charles George Gordon decided that the hill where this burial cave was located was Golgotha the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. However Gordon was not the first to think that this was the site of Jesus’ crucifixion. Other scholars had a similar view even before that. (2)

The Garden Tomb Was A Typical First Century Jewish Tomb
Many archaeologists of renown who studied the Garden Tomb have declared that it is typically a first century Jewish tomb belonging to a rich person. Like other Jewish tombs of the period this too is oriented toward the Temple Mount. Like the tombs of that time which it resembled in form, it had an outer “weeping chamber” and an inner chamber with burial niches for the dead.

The type of chiseling both inside and outside was the same as the other Jerusalem tombs of the period between the second century B.C. and the first century A.D. Besides the tomb conforms to “a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid” (Luke 23:53.) as described in the Bible. It has a nephesh (“soul”) which is “a window-like cut in the upper right-hand face”. According to Jewish tradition, it is through this window that the spirit of the deceased departs after being in the tomb for three days. Of the three burial niches inside the tomb, only one was complete. This is an indication that the tomb was new as is stated in the Bible.

Is The Garden Tomb The Tomb Of Jesus?

Scholars have tried to show that the Garden Tomb is the tomb of Jesus by saying that “Gordon’s Calvary”, also referred to as Golgotha is the northernmost part of the mount Moriah mentioned in the Bible and that the Garden Tomb is in the vicinity of this site. Tradition has it that this place was formerly a place of execution, where Jeremiah and Stephen were stoned and probably where Jesus was crucified. The discovery in 1882 of the 5th century Church of St. Stephen is offered as proof of the saint’s martyrdom here. Besides this excavations have shown that the Garden Tomb was indeed located in an ancient fruit garden bearing out the claim that Jesus was buried in a tomb located in a garden.

Garden Tomb1

The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem

However scholars not in agreement say that recent archaeological studies have shown that the Garden Tomb, together with two cave tombs at St. Étienne, was carved into the same rocky escarpment and that all the three tombs belonged to the First Temple period of the eighth and seventh centuries B.C. We know now that the Garden Tomb was later reused. But this too was during the Byzantine period and in the Middle Ages and not during the time of Jesus. (3)

Probably more pertinent are the architectural and layout differences between Iron Age burial caves and burial caves of the Second Temple period. While Iron Age burial caves have two adjoining chambers one beside the other, Second Temple caves have the two rooms aligned one behind the other.
Another characteristic of Second Temple burial caves are distinct marks made by the use of comb chisels which had toothed edges. There is no evidence of the use of comb chisels in the Garden Tomb.

Moreover a comparison of the different traits of the Garden Tomb to typical First Temple tombs helps us to draw the conclusion the Garden Tomb is definitely an Iron Age tomb. A comparison to several Second Temple burial caves also brings out the significant differences. For instance burial niches called kokhim are absent in First Temple period tombs. They instead have burial benches that extend along the walls of the chamber. First Temple burial chambers also do not have arcosolia. (4)

Besides, not one single Second Temple period tomb has been found in the vicinity of the Garden Tomb. Enough study has been done relating to Iron Age and Second Temple period tombs that the differences are blaring. That said it can be stated with confidence that while Iron Age II tombs have been discovered in this locality, not one single Second Temple period tomb has been reported from here. (5)

A Misleading Inscription

However in 1889, the purported finding of an inscription at St. Stephen’s [St. Etienne’s monastery] (north of Damascus Gate) made news. The inscription is supposed to have read: “I, Eusebius, have desired to be buried in this spot, which I believe to be close to the place where the body of my Lord lay.” This was as per a note published in the Northern Christian Advocate (Syracuse, New York) by an anonymous correspondent from Jerusalem. However it was later found that this inscription actually read “The private tomb of the deacon Nonnus Onesimus of the Holy Resurrection of Christ and of this monastery.”

Deacon Nonnus Onesimus, a monk of the Church of St. Stephen, was also the deacon of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which during the Byzantine period was known as the Church of the Holy Resurrection held the second highest position in the hierarchy of the Jerusalem church. It was because of the high position that he held, he was given the distinction of a private tomb in the vicinity of the Church of St. Stephen.

In 1885 another inscription was found in a portion of the Garden Tomb complex. This inscription simply read “Private tomb of the deacon Euthymius Pindiris.” It is claimed that over-enthusiastic people who were determined to give the Garden Tomb a semblance of credibility corrupted the name Euthymius to read as Eusebius, then combined it with parts of the Nonnus inscription and came up with the inscription reported in the Northern Christian Advocate. The fact is that neither inscription was in any way related to what was part of the newspaper report. (6)

So now we have two serious contenders for the tomb of Jesus: the tomb within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb. The third contender is the Talpiot tomb. Which of the three if any of them actually is – is the real tomb of Jesus?

References:
(1) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy, Sara., Feldman, Steven & Laden, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington, DC.

(2) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(3) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(4) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(5) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(6) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

Picture Credits:
The Garden Tomb
http://www.cbneurope.com/news/the-garden-tomb-where-jesus-rose-again/

Burial Of Jesus – Was It In The Holy Sepulcher?

While there is overwhelming support for the claim that Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, but there is hardly any consensus about the location of this tomb.

The exact location of the tomb of Jesus is one of the greatest mysteries. We only know from the Gospel of John (19:41) that his tomb is near the place of his crucifixion i.e. Golgotha. There is no mention of its location in any of the other three Gospels. (1)
There was a rabbinical ban that “carcasses, graves, and tanneries may not remain within a space of fifty cubits [i.e., approximately 25 meters] from the town” (m. Bava Bathra 2:9). (2)

The two principal contenders for the final resting place of Jesus have been the Garden Tomb which is just outside the Holy City and the other is the tomb located inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built by Emperor Constantine at the behest of his mother Helena and is located inside the walls of the Holy City.

Was The Burial Of Jesus In The Church Of The Holy Sepulcher?

The site of the Holy Sepulcher Church was a limestone quarry during the beginning of the seventh or eighth century when the area was under the late Judean monarchy. The area was famed for its high quality limestone. To the south-east of this location lay the city, which at a later date expanded northward. (3)

We will never know for certain that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was indeed built over The tomb of Jesus. But this spot seems to be a likely candidate (See fig. 11). Certain factors seem to point to the authenticity of this claim. For one the site is a turn-of-the-century cemetery. For another in spite of being buried for almost 300 years by Hadrian’s “enclosure fill” the spot was remembered as the burial site of Jesus by the Christian community that continued to live there without being affected by dispersions elsewhere. Besides this the succession of Jerusalem bishops was never interrupted. (4)

Does The Holy Sepulcher Enclose Golgotha The Hillock Atop Which Jesus Was Crucified?

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is said to enclose Golgotha the hillock atop which Jesus is said to have been crucified. However there is one factor that must be considered about Golgotha:

The name Golgotha has not been recorded in antiquity either in Jewish or non-Jewish sources.

Besides this the name is also not found in any list of geographical names of places in and around Jerusalem. (5)

Holy Sepulcher
First-Century Tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

The best piece of evidence that the tomb of Jesus was in this area is the fact that other first-century tombs are still preserved inside the church. Called the “Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea,” these burial shafts (kokhim) are clearly from the time of Christ’s death and thus attest to some kind of burial ground in the area. Combined with the evidence from tradition, this church is probably the location of the Christ’s death and burial.

However in view of the many tombs of the kokh type found in the vicinity of the church it would appear that the place was a large burial ground. Besides, this site is just outside the city wall some 500 feet to the south and 350 feet to the east. This is in conformity with what the Gospels tell us: that is the burial tomb of Jesus was “near the city” (John 19:20). Evidence of the condition of the site during the first century shows that the place was a garden at that time confirming that the burial tomb was in a garden (John 19:41). (6)

Although it cannot be said with certainty that this is the burial spot of Jesus, it is a serious contender for that distinction.

Was The Tomb In The Holy Sepulcher A Temporary One?

Even if the tomb enclosed within the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is not the permanent tomb of Jesus there are claims that it could be the borrowed tomb used to bury Jesus. The following explains why:

Amos Kloner suggests that the tomb of Jesus was a temporary one. He bases his conclusion on burial practices during the “Second Temple period and later”. Semkahot 13.5 endorses the primary and secondary burials practiced during that period: “Whosoever finds a corpse in a tomb should not move it from its place, unless he knows that this is a temporary grave”. Kloner explains that a “borrowed or temporary cave” was used only temporarily and that the act of borrowing it does not give the borrower ownership rights. He believes that the tomb in which Jesus was interred was a temporary one. (7)

However Kloner’s suggestion regarding temporary tombs implies that there were temporary tombs and permanent tombs and that Jews buried their dead in temporary tombs and later moved the bones to a permanent one. There are two issues with this suggestion: one that we do not know who owned the temporary tombs and that two this suggestion is in contravention of “Jewish law so clearly stated in Semakhot 13:7”. While private tombs took care of “familial and public emotions” and prevented any “leak” of the “corpse’s defilement out of the tomb”, Kloner’s suggestion defeats both these requirements. (8)

Was The Burial Of Jesus A Typical Temporary Burial Practiced During That Period?

Another implication of Kloner’s argument is that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was a temporary one. Kloner continues to say that the burial of Jesus detailed in the New Testament is a typical example of temporary burials practiced during that period. He cites Semakhot 13:5 in support of his claim. The overall message it would appear is that Jesus was buried in a temporary tomb that belonged to the Sanhedrin. (9)

But then the question arises: why would someone want to bury their deceased in a temporary tomb and then after a year move the bones to a private tomb? This seems even more unlikely when one considers the fact that there were familial tombs that served both the preliminary and secondary burials. The fact that there are so many tombs with burial shelves and slots for ossuaries makes this claim even more unlikely. (10)

However Kloner explains that the only tombs that were exempt from the Semakhot regulations were the Sanhedrin tombs as they were temporary. And being temporary they were small in comparison to familial tombs. Authorities on tombs of the Second Temple period agree that the tomb of Jesus must have been small. Kloner supports this conclusion stating that the tomb of Jesus was so small that “Mary Magdalene and another woman named Mary could apparently see the body from outside”(Mark 15:47; see also John 20:1). (11)

An even more important piece of evidence that the tomb of Jesus enclosed within the Holy Sepulcher Church was borrowed, small and belonged to the Sanhedrin, is the fact that it is connected to another tomb purportedly belonging to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. It must be remembered that the Mishna forbids familial tombs from being linked or connected with other tombs. The only exception could have probably been the Sanhedrin tombs that were likely connected to allow “allow people to take care of bodies and bones, and then move them from one tomb to the other without being exposed to sunlight and to the danger of a defilement “leak”. This being the case the tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher could at most only be the temporary burial place of Jesus. The permanent burial tomb, if there is one, is elsewhere. (12)

Although it is popularly believed that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the spot where Jesus was buried, not everyone agrees. The shrine inside the church supposed to mark the “traditional burial site” is not of the first century. In fact it is said to belong to the beginning of the early 19th century. The shrine itself is covered with a slab which is not of the local bedrock. Only the bench on the right side of the shrine is thought to be original. Besides, no relationship has been shown between “the rock, the foundations and the aedicule as they exist today and the original burial cave”. In fact a burial cave a few yards away is the only indication that the spot where the shrine now stands may have once been a burial site. (13)

However scholars who contend that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was the site of the burial of Jesus state that the site qualifies on the counts that it was just outside the old city and that it was in a garden. Besides if tradition had not shown that this was the site in 325 AD how would anyone have known. Based on what has been said it must be accepted that this site is a serious contender for the distinction of being the burial site of Jesus. (14)

References:

(1) Holzapfel, Richard Neitzel., Chadwick, Jeffrey R., Judd Jr., Frank F., & Wayment, Thomas A.. (2008). Jesus and the Ossuaries: First-Century Jewish Burial Practices and the Lost Tomb of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://rsc.byu.edu/archived/%E2%80%9Cbehold-lamb-god%E2%80%9D-easter-celebration/12-jesus-and-ossuaries-first-century-jewish-burial-pra.

(2) Gibson, Shimon. (2009) The Final Days of Jesus, The Archaeological Evidence, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York.

(3) Bahat, Dan. (n.d.). Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/online-exclusives/easter-06.asp

(4) Bahat, Dan. (n.d.). Does the Holy Sepulchre Church Mark the Burial of Jesus? Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bib-arch.org/online-exclusives/easter-06.asp

(5) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(6) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(7) Kenyan, Eldad & Illan, Bar. (2010). Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml

(8) Kenyan, Eldad & Illan, Bar. (2010). Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml

(9) Kenyan, Eldad.& Illan, Bar. (2010). Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml

(10) Kenyan, Eldad.& Illan, Bar. (2010). Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml

(11) Kenyan, Eldad.& Illan, Bar. (2010). Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml

(12) Kenyan, Eldad.& Illan, Bar. (2010). Obscurities around the Tomb of the Holy Sepulcher. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/tombs358017.shtml

(13) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy, Sara., Feldman, Steven & Laden, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington, DC.

(14) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy, Sara., Feldman, Steven & Laden, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society, Washington, DC.

Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) First-Century Tomb inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&newwindow=1&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1270&bih=582&oq=First-Century+Tomb+inside+the+Church+of+the+Holy+Sepulcher+&gs_l=img.12…14727.14727.0.16053.1.1.0.0.0.0.99.99.1.1.0…0.0…1ac..5.img.0DlrlH54fAI&q=First-Century+Tomb+inside+the+Church+of+the+Holy+Sepulcher&gws_rd=cr,ssl&ei=AHJMVrfDBJGgugTJzoT4BQ#gws_rd=cr,ssl&imgrc=5l1VXuFug3HQHM%3A

Guards Are Placed At The Tomb Of Jesus

Arimathea Lowers Body Of Jesus With Same Care As He Would A Wounded Friend

After Pilate gave Joseph of Arimathea permission for the burial of Jesus, he together with Nicodemus, another important member of the Sanhedrin, and Abenadar a centurion began to take down the body from the cross. There is information in the New Testament apocrypha that Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, testified in favor of Jesus during the trial and angered the accusers (1).

Abenadar was responsible for drawing the huge nails that were driven through the feet of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus held the upper body of Jesus with the same care as one would a badly wounded dear friend. The tenderness that the two showed would make one wonder if these two were afraid that they would cause Jesus more pain. According to some sources Joseph of Arimathea went about lowering the body of Jesus after he had obtained permission from Mary his mother.

According to Mark 15:42–46, after bringing down the body of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea took it to a place with water, presumably within his residence which was located just beyond the city walls. According to some sources the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was quite close to the cross and it would have been possible for Joseph of Arimathea to carry the body of Jesus all by himself, in spite of being past middle age. There they washed the body and anointed it with myrrh and aloe. According to (Acts 9:37), it is imperative that the body of a deceased is first washed before it is anointed and wrapped in linen. There is no reason to believe that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus would not have done this. After that they wrapped the body in a sheet and laid it on the burial bench in a rock-cut tomb. He then rolled a stone across the doorway. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses were present during the entombment (2).

Matthew 27:57-60 endorses Joseph of Arimathea’s involvement in the burial of Jesus. Based on the accounts of the Gospels, Joseph of Arimathea is reported to have wrapped the body of Jesus in a linen burial cloth (sindon), known in Hebrew as a takrik and in the rabbinic sources as a sadin. According to the Gospel of Peter (6:24) the body of Jesus was first washed before it was wrapped in burial linen.

It was the Jewish custom to prop the body of the deceased and then wash it, making sure that the impurities from the feet do not reach the other parts of the body. It was only after this that the body was anointed with oils and perfumes and wrapped in burial linen (3).

Jews don’t embalm their dead. Instead they anoint them. It is for this that Nicodemus brought 75 pounds of myrrh and aloe to anoint the body of Jesus and treat the linen burial cloth, to counter the smell of death. Some believe that myrrh and aloe were dry aromatics that would help dry any fluids still oozing from the body of Jesus. Anointing the body and treating the burial cloth must have been done outside the tomb as it would have been impossible to carry out these tricky procedures with the confines of a dark tomb. It is quite likely that by the time the body was placed within the tomb it must have already turned dark (4).

Jesus Was Buried In The Tomb Of A Rich Man As Prophesied

Joseph of Arimathea had to complete the burial of Jesus before sundown on Friday to comply with Jewish tradition. Since there was no time to get a grave ready before the beginning of the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea offered to entomb the body of Jesus in an unused rock-cut tomb that he had got ready for his own family. All the Synoptic Gospels are in support of what is said about the entombment of Jesus’ body in the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea a wealthy man (5). This is in fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who had predicted that the messiah would be buried in the tomb of a rich man. (Isa. 53:9).

The Stone Covering The Mouth Of The Tomb of Jesus Could Not Have Been Round

Not everyone agrees that the stone covering the mouth of the tomb was a round blocking stone. (See fig. 8). Of the hundreds of tombs that were uncovered only a handful of them had a round blocking stone. And these were found at the more sophisticated tombs that had at least two rooms or as in the case of one, a spacious hall. These tombs belonged to people who were rich and famous, such as Herod. Round blocking stones in such tombs as the one in which Jesus was buried were unheard of. The tomb of Jesus must have been of the regular type and would have had a square chunk of stone that served as a plug that blocked the entrance. Such a stone was called a golal.

A round blocking stone

The “Herod Family Tomb” in Jerusalem. This first-century BC/AD tomb is
the only major ancient tomb located west of the Old City of Jerusalem.
It features a round disk sealing stone at its entrance. (Fig. 8)

A Square Blocking Stone

In the case of square blocking stone the wider end of the stone remained outside the tomb, while the narrower face fit snugly into the tomb’s entryway.

Square Blocking Stone

Guards Are Placed At The Tomb Of Jesus

Matthew 27:64 tells us that the Pharisees went to Pilate to request him to guard the tomb in which Jesus was buried. Their reason “Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

According to some sources Pilate rebuffed the Jewish leaders. But according to others he accommodated them. It is not certain exactly how Pilate responded. When it was found that the tomb of Jesus was empty, according to Matthew, the guards report the incident to Pilate. This would make the guards Roman. But according to Peter, the guards report the empty tomb to the chief priest. This would indicate that the guards were Jewish. If in fact the guards were Roman, they would have been executed for dereliction of duty. And as there is no report of such an eventuality, it would appear that the guards were Jewish (6).

In further support of the guards being Jewish we must consider Pilate’s reply to the Jews telling them to make the tomb as “secure as they know how.”

This brings us to the question as to the number of guards that were posted to watch the tomb of Jesus. From a reading of Matthew 28 it is clear that there were more than two guards. Matthew 28 tells us that “some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests [what] had happened.” If what Matthew says is correct then there would have been a minimum of four guards in all. It must be mentioned that of the evangelists only Matthew records the posting of guards to watch the tomb of Jesus. The other story relating to guards at the tomb of Jesus is by Peter. It can be safely said that the two stories are independent of each other as the language of the two are entirely different from each other (7).

References:

(1) Joseph of Arimathea. (n.d.). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.lundyisleofavalon.co.uk/godsetc/joseph.htm.

(2) New Testament, An American Translation. (2011). Retrieved 2011, from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bible/gdsp.Mark.15.html.

(3) Gibson, Shimon. (2009) The Final Days of Jesus, The Archaeological Evidence, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York

(4) Derstine, Todd. (2009). Acts 20:7- Chronological Landmark of the New Testament. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.todd-derstine.com/americaspropheticdestiny/category/articles/page/2/

(5) Gibson, Shimon. (2009) The Final Days of Jesus, The Archaeological Evidence, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York.

(6) http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?60412-Peter-Kirby-will-speak-in-Los-Angeles/page2

(7) Craig, William Lane. (2007). The Guard at the Tomb. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.jesusemptytomb.com/the-resurrection/jesus-resurrection/the-guard-at-the-tomb.html

Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) Round blocking stone
https://rsc.byu.edu/easterconference/2007/roundtable

(Fig 2) A square blocking stone
http://www.appuntisugerusalemme.it/Dati/Like%20a%20Cork%20in%20a%20Bottle.htm

Burial Of Jesus Was To Be Completed Before Sundown

Joseph Of Arimathea Knew That He Had To Complete The Burial Of Jesus Before The Sabbath That Would Begin On Friday Night

A rich man named Joseph of Arimathea met the Roman prefect Pilate on the eve on which Jesus was crucified to request the Prefect for the body of Jesus. Joseph of Arimathea knew that he had to hurry and complete the Burial of Jesus before the Sabbath that would begin on Friday night. But he knew that he would be taking a great risk. It was difficult to say how Pilate would react as he was already upset with the Jewish leaders as they had threatened to report him to Caesar if he refused to crucify Jesus. Besides Joseph of Arimathea was a member of the Sanhedrin, the very body that wanted Jesus dead. So what was Joseph of Arimathea’s interest in burying Jesus? Furthermore bodies of victims of crucifixion were generally handed to members of the victim’s family. And Joseph of Arimathea was not a member of Jesus’ family.

Descent from the cross2

Jewish Leaders Were Anxious To Complete The Burial Of Jesus

However Jewish leaders too were anxious to complete the Burial of Jesus for the same reason. As for Pilate, even though he would have liked to let the body of Jesus hang from the cross longer acceded to Jewish sentiments and did not want to offend the Jews fearing adverse consequences. As opposed as he may have been, Pilate consented to Joseph of Arimathea’s request. According to some sources Pilate should not have had any hesitation in giving the body of Jesus as both Roman and Jewish laws required that the next of kin dispose of the body of a deceased immaterial of the manner of death. The hitch here was that Joseph of Arimathea was not a close relative.

Pilate Was Surprised That Jesus Should Have Died So Soon

We are told that at first on hearing Joseph of Arimathea’s request, Pilate was surprised that Jesus should have died so soon. Normally victims of crucifixion hung on the cross for many hours and in some cases for days before they died. Pilate did not believe that Jesus was dead. So he sent a centurion to verify that Jesus was no more. In those days the checks to verify that a person was dead was not the least bit refined. So probably the centurion decided that Jesus was dead through a visual inspection.

Pilate probably overlooked the requirement that the body be handed over to the next of kin in view of the Jewish leaders’ keenness to bury Jesus before the beginning of the Sabbath. A far as the Romans were concerned they generally allowed the people of conquered territories to follow their customs. As for the Jews, they did not attach any stigma to victims of crucifixion. Crucifixion was the Roman capital punishment. Jews had four options for capital punishment: stoning, burning, decapitating and strangling. (1)

Although it was the Romans that handed down crucifixion as capital punishment, the Jews did not hesitate to bury crucified bodies in accordance with Jewish law: “Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun” (Jewish War 4.5.2), and within 24 hours of death in order to preserve ritual purity. In fact there was nothing in the Mishnah that prevented Jews from burying crucified relatives together with others of their family (2).

This tradition is reinforced by John 19:31 “The bodies should not remain upon the cross on the Sabbath day (for that Sabbath was an high day).” The Jewish leaders were very specific regarding this, as this was no ordinary Sabbath that was approaching; it was the Passover Sabbath. This is what John was explaining when he described it as “an high day”.

Besides this, Friday was the day of preparation for the Jews and the leaders probably wanted to rush through the Burial of Jesus and go about their business of getting ready for the next day. The Greek word paraskeue means preparation. It was called the day of preparation because Exodus 16:23-30 taught people to keep holy the Sabbath. That meant that even the food they require for the Sabbath had to be prepared the day before. Even when God provided the Jews manna from heaven, they had to gather what they would need on the day of the Sabbath, the day before (3).

Burying The Dead On The Day Of Their Demise Was A Tradition From Before The Time Of Moses

The tradition of burying the dead on the day of their demise was handed down from before the time of Moses who warned that if this tradition was not followed “their enemies will slay them and their unburied bodies will be food for birds and animals” (Deut 28:25–26). It probably had its foundation in the Mosaic law: “And if a man has committed a crime punishable by death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but you shall bury him the same day, for a hanged man is accursed by God; you shall not defile your land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance” (Deut 21:22–23) (4). However history shows that this rule was sometimes not followed. But this being the Passover Sabbath they did not dare flout the rule (5).

Josephus explains that it was also an ethical requirement : “We must furnish fire, water, food to all who ask for them, point out the road, not leave a corpse unburied [a1tafon], show consideration even to declared enemies” (Against Apion 2.29 §211; cf. 2.26 §205). Josephus notes that even the Romans rarely flouted this requirement in peacetime Jewish Palestine (6). The Romans used crucifixion to punish defiant Jewish leaders and let the bodies hang sometimes for days as a warning to others. However, such cases were rare (7).

In fact Jewish customs were safeguarded by kings and emperors “throughout all the preceding ages”. Roman law makes concessions in this regard. It states that the bodies of those who are condemned to death should be given to the relatives for burial. There were however exceptions. In the case of persons condemned to death for high treason Roman authorities refused the relatives the bodies (8). In the case of those condemned to death for sedition the bodies were left to the vultures adding disgrace and dishonor to the death penalty. In some cases instead of allowing the bodies of those condemned to death to be buried in family tombs, the Jewish authorities provided a burial site beyond the city (9).

In the case of Jesus, he was condemned to death under Roman law and the Sanhedrin had nothing against burying the bodies of such victims together with members of their family. As such there was nothing in Jesus’ case that “precluded a proper Jewish burial”. However victims of the death penalty for violation of Jewish laws were not permitted to be buried in family graves. “And they did not bury [the felon] in the burial grounds of his ancestors. But there were two graveyards made ready for the use of the court, one for those who were beheaded or strangled, and one for those who were stoned or burned” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5) (10).

Primary Burial And A Secondary Burial

During Jesus’ time burial involved a primary burial and a secondary burial. Primary burial involved laying shrouded corpses on a rock shelf inside the tomb for about a year. There was an initial mourning period of seven days called shiva. This initial mourning period was followed by a secondary thirty-day period of less intense mourning called shloshim. However the mourning continued until the body was fully decomposed – usually a period of about a year. According to the Jerusalem Talmud: “When the flesh had wasted away, the bones were collected and placed in chests (ossuaries)”. On that day (the son) mourned, but the following day he was glad, because his forebears rested from judgment (Moed Qatan 1:5).” According to Tractate Semahot (“Mourning”) it says: “Rabbi Eleazer bar Zadok said: ‘Thus spoke father at the time of his death: “My son, bury me at first in a fosse. In the course of time, collect my bones and put them in an ossuary; but do not gather them with your own hands.” The practice of collecting the bones and placing them in ossuaries was called ossilegium (11).

Ossuaries were large enough to hold the longest human bones. The ossuaries were then kept in a loculus – a niche reserved for this purpose in tombs. It was not uncommon to use an ossuary to store the bones of more than one individual. More than a quarter of ossuaries were inscribed and some inscriptions not only bore the name of the deceased but also the name of the deceased’s father or the place of origin

The Reason For The Secondary Burial

The probable reason for the secondary burial was the belief that with the degeneration of a deceased’s flesh sins were also removed and the individual would become eligible for resurrection (Romans 7:24). The practice was thought to have commenced after the Jewish people were conquered and felt that a secondary burial absolved them of their sins. This practice is believed to have continued until the next Jewish uprising and their destruction by the Romans in 70 CE. Even though the practice may have continued after that period, it was believed to have been observed by a significantly smaller percentage of the population until finally the practice itself lost its importance. One other reason for a secondary burial was conservation of space. However this reasoning is faulty as coffins have larger storage capacity than ossuaries. The other argument that secondary burial aided resurrection is also not sound since during secondary burial it was quite possible for some bones to be lost or scattered.

Jews Entombed Their Dead During The Time Of Jesus

Jews entombed their dead during the time of Jesus. These tombs were cut into the limestone that was commonly found around the city. This practice was prevalent when the Jews enjoyed autonomy or even partial autonomy. But for a few exceptions all such burial tombs were located outside the city walls. The entrances to these tombs were usually square to rectangular. Two types of recesses were carved into the walls of these tombs to hold individual corpses. One type was about 6 feet deep and about 1.5 feet wide and high. They were called loculi – kochim in Hebrew. The other type was the shallow shelf-like recess that was about 6 feet long. If the top of this shallow recess was arched it was called an arcosolia and if it had a straight top it was called a quadrosolia.

At one time it was thought that such tombs were used by Jerusalem’s wealthy and that poorer Jews used trench graves. According to Shimon Gibson, in theory many cemeteries with trench graves may have been in use in the distant outskirts of Jerusalem. In fact a cemetery with trench graves was found at Beit Safafa a few kilometers south of Jerusalem. However this is the only instance of a cemetery with trench graves. The uniqueness of this cemetery is that it resembled the cemetery used by the sect that lived in the Qumran region on the northwestern shore of the Dead Sea. This resemblance prompted the Israeli excavator Boaz Zissu to suggest that the cemetery at Beit Safafa could have been used by the Essenes (12).

Shimon Gibson contends that to say that the rock-cut tombs of Jerusalem belonged to its middle class is incorrect. Since there is no evidence of any cemeteries with trench graves it may be concluded that rock-cut tombs were the order of the day used generally by all or most of the Jews in Jerusalem. Gibson argues that the poor of Jerusalem were not as poor as some people have supposed. It is reasonable to conclude that the Jews of Jerusalem were relatively well off when compared to the standards of most other villages in Judea (13).

Jerusalem probably owed its economic well being to the presence of the Temple which made it a place of worship and pilgrimage. It was obvious that Jerusalem became wealthy from the time of Herod until its destruction by Titus in 70 CE. Hence the argument that Jesus belonged to a poor family and could therefore not afford a rock-cut tomb is not correct. Beside if his friend Lazarus of Bethany could afford a rock-cut tomb, so too could Jesus (14).

Witnesses to the Burial of Jesus

In addition to Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus the other people present during the entombment of Jesus are “Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses” Matthew 27:56-61. It will be of interest to note that Mary the mother of Jesus was not present. Mary the mother of Jesus was conspicuous by her absence. Presumably Joseph of Arimathea had asked John the beloved disciple to take her away not wanting her to suffer more than she already had.

References:

(1) & (2) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(3) Exodus 16:23-30; Exodus 20:8-11; Exodus 31:13; Mark 2:27 (New American Standard Bible). (n.d.). Retrieved 2012 from http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+16%3A23-30%2CExodus+20%3A8-11%2CExodus+31%3A13%2CMark+2%3A27&version=NASB

(4), (5), (6) & (8) Evans, Craig A.. (n.d.). Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf.

(7) & (10) Miller, Kathleen E., Murphy Sara., Feldman, Steven.& Ladre, Susan. (2007). The Burial of Jesus. Biblical Archaeology Society . Washington, DC. Retrieved 2011, from http://www.scribd.com/doc/9670347/The-Burial-of-Jesus

(9) Deffinbaugh, Bob . (1995-20120. The Burial and Resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 19:38-20:9). Retrieved 2011, from http://bible.org/seriespage/burial-and-resurrection-jesus-christ-john-19388211209

(11) Franz, Gordon. (2012). The So-Called Jesus Family Tomb ‘Rediscovered’ in Jerusalem. Retrieved 2012, from http://www.lifeandland.org/2009/01/the-so-called-jesus-family-tomb-rediscovered-in-jerusalem/

(12), (13) & (14) Gibson, Shimon. (2009) The Final Days of Jesus, The Archaeological Evidence, HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York

Picture Credits:

(Fig 1) Descent from the cross https://www.google.co.in/search?hl=en&site=imghp&tbm=isch&source=hp&biw=1024&bih=635&q=jesus+is+brought+down+from+the+cross&oq=jesus+is+brought+down+from+the+cross&gs_l=img.3…5709.16982.0.17420.36.12.0.24.1.0.119.1176.8j4.12.0….0…1ac.1.64.img..24.12.1097.x1_cmYXpdNg#q=jesus+is+brought+down+from+the+cross&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbs=sur:fc&imgrc=lJBruWcO4vN71M%3A