A Closer Look at the Burial of Jesus

I have always found the burial aspect of the resurrection story to be quite fascinating. William Lane Craig has been quick to defend the Joseph of Arimathea account of the story. However, some skeptics have tried to postulate that the burial story has problems. For example, given the fact that Jesus came from a poor family, he would of most likely been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. In other words, some skeptics posit a relocation hypothesis. But the Gospels say otherwise. A couple of years, I got to see  archaeologist Jodi Magness lecture on this topic. She has done many digs in Israel and is a specialist on the tomb issue. She is a non-religious Jew. She says the following:

“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)

Interestingly enough, Magness goes on to say:

“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)

So here are the issues:

  1. Obviously the Gospels are silent about Jesus being buried in a pit grave or trench grave. At best , this is something the skeptic can throw out there as a possibility. But there is no direct evidence for a possible relocation of the burial account. Also, how would anyone get beyond the guards at the tomb?
  2. In my view, even if skeptics want to postulate that his body was buried in a pit grave or trench grave, it is a worthless apologetic on their part. Why do I say this? Whether Jesus was buried in a pit grave/trench grave, or the Gospels are correct about the burial story (Jesus was not buried in a pit/trench grave), skeptics will still have to provide an account for the resurrection appearances and the entire story. Either way skeptics will end up punting to some sort of group hallucination or cognitive dissonance/conspiracy theory. I provide some resources to these objections on our resource page.
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2 thoughts on “A Closer Look at the Burial of Jesus

  1. Ed Atkinson November 14, 2014 / 11:53 pm

    Hi Chab

    This is a topic I do really want to discuss properly. Let me know if you are willing and have some time. It is very important to the resurrection overall.

    Cheers Ed

  2. Marno November 15, 2014 / 6:16 pm

    The burial in Joseph’s tomb is also a fulfillment of typological prophecy. The bones of the patriarch Joseph were carried up out of Egypt, leaving the tomb of Joseph empty.

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