The Historicity of the Empty Tomb Evaluated (2001)

Peter Kirby

Introduction to the Issue

There is a longstanding debate over the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus. Because many competent critics do not think that the historical evidence justifies belief in the empty tomb, it is fair to say that scholarship is divided on this point.[1] At the same time, many critics do accept the historicity of the empty tomb; moreover, as shown by the work of William Lane Craig, those who accept the historicity of the empty tomb tend to have written most extensively on the subject. Most of the comments from skeptics touch upon one or another aspect of the issue, but a skeptical study of the empty tomb story comparable in scope to the apologetic of W.L. Craig is something that I have not been able to find.[2] I have decided to write this essay in order to provide such a study. My first purpose in writing is to draw together the various strands of reasoning that support the skeptic’s position into a single work. Secondly, I will provide a point-by-point refutation of Craig’s arguments. Finally, I will evaluate the relative merit of the two positions in light of the historical evidence.

As in all debates, the first thing to do is to define the matter under debate. Murray J. Harris writes:

When we speak of the ’empty tomb,’ we are referring to the Christian claim that on the third day after Jesus had been crucified, his body was no longer to be found in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea where he had been buried.[3]

It is to this claim that the attention of this essay is directed.

A few presuppositions will be accepted in this essay. First, it is accepted that there was a historical Jesus, known to his disciples such as Peter, who was crucified by Pontius Pilate around the time of Passover c. 30 CE. Second, it is accepted that at least seven epistles of Paul are genuine: Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thesslaonians, and Philemon. Third, it is accepted that the canonical Gospels appeared in the period during or after the First Jewish Revolt c. 70 CE. Fourth, it is accepted Matthew and Luke depend upon Mark. These presuppositions are generally accepted as sound by exegetes and are outside the scope of this essay, as they properly belong to theprovinceofNew Testamentintroduction.

This essay will defend a particular reconstruction of the events subsequent to the crucifixion of Jesus. This reconstruction will be outlined here. Either the body of Jesus was left to rot on the cross, or the body of Jesus was consigned to a criminal’s shallow grave. Either way, the followers of Jesus did not have access to the body after the crucifixion. The followers of Jesus returned toGalileeafter the Passover. While inGalilee, Peter and other disciples experienced visions of Jesus and came to believe that Jesus had been raised to the right hand of the Father. Believing that Jesus would soon be coming to establish theKingdomofGod, the disciples returned toJerusalemin order to await his coming and to spread the gospel. While they may have believed that Jesus had risen physically and may have answered that the grave of Jesus must have been emptied if asked, the basis of the resurrection belief was the visions, and there were no traditions of the discovery of an empty tomb in the fledgling church. The story of the empty tomb was the invention of the author of Mark, or perhaps the immediate pre-Markan tradition, and the subsequent evangelists expanded on the empty tomb story as told by Mark.

The Case Against the Empty Tomb

Argument from Silence

I titled this section “Argument from Silence” because I am well aware that these are arguments from silence. Whenever an argument from silence is made, the objection invariably comes “that is just an argument from silence,” perhaps accompanied by the dictum, “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” I am recognizing these objections explicitly from the start in order to emphasize that I do understand the nature of this type of argument.

Once the type of argument is recognized, I would maintain that there are better arguments from silence and worse arguments from silence. If this is the case, then I would argue further that not all arguments from silence are worthless, or else there could not be better ones and worse ones. Why do I think that there are some better than others? I will give two examples. Suppose I claim that I sneezed at 5:03 pm PST on December 1, 2000 while in the kitchen of myOrangeCountyhome. You search the New York Times for December 2 and find no record of this incident. That is a very bad argument from silence. Now suppose instead I claim that the sky appeared hot pink from any point on Earth for a full minute at 5:03 pm PST on December 1, 2000. You search two hundred newspapers for December 2 and find no record of this incident. That is a very good argument from silence.

I submit that at least three criteria can be used to evaluate the strength of an argument from silence. The first criterion is the presumption of knowledge. This criterion asks, how likely is it that a particular writer knew of an event if it had happened? The second criterion is the presumption of relevance. This criterion asks, how likely is it that the writer would mention this event in this document? The third criterion is applied after we have a number of different writers and documents that have been evaluated through the first two. The third one asks, how likely is it that all these documents fail to mention this event? While perhaps it would be understandable if any particular one failed to make a note of the event, the argument is strengthened by several silences when it would seem a strange coincidence for every one to happen not to mention the event.

What should be expected if the story of the discovery of the empty tomb were true concerning knowledge or awareness of this event? I have a presumption that the story would be likely to be known by any particular Christian writer. The reason for this presumption is that the writers who have been preserved are likely to have been learned in the faith, if not church leaders themselves, and thus would be likely to have heard an important tradition concerning the resurrection of Jesus such as the empty tomb story is.

What occasions would provide a likely opportunity for a mention of the empty tomb story? Those writers that discuss the basis for belief in the resurrection could have some reason to mention the discovery of the empty tomb.

Of the writers that are relevant in this regard, the apostle Paul is foremost. For this reason, the evidence of Paul will be considered separately in the next section.

But Paul is not the only Christian author who wrote letters in the first century. A letter was written fromRometo the Corinthians around the year 95. This letter fails to appeal to the historical knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus (such as the discovery of the empty tomb would provide) and prefers instead to provide assurance of the resurrection on the basis of nature, scripture, and the legend of the phoenix. The author of First Clement writes:

Let us consider, beloved, how the Lord continually proves to us that there shall be a future resurrection, of which He has rendered the Lord Jesus Christ the first-fruits by raising Him from the dead. Let us contemplate, beloved, the resurrection which is at all times taking place. Day and night declare to us a resurrection. The night sinks to sleep, and the day arises; the day [again] departs, and the night comes on. Let us behold the fruits [of the earth], how the sowing of grain takes place. The sower goes forth, and casts it into the ground; and the seed being thus scattered, though dry and naked when it fell upon the earth, is gradually dissolved. Then out of its dissolution the mighty power of the providence of the Lord raises it up again, and from one seed many arise and bring forth fruit.

Let us consider that wonderful sign [of the resurrection] which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, inArabiaand the countries round about. There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers. Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from thelandofArabiaintoEgypt, to the city calledHeliopolis. And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.

Do we then deem it any great and wonderful thing for the Maker of all things to raise up again those that have piously served Him in the assurance of a good faith, when even by a bird He shows us the mightiness of His power to fulfil His promise? For [the Scripture] saith in a certain place, “Thou shalt raise me up, and I shall confess unto Thee; ” and again, “I laid me down, and slept; I awaked, because Thou art with me;” and again, Job says, “Thou shalt raise up this flesh of mine, which has suffered all these things.”[4]

The author of First Clement also describes the beginning of the Christian religion without reference to the empty tomb.

The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ, Jesus the Christ was sent from God. The Christ therefore is from God and the Apostles from the Christ. In both ways, then, they were in accordance with the appointed order of God’s will. Having therefore received their commands, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with faith confirmed by the Word of God, they went forth in the assurance of the Holy Spirit preaching the good news that the Kingdomof Godis coming.[5]

Since there was occasion for the writer to mention the discovery of the empty tomb and the writer did not do so, this writer and document may be included among those that form the argument from silence.

It should be noted that, outside of the four gospels, all Christian documents that may come the first century mention neither tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea nor the subsequent discovery of such a tomb as empty. Although there may have been no particular reason for any one of these writers to mention the story, it could be argued that, if they all accepted the story, perhaps one of them would have entered a discussion that would mention the empty tomb story. For example, if there were a polemic going around that the disciples had stolen the body, one of these early writers may have written to refute such accusations. In any case, it is necessary to mention these documents if only to note that there is no conflicting evidence that would show that the empty tomb story was an early or widespread tradition since the argument from silence would be shown false if there were. Here is a list of these early documents:

  1. 1 Thessalonians
  2. Philippians
  3. Galatians
  4. 1 Corinthians
  5. 2 Corinthians
  6. Romans
  7. Philemon
  8. Hebrews
  9. James
  10. Colossians
  11. 1 Peter
  12. Ephesians
  13. 2 Thessalonians
  14. Jude
  15. The Apocalypse of John
  16. 1 John
  17. 2 John
  18. 3 John
  19. Didache
  20. 1 Clement
  21. 1 Timothy
  22. 2 Timothy
  23. Titus
  24. The Epistle of Barnabas

Indeed, outside of the four canonical gospels, the Gospel of Peter is the only document before Justin Martyr that mentions the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea or the discovery of the empty tomb. If the Gospel of Peter as it stands is considered to be dependent on the canonical gospels, then there is no independent witness to the empty tomb story told in the four gospels.

This, then, is the argument from silence. The writers of the foregoing documents would be likely to have been aware of the empty tomb story if it were true as opposed to a late legend or gospel fiction. If all these writers were aware of the empty tomb story, there is some reason to think that one of them would have mentioned the empty tomb story. Because none of them did, the argument from silence provides a reason to think that the empty tomb story is false. This does fall short of proof, but this should be given consideration as admissable historical evidence. If this were the only count against the empty tomb and there were very strong evidence for the empty tomb, then the judgment would fall in favor of the empty tomb. Nonetheless, this argument should be placed on the scales so that a complete assessment of the evidence is made.

There is a different argument from silence, and this one is sometimes made by those who support the historicity of the empty tomb. James D. G. Dunn expresses this argument in these words:

Christians today of course regard the site of Jesus’ tomb with similar veneration, and that practice goes back at least to the fourth century. But for the period covered by the New Testament and other earliest Christian writings there is no evidence whatsoever for Christians regarding the place where Jesus had been buried as having any special significance. No practice of tomb veneration, or even of meeting for worship at Jesus’ tomb is attested for the first Christians. Had such been the practice of the first Christians, with all the significance which the very practice itself presupposes, it is hard to believe that our records of Jerusalem Christianity and of Christian visits thereto would not have mentioned or alluded to it in some way or at some point.[6]

I agree with Dunn up to this point but cannot agree with his conclusion:

This strange silence, exceptional in view of the religious practice of the time [of meeting at the tomb of a dead prophet], has only one obvious explanation. The first Christians did not regard the place where Jesus had been laid as having any special significance because no grave was thought to contain Jesus’ earthly remains. The tomb was not venerated, it did not become a place of pilgrimage, because the tomb was empty![7]

This conclusion is highly illogical. I agree that it would be most reasonable to conclude that early Christians did not know that Jesus was resting in his tomb because we would then expect tomb veneration. I agree that this is evidence against knowledge of a full tomb. But I would state further that this is equally evidence against knowledge of an empty tomb. It is plain to see that the site of the tomb of Jesus would become a site of veneration and pilgrimage among early Christians regardless of whether it were full or empty. The factors of nagging doubt, pious curiousity, and liturgical significance would all contribute towards the empty tomb becoming a site of intense interest among Christians. Contrary to Dunn, the obvious explanation is that early Christians had no idea where Jesus was buried. Peter Carnley writes:

I must confess that I do not understand this argument which suggests that the grave in which Jesus had been laid would have been interesting to Christians had Jesus’ body been found in it, but of no continuing interest even as the site of the resurrection, if it was found empty! Apart from the fact that a lack of early interest in the site of the tomb would also be congruent with the thesis that by the time the kerygma reached Jerusalem the site of the tomb could not be located, the pious interest in the alleged site of the Holy Sepulchre in our own day seems to render such an argument completely impotent.[8]

Like Dunn, Craig also accepts the “fact that Jesus’s tomb was not venerated as a shrine” as an indication in favor of the empty tomb.[9] Again, however, if it is granted that there was no tomb veneration among early Christians, the correct conclusion is that early Christians did not know where the tomb of Jesus was. This argument is effective not only against a full tomb theory but also against an empty tomb theory. As Craig states at one point in his essay, “Indeed, is it too much to imagine that during his two week stay Paul would want to visit the place where the Lord lay? Ordinary human feelings would suggest such a thing.”[10] Indeed, is it too much to imagine that other early Christians would have the same ordinary human feelings as Paul would? Raymond Brown states, “A particular reason for remembering the tomb of Jesus would lie in the Christian faith that the tomb had been evacuated by his resurrection from the dead.”[11] Thus, it is extremely likely that an empty tomb would become a site of veneration from the very start of Christianity. For this reason, the fact that there was no tomb veneration indicates that the early Christians did not know the location of the tomb of Jesus, neither of an empty tomb nor of a full tomb.

The best way to avoid this conclusion is, I think, to assert that there was tomb veneration despite the silence of any first, second, or third century writers on such an interest. However, as Dunn and Craig would agree, this is unlikely. So this consideration provides evidence against the empty tomb story.


Testimony of Paul

In the previous section, it was argued that the silence of several writers to mention the empty tomb constitutes an inductive argument against the historicity of the empty tomb. The absence of evidence for tomb veneration was also taken as evidence against the empty tomb. In this section, the evidence of Paul’s letters will be examined in particular. The nature of the earliest resurrection belief will also be discussed as it relates to the historicity of the empty tomb.

Paul’s letters are recognized as the earliest known Christian writings, which were written decades before the Gospel of Mark and the other gospels. Paul is usually credited with writing four to nine of the thirteen Pauline epistles in the New Testament. First Corinthians is one of the four not usually questioned. In chapter 15 of that epistle, the apostle Paul is concerned with assuring the Corinthians of faith in the resurrection as well as expounding upon the nature of the resurrection body. For this purpose, Paul provides a list of those who have been provided appearances of the risen Christ. If the tomb were discovered empty, then Paul would have some reason to mention this, especially if this discovery were verified by Peter or by Paul himself.

Norman Perrin comments on the silence of Paul concerning the empty tomb:

What makes this liturgical statement particularly important to us is not only that it is the earliest statement concerning the resurrection which we possess, although it is that by some twenty years, but also that, in the first place, it lists appearances of the risen Jesus to various individuals and groups, and that in the second place, Paul includes himself among those to whom the risen Lord has appeared. Then, thirdly, there is here – and for that matter elsewhere in Paul’s letters – no mention of the empty tomb.

All this has given scholars most furiously to think, and the upshot of their thinking may be expressed as follows: First of all, the empty tomb tradition is comparatively late. There is no evidence for any such tradition earlier than the Gospel of Mark, itself written some forty years after the event. Scholars are increasingly coming to the conclusion that the empty tomb tradition is an interpretation of the event – a way of saying “Jesus is risen!” – rather than a description of an aspect of the event itself.[12]

Craig would argue that Paul’s statements imply that he had a belief in the empty tomb of Jesus, and I will address Craig’s arguments below. At this point, let it be assumed that these arguments are unsuccessful and that Paul does not presuppose or imply the empty tomb story. If this is the case, the silence of Paul does provide a degree of evidence in support of the theory that the empty tomb story is a later development. The silence of Paul is by no means a conclusive consideration, but it should certainly not be thrown out of consideration simply because it is inconclusive. The silence of Paul is inconclusive evidence that may serve as part of a larger case to establish that the empty tomb story is probably not historical.

Uta Ranke-Heinemann has written the following:

The empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning is a legend. This is shown by the simple fact that the apostle Paul, the most crucial preacher of Christ’s resurrection, and the earliest New Testament writer besides, says nothing about it. As far as Paul is concerned, it doesn’t exist. Thus it means nothing to him, that is, an empty tomb has no significance for the truth of the resurrection, which he so emphatically proclaims. Granted, for Paul all Christianity depends upon the resurrection of Christ – “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1Cor 15:14). But in Paul’s view, that has nothing to do with an empty tomb. He manifestly has no idea of any such thing. If Paul had ever heard of the empty tomb, he would have never passed over it in silence. Since he gathers together and cites all evidence for Jesus’ resurrection that has been handed down to him (1 Corinthians 15), he certainly would have found the empty tomb worth mentioning. That he doesn’t proves that it never existed and hence the accounts of it must not have arisen until later.[13]

D.H. van Daalen mentions this reason in these words: “First of all that Paul did not refer to it. That does not necessarily mean that he did not know it. He may have known it and not regarded it as relevant. His not mentioning it proves neither one thing nor the other.”[14] However, there is a way in which Paul would have been likely to consider it relevant, in the way of providing evidence for the resurrection. I would not go so far as Ranke-Heinemann in declaring this one consideration to settle the matter decisively, but this consideration does raise the probability that Paul didn’t know of an empty tomb story.

It might be objected that Paul did not mention the empty tomb story because it would not be useful if Paul understood the resurrection to be of a spiritual rather than physical type. However, it is unlikely that Paul and other early Christians would have believed the resurrection to be of a spiritual type if they knew that Jesus’ body was missing from the tomb after the resurrection. Thus, while it is possible that Paul believed in a spiritual sort of resurrection, this possibility itself discounts the empty tomb story. Either Paul believed in a physical resurrection but didn’t mention the empty tomb story, or Paul believed in a spiritual resurrection, but either way Paul provides evidence against the empty tomb story.

Although the topic is a complex one, I will provide a brief excursus on nature of the resurrection, with the provisional conclusion that Paul and early Christians believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus. In this essay, I grant that Paul believed in a physical resurrection because it is the more difficult hypothesis under which to dispute the historicity of the empty tomb. If my essay succeeds under this hypothesis, it should certainly succeed on the opposite spiritual resurrection hypothesis.

The argument that the earliest Christians such as Paul believed in a spiritual type of resurrection may be the one most commonly advanced objection against the historicity of the empty tomb story. Arguments presented for such a view can be found from Dan Barker,[15] Richard Carrier,[16] and David Friedman.[17] Ryan Renn offers his own analysis of the Pauline epistles in support of different conclusions.[18] Craig has published his own article defending the view that the apostle Paul held to a doctrine of bodily resurrection.[19] Craig writes in response principally to Ostergeschehen and Osterberichte by Hans Grass, but unfortunately I have not been able to find this work in English translation.

There are at least four possible understandings of the resurrection doctrine that may be proposed.

  1. The first understanding is that resurrection will leave the body of flesh unstirred, that resurrection involves the creation of a new and different spiritual body, leaving the physical body in the dust. This is the view that Hans Grass attributes to Paul.
  2. The second understanding is that resurrection will not leave the body of flesh unstirred but that resurrection will transform the current body entirely into a spiritual, non-material body that is not located in space and time. This is the view that is suggested by Raymond Brown and Wolfhart Pannenburg among others.[20]
  3. The third understanding is that resurrection will transform the body into a supernatural, exalted flesh-and-bones body that retains material form. This is the view that Craig holds.
  4. The fourth understanding is that resurrection will bring the body back into the same form of living on Earth as previously. This is a view that is not actually held as a good description for Paul’s doctrine.

I submit that most discussions of the issue have incorrectly presupposed that the only alternatives are (1) and (3). That is, when writing in defense of (1), the typical author argues against the idea that the resurrected body is physical flesh according to Paul. But the person who holds to (2) would agree. Or, when writing in defense of (3), the typical author argues against the idea that Paul understood resurrection as leaving the body of flesh rotting in the grave. But the person who holds to (2) would agree.

It is not difficult to accept the arguments of both sides in this debate and to draw the conclusion that the view in (2) is a plausible description. I have not found any arguments that address themselves specifically to rebutting the view of Paul’s doctrine proposed in (2).

Here is a brief summary of the principal arguments that have been brought to bear against a view like (3) as well as the responses of Craig. It has been stated that Paul emphasizes his apostolic status on equal grounds with Peter and others because of his vision of Christ (cf. 1Cor 9:1, 1Cor 15:5-9), which would have been untenable if Paul’s vision were different in kind from the physical encounters of the others. Craig states that this argument is faulty on two counts. Craig maintains that Paul’s vision as described in Acts was physical in some sense; further, Paul may have been “special pleading” so that his vision might “level up” to the reality of the experiences of the other apostles. In this way, the argument is shown to be inconclusive. The other argument concerns the resurrection body being spiritual, not physical. This idea is primarily based on an interpretation of Paul’s discourse in 1Cor 15:36-57. This passage speaks of a transformation of the physical body into the spiritual body. Thus, Craig analyzes the Greek terms to suggest that the dichotomy could be better translated as natural/supernatural in English.

Craig does indeed show a possible understanding of the term for spiritual that is meant to hold the connotations of supernatural or glorified. But is this the only possible understanding? It remains entirely plausible that Paul intended the term for spiritual not only to suggest that the resurrected body is glorified but also to suggest that it is no longer material. I do know of one statement that could easily suggest a view contrary to Craig, and that is the statement that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdomof God” in 1Cor 15:50. This is compelling if not completely decisive. There is evidence that the phrase “flesh and blood” was commonly used to represent sinful, weak, or transient human nature.[21] This still might be stated to favor if not prove this theory rather than Craig’s theory, for then it would be no accident that Paul uses the phrase “flesh and blood” with this connotation, and then the mystery that Paul goes on to reveal would be that the resurrection body is not weak precisely because it is no longer of flesh and blood. In the biblical cases of the semitic idiom “flesh and blood,” it is not applied to beings that are not of “flesh and blood” literally as well as figuratively; the idiom is applied to those that truly are of flesh and blood in order to emphasize their weakness. In other words, Craig’s theory allows for only the connotation, while the other theory explains both the connotation and the use of “flesh and blood” to represent it; the statement would be true both literally and figuratively in Paul’s mind. Against the other theory, I know of no specific passages in Paul that suggest that the resurrected body is material or composed of flesh. But let it be stated again that I do not consider the evidence to be completely decisive.

There are two types of argument that are typically advanced against view (1). Made by Ryan Renn, the first argument concerns the passages in which Paul suggests the continuity of this body with such language as the redemption of the body (Rom 8:23), the transformation of the body (Phil 3:21), the dead being raised up at the eschaton (1Thes 4:13-18), the analogy of the seed (1Cor 15:47), and the mortal being “swallowed up” by life (2Cor 5:4). This kind of language gives the suggestion that the current body is not left to rot in the grave in the resurrection but rather that the current body is changed in the resurrection. The other argument concerns the general understanding of what resurrection means. This argument is not simply that Jews believed in a resurrection of the physical body and thus that the early Christians did too. This argument further concerns the language that early Christians would have used for their belief, supposing that they did not believe that the physical body was raised. As Bode writes, “A changed body is not a different body. Jewish mentality would never have accepted a division of two bodies, one in the tomb and another in a risen life.”[22] Would Peter or Paul have preached a resurrection of the spirit alone when such terms could only provide confusion and doubt for their converts, whether Jewish or Gentile? For the Jews awaited the resurrection of the body, and the Gentiles scoffed at the idea of a resurrection, usually speaking only of the persistence of the soul. A plausible explanation should be given as to why the early Christians would have rejected the Jewish concept of resurrection of the body and also how they successfully taught a resurrection of the spirit. Without such an explanation, and without evidence that the early Christians believed that the resurrection left the physical body in the grave, it would be reasonable to disagree with such an idea.

However, the same type of argument does not apply against the view proposed in (2). This is because the spiritual body is the result of a transformation of the physical body on this view, and thus the continuity is preserved, although the result is not physical or made of flesh. Such a view would not be foreign to first century Judaism. Indeed, Pauline thought in passages such as 1Cor 15:35-55 closely parallels the thought found in the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 49-51. In this passage, the question is asked:

“In what shape will those live who live in Thy day? Or how will the splendour of those who (are) after that time continue? Will they then resume this form of the present, and put on these entrammelling members, which are now involved in evils, and in which evils are consummated, or wilt Thou perchance change these things which have been in the world, as also the world?”[23]

Note that the flesh itself is closely associated with evil, and thus it is a radical change of the body into a non-physical form that allows the resurrected body to be a truly glorified body. The analogy of the change of the body to the change of the world is that, in both cases, the body or the world would be utterly purged and thus transformed anew.

In chapter 50, the author states that, at first, the dead will be raised back into the form of a body of flesh. But then when the day of judgment comes, both the living and the dead who had been raised (who are the saved ones) are transformed into a non-physical body. The author describes this state as follows:

Also (as for) the glory of those who have now been justified in My law, who have had understanding in their life, and who have planted in their heart the root of wisdom, then their splendour shall be glorified in changes, and the form of their face shall be turned into the light of their beauty, that they may be able to acquire and receive the world which does not die, which is then promised to them. For over this above all shall those who come then lament, that they rejected My law, and stopped their ears that they might not hear wisdom or receive understanding. When therefore they see those, over whom they are now exalted, (but) who shall then be exalted and glorified more than they, they shall respectively be transformed, the latter into the splendour of angels, and the former shall yet more waste away in wonder at the visions and in the beholding of the forms. For they shall first behold and afterwards depart to be tormented. But those who have been saved by their works, and to whom the law has been now a hope, and understanding an expectation, and wisdom a confidence, shall wonders appear in their time. For they shall behold the world which is now invisible to them, and they shall behold the time which is now hidden from them: And time shall no longer age them. For in the heights of that world shall they dwell, and they shall be made like unto the angels, and be made equal to the stars, and they shall be changed into every form they desire, from beauty into loveliness, and from light into the splendour of glory.[24]

Thus, the transformation effected allows the resurrected a limitless existence in the invisible world, like unto angels, in the form of light and of beauty, a difference in kind from existence in the flesh.

If such a theory is correct, then Paul would not have accepted physicalistic resurrection appearances of the type narrated in the Gospels. However, let it be stated that, with either (2) or (3), Paul’s concept of the resurrection does not allow physical bodies to remain rotting in the grave. That is the important issue for the discussion of the historicity of the empty tomb.

Because I do not believe the evidence to be sufficient to justify the view of Paul’s doctrine proposed by theory (1), I do not consider this argument to be a good one against the historicity of the empty tomb. For the rest of this essay, the assumption will be granted that Paul believed in a physical type of resurrection. As stated before, the conclusion that the empty tomb is unhistorical would remain intact if this assumption were not granted.

Dependence on Mark

We have seen that there is no mention of the empty tomb story in early Christian writings outside of the four gospels. This situation is made worse if the evangelists do not demonstrate any independence in reporting this story. This would be somewhat strange because, were the story historical, it would be reasonable to expect that the author of Matthew, for example, could supplement his story with independent traditions instead of depending solely on Mark. If the later gospels do not evince traditions that are independent of Mark, then the empty tomb story hangs by a slender thread indeed.

The Gospel of Matthew

D.H. van Daalen writes the following:

Matthew’s story of the burial is clearly dependent on Mark. It contains nothing that the author could not have concluded from what he found in the earlier Gospel. The only apparently fresh information, that Joseph was a disciple of Jesus (Matthew 27:57), is, in fact, Matthew’s interpretation of ‘looking for the kingdom of God’ (Mark 15:43).[25]

D.H. van Daalen writes further:

The story of the empty tomb (Matthew 28:1-7) is dependent on Mark. The names of the women are harmonized with Matthew 27:61 = Mark 15:47, the young man is identified as an angel, and we are told what Matthew thought this angel’s job was: to let the women look into the tomb. Thus it is he who moves the stone, not to let Jesus out but to let them in. His words are paraphrased. The awkward ‘and Peter’ is omitted, and the final words are adapted to Matthew’s understanding of the reference to Galilee.[26]

Reginald Fuller writes about the same passage:

Here Matthew follows Mark, with only minor alterations. He reduces the number of the women at the grave to two only, omitting Salome so as to remove the Marcan discrepancy between the names of the women at the burial and those of the women at the tomb. He chances the motive of the women’s visit. In Mark they come to complete the burial rites (“so that they might go and anoint him,” Mark 16:1). In Matthew they simply come “to see the sepulchre” (Matt. 28:1). Evidently Matthew has felt the difficulty inherent in Mark’s account, according to which Joseph of Arimathea had apparently already completed the burial rites.[27]

Concerning Matthew 28:2-4, Herman Hendrickx writes:

Let us now have a closer look at the following three points: (1) the tomb; (2) the presentation of the angel; (3) the reaction of the women.

(1) The tomb. According to Mark’s account, the women found the tomb open; they entered, saw the young man in white, and were amazed. In Matthew, the two motifs of the removal of the stone and the apparition are combined. The apparition does not take place inside the tomb, and it is the angel himself who removes the stone, thus answering the question raised in Mk 16:3, ‘who will roll away the stone for us?’ (tis apokulisei ton lithon?). Matthew writes: ‘the angel . . . rolled back the stone’ (apekulisen ton lithon). Mark still added in 16:4b, ‘for it was large’, which is intended to explain the reflection but which, in typical Marcan way, comes at the end of the verse. The powerful intervention suggested by Matthew is prepared for in the burial account, where ‘he (Joseph of Arimathea) rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb’ (Mt 27:60).

(2) The presentation of the angel. Matthew is again guided by Mark: ‘a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe’ (Mk 16:5). ‘Sitting on the right side’, an expression which marks the dignity of the young man, easily evokes the image of a throne. Matthew seems to underline the same glorious aspect of what one would almost call an ‘enthronement’: he sat upon the stone (cf. Mt 28:2). As in Mark, the ‘sitting’ of the angel is followed by the description of his garment. The differences are of the same kind as other editorial changes made elsewhere by Matthew (compare, e.g., Mt 3:4 and Mk 1:6). Where Mk 16:5 speaks of ‘a young man . . . dressed in a white robe’, Mt 28:3 has: ‘his appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow’. This redoubling may very well be redactional, as in the account of the transfiguration where Matthew adds ‘his face shone like the sun’ before the description of the garment (compare Mk 9:2-3 and Mt 17:2; the same construction and the same redoubling face-garment as in Mt 28:3).

(3) The reaction of the women. In the description of this third motif Matthew is rather different from Mark, but we find similar re-writings of the Marcan source in other parts of Matthew, and the expressions used here by Matthew can be found elsewhere in his gospel. As we already noted, Mt 28:2-4 is particularly closely related to Matthew’s description of the apocalyptic signs which accompanied the death of Jesus (Mt 27:51-54).

We may conclude, then, that the particularities by which Mt 28:2-4 is distinguished from Mark can be explained by other passages in the gospel of Matthew. The account is, therefore, very Matthean in character, but it remains nevertheless so close to Mark that we cannot speak of a Matthean insertion. The present passage does not presuppose any source different from Mk 16:1-8. The Marcan source, however, has been thoroughly edited by Matthew with the help of previous, especially traditional apocalyptic passages of the gospel (cf. the earthquake, the descent of the angel, his appearance like lightning). This means that the details found in Matthew but not in Mark are not to be attributed to additional information about the events, but rather to the particular way in which Matthew edited the tradition he found in Mark.[28]

Herman Hendrickx also analyzes v. 9-10 in detail:

‘And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Hail!”‘ (Mt 28:9a). The phrase ‘and behold’ (kai idou) is certainly Matthean. It is found thirty-three times in his gospel and is very appropriate for introducing an appearance (see Matthew’s infancy narrative: Mt 1:20; 2:13, 19; see also the baptism and transfiguration accounts: Mt 3:16 and 17:3,5). Then the risen Christ greets the women: ‘Hail’ (Chairete). This is a habitual Greek salutation, but nothing prevents us from attributing it to the redactor because, in Matthew’s passion narrative, the greeting has been addressed to Jesus twice (Mt 26:49; 27:29), and in the first instance it has been added to the text of Mark (compare Mt 26:49 and Mk 14:45).

Next, Mt 28:9b describes the reaction of the women: ‘And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him’ (literally, ‘And they approaching held his feet and worshipped him’). The participle ‘approaching’ before a finite verb (here ‘took hold’) is very characteristic of Matthean redaction. It is found fifty-one times in Matthew and almost always points to a solemn moment. It is often followed by an important statement. Here it obviously introduces the women’s worshipping Jesus. The verb ‘to worship’ (proskunein) is also very Matthean. It is typical for the description of encounters with the risen Christ (cf. Mt 28:17), and is often used in the gospel of Matthew, in which the features of the risen Lord break through more clearly, especially in the miracle stories (cf. Mt 8:2, 9:18; 14:33; 15:25). It has been convincingly argued that the phrase ‘took hold of his feet’ should not be understood in line with the risen Christ’s invitation to touch his body (cf. Lk 24:39; Jn 20:27) or with Jn 20:17, ‘Do not hold me’. It describes a gesture of respectful greeting and is in reality nothing more than a way of developing the simple expression ‘and worshipped him’. It serves to emphasize the act of worshipping. The women react to an epiphany of the Lord.

In light of this explanation the following words also become more clear: ‘Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid”‘ (Mt 28:10a). The introductory phrase ‘Then Jesus said to them’, is entirely Matthean. The same should be said of the reassurance, ‘Do not be afraid’. It is very appropriate since the women have just expressed their reverential fear. And so the whole structure appears perfectly parallel to two other passages where the same reverential fear is expressed, i.e., Mt 28:6-18 and 17:6-7.

Mt 28:16-18
Now the eleven disciples . . .
And when they saw him
they worshipped him;
but some doubted.
And Jesus came
and said to them, (saying),
‘All authority in heaven. . . .
I am with you always.’
Mt 17:6-7

When the disciples heard this
They fell on their faces,
and were filled with awe.
But Jesus came and touched them, saying,
‘Rise, and have no fear.’

The really difficult part of the text is Mt 28:10b c, ‘Go and tell my brethren to go toGalilee, and there they will see me’. The women seem to be given once more the same message as in verse 7. Why should Matthew add this after telling us in verse 8 that the women were on their way to deliver the message? And is there no contradiction between verse 7, where it was said that the Lord would be seen in Galilee, and verse 9-10, where he appears to the women inJerusalem?

To the latter question we should answer that verse 7 spoke of an appearance to the disciples and that in the present composition of Matthew this refers undoubtedly to Mt 28:16-20. Jesus’ appearance to the women is not in contradiction with Mt 28:7. We should even add that this appearance is in line with the words of the angel as Matthew understood them. The special insistence on the Easter message, indicated above, brings us closer to an appearance of Jesus himself to the women, who are not sent toGalilee.

To the former question whether or not verse 10 is an unnecessary redoubling of verse 7, we should answer negatively. The fact that the command is now given by the risen Christ himself is a new element. Already in Mark the angel referred to a word of Jesus; this is now made explicit by Matthew. It is true that in Matthew’s redaction a greater insistence appears on the proclamation of the resurrection (cf. ‘as he said’ in Mt 28:6) and on the concern to emphasize the authority of the angel who proclaimed it (cf. ‘Lo, I have told you’ in Mt 28:7). But the change can be explained fully only in light of verses 9-10, where the previous promise (‘as he said’) is surpassed by the words which Jesus himself addresses to the women. Moreover, Jesus’ words are no longer a simple promise but an order (compare ‘he is going before you to Galilee’ and ‘tell my brethren to go toGalilee’).

No doubt this is the reason for the appearance to the women. It prepares for the appearance inGalileein a much more direct way than the announcement by the angel. In Matthew, the correspondence between order and execution is underlined with particular care. This tendency is especially manifest in the final chapter of the gospel. In preparation for the appearance to the eleven disciples (Mt 28:16-20), Matthew omits the special mention of Peter in the angel’s words (compare Mt 28:7 and Mk 16:7), and adds a formal order, given by Jesus personally, ‘to go toGalilee’. The disciples will obey: ‘Now the eleven disciples went toGalilee’ (Mt 28:16), just as the women previously obeyed the order of the angel, ‘Then go quickly’ (Mt 28:7), and ‘departed quickly’ (Mt 28:8), and Jesus’ own order, ‘go and tell’ (Mt 28:10), as we gan gather from ‘while they were going’ (Mt 28:11).

The only element that has not yet been explained is the rather unexpected occurrence of the phrase ‘my brethren’. However, this term should not be surprising in the gospel of Matthew, which repeated calls attention to the fact that Jesus’ followers and disciples are his brethren. We refer here, e.g., to Mt 12:49, ‘and stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “here are my mother and my brothers!”‘ which is much more explicit than the parallel text in Mk 3:34. At the end of Matthew’s description of Jesus’ Galilean activity and before he formally starts a new section with Mt 13, the parable chapter, the disciples appear as those who, unlike the rest of the people, obey the will of the Father and are, therefore, called ‘brothers’ by Jesus. That the risen Christ now speaks of ‘my brethren’ and orders them to go to Galilee means a new foundation of the discipleship, which is related to what happened before in Galilee and now appears as a final commission which will consist in making disciples of all nations (cf. Mt 28:19).

We should also refer to Mt 25:40, ‘And the King will answer them, “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”‘ Against the previously fairly generally accepted opinion that ‘my brethren’ refers to all the hungry, thirsty, naked, imprisoned people of the world, there is a growing consensus among scholars that Matthew refers here to the disciples who have been sent to all nations. This interpretation fits well into the current interpretation of a series of other Matthean texts (Mt 10:40ff.; 12:48ff.; 24:9, 14; 25:32; 28:18b-20). We should also note that in Mt 18:15, 21, 35 the title ‘brother’ refers to the members of the Christian community.

The use of the phrase ‘brethren’ has been related to Ps 22(21), which plays an important role in the passion narrative (cf. Mt 27:35, 39, 43, 46). Ps 22(21):22 reads: ‘I will tell of your name to my brethren’. We may also think of Rom 8:29, ‘in order that he might be first-born among many brethren’.

Summing up, we would say that Mt 28:9-10 is composed by Matthew to serve as transition between the account of the tomb and the appearance and commission in Galilee(Mt 28:16-20). Our study of verses 9-10 confirms that Matthew’s version of the empty tomb story does not presuppose any source other than Mark.[29]

Thus, there is good evidence that Matthew provides no new information concerning the burial by Joseph of Arimathea or the discovery of the empty tomb by the women, and there is nothing to suggest the opposite opinion that the author of Matthew had independent traditions at his disposal.

The Gospel of Luke

Concerning Luke 24:1-11, Norman Perrin observes:

The first and most obvious thing about this narrative is that it is much smoother and better-told than Mark’s, but then Luke is the most consummate literary artist in the New Testament. The second redactional element is that the young man of the Markan narrative has become “two men in dazzling apparel.” This is more restrained than the parallel Matthean redaction, but it serves the same general purpose. Luke too represents a tradition that had meditated on this world-shattering event for a generation longer than had Mark. But the most interesting redactional element in this narrative is the third, namely, the fact that the message to the women no longer concerns seeing Jesus inGalilee, but is a passion prediction like the one in Mark 9:1.

This is a most dramatic change, and it leads us to check the Lukan versions of the Markan passion predictions and of the promise of Jesus, “I will go before you toGalilee,” in Mark 14:28. If we do this we find that Luke has reasonable facsimiles of passion predictions (Mark 8:31 = Luke 9:22; Mark 9:31 = Luke 9:44; Mark 10:33-34 = Luke 18:32-33) except that the second is abbreviated to “the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” But the promise of Jesus to his disciples has completely disappeared from the Lukan narrative; Mark 14:27-28 has no equivalent at all in Luke. It would have to come after Luke 22:39, and it is simply not there. What has happened is that Luke has simply obliterated all references to the disciples seeing Jesus inGalileeafter his death, and he has filled the gap left by this in the message to the women at the tomb by using a passion prediction. This is a bold step and, as we shall see, Luke has very strong theological reasons for taking it.

A fourth redactional change in this narrative as compared to its Markan source is that Luke specifically states that the women fulfilled their trust and “told all this to the eleven and all the rest.” As was Matthew, Luke is very much concerned with the element of continuity between the fate of Jesus and the origins of the Christian church, and he also has no interest in the Markan theme of total discipleship failure. Unlike Matthew, however, he has no account of a resurrection appearance to the women.[30]

I might add that a likely reason that the author of Luke has no account of a resurrection appearance to the women, even though it would be in theJerusalemenvirons that Luke preferred, is that a resurrection appearance to the women is the result of Matthew’s redactional hand. Concerning Luke’s preference forJerusalem, Perrin writes:

ButJerusalemfell to the Romans in the Jewish War of A.D. 66-70. . . . Indeed Hellenistic Judaism itself perished in the convulsions which followed. But Hellenistic Jewish Christianity survived. It survived because it found a new sacred center in the Christian movement itself: the life of Jesus became the navel of the universe, the place where God was particularly to be found and known.

Luke pursues this theme throughout his two-volume work. He presents the life of Jesus as a sacred time, a time of fulfillment, blessing, and revelation. He presents Jerusalemas the place where Jesus is rejected and the place, therefore, that God himself rejects. But Jerusalemis the place where God himself makes a new beginning, for the rejection of Jesus ends in the triumph of God, the passion culminates in the resurrection, and the risen Jesus appears to his disciples in Jerusalem. The Christian movement starts in Jerusalem, and in the Acts of the Apostles, Luke portrays its inevitable progress to the symbolic center of the world, to Rome. It is the Christian movement itself which in its inevitable progress from Jerusalem to Rome becomes the new sacred center; the members of this movement relate to the sacred time of Jesus, and wherever the gospel of repentence and the forgiveness of sins is preached, there is “the navel of the universe.”[31]

In the words of Luke (24:46b-47), “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentence, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

Herman Hendrickx examines the question of redaction in 24:1-12 in detail. Here are some of his notes:

The women prepared spices on Friday evening, but because of the sabbath law they could not go to the tomb before Sunday morning. What is the meaning of these Lucan alterations? It should first be noted that in Luke the women participate more closely in the burial than in Mark and Matthew: ‘The women…saw the tomb, and how his body was laid’ (Lk 23:55). Apparently Luke was embarrassed by the fact that women, who had followed Jesus fromGalileeand ministered to him (Lk 8:3), had not embalmed Jesus’ body on the occasion of the burial itself. As it was now, the burial was not complete, but the women could not help it because the spices had not only to be bought but also to be prepared. They did this the very same evening. But then they did nothing for twenty-four hours because of the sabbath.

…[v. 2-3]…

Luke drastically shortens and modifies the text of Mark. He omits altogether the women’s questioning as to ‘who will roll away the stone’ (Mk 16:3). He can easily do so since he has not mentioned that a stone had been rolled against the door of the tomb (compare Mk 15:46 and Lk 23:53). He limits himself to a note which is parallel with Mk 16:4, but divests the event of the miraculous character which Mark seems to attribute to it. The women’s perplexity is transferred from Mark’s query about the stone to the discovery inside the tomb. Thus the evangelist gets straight to the point: ‘they found the stone rolled away. . . but. . . they did not find the body’. Luke, therefore, explicitly records the women’s failure to find the corpse. In fact, he seems to contrast the discovery they made (‘they found the stone rolled away’) with the discovery they failed to make (‘they did not find the body’).

According to Mark, the women noticed that the stone was rolled away, and were then intercepted by an angel and invited to inspect the tomb. According to Luke, it was only after they had discovered for themselves that the tomb was empty that their perplexity began. The body was gone: this undeniable, prosaic fact is mentioned before anything else. Here we get a true empty tomb apologetic, starting from the empty tomb. This approach was very important for Greek readers who, unlike Jewish readers, might possibly think of merely subjective visions of Jesus’ soul being in heaven. No wonder that Luke reduces the visionary elements of the account.

…[v. 4-5]…

Mark’s ‘young man dressed in a white robe’ has become ‘two men in dazzling apparel’. There can be no doubt that for Luke these ‘two men’ are angels, as can be seen from the later mention ‘that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive’ (Lk 24:23). The verb ‘to stand by’ (ephistamai) is also found in Lk 2:9, literally, ‘and the angel of the Lord stood by (epeste) them’. Acts 10:30 is an even closer parallel: ‘and behold, a man stood before me in a bright apparel’ (cf. also Acts 11:13, ‘And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house’). The model for all these texts seems to be Dan 8:15, ‘When I, Daniel had seen the vision, I sought to understand it; and behold, there stood before me one having the appearance of a man’.

We should also note the parallel between this passage and the account of the ascension, where we are told that ‘behold, two men stood by them in white robes’ (Acts 1:10). In both cases the two men serve the function of interpreting an event after it has occurred, and their presence underlines the eschatological significance of the events witnessed. That there are two men instead of one is most probably due to the tendencies of popular story-telling, not to the requirements in Jewish law for witnesses (Deut 19:15), since the two men do not really function as witnesses.

…[v. 6-8]…

Luke evidently had Mark before him, but he has completely re-written the Marcan text. Let us compare the two passages:

Mark 16:7
Go, tell his disciples and Peter
that he is going before you to
; there you will see him,
as he told you.
Luke 24:6-8
Remember how he told you,
while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of man…
And they remembered his words.

In Luke’s overall theological plan (from Galilee toJerusalemin the gospel, and fromJerusalemtoRomein Acts), the climax of the gospel must be inJerusalem. Therefore, he cannot record any appearance of the risen Christ inGalileewithout producing an anti-climax. Luke preserved the mention of Galilee found in Mk 16:7, but gave it an entirely new meaning; instead of pointing forward to Galilee as the place where the appearances will take place, he refers beack to Galilee as the place where Jesus prophecied his passion and resurrection. In line with this editorial change he has previously omitted Mk 14:27-28. Thus Luke has simply obliterated all references to an appearance of the risen Christ inGalilee. Instead he refers to passion prophecies such as are found in Lk 9:22, 44, and 18:32-33. The women should ‘remember’ these prophecies; they should realize that it was all planned by God and that in the context of this plan everything is perfectly intelligible.

…[v. 9]…

Luke changes Mark’s ‘and they went out and fled’ into ‘and returning…they’. Though in Luke the women are not given any order to ‘go and tell’ (compare Mk 16:7), they return from the tomb and report their experience (‘all this’) to the Eleven (the Twelve minus Judas) and ‘to all the rest’ of the disciples, a phrase which prepares the way for Lk 24:22-23 by including others with the Eleven. Like Matthew, Luke considers it necessary for the women to tell the disciples, in order to lead into the resurrection appearances which he has added to his Marcan source; but, unlike Matthew, he has no account of a resurrection appearance to the women themselves.[32]

Hendrickx states: “Summing up, we would say that, although some scholars tend to reduce Luke’s dependence on Mark to secondary reminiscences, the opinion of those who hold that Mk 16:1-8 is the basic account which by itself sufficiently explains the Lucan exposition enjoys a higher degree of probability.”[33]

The Gospel of John

If there is any gospel that is going to challenge the idea that the empty tomb narratives derive from Mark, it is the Gospel of John. Many scholars believe that John is literarily independent from the synoptics. In this essay, I do not intend to challenge the view that the Gospel of John is literarily independent from the synoptics. But I would maintain that, even if John is literarily independent, the section containing the empty tomb narratives is based on oral tradition that has been influenced by the synoptic gospels.

The idea that the gospels shaped and created oral tradition is not a new one. Raymond Brown, for example, believes that the Gospel of Peter’s numerous points of contact with the canonical gospels can be explained entirely from oral tradition emanating from these gospels. So one must not rule out the possibility that the synoptics have indirectly influenced some of the material found in John. As John P. Meier comments in another context:

…our canonical Gospels not only come from ongoing oral tradition, but also generate ongoing oral tradition. It is also affirmed, quite rightly, that oral traditions did not die out the day after a canonical Gospel was published. But the writing of the canonical Gospels did change the situation. The canonical Gospels – long before they were definitively recognized as ‘canonical’ – were regularly preached on at worship, studied in catechesal schools, and cited strictly and loosely by patristic authors; and so increasingly they lodged themselves in the memory of individual Christians and whole communities. Inevitably they ‘contaminated’ and modified the oral tradition that existed before and alongside themselves.[34]

There is evidence for synoptic influence in the return visit of Mary Magdelene. We have already concluded that the appearance to the women in Matthew is redactional. The author of John describes only Mary Magdelene as a visitor to the tomb, and so it is fitting that the author describes an appearance of the Lord to Mary alone. Edward Lynn Bode makes the following observations about the story:

The synoptic motif of the angels, which was absent in the original visit of Mary to the tomb, is here introduced by the fourth gospel. There are two angels as there are two men in Luke (24:4). However, unlike the synoptics the angels of John bear no kerygma but merely ask Mary why she is crying. In the words of Bultmann the angels are “stage furniture” of no significance. Bernard thinks the angels have as good as no meaning and come from Lk 24:4. Geachter finds a function for the angels in their serving to make clear the inner condition of Mary as evidenced by her response to their question. Brun points out that the synoptic angel message is replaced in John by an appearance of Jesus.

To the angels’ question, made in unison after the manner of Lk 24:5-7, Mary voices her concern for the “Lord.” Both she (also in 20:2,18) and the disciples (20:20,25,28) refer to Jesus as the Lord in this chapter.

When Mary does meet her Lord, at first she does not recognize him – in the same way that the disciples on their way to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus (Lk 24:16). Mary takes Jesus to be a gardener. A real gardener plays no part in the Johannine account although one does have a role in the Coptic gospel of Bartholomew and does appear in later Jewish polemic as connected with taking the body.

The Magdalene does, however, recognize the Lord through his voice – the sheep know the voice of the shepherd (Jn 10:3). As Matthew has Jesus repeating the words, a message, of the angel, so in a similar manner John has Jesus repeating the words, a question, of the angels. Note that Jesus’ second question (Whom do you seek?) mirrors the angelic words to the women in the synoptics about seeking Jesus (Mk 16:6; Mt 28:5; Lk 24:5). The words of Jesus about touching him and about a message for his brothers recall similar motifs in Mt 28:9-10, where the women take hold of Jesus’ feet and receive a message for his brothers. Mary takes the message to the disciples (Jn 20:18). The reference to the disciples as brothers of Jesus appears in John here for the only time in the gospel proper. This might suggest a direct connection with the tradition represented by Matthew and could also possibly be suggestive for Jesus’ words that he is ascending to “my Father and your Father” (Jn 20:17). At the last supper Jesus called his disciples friends (Jn 15:15).

In his message Jesus speaks of his ascending to the Father. John depicts Jesus at the last supper as speaking of his going to the Father (13:1-3; 14:1-4). This bit of Johannine theology in the resurrection message reminds one of Luke’s inserting some of his theology into the message at the tomb.

Our somewhat sketchy treatment of the appearance of the Lord to Mary Magdalene has been included inasmuch as our interest lies in it as illustrative of material and themes found in the synoptics concerning the empty tomb and in Matthew’s appearance story (28:9-10), which shows a relationship with the empty tomb account. In brief, John’s second visit of Mary shows many signs of being developed by the help of words and themes from synoptic tradition and Johannine motifs found elsewhere. About the only original idea is that of Mary’s crying, something easily suggested by visiting the grave of a loved one.[35]

Reginald Fuller comments on the earlier scene with Peter and the beloved disciple:

The earliest available version of the disciples’ visit to the tomb is briefly summarized in Luke 24:24, where the reason for it was to check on the women’s report of the empty tomb. This story apparently developed in two divergent ways. In Luke 24:12 (assuming the authenticity of the non-Western text) it becomes a visit to the tomb by Peter alone, and in John 20:3-10 a visit by Peter and the beloved disciple.

Underlying the Johannine version is an earlier version whose primary intention was apologetic. Peter sees the grave cloths arranged in an orderly way, suggesting not the theft of the body (cf. Matt. 27:64; 28:13-15 for a different answer) but the miraculous passage of the body through the gravecloths, leaving them collapsed and lying as they were. This apologetic motif further developed in the Gospel of the Hebrews, where the Risen One hands the linen cloth to the servant of the high priest. Its apologetic and legendary character is obvious.

The race between Peter and the Beloved Disciple introduces a theme which will be developed later in the Johannine appendix. This role of the Beloved Disciple represents a distinctly Johannine development, and the whole episode of the race must be regarded as editorial. The race is described curiously. The Beloved Disciple gets to the tomb first, but does not go in. Peter arrives a little later, looks in but does not enter, and observes the details of the situation; then the Beloved Disciple enters and “believes.” This looks like a tentative correction or at least qualification of the primitive view (here transferred, as in Luke 24:12, from Galilee to Jerusalem, and from the Christophanies to the empty tomb) that Peter was the primary witness of the resurrection. John does not dare to displace this tradition altogether, but modifies it to the extent of giving the Beloved Disciple – and therefore the specific Johannine witness – some degree of priority: he was the first to arrive at the tomb, but not the first to believe.

This transference of the rise of Easter faith from the Christophanies to the empty tomb represents the most advanced development of the Easter narratives in the New Testament. Even the Lucan narratives had left the appearances as the primary vehicles of revelation (cf. the long discourses about the interpretation of the Old Testament scriptures placed on the lips of the Risen One). The faith of the Beloved Disciple does not lead to any special consequences: he does not even go and tell the other disciples, and when they assemble, in verses 19ff., there is no reference to the fact that one of their number had already come to believe in the resurrection. The whole story is thus short-circuited, a further indication of the redactional character of the race between Peter and the Beloved Disciple.[36]

Several have observed the numerous parallels between Luke and John against the other two gospels.[37] While literary dependence may not be a necessary assumption, can the vicissitudes of oral tradition account for all the incidences in which Luke’s special material or redactional activity has parallels in the Gospel of John? It is not at all far-fetched to suggest that the author of John may have heard readings from the Gospel of Luke and that this shaped much of his thought. At the least, it is possible that John’s source of oral tradition has been affected by the synoptics. Such an explanation would account for the coincidences between Luke and John previously in their Gospels as well as in their final chapters, in which these two evangelists alone narrate appearances to the disciples inJerusalem.

Contradictions and Conclusions

Many make much fuss over the contradictions between the resurrection narratives, but my interest in them lies solely in their function as linch-pin in the argument that the empty tomb stories are all dependent on the Gospel of Mark. I will not list such discrepancies, not only because this has been done many times before, but more importantly because the matter under contention is not biblical inerrancy. My interest is in understanding the cause of these discrepancies. My theory is that the evangelists freely shaped their resurrection narratives with theological concerns, not on the basis of historical knowledge, and that their few agreements derive from dependence, particularly dependence on the account in the Gospel of Mark for the empty tomb story.

Bode makes the following observations:

The only Easter event narrated by all four evangelists concerns the visit of the women to the tomb of Jesus. These texts include: Mk 16:1-8, Mt 28:1-8, Lk 24:1-12, Jn 20:1-13. The accounts in themselves present a many-faceted problem, which has been characterized as arising from their palpable differences, frequent contradictions in fundamental matters, evidence of a long development process striving partly to harmonize and partly to express ealier accounts in terms of later convictions. The problem cannot be solved in a few words, but the beginning of a solution will come from a recognition of the themes and views proper to each evangelist.[38]

After describing some discrepancies in four pages, Rev. John T. Theodore writes:

What are the facts? Which statements of the evangelists are correct? Sad to say, none can tell. All that can be said is that the Gospel of Mark, the oldest Gospel, from which the other evangelists drew most of their materials, was used by them with great freedom, and that their disagreements are indicative of the fact that when these narratives were recorded by them there was no definite and settled tradition concerning the incidents around the tomb of Jesus.

This does not necessarily mean that the evangelists tried to deceive their readers. To them each added detail became a conviction, however ill-founded, unverified and unverifiable, until a string of legends was accepted as historical facts.[39]

Thus, the discrepancies between the gospels highlight what redaction criticism explains: the post-Markan gospel narratives of the resurrection are legends and fictions built up around the empty tomb story in the Gospel of Mark. The statement made by James Dunn that the four gospels provide “united testimony” of “at least two or three different accounts” of the empty tomb is wrong.[40] Archbishop Peter Carnley writes:

The presence of discrepancies might be a sign of historicity if we had four clearly independent but slightly different versions of the story, if only for the reason that four witnesses are better than one. But, of course, it is now impossible to argue that what we have in the four gospel accounts of the empty tomb are four contemporaneous but independent accounts of the one event. Modern redactional studies of the traditions account for the discrepancies as literary developments at the hand of later redactors of what was originally one report of the empty tomb. . . There is no suggestion that the tomb was discovered by different witnesses on four different occasions, so it is in fact impossible to argue that the discrepancies were introduced by different witnesses of the one event; rather, they can be explained as four different redactions for apologetic and kerygmatic reasons of a single story originating from one source.[41]

This part of the argument against the empty tomb story, in itself, has only limited value as evidence against historicity. It might be suggested that an historical account could be supplemented with more historical detail by Matthew, Luke, or John or at least with traditions that can be seen to antedate Mark. This is not done, and so this adds to the argument from silence previously made that the discovery of the empty tomb does not seem to have impressed itself upon early Christian consciousness as a historical event. Furthermore, it could be stated that the tendency of the story is the tendency of a legend, to go from simple to elaborate, and thus that we might extrapolate the tendency of the tradition after Mark to suggest that the tradition disappates into nothing a short time before Mark. But then it might be objected that this is just sloppy thinking. The main value of this part of the argument is to prepare the way for the next. Here it has been explained how the Gospel of Mark has led to the subsequent stories, and now it will be explained how the story came to be in the Gospel of Mark.

Fictional Characteristics in Mark

With the previous section, this section aims to provide a likely explanation for how the empty tomb story came to be without a historical basis. This section does more to discredit the story because indications in Mark will be used to suggest the fictional, legendary, or redactional character of the first known empty tomb story. Like most arguments, this one is inconclusive but does form an important part of the entire argument.

It is, naturally, difficult to prove that any story is written as fiction. After all, any incident in the story that suggests fiction can be met with the retort that the incident was included because it was historical. For example, there is the well-known tendency of novelists to have characters bump into each other far beyond reasonable coincidence. This might be taken as a sign of fiction, but then it might be objected that the writer could have included these incidents because there were, in fact, many odd coincidences in which the historical people crossed paths. If this kind of objection is accepted, I cannot think of any indication of authorial creation that is unobjectionable. For this reason, I will allow that all such indications are objectionable yet that they still do tend to support the fiction hypothesis.

One well-known indication in favor of fiction is the existence of previous stories of the same type on which the narrative could have been modeled. Randal Helms believes that he has found a clear precursor for Mark’s story:

In the 30’s and 40’s, the empty tomb story was not part of the tradition about the resurrection; Paul was quite unaware of it. The legend grew in Mark’s community, or one from which it borrowed, as part of its stock evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. As Matthew was to do again a generation later, certain Christians, perhaps in the 50’s or 60’s, searched the Old Testament, a major source of what was for them authoritative information about Jesus, in order to construct their account of the passion and resurrection, and found in the Book of Daniel much of what was needed. Consider the parallels: a leader of the nation opposed to the spokesman for God’s people (Darius of Persia; Joseph of Arimathea), yet one who in his heart reveres that spokesman (Daniel; Jesus), though greatly distressed, feels obliged to place the spokesman into a pit in the ground and cover it with a stone (the lion’s den; the tomb), an act that clearly means the spokesman’s permanent end. In both stories the death of the spokesman is required by law (the law of the Medes and Persians; the law ofRome), and in both, the executor of the law is reluctant to enforce it (Darius “exerted himself until evening” to save Daniel; Pilate attempted to convince an angry mob that Jesus should be released). But despite reluctance and delay, late in the afternoon both heroes are placed into the pit. In both stories a stone is put over the opening, and in both the placer of the stone has hope in the providence of God (Darius says, “Your own God…will save you”; Joseph “looked forward to the kingdom of God”). Early on a subsequent morning in both stories (“At dawn, as soon as it was light” – Dan. 6:19, “just after sunrise” – Mark 16:2), the pit is approached by those who cared deeply for the hero (Darius; the three women). Next comes joyful news (Daniel lives; “He has been raised again”). In both stories, the stone is removed, death is miraculously overcome, and deliverance is assisted by an angel (“My God sent his angel,” to shut the lions’ mouth, says Daniel; “a young man…dressed in a white robe” has removed the stone, says Mark).

As Matthew studied Mark’s account, he perceived its transparence upon Daniel, and found in the latter not only the literary source of the empty tomb story (which because of that particular first-century orientation he recognized as a prophecy rather than as a source), but also the means of both enlarging and clarifying Mark and of overcoming what he regarded as its deficiencies. The modern reader who grasps the dependence of Mark on Daniel might be led to see the gospel narrative as carefully constructed fiction which in the absence of real evidence is based on a belief in what must have been the case, since Daniel had “predicted” it. Matthew’s reaction was in keeping with first-century oracular views of the Old Testament: any detail in Mark which differs from Matthew’s interpretation of Daniel’s “prediction” must be historically inaccurate. For example, Mark does not make it clear enough to Matthew’s satisfaction that the figure the women see at the tomb is an angel (aggelos) as Daniel had clearly called him; Mark’s figure is merely a youth (neaniskon) in a white robe. For the sake of prophetic fulfilment, Matthew changed “youth” to “angel of the Lord” (Matt. 28:2). Moreover, since Mark does not describe the figure in terms unmistakably angelic, Matthew alters the description, again on the basis of the Septuagint version of Daniel, where he finds a heavenly being whose “raiment was white as snow” (to enduma autou leukon hosei chion – Dan. 7:9); thus Matthew’s angel has “raiment white as snow” (to enduma auto leukon hos chion – Matt. 28:3). Matthew’s angel has a spectacular mien: “His appearance was like lightning” (en de he eidea autou hos astrape – Matt. 28:3), as in Daniel, who says of an angel that “his face was as the appearance of lightning” (to prosopon autou hos he horasis astrapes – Dan. 10:6). Mark’s figure says, “Do not be amazed” (Me ekthambeisthe – 16:5); Matthew, however, knowing that angels, when they appear, say “Do not be afraid” (Me phobou – Dan. 10:12), changes the opening of the angel’s speech to the women to accord with the Old Testament: “Do not be afraid” (Me phobeisthe – Matt. 28:5). Finally, Matthew found in Daniel justification for changing Mark’s statement that the announcement of the resurrection left the women only fearful and silent: When Darius learned that Daniel was still alive, “the king was very glad” (6:23). Thus Matthew declares that the women, on learning that “he is risen,” reacted with “awe and great joy” (Matt. 28:8).[42]

While not all the parallels adduced by Helms should be attributed to borrowing from the book of Daniel, it does become apparent that the account of the discovery of the empty tomb was to some degree modeled after the story in Daniel.

Johannes Leipoldt, translated by Eric Weinberger, comments on the likelihood that there was some mythology associated with the inability to find the body of the risen in the person’s tomb:

It seems highly probable that the Greek romantic novels presuppose the stories of dying and rising dieties. Narrative forms used in the legends emerge in the novels in a new guise, adapted to the human realm and the conditions of the present, shorn of superstition and cut into manageable pieces with the knife of enlightenment. What is important in the present context is that the novelist Chariton, writing at the beginning of the Christian era, if not earlier, mentions an empty sepulcher. Chaereas goes to the grave of his (supposedly) deceased wife, Callirhoe. Here are the key sentences with which Charitondescribes this visit: Chaereas “arrived at the tomb at daybreak.” “He found the stones removed and the entrance open. At that he took fright.” “No one dared enter (the tomb).” “He could not believe that his wife was not lying there.” “He searched throughout the tomb, but could not find anything.” Finally, Chaereas says, speaking in spirit to his wife, “I will search for you by water and by land.” Much here is admittedly different than in the New Testament accounts, the most striking difference being the “enlightened” point of view: Callirhoe is not really dead, but only seems to be so. . . It seems that the motif of an empty tomb occurs in several stories of gods (though not in the case of Osiris, of course) and resurfaces in early Christianity.[43]

There is some precedent for a searching-and-not-finding-the-body story in the Jewish scriptures. In 2 Kings 2:9-18, Elijah is carried off into heaven in a whirlwind in the presence of Elisha. But some believe that Elijah may still be around somewhere, so they persuade Elisha to send fifty men “who searched for three days without finding him.” Obviously the story is different in the Gospel of Mark because the women do not go to the tomb with the purpose of searching for Jesus but simply to anoint him (cf. Mk 16:1). However, the act of the women evinces poor faith and misunderstanding concerning the resurrection of Jesus, and in that way the stories are similar.

Norman Perrin explains the function of the empty tomb story in the Gospel of Mark by connecting it with Mark’s theme of discipleship. All those who knew Jesus fail, including the three named male disciples, Peter and James and John, as well as the three named female followers. The named women who expect to find and anoint the corpse of Jesus in the tomb also serve as a foil the unnamed faithful woman who anointed Jesus before his death and receives the only praise in the entire Gospel of Mark (14:3-9). Perrin writes:

The role of the disciples in the Gospel of Mark is a very important one. The first act of the ministry inGalileeis that of Jesus calling disciples (1:16-20), and disciples are constantly with Jesus throughout that ministry. In 3:13-19 Jesus formally appoints the Twelve, whome Mark carefully names, and in 6:7-13 he sends them out on a mission on his behalf. After their return from this mission the disciples began to figure even more prominently in the narrative, but with a change in that they are now depicted as failing in understanding. In 6:52 “they did not understand about the loaves…their hearts were hardened,” and in 8:14-21 Jesus has occasion to enter into a dialogue with them about their failure to understand. In the long central interpretive section of the gospel this failing becomes more acute as the disciples misunderstand each of the three predictions of the passion. We noted above how Mark represents these misunderstandings schematically at 8:32-33, 9:32, and 10:35-41. More than that, in this section also the disciples are depicted as losing the ability to cast out demons, a power they had possessed since their appointment (9:14-29). So they are now being depicted as failing both in understanding and in power.

As the story of Jesus and his fate moves toJerusalemand the passion narrative, the depiction of the disciples’ failure escalates, for now they are shown as failing in loyalty also. At the Last Supper Jesus predicts his betrayal by a disciple (14:18-21) and on theMount of Oliveshe further predicts, “You will all fall away; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'” And when Peter protests his loyalty, Jesus says to him, “This very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” (14:26-31). In the following narratives these predictions are dramatically fulfilled. At Gethsemane Peter, James, and John fail to keep watch with Jesus (14:32-42); at the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, “they all forsook him, and fled” (14:50); and while Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin Peter denies him three times, formally and with oaths (14:66-72).

After their flight from the arrest the disciples disappear from the narrative of the Gospel of Mark, except for Peter, who similarly disappears after his denial of Jesus. The only further reference to them at all is in the words of the young man at the tomb to the women, “Go, tell his disciples and Peter…” (16:7). At his cross Jesus is surrounded by strangers, and in an ultimate act of irony he is confessed as Son of God in his death not by a disciple but by the centurion responsible for his execution (15:39).

Now it is precisely at this point that the women appear in the narrative, for the three-part narrative concerning the women at the cross, the burial, and the empty tomb begins immediately following the centurion’s confession, as I pointed out at the beginning of this chapter. From this point the women take over the role in the gospel narrative which one might have expected to be played by the disciples. After the death of Jesus they provide the element of continuity as they move to the climactic discovery of the empty tomb. Moreover Mark himself has already warned his readers of the importance of the story of the attempt to anoint the body of Jesus, with which the passion narrative ends, through his introduction of the passion narrative by means of the story of the anointing of Jesus by the woman atBethany. It is a literary characteristic of Mark that he frames large sections of his narrative with related stories which serve to interpret that narrative to the reader. So he begins the first major section of his gospel by means of the two feeding stories (6:30-44; 8:1-9). Then the central section of the gospel is framed by the two anointing stories, and the one serves to call attention to the other. Mark is telling his readers that the body of Jesus had to be anointed “beforehand for burying” because the resurrection would make a later anointing impossible, as indeed it does.

We are now almost in a position to begin a direct discussion of Mark’s understanding of the resurrection of Jesus, but before we do that there is one last point to be made about the women and their role in the Markan narrative as compared to that of the disciples: like the disciples, the women also fail their master. Unlike the disciples the women stay faithful to the extent of “looking on from afar” at the cross, and being prepared to play their role in anointing Jesus. Hence it is their great honor to discover the empty tomb and the fact of the resurrection. But it is precisely at this point that the women, like the disciples before them, fail their trust. They are entrusted with the message to the disciples and Peter, but “they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.” In the Gospel of Mark the discipleship failure is total. The disciples forsake Jesus as a group and flee from the arrest; Peter denies him with oaths while he is on trial; the women, who take on the role of the disciples in this final three-part narrative, fail to deliver the message entrusted to them.

We are so used to reading Mark in light of Matthew and Luke, where the women do deliver the message, that it is difficult for us to appreciate the sheer, stark force of the Markan narrative. In Mark every disciple fails the master; every intimate sooner or later fails him in one way or another. It is the centurion who finally understands him, and a sympathetic outsider who buries him. The disciples, Peter, the women – these all ultimately fail their responsibility and trust.[44]

This is indeed an endless source of fascination for scholars (Mk 16:8): “Then they went out and fled from the tomb, seized with trembling and bewilderment. They said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” In support of his contention that the silence was surely meant to be just temporary, Craig writes in footnote 72 of “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus”:

See the helpful discussion of the women’s silence in Bode, Easter, 39-44. He distinguishes five possible interpretations: (1) The silence explains why the legend of the empty tomb remained so long unknown. (2) The silence is an instance of Mark’s Messianic secret motif. (3) The silence was temporary. (4) The silence served the apologetic purpose of separating the apostles from the empty tomb. (5) The silence is the paradoxical human reaction to divine commands as understood by Mark. But (1) is now widely rejected as implausible, since the empty tomb story is a pre-Markan tradition. (2) is inappropriate in the post-resurrection period when Jesus may be proclaimed as the Messiah. As for (4), there is no evidence that the silence was designed to separate the apostles from the tomb. Mark does not hold that the disciples had fled back toGalileeindependently of the women. So there is no implication that the disciples saw Jesus without having heard of the empty tomb. It is pointless to speak of ‘apologetics’ when Mark does not even imply that the disciples went toGalileeand saw Jesus without hearing the women’s message, much less draw some triumphant apologetic conclusion as a result of this. In fact there were also traditions that the disciples did visit the tomb, after the women told them of their discovery, but Mark breaks off his story before that point. As for (5) this solution is entirely too subtle, drawing the conclusion that because people talked when Jesus told them not to, therefore, the women, having been told to talk, did not. Therefore (3) is most probable. The fear and silence are Markan motifs of divine encounter and were not meant to imply an enduring silence.

I do not accept Craig’s analysis. Because I do not believe that the empty tomb story is a pre-Markan tradition, I cannot reject (1) for the reason given. I do agree with Craig in rejecting (2). Although Craig doesn’t clarify that this theory usually states that the obligation of the Messianic secret is dissolved only when Christ appears to the male disciples,[45] it confuses me that the women should be commanded to do what they should not do, presumably by an agent of God. I cannot reject (4) for the reason given, for even if Mark does not explicitly state that the disciples went to Galilee independently of the women, Craig will remind us in his discussion of Paul that no explicit mention does not mean “no implication,” and moreover that “no implication” deas not imply “does not hold.” It is plausible enough that Mark and his audience held as a matter of course that the disciples returned to Galilee without any knowledge of an empty tomb. I do not hold to (5), but it is possible. To the list provided, I may add (6) that Mark’s ending may be the final note on his theme of the failure of the disciples who knew Jesus. With their failure, the reader is challenged to do what was left undone by these disciples and preach the gospel. Or, closely related to this, the reader is challenged by the dramatic inconclusion to “rescue” the story.[46]

I do reject (3) as improbable. By “temporary,” I suppose it is meant that Mark believed the women did tell others about the empty tomb later on Easter Sunday (as in the other gospels). I consider this improbable for two reasons.

The first reason is that it does injustice to the fact that the author of Mark ends the gospel on this note. The gravity placed upon the fact that the author chose to end the gospel by saying this is hardly appreciated by the explanation that the silence was temporary. Indeed, this is hardly an explanation in the proper sense, as opposed to a mere possibility, because it does not help in any way to explain why the author of Mark ended by saying this. Even if the author of Mark may have thought the silence to be just temporary, why end the gospel this way? Craig conjoins his belief that Mark considered the silence to be only temporary with the idea that the women’s fear exhibits a Markan motif of divine encounter. Not only is there no connection between these two ideas (with only the latter helping towards an explanation), but neither adequately explain why Mark chose to end the gospel in this way. As I have said, “the silence is temporary” has no explanatory power, if not negative explanatory power! And concerning the latter, Hans von Campenhausen writes: “The intention cannot be taken exclusively to be that of bringing out the ‘numinous terror’ arising from the empty tomb and the angel’s word. Such a modern and romantic explanation of the last words is certainly inadequate. Something more concrete must have been meant.”[47]

The second reason is that it is inconceivable for the author of Mark to have believed the silence to be “temporary” and not to continue the narrative. This is subtly distinct from the previous point, for while the previous reason focuses on the gravity of the ending, this reason focuses on the absence of a continuation. The reasoning for this argument is that we have the empirical evidence that at least three writers who knew the Gospel of Mark and who believed the silence was temporary could not bring themselves to fail to continue the narrative. The author of Matthew glosses over Mark’s ending by writing, “Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples.” While the author of Matthew modifies Mark to say that they were “fearful yet overjoyed” and thus went away quickly to tell the disciples, the author of Luke chooses to ignores Mark 16:8 almost completely. An anonymous scribe, who did not even have the intention of writing a new gospel but was supposed to be copying Mark, could not resist writing an ending of Mark based on his knowledge of the later Gospel accounts (the longer ending in 16:9-20). The shorter ending may be one more example of the same phenomenon. It seems that someone who believes that the women went on to tell others the same day could not have failed to include some type of narrative after this point and could not have ended the story in this way.

In rejecting (3), I believe that the author of Mark must have understood the silence in a more permanent sense than would be allowed by the author of Matthew or Luke. That is, the author of Mark could not have meant that the women told other people the same day. Moreover, I do not think that the author could have meant that the women told the disciples any time before the disciples saw Jesus inGalilee. This is because, if the author believed that, then there is no reason for the author not to place such a telling conveniently on the same day, or at least in the narrative, as all other writers did. Whenever the telling would be in the mind of Mark, it is not plausible for the author to fail to narrate the telling, as the author of Matthew did and as the author of Luke did. Again we have the problem that the author would not have ended his gospel this way unless he took the silence of the women to be more serious than a slight hesitation or delay, perhaps quickly overcome by an appearance of Christ (so Matthew) before rushing onwards to tell the disciples. One function of the silence, seeing as it comes immediately after v. 7 where the women are commanded to tell the disciples to go to Galilee, is to imply that the women did not tell the disciples to go toGalilee. The appearance of Christ to the disciples inGalileerepresents the reconstitutive event (cf. Mk 14:28), not an exhortation from the silent women.Galileeis the place from which the mission will go forth. Thus, I do think that it is implied that the men made their way back toGalileewithout any impetus from the women.

For a different reason than Craig, I do not consider it likely that the function of 16:8 is to be an explanation for why the story hadn’t been heard previously. I agree with Fuller here:

The silence of the women can hardly be explained as the Evangelist’s device to account for the recent origin of the story; that is altogether too modern and rationalistic an explanation, and assumes that the early church was concerned, like the modern historical critics, with conflicting historical evidence. The early church expanded its traditions anew in new situations: it did not investigate them historically to discover their origins and Sitz im Leben.[48]

While I would not say that the author has included the detail about the silence of the women as a rationalization for why the story hadn’t been heard before, can this be taken as an indication of some sort? If the women historically had run off to tell the men in Jerusalem, with Peter and the beloved disciple checking up, and with the discovery of the empty tomb becoming part of early Christian catechesis, then is it likely that the author of Mark would have ended the way that he did? The ability of Mark to end this way, for whatever reason he had, suggests that the story did not exist before the writing of Mark in the way that it had existed before the writing of Matthew and of Luke. For if it had, and if this were known long before Mark, it is not likely that the ending of the story would have been that the women told nothing to anyone. This is certainly not to say that the intention of the author was to explain why the story had not been heard before. The intention of the author could be a number of different possibilities. But if the story had been known far and wide, from the beginning of Christianity, I would suggest that the author of Mark would not have received it in this form. For that reason, the story is probably of recent origin in the Gospel of Mark.

What was, in fact, the intention of the author? Although I reject as improbable the idea that the silence of the women was intended to be only temporary, I have not necessarily decided which explanation is most probable. It may be that the author had more than one of the enumerated intentions in mind, and there is even a slight possibility that Mark’s purpose hasn’t yet been fathomed despite enormous scholarly speculation.

Improbabilities in Mark

I will start with those objections to the plausibility of the story that have little merit and proceed to those that are more serious. As always, I am not declaring any of these to be insuperable, but I do think that some provide a degree of evidence against the story.

It is sometimes said that the anointing of the body could have been performed by the women on the sabbath, and thus that they would not have needed to wait until Sunday. Craig writes in his essay: “It is true that anointing could be done on the Sabbath, but this was only for a person lying on the death bed in his home, not for a body already wrapped and entombed in a sealed grave outside the city. Blinzler points out that, odd as it may seem, it would have been against the Jewish law even to carry the aromata to the grave site, for this was ‘work’ (Jer 17. 21-22; Shabbath 8. 1)!” To which it may be added that the women may not have known the intracacies of rabbinic laws concerning the sabbath.

It is sometimes said that decomposition would have already begun in the Eastern climate. Craig writes in his essay: “Actually, Jerusalem, being 700 metres above sea level, can be quite cool in April; interesting is the entirely incidental detail mentioned by John that at night in Jerusalem at that time it was cold, so much so that the servants and officers of the Jews had made a fire and were standing around it wanning themselves (Jn 18. 18). Add to this the facts that the body, interred Friday evening, had been in the tomb only a night, a day, and a night when the women came to anoint it early Sunday morning, that a rock-hewn tomb in a cliff side would stay naturally cool, and that the body may have already been packed around with aromatic spices, and one can see that the intention to anoint the body cannot in any way be ruled out.” Although the details mentioned in the gospels may not be correct, I don’t believe that the weather on a particular weekend nearly 2000 years ago can be divined.

It is sometimes said that women would not have been permitted to anoint the body of Jesus in Jewish society or that only men prepare the bodies of men. While it may be true that it was more common that men would prepare the bodies of other men for burial, there is no evidence that women would be prohibited from doing so, and indeed there exists a statement in a minor tractate of the Talmud to the contrary.[49]

It is sometimes said that the shroud could not be purchased on a holiday. Currently, I have no idea whether or not any business was done inJerusalemon a holiday, so I can’t evaluate this argument. It is also sometimes said that the burial could not be completed before sundown. This consideration tends to imply that Joseph of Arimathea must have gone to a bit of trouble or included his servants in the project, but this does not directly imply that the story is false.

Somewhat more troublesome is the statement that the women observed the tomb being covered by a stone yet that they seem to realize that nobody would be there to move the stone only while on the way there. Craig states in his essay, “This same devotion could have induced them to go together to open the tomb, despite the stone. (That Mark only mentions the stone here does not mean they had not thought of it before; it serves a literary purpose here to prepare for v. 4). The opening of tombs to allow late visitors to view the body or to check against apparent death was Jewish practice, so the women’s intention was not extraordinary.” Craig does not succeed in emptying this objection of all force. Certainly, nobody would state that tombs were never opened for visitors. Yet in allowing the likelihood that the women would have thought about the opening of the tomb before, Craig does not address the problem, if they had thought of this, why did they go to the tomb alone? It would seem more likely that they would have inquired at the house of Joseph for permission or assistance, or at least that they would have brought someone who would be able to help, rather than acting like the fools that Mark depicts them as. This tends to lower the likelihood of the story.

Richard Carrier describes what is most likely an anachronism in the story:

There is another reason to doubt the tomb burial that has come to my attention since I first wrote this review: the tomb blocking stone is treated as round in the Gospels, but that would not have been the case in the time of Jesus, yet it was often the case after 70 C.E., just when the gospels were being written. Amos Kloner, in “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (Biblical Archaeology Review 25:5, Sep/Oct 1999, pp. 23-29, 76), discusses the archaeological evidence of Jewish tomb burial practices in antiquity. He observes that “more than 98 percent of the Jewish tombs from this period, called the Second Temple period (c. first century B.C.E. to 70 C.E.), were closed with square blocking stones” (p. 23), and only four round stones are known prior to the Jewish War, all of them blocking entrances to elaborate tomb complexes of the extremely rich (such as the tomb complex of Herod the Great and his ancestors and descendants). However, “theSecondTemple period…ended with the Roman destruction ofJerusalem in 70 C.E. In later periods the situation changed, and round blocking stones became much more common” (p. 25).

Why is this significant? Three of the four Gospels repeatedly and consistently use the word “roll” to describe the moving of the tomb’s blocking stone (“rolled to” proskulisaV, Matthew 27:60; “rolled away” apekulisen, Matthew 28:2; “rolled to” prosekulisen, Mark 15:46; “roll away” apokulisei Mark 16:3; “rolled away” apokekulistai Mark 16:4; “rolled away” apokekulismenon Luke 24:2). The verb in every case here is a form of kuliein, which always means to roll: kuliein is the root of kulindros, i.e. cylinder (in antiquity a “rolling stone” or a even child’s marble). For example, the demon-possessed boy in Mark 9:20 “rolls around” on the ground (ekulieto, middle form meaning “roll oneself,” hence “wallow”). These are the only uses of any form of this verb in the New Testament.

Kloner argues that the verb could just mean “moved” and not rolled but he presents no examples of such a use for this verb, and I have not been able to find any myself, in or outside the Bible, and such a meaning is not presented in any lexicon. His argument is based solely on the fact that it “couldn’t” have meant rolled because the stone couldn’t have been round in the 30’s C.E. But he misses the more persuasive point: if the verb can only mean round, then the Gospel authors were not thinking of a tomb in the 30’s C.E. but of one in the later part of the century. If the tomb description is flawed, this would also put Mark as being written after 70 C.E., and would support the distinct possibility that the entire tomb story is a fiction. However, even with this, there could still be a core truth about a tomb burial, with the details being added out of the imaginations of the authors or their sources, as often happened when even reliable historians described scenes in such vivid detail (there was a kind of acceptable license when painting scenes this way, provided the historian did not contradict any known facts or propose the implausible).[50]

This is correct; the author may have retrojected his experience with tombs in his own day back onto theSecondTempleperiod, and this does not necessitate that the story is entirely a fiction. Yet it does still support this contention to a degree. It also stands in opposition to two claims made by Craig, that archaeology confirms the description of the tomb and that the empty tomb account found in Mark was part of a passion narrative written in the 30s.

Concerning the statement that the women “brought spices” on Sunday morning after observing the burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Hendrickx states that, “the embalming of a body was apparently not in accordance with contemporary custom, since there is not a single example available.”[51] If what the women were understood to be doing was not embalming, what was it? There was no such thing as a second anointing. The body was washed and anointed before the body was placed in the tomb or grave. Not only is this Jewish custom for burial, but it is also common sense that a body would be cleansed of sweat or blood before being wrapped in the cloth (usually white). Again, there is no example available for people going to a corpse after it was buried, removing the shroud, and anointing the corpse for a second time (since it would have been already washed/anointed before). This would make absolutely no sense; it would not occur to anyone, especially not in a Jewish culture, to anoint the body after it had been buried properly (and Craig does agree that there is no indication of improper burial). Craig states in his essay, “what the women were probably doing is precisely that described in the Mishnah, namely the use of aromatic oils and perfumes that could be rubbed on or simply poured over the body.” However, this obscures the fact that this was done prior to burial. Hans van Campenhausen writes, “The desire to anoint, ‘on the third day’, a dead body already buried and wrapped in linen cloths, is, however it be explained, not in accordance with any custom known to us…”[52] It comes as little surprise then that Matthew and John, who are usually thought to have more knowledge of things Jewish, do not state that the women came to anoint the body on Sunday morning.

Roman Crucifixion and Jewish Burial

This belongs to the improbability section properly, but I have set it apart. Unless the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea can be shown to be an accurate account (and arguments to that effect will be considered), then to be able to reconstruct the most likely history of what happened to the body of Jesus after the crucifixion will require some general background on the methods and purpose of Roman crucifixion and Jewish burial in the ancient world.

Gerard Sloyan indicates the brutality that crucifixion entails:

Seneca (d. 65 C.E.) refers to a variety of postures and different kinds of tortures on crosses: some victims are thrust head downward, others have a stake impale their genitals (obscena), still others have their arms outstretched on a crossbeam. The Jewish historian Josephus, writing of the Jewish War of the late 60s, is explicit about Jews captured by the Romans who were first flogged, tortured before they died, and then crucified before the city wall. The pity he reports that Titus, father of Josephus’s imperial patron Vespasian, felt for them did not keep Titus from letting his troops dispatch as many as five hundred in a day: “The soldiers, out of the rage and hatred they bore the prisoners, nailed those they caught, in different postures, to the crosses for the sport of it, and their number was so great that there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies.” Josephus calls it “the most wretched of deaths.” He tells of the surrender of the fortress Machaerus on the east shore of theDead Sea when the Romans threatened a Jewish prisoner with crucifixion.

An especially grim description of this punishment, meted out to murderers, highwaymen, and other gross offenders, is the following from a didactic poem: “Punished with limbs outstretched, they see the stake as their fate; they are fasted, nailed to it with sharpest spikes, an ugly meal for birds of prey and grim scraps for dogs.”

Much later in Latin speech “Crux!” became a curse, to indicate the way the speaker thought the one accursed should end. Other epithets among the lower classes found in Plautus, Terence, and Petronius are “Crossbar Charlie” (Patibulatus) and “Food for Crows” (Corvorum Cibaria).[53]

Sloyan indicates who merited this most ignominious form of execution:

What types of persons were subjected to this cruel ending in the ancient world, and to whom was it seldom or never administered? The short answer to the first is: the slaves and lower classes; soldiers, even in command positions (but not generals); the violently rebellious and the treasonous. As to the second, citizens of the Greek city-states and of the Roman state were usually done away with more briskly, seldom by crucifixion. . . It was considered too cruel and, not least, too demeaning for the upper classes. Administered to any but slaves and those who threatened the existing social order, it would be an admission that the minority citizen class could be capable of such bestial conduct [so as to deserve crucifixion].[54]

Raymond Brown comments on Roman attitudes to the bodies of the crucified:

In investigating Roman customs or laws dealing with the burial of crucified criminals, we find some guidance in DJ 48.24, which gives the clement views of Ulpian and of Julius Paulus from the period CA. AD 200. The bodies of those who suffer capital punishment are not to be refused to their relatives (Ulpian) nor to any who seek them for burial (Paulus). Ulpian traces this attitude back to Augustus in Book 10 of Vita Sua, but he recognizes that the generous granting of bodies may have to be refused if the condemnation has been for treason (maiestas). The exception was verified a few years before Ulpian in the treatment of the martyrs ofLyons reported in Eusebius (EH 5.1.61-62): The bodies of the crucified Christians were displayed for six days and then burned so that the ashes might be scattered in theRhone. Christian fellow-disciples complained, “We could not bury the bodies in the earth…neither did money or prayers move them, for in every possible way they kept guard as if the prevention of burial would give them great gain.”

If we move back from the 2d cent., what was the Roman attitude at the time of Jesus towards the bodies of crucified criminals? Despite what Ulpian tells us about Augustus, he was not always so clement. Suetonius (Augustus 13.1-2) reports, with the obvious disapproval of 2d-cent. hindsight, that Augustus refused to allow decent burial for the bodies of those who fought for Brutus: “That matter must be settled with the carrion-birds.” Since Augustus would have looked on Brutus as a traitor, the parallel to the question of what would happen to those convicted of treason (maiestas) is significant. In the reign of terror that followed the fall of Sejanus (AD 31), Tacitus reports the actions of Tiberius: “People sentenced to death forfeited their property and were forbidden burial” (Annals 6.29). Beyond such imperial vengeance, severity is assumed to be normal by Petronius (Satyricon 111-12), as in Nero’s time he writes the story of a soldier at Ephesus who neglected his duty of preventing the bodies of dead criminals from being removed from the cross. While he was absent in the night making love to a widow, the parents came stealthily, took the body down, and buried it, causing the soldier to fear the severest punishment. Evidently it was almost proverbial that those who hung on the cross fed the crows with their bodies (Horace, Epistle 1.16.48).

Discerning Roman legal practice for a province like Judeais difficult. The law cited above (DJ) was juxta ordinem, i.e., customary law in Rome for dealing with Roman citizens. Decisions in the provinces dealing with non-citizens were most often extra ordinem, so that such a matter as the deposition of crucified bodies would have been left to the local magistrate. Before Jesus’ time, in Sicily, much closer to Rome, Cicero (In Verrem 2.5.45; #119) reports that a corrupt governor made parents pay for permission to bury their children. Philo (In Flaccum 10.83-84) tells us that in Egypt, on the eve of a Roman holiday, customarily “people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them ordinary rites.” But the prefect Flaccus (within a decade of Jesus’ death) “gave no orders to take down those who had died on the cross,” even on the eve of a feast. Indeed, he crucified others, after maltreating them with the lash.[55]

Raymond Brown provides information on Jewish attitudes towards the crucified as well:

As we have seen (pp. 532-33 above), there is solid evidence that in Jesus’ era crucifixion came under the Jewish laws and customs governing hanging, and in particular under Deut 21:22-23: “If there shall be against someone a crime judged worthy of death, and he be put to death and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night on the tree; but you shall bury him the same day, for cursed of God is the one hanged.” The conflict between Roman and Jewish attitudes is phrased thus by S. Lieberman: “The Roman practice of depriving executed criminals of the rite of burial and exposing corpses on the cross for many days…horrified the Jews.” In the First Jewish Revolt the Idumeans cast out corpses without burial. Commenting with disgust on this, Josephus states, “The Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even those who are crucified because they were found guilty are taken down and buried before sunset.”

The crucial issue in Judaism, however, would have been the type of burial. The hanged person was accursed, especially since most often in Jewish legal practice this punishment would have been meted out to those already executed in another way, e.g., stoning. In the OT we see a tendency to refuse to the wicked honorable burial in an ancestral plot (1 Kings 13:21-22). Even a king like Jehoiakim, despite his rank, having been condemned by the Lord for wickedness, had these words spoken of him by Jeremiah (22:19): “The burial of an ass shall be given him, dragged and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” Jer 26:23 refers to a prophet condemned (unjustly) and slain by the king being thrown “into the burial place of the common people” (see also II Kings 23:6). I Enoch 98:13 excludes from prepared graves the wicked who rejoice in the death of the righteous, and Josephus (Ant. 5.1.14; #44) has Achar at nightfall given “the ignominious burial proper to the condemned” (see also 4.8.24; #264). The account of the death of Judas in Matt 27:5-8 shows that the Jews of Jesus’ time would think of a common burial place for the despised, not a family tomb.[56]

Brown suggests that this may not have applied to Jesus if the condemnation was considered unjust in the sight of God to the Jews:

In a political situation where the death penalty was imposed by the Gentiles, however, the opposite could be true: An innocent or noble Jew might be crucified for something that did not come under the law of God, or indeed for keeping the divine law. . . According to Mark/Matt the Sanhedrin found him worth of death on the charge of blasphemy, and Josephus (Ant. 4.8.6; #202) would have the blasphemer stoned, hung, “and buried ignominiously and in obscurity.” Mart. Of Polycarp 17:2 has Jews instigating opposition lest the body of Polycarp be given to his adherents for honorable burial. On the other hand, Jesus was executed by the Romans not for blasphemy but on the charge of being the King of the Jews. Could this have been regarded as a death not in accordance with Jewish law and so not necessarily subjecting the crucified to dishonorable burial?[57]

From the information presented by Brown, we can begin to see the outline of the dilemma presented by the burial of Jesus, which requires any theory of honorable burial to steer carefully between the Scylla of the Roman charge of sedition and the Charbydis of the Jewish accusation of blasphemy. These are treacherous waters indeed, and it must be wondered if they can be navigated safely.

The information presented on the Roman practice of crucifixion shows that the very act of taking a body down from the cross for burial was, if practiced at all, the exception to the rule. The popular phrase “Food for Crows,” the line about the crucified being an “ugly meal for birds of prey and grim scraps for dogs,” the response of Tiberius to the request for burial, the comment from Horace, and finally the story from Petronius about the guard who allowed the body to be stolen off the cross all indicate that part of the very shame of crucifixion was the denial of burial rites as a last act of humiliation. Moderns do not quickly recognize the cruelty of this, but in ancient times to die without proper burial was considered a most horrible fate, particularly to the Jews. Yet, as Sloyan shows, crucifixion itself was an exercise in cruelty. Reserved for “slaves and those who threatened the existing social order,” it cannot be assumed that any mercy would be shown to one who had been considered deserving crucifixion.

The exceptions truly are exceptional. As Brown indicates, the comments of Ulpian and Paulus in favor of permitting burial – except, as always, for treason – apply to the more clement situation inRome. Philo of Alexandria indicates that a case of releasing the body was a somewhat unordinary gesture of goodwill that was extended on a Roman holiday yet sometimes not even then.

If one thing is clear, however, it is that no leniency is shown for those who fall under the banner of insurrection, sedition, or treason against Rome. Although Brown makes a distinction between maiestas in Roman jurisprudence that would apply strictly to those arranging military manouvers as opposed to a more informal execution of a perceived instigator or trouble-maker by the governor of a province, the principle in either case is the same. To respect a common crucified criminal with honorable burial is unusual, but to respect one who is perceived as a threat to Roman rule is, well, right out.

Some might wish to avoid this conclusion by declaring the Sanhedrin to have charged Jesus with blasphemy. Yet this is no better. Clearly, those sentenced to execution by the Sanhedrin were not to be given honorable burial.

Yet continuing with the idea that Pilate made the judgment for crucifixion, is it most likely that Pilate would have left the body hanging on the cross for several days? While it should not be ruled out entirely, there is at least one reason that judges against it. This consideration has nothing to do with the mercy or brutality of Pilate. Pilate should not be assumed to act as a sadist (or saint) but rather as a prudent politician. Pilate could only be acutely aware of the fact that the time was the Passover festival, that Jerusalemwas swarming with travelers and activity, and that it would do grievous insult to the Jerusalempopulace and Jews at large to continue to hang the bodies on display through the sabbath and the rest of Passover. Pilate was no fool and had no wish to incite unrest by his own actions. At the same time, however, Pilate could hardly intend to give respect to the one he crucified. Pilate would want to avoid insulting the people as well as to avoid respecting the crucified. The logical conclusion is that Pilate should order dishonorable burial in a criminal’s graveyard for the body of Jesus and the two lestai with him.

I say it in this way, that Pilate should order dishonorable burial because that is indeed what Pilate should do. Pilate is perfectly capable of finishing off his own executions. If Pilate is acting on his own authority in crucifying Jesus, not merely acquiescing to the demands of a Sanhedrin unwilling to carry out their own verdict, there is no reason for Pilate to allow any third party burial service to swoop in.

And I say it that way because the character of Joseph has all the signs of deus ex machina in the Markan plot. Jesus has been abandoned by his disciples, convicted by the Sanhedrin, and executed by Pilate. Yet along comes the noble knight riding in from Arimathea, daring to ask Pilate to be able to meddle in his affairs, disregarding the prohibition on honorable burial for the condemned, and providing proper interment in his own newly rock-hewn tomb before sundown on the sabbath, which just happens to be nearby and which just happens to have never contained anyone yet (lest he defile the grave of his ancestors).

How does Raymond Brown deal with this enigma of a man, Joseph of Arimathea? Brown suggests that Joseph was merely a “pious Sanhedrinist” who desired to see that God’s law be carried out with respect to burial before the sun sets.[58] This thesis is not without its difficulties. For example, in Mark, Joseph requests the body of Jesus specifically and disregards the other two crucified. The pious Jew presumably would have wanted to take care of all three; alternatively, if it be supposed that the thieves would have been buried by the Romans anyway, then there is no reason for the pious Jew to get involved at all. Brown suggests, “We have to assume that the story in the Synoptics has been narrowed down in its focus to Jesus, ignoring the two others who were no longer theologically or dramatically important.”[59] This is not entirely unreasonable, although it would be another mark against the reliability of Mark, who does seem to assume that no other bodies were placed in the tomb with Jesus. But is it very likely that a pious Sanhedrinist would be rushing about on the day before the sabbath during the Passover to have the bodies of the crucified properly buried? As I have indicated, Pilate was perfectly capable of performing the burial with his own means, and thus there would be no offense to the law of God. Indeed, the Romans were in an easier position to perform the burial, since they would not have acquired ritual impurity thereby. Moreover, the historical Joseph would probably have had better things to do at this time than greatly inconvience himself for those who could only be commonly perceived as crucified scum, the Galilean just as much as the highwaymen.[60] Not only would it require the ritual impurity of himself or the summoning of his servants to the cross, as well as the expense of the linen and anointing oil, but most of all it would require the use of his own nearby rock-hewn tomb (which, again, just happens to have nobody buried there yet). Tombs at that time were undoubtedly expensive to build or to quarry, and for this reason tombs were jealously preserved within families over several generations. The only motivation for a pious Jew to undertake a tomb burial for the man would be a strong belief that the crucified deserved an honorable burial. However, this would require that Joseph considered the charge to be unjust in the sight of God. Not only is it difficult to understand why a simple pious Sanhedrinist would be moved to conclude that such a one had been crucified unjustly, but it is hardly plausible that Pilate would have allowed Jesus to be given an honorable burial, as this would be tantamount to an admission that Jesus was crucified without just cause.

It is not without reason, therefore, that Craig suggests that Joseph was indeed a secret admirer of Jesus: “his daring to ask Pilate for a request lacking legal foundation, his proper burial of Jesus’s body alone, and his laying the body in his own, expensive tomb are acts that go beyond the duties of a merely pious Jew.”[61] Against such a view, Brown writes, “No canonical Gospel shows cooperation between Joseph and the women followers of Jesus who are portrayed as present at the burial, observing where Jesus was put (Mark 15:47 and par.). Lack of cooperation in burial between the two groups of Jesus’ disciples is not readily intelligible, especially when haste was needed. Why did the women not help Joseph if he was a fellow disciple, instead of planning to come back after the Sabbath when he would not be there?”[62] Again we might wonder what could have motivated the Sanhedrinist to an admiration for this particular crucified Galilean, especially if there were any historical reality to the actions of Jesus against the Temple. An original tradition that Jesus was buried by hostile figures would count against the disciple interpretation. Moreover, the tendency is towards making Joseph appear more like a disciple and thus suggests that the historical reality was nothing of the sort. As Brown says of those who take Mark as meaning that Joseph was a devotee of Jesus, “If that was what Mark meant, why did he take such an indirect and obscure way of saying so?”[63] Brown shows the figure of Joseph as it moves from Mark, to the later evangelists, to the Gospel of Peter, to the Gospel of Nicodemus, and eventually into the Glastonbury legend to exhibit an increasing sense that Joseph was a model disciple of Jesus.[64] Craig has added his own speculation to the mix of legend concerning Joseph with his suggestion that Joseph was a delegate of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple who was commissioned to dispose of all three bodies in a criminal’s grave yet who nevertheless tricked both Pilate and the Sanhedrin by giving a proper burial for the Lord in his own nearby tomb.[65] Craig had already noted considerations against the idea that Joseph was acting as anything other than a private citizen: “None of the gospels suggest that Joseph was acting as a delegate of the Sanhedrin; there was nothing in the law that required that the bodies be buried immediately, and the Jews may have been content to leave that to the Romans. That Joseph dared to go to Pilate and ask specifically for Jesus’s body is difficult to understand if he was simply an emissary of the Sanhedrin, assigned to dispose of the bodies.”[66] It is for these reasons that Craig seems to prefer the suggestion that the Romans disposed of the thieves while Joseph took the body of Jesus. Yet again, however, Jesus is the least likely of the three for Pilate to release, for not only might it suggest that the crucifixion was unjust but it also would lend justification to whatever sedition that Pilate suspected and would honor one who had been condemned as a threat to order.

There is one final reason to think that Pilate would have ensured that Jesus did not receive an honorable tomb burial. Raymond Brown notes, “There was in this period an increasing Jewish veneration of the tombs of the martyrs and prophets.”[67] Craig agrees, stating, “During Jesus’s time there was an extraordinary interest in the graves of Jewish martyrs and holy men and these were scrupulously cared for and honored.”[68] If Pilate considered the historical Jesus to be an enemy of the state, how much more would Pilate have to fear not only making him a martyr but also establishing a shrine to Jesus right inJerusalem? It is in Pilate’s best interest to make certain that Jesus would have been buried without honor and in obscurity.

Burial Traditions

So we have established as our best historical reconstruction that the burial of Jesus was carried out by those opposed to Jesus (responsible for his crucifixion) and that they would have given him a dishonorable burial. This stands in distinction to the idea in the four gospels that Jesus was given a proper entombment by the neutral or positive figure Joseph of Arimathea. Now we shall examine whatever traditions about the burial can be discerned outside of Mark 16:42-47 and parallels. Do these tend to confirm the same story or do they tend to provide conflicting evidence, perhaps the traces of a different tradition?

There are at least four apocryphal documents that are early enough to contain traditions that are independent of the four gospels: the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, the Secret Book of James, and the Epistula Apostolorum. Seeing as it is exclusively a list of sayings, The Gospel of Thomas provides no information on the burial of Jesus. This leaves us with the Gospel of Peter, the Secret Book of James, and the Epistula Apostolorum. For comparison, I will first list the text in the Gospel of Mark and then the extracanonical sources.

The Gospel of Mark 15:42-47. It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.

The Gospel of Peter 21-34. And then they plucked the nails from the hands of the Lord and laid him upon the earth: and the whole earth was shaken, and there came a great fear on all. Then the sun shone forth, and it was found to be the ninth hour. And the Jews rejoiced, and gave his body unto Joseph to bury it, because he had beheld all the good things which he did. And he took the Lord and washed him and wrapped him in linen and brought him unto his own sepulchre, which is called the Garden of Joseph. Then the Jews and the elders and the priests, when they perceived how great evil they had done themselves, began to lament and to say: Woe unto our sins: the judgement and the end of Jerusalem is drawn nigh. But I with my fellows was in grief, and we were wounded in our minds and would have hid ourselves; for we were sought after by them as malefactors, and as thinking to set the temple on fire. And beside all these things we were fasting, and we sat mourning and weeping night and day until the Sabbath. But the scribes and Pharisees and elders gathered one with another, for they had heard that all the people were murmuring and beating their breasts, saying: If these very great signs have come to pass at his death, behold righteous he was. And the elders were afraid and came unto Pilate, entreating him and saying: Give us soldiers that we (or they) may watch his sepulchre for three days, lest his disciples come and steal him away and the people suppose that he is risen from the dead, and do us hurt. And Pilate gave them Petronius the centurion with soldiers to watch the sepulchre; and the elders and scribes came with them unto the tomb, and when they had rolled a great stone to keep out (al. together with) the centurion and the soldiers, then all that were there together set it upon the door of the tomb; and plastered thereon seven seals; and they pitched a tent there and kept watch. And early in the morning as the Sabbath dawned, there came a multitude from Jerusalem and the region roundabout to see the sepulchre that had been sealed.

The Secret Book of James. The Lord answered and said: “What is your merit when you do the will of the Father if it is not given to you by him as a gift, while you are tempted by Satan? But if you are oppressed by Satan and are persecuted and you do the Father’s will, I say that he will love you and will make you equal with me and will consider that you have become beloved through his providence according to your free choice. Will you not cease, then, being lovers of the flesh and being afraid of sufferings? Or do you not know that you have not yet been mistreated and have not yet been accused unjustly, nor have you yet been shut up in prison, nor have you yet been condemned lawlessly, nor have you yet been crucified without reason, nor have you yet been buried in the sand, as was I myself, by the evil one? Do you dare to spare the flesh, you for whom the spirit is an encircling wall? If you contemplate the world, how long it is before you and also how long it is after you, you will find that your life is one single day and your sufferings, one single hour. For the good will not enter the world. Scorn death, therefore, and take concern for life. Remember my cross and my death and you will live.”

Epistula Apostolorum (Ethiopic). He of whom we are witnesses we know as the one crucified in the days of Pontius Pilate and of the prince Archelaus, who was crucified between two thieves and was taken down from the wood of the cross together with them, and was buried in the place called [the place of the skull], to which three women came, Sarah, Martha, and Mary Magdalene. They carried ointment to pour out upon his body, weeping and mourning over what had happened. And the approached the tomb and found the stone where it had been rolled away from the tomb, and they opened the door and did not find his body.

In all three of these documents, the story is obviously not the same as the story of Joseph of Arimathea himself approaching Pilate after Jesus had died and getting the body of Jesus to be laid in his tomb. Regardless of whether these accounts can be somehow harmonized with Mark, it is likely that they contain the traces of a tradition of Jesus’ burial other than the one set forth by Mark.

The Gospel of Peter is thought to be written in the first half of the second century and may have been used by Justin Martyr. Any reference to the Gospel of Peter is overshadowed by the eminent Dr. Crossan and his Cross Gospel, but it is surely not necessary to believe the full thesis set forward by Crossan in order to maintain that the Gospel of Peter may contain some precanonical traditions.[69] In the Gospel of Peter, it is the Jews in general who take the body of Jesus off the cross. This stands in contrast to the idea that Joseph petitioned Pilate and had the body of Jesus taken off the cross. In the Gospel of Peter, it is the elders and scribes who roll a stone in front of the tomb. This stands in contrast to the statement that Joseph rolled the stone in front of his tomb. The Gospel of Peter does provide a story that seems to conflict with the Markan account.

The Secret Book of James is thought to have been written in the first half of the second century. This is mainly because the sayings of Jesus are thought to be dependent on oral tradition and not the canonical gospels, which is not likely after the mid second century.[70] It is known from a copy in Coptic found at Nag Hammadi. The setting of the work is a post-resurrection encounter with the risen Lord. The summary description of the hardships undergone by Jesus includes that Jesus was buried “in the sand.” This Coptic phrase is sometimes translated nonliterally to mean “shamefully,” but it should be made clear that the very reason why the burial is shameful is that it is a burial in the sand. To be wrapped in a new linen cloth and placed in a rock-hewn tomb is not the description of a shameful burial. Thus, the Secret Book of James reflects a tradition that Jesus was buried in the sand or, to speak generally, in a dishonorable makeshift shallow grave instead of in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.

The Epistula Apostolorum was probably written in the mid second century.[71] The Epistula Apostolorum states that the body of Jesus was taken down along with the bodies of the two thieves. This stands in contrast to the story in the Gospel of Mark where Joseph petitions Pilate to be able to take down the body of Jesus alone, along with a suggestion that Jesus died earlier than the other two. This provides an independent attestation, along with the Gospel of Peter, against the Markan idea that Joseph had the body of Jesus taken off the cross. The Epistula Apostolorum tends to suggest that Jesus was not treated specially as compared the two thieves. If Jesus was not properly buried, that would explain why the women would go with ointment “to pour out upon his body,” which is a bit more than the Markan statement that they came with spices for a simple anointment (Mk 16:1). This very well may represent the traces of a different tradition that tends to conflict.

It is possible that Mark unwittingly retained a pericope that was formed by Christians who did not believe Jesus was given proper tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea. The Parable of the Tenants is interpreted as referring to Jesus. In Mark 12:8, it is said, “So they seized him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.” This quite plausibly reflects an early tradition that those who arranged the execution of Jesus also arranged his shameful burial.

While arguing that Mark did not portray Joseph as a disciple of Jesus in any way, Raymond Brown notes the following:

This interpretation of Mark also makes sense of some other notices about the burial of Jesus that may represent ancient tradition. (With effort all the following are capable of being explained in another way, but their wording favors a burial of Jesus by Jews condemnatory of Jesus rather than his disciples.) A sermon in Acts 13:27-29 reports: “Those who lived in Jerusalemand their rulers…requested Pilate to have him killed; and when they had fulfilled all that was written of him they took him down from the tree and placed him in a tomb.” John 19:31 tells us that the Jews asked Pilate that the legs of the crucified be broken and they be taken away. A variant reading at the end of John 19:38 continues the story: “So they came and took away his body.” Similarly in Gpet 6:21 we read, “And then they [the Jews] drew out the nails from the hands of the Lord and placed him on the earth.” Justin (Dialogue 97.1) phrases the burial thus: “For the Lord too remained on the tree almost until evening [hespera], and towards evening they buried him” – in a chapter where the context suggests that “they” may be the Jewish opponents of Jesus rather than his disciples. The plural may be simply a generalization of the memory of Joseph who was one of ‘the Jews,’ i.e. not a disciple of Jesus at this time but a pious Sanhedrinist responsible for sentencing Jesus and acting in fidelity to the deuteronomic law of burying before sunset those hanged (crucified) on a tree.[72]

However, having seen the difficulties with such a view previously, the consistent plural may be recognized as a tradition that the enemies of Jesus did indeed bury him. A request from some Jews for the bodies of the crucified to be taken down before the Sabbath may be historical, as this is plausible and even to be expected. These Jews would probably expect the crucified to deserve no better than a common criminal’s grave. In this way, the burial of Jesus would be remembered as a burial by his enemies, which in history would be some Jews and the Romans acting complicitly, yet which over time would come to mean the Jews alone (for reasons which will not be explored here).

Thus, there were probably traditions other than the story that Joseph of Arimathea approached Pilate for the body of Jesus, took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and placed the body of Jesus into his rock-hewn tomb. Even if these other documents might be harmonized with the Gospel of Mark using a little ingenuity, that does not negate the possibility, indeed the likelihood, that they contain the vestiges of a different tradition or traditions. There is probably a tradition that some Jews, enemies of Jesus, requested that the body of Jesus be taken down for burial. There is a tradition that the body of Jesus was, shamefully, buried in the sand. There may be a tradition that the body of Jesus was taken down for burial in the same manner as the two thieves.

As we have already seen with the earlier argument from silence, the evidence would indicate that the story of the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea was not seared onto Christian consciousness as an indisputable historical fact. But can we say that these other traditions are likely to be pre-Markan? There is reason to think so. After all, there is little cause for Christians to imagine that Jesus was buried shamefully when in fact he was properly interred in the rock-hewn tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. On the face of it, it would appear more likely that the tradition would develop in the direction that would provide Jesus with a more hospitable burial. Thus, it is likely that the earlier tradition was that Jesus was buried in a shameful manner, what Reginald Fuller describes as “the final insult done to him by his enemies.”[73]

Appearance Traditions

The first appearances were to Peter and his associates. The first appearance recounted in the formula found in 1 Corinthians 15 is the one to Kephas. This is widely acknowledged to be the earliest and best evidence that is available. The Gospel of Mark, the oldest of the four, alludes to the appearance to “the disciples and Peter” in Mark 16:7.[74] This is the only appearance mentioned in Mark, and it is fairly safe to assume that it is understood to be the first one. After telling the road to Emmaus story, the author of Luke mentions an appearance to Simon in Luke 24:34. The author seems to mention the appearance to Simon so as to avoid contradicting the tradition that Peter was indeed the first to receive an appearance. The testimony of Paul, confirmed by Mark and/or Luke, shows that Peter was the first remembered for an appearance, and an appearance to Peter’s circle follows closely thereafter. A weak indication is found in Ignatius, who mentions only the name of Peter when he describes an appearance of Christ.[75] The primacy of the appearance to Peter may also be reflected in the “Thou Art Peter” saying in Mt 16:17-19.[76] Finally, it will be argued that John 21 provides a strong confirmation.

The strongest competitor to Peter for the distinction of first appearance is Mary Magdalene. That is not saying much, however, for the evidence is of a much later and weaker variety. It has already been argued that the appearance to the women is probably not a historical tradition. The Gospel of Matthew’s account of the appearance to the women in Mt 28:9-10 is the first one available, but it has every sign of being redactional.[77] The only Gospel to recount a unique appearance to Mary Magdalene is the Gospel of John, but this is probably not a historical account and appears to be a development of Matthew’s story.[78] It might also be suggested that the author of John included a nod to the earlier tradition that Peter, not Mary Magdalene, was the first to come to faith in the resurrection, while at the same time playing up the role of the beloved disciple with the race to the tomb. Strikingly, we hear nothing from the authors of Mark or Luke about an appearance of Christ to the women, which is difficult to understand if it were a historical tradition. It is somewhat understandable that the women would be omitted from the list in Paul’s letter because they got no respect as witnesses. But Mark and Luke are already telling us about the women and their role, so there is no need to be coy about the appearance of Christ to them. Indeed, a straightforward reading of their narratives excludes such a thing.[79] The story about the women seems to develop from an angelophany to a christophany. In the Gospel of Mark, there is only an angelophany. In the Gospel of Matthew, there is an angelophany followed up by a two verse appearance of Christ to ensure that the women proceed at a brisk pace. In the Gospel of John, now two verses only have been given to the angels, who recede into the background while the appearance of Christ takes center stage. In the Epistula Apostolorum, the angels have been dropped entirely, and now there is only the appearance of Christ.[80] The fact that the appearance of Christ eventually supplants the angelophany suggests that there was no original tradition of an appearance of Christ to the women. Indeed, the simple fact that Mark recounts an angelophany instead of a christophany suggests that Mark did not know of an appearance to the women and was remaining faithful to the early tradition that the first appearance was to ‘the disciples and Peter’.

So, the first appearances were to Peter and company. What indications do we have to place these appearances geographically?

Paul does not offer any clear reference in this case for where he believed that the appearances were situated. There may be a hint, however. Hans von Campenhausen argues: “And a final argument is contained in our text of St. Paul. The appearance, there mentioned, to five hundred brethren (and sisters?) can hardly be situated in Jerusalem; it, therefore, points likewise to Galilee. Even if the round number ‘five hundred’ may be an exaggeration, the gathering would be too numerous for a private house, and a synagogue – even were it large enough – would hardly have been accorded to the adherents of Jesus in Jerusalem. We cannot consider an open-air service on the Mount of Olives. That only leaves the temple to be considered. But quite apart from the intrinsic improbability of an appearance there and the impossibility of keeping away the unbelievers then as always, such an extraordinary occurrence would never have passed without trace into oblivion, and Luke certainly, with his love for the temple, would have attached great importance to it and gladly recorded it. Thus there only remains for this appearance a gathering somewhere in Galilee, and, as regards external circumstances, this is least improbable.”[81] It is often observed that such a remarkable occurrence as the appearance to 500, strangely, did not leave any trace in the gospels. Given that there is some connection between the Eucharist and the appearance of Christ in the early church, I wonder if this so-called appearance to 500 has anything to do with the feeding of the 5000 found in all four gospels (twice in Mark, once in John). The very fact that, whatever this event was, it must have been memorable, suggests that there may be a connection. Of course, I do not depend on this hypothesis. I have only offered it as a conjecture.

Interestingly, the author of Luke mentions the appearance to Peter in passing without giving any description of details or location. This is likely to be deliberate, for if the only tradition available to Luke was that the appearance to Peter took place in Galilee, then Luke would be required to skip the details because of his exclusive emphasis on Jerusalem. Hans von Campenhausen again: “On returning to the city with the great news, they were received with the jubilant cry, ‘The Lord has risen in truth and appeared to Simon’. What is so striking is how the report of what is, after all, the main thing, is telescoped, announcing but not describing it; and this has long aroused the suspicion that Luke must have had definite grounds for avoiding any description of the appearance to Peter. Perhaps, in its special features, it could not be ascribed elsewhere than to Galilee, and so it contradicted the Jerusalemtendency of his narration. However, he could not simply omit it, since it was crucial and formed part of the most ancient tradition. It was, therefore, simply indicated, and all the detailed circumstances and the precise place of the meeting were, strangely enough, left vague.”[82] Along with Paul, however, the author of Luke does not provide a clear reference, only a suggestive possibility.

However, the earliest evangelist, the author of Mark, clearly tells us that the appearance to ‘the disciples and Peter’ took place in Galilee(cf. Mk 16:7). This indication alone should carry great weight, for it appears that the author has taken some pains to conjoin the empty tomb story (in Jerusalem) to the tradition of appearances in Galilee. Appearances in Jerusalem would fit much more smoothly with the empty tomb story, but the author of Mark manages to link the empty tomb story with the tradition of appearances in Galilee only through the angel’s message.[83] The author of Matthew also seems to know only traditions of Galilean appearances to the disciples, given that 28:9-10 is most likely redactional but in any case not about the disciples.

D.H. van Daalen writes of the Johannine appendix:

It has often been pointed out that the reference to the appearance by the lakeside as the third appearance is rather odd (21:14). It is not true that chapter 20 already has three, because the appearance to Mary Magdalene was not one to the disciples. But the verse seems pointless unless there were some who did not regard this as the third appearance. The note of verse 14 is clearly meant to link this story, traditionally not regarded as the third appearance, to the two already described in chapter 20. But it seems highly unlikely that the tradition would count the Lord’s appearances as no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, and so on. The only one that would be remembered with a figure attached would be the first. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that the Evangelist received this story as the Lord’s first appearance.

The contents of the story confirm that. If one reads John 21:2-13 by itself there is nothing to suggest that Jesus known to have been raised from the dead and had already appeared to his disciples.[84]

Indeed, the story in John 21 does give the impression of being a first encounter. The disciples had returned to their old occupation of fishing in Galilee. And as van Daalen also notes, “The conversation between Jesus and Peter (21:15-19) also is much easier to understand if we assume that the risen Lord had not appeared to Peter before.”[85] In the story, Simon is mentioned first and plays the most prominent role; indeed, Peter is the only one who acts individually, apart from a brief statement from the beloved disciple in verse 7. This, then, confirms the tradition of a first appearance to Peter and his group in theland ofGalilee.

The Gospel of Peter begins to tell a story similar to the one in the Gospel of John, and it may be based on a common tradition written before them both. In the Gospel of Peter, as in the Gospel of Mark, the women flee in fear without saying anything to the disciples. The ending of Peter reads (v. 58-60): “Now it was the last day of unleavened bread and many went away and repaired to their homes, since the feast was at an end. But we, the twelve disciples of the Lord, wept and mourned, and each one, very grieved for what had come to pass, went to his own home. But I, Simon Peter, and my brother Andrew took our nets and went to the sea. And there was with us Levi, the son of Alphaeus, whom the Lord…” There it breaks off. It is interesting that the Gospel of Peter, which includes the visit of the women to the tomb, implies that the disciples returned home after the Passover feast of their own accord. The tradition that the disciples repaired to their own homes finds another echo in John 16:32, “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone.” The author of John in 20:10 seems to have the impression that their home was inJerusalem, which is anachronistic unless the disciples had already purchased property there.

However, just as the Gospel of Peter notes, a group of disciples most likely remained with Peter in Galilee, living together and fishing together. Charles Guignebert writes: “It would be difficult to comprehend how the hopes and confidence of these poor men could have been reborn if at least some of them had not remained together, strengthened by the fellowship of their daily life, comforting one another and compounding their optimistic reacions. I do not think it daring to draw from the few wretched indices we still possess the conclusion that the center and life of this little group was Simon Peter.”[86]

Note that it is not necessary to postulate a sudden and immediate packing of the bags on Good Friday in order to hold that the first appearances were to the disciples and Peter in Galilee. As van Daalen writes, “And, of course, they had every reason to stay till the end of the festival. No matter whether they were in a festive mood, it would have been extremely imprudent to draw attention to themselves by leaving the city while nobody else did. There is no better hiding-place than a crowd.”[87] Note also that this would entail travelling on the Sabbath. Besides which, if men then were anything like men today, they would be loathe to let the room which they had paid up for a week go to waste. Yet though they may have remained inJerusalem for Passover, the first appearances could well have taken place inGalilee.

So the best evidence available indicates that the first appearances were to the disciples and Peter after they had returned to Galilee. D.H. van Daalen notes this without drawing any conclusions: “If this story, before it was added to the Fourth Gospel, circulated as an independent part of the tradition, and was told as a first appearance of the risen Lord, we have an answer to some awkward questions. The most obvious is, what were the disciples doing fishing in Galilee, if the Lord had already appeared to them in Jerusalemand sent them to proclaim the Gospel (John 20:21-23)? The answer now becomes obvious: in the story as it was originally told they had not seen the risen Lord in Jerusalem.”[88]

This consideration weighs against the empty tomb story.

The tendency of the tradition is to displace appearances in Galilee forJerusalem. In the Gospel of Mark, there are no appearances inJerusalem, only an angelophany. The only appearances mentioned are inGalilee. In the Gospel of Matthew, however, we find that the women have been given an appearance in the area ofJerusalem. But it has been argued that this is redactional. What could provide the earliest tradition of an appearance inJerusalemturns out to be, rather, a Matthean device that must be used because of the awkward conjuction of the discovery of the empty tomb by the women and the appearance to the disciples inGalilee. The evangelists Luke and John (up to chapter 20) smooth out their story by telling only ofJerusalemappearances. This indicates that theJerusalemappearance stories follow on the heels of the empty tomb story, and thus that the empty tomb story is a relatively recent development in the Gospel of Mark, because the author of Mark retained the older tradition of appearances to the disciples and Peter inGalilee.

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand what the disciples were doing fishing inGalileeat all. It seems improbable that the disciples were set to wondering with the discovery of the empty tomb yet that the first appearances were inGalilee. For one thing, the empty tomb should have figured more in the kerygma. As Craig would argue, if the women discovered the empty tomb while the disciples were still inJerusalem, it just makes good sense that the disciples would also visit the empty tomb. But then the empty tomb would have the witness of the male disciples, and thus the most commonly advanced excuse for the lack of attention to the empty tomb in the kerygma, that it was only found by the women, is not cogent. And the discovery of the empty tomb by the men would be likely to be mentioned by the authors of Mark and Matthew, if it were indeed a historical happening.

Finally, it makes little sense for the disciples to leave Jerusalemat all after the discovery of the empty tomb. In Craig’s reconstruction, the disciples stayed in Jerusalem for a week, after which the Lord instructed them to meet up with Him again in Galilee before the final ascension on the fortieth day in Jerusalem once again.[89] I have a vague sense of implausiblity here, which the reader may accept or reject for what it is worth, against the idea that the eternal Creator of the universe would suggest a temporary rendezvous in Galilee. In any case, I think that the evidence favors the theory that the first appearance was in Galilee. The problem that this causes is exhibited by the reconstruction made by Hans von Campenhausen, in which the belief in the resurrection with the discovery of the empty tomb motivates the disciples to go to Galilee and then the belief in the resurrection with the appearances of Christ motivates the disciples to go back to Jerusalem.[90] If the belief in the resurrection motivated the disciples to go to Galilee, why would the confirmation of that belief motivate them once again to go back to Jerusalem? It makes more sense to posit that the belief in the resurrection was born in Galilee and that the disciples subsequently decided to return to Jerusalem.[91]


[1] A list of 20th century writers on the NT, with references to relevant works, who do not believe that the empty tomb story is historically reliable: Gunther Bornkamm (Jesus of Nazareth), Rudolf Bultmann (History of the Synoptic Tradition), Peter Carnley (The Structure of Resurrection Belief), John Dominic Crossan (The Birth of Christianity), Michael Goulder (Resurrection Reconsidered), Hans Grass (Ostergeschehen and Osterberichte), Charles Guignebert (The Christ), Uta Ranke-Heinemann (Putting Away Childish Things), Randel Helms (Gospel Fictions), Herman Hendrickx (Resurrection Narratives), Roy Hoover (Jesus’ Resurrection: Fact or Figment?), Hans Kung (On being a Christian), Alfred Loisy (The Birth of the Christian Religion), Burton Mack (A Myth of Innocence), Willi Marxsen (Jesus and Easter), Gerd Ludemann (What Really Happened to Jesus? A Historical Approach to the Resurrection), Norman Perrin (The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke), John Shelby Spong (Resurrection: Myth or Reality?), and Rev. John T. Theodore (Who Was Jesus?). A list of other people who doubt that the empty tomb story is historical: Marcus Borg, Gerald Boldock Bostock, Stevan Davies, Maurice Goguel, Helmut Koester, Robert Price, Marianne Sawicki, and Howard M. Teeple. The majority of these twenty-seven writers are professing Christians. While I am not approving the use of an appeal to authority, this incomplete list is provided in order to offset the commonly advanced appeal to authority in favor of the historicity of the empty tomb. Even then, it is superfluous, for the appeal to authority is fallacious from the start.

[2] I don’t know of any extensive skeptical work on the empty tomb in English. Based on references made to it, I think the closest thing might be Hans Grass’ Ostergeschehen, but I am not able to read German. Jeffery Jay Lowder has independently written a rebuttal to Bill Craig’s empty tomb apologetic titled “Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story” (<URL: html>, 2001), accessed 11 May 01.

[3] MurrayJ. Harris, From Grave to Glory: Resurrection in the New Testament: Including a Response to Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), p. 107.

[4] 1 Clement 24-26. Quoted from Roberts-Donaldson 1885. Available online at <URL:http://www.ccel. org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-05.htm>.

[5] 1 Clement 42:1-3. Quoted from Roberts-Donaldson 1885. Available online at <URL:http://www.ccel. org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-05.htm>.

[6] James D. G. Dunn, The Evidence for Jesus: The Impact of Scholarship on our Understanding of How Christianity Began (London: SCM, 1985), pp. 67-68.

[7] Dunn, ibid., p. 68.

[8] Peter Carnley, The Structure of Resurrection Belief (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 58.

[9] William Lane Craig, Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Lewiston: E. Mellen Press, 1989), p. 372.

[10] William Lane Craig, “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.” (<URL:>, 1985).

[11] Raymond Edward Brown, The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: a Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels (New York: Doubleday, 1994), p. 1281.

[12] Norman Perrin, The Resurrection according to Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), p. 80.

[13] Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Putting Away Childish Things: the Virgin birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don’t Need to Believe to Have a Living Faith (San Francisco: Harper, 1994), p. 131.

[14] D.H. van Daalen, The Real Resurrection (London: Collins, 1972), p. 40.

[15] Dan Barker and Michael Horner, “Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?” (<URL: html>, 1996), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[16] Richard C. Carrier, “Could the Original Gospel Have Been of a Spiritual Rather Than a Physical Resurrection?” (<URL:http://www.>, 2000), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[17] David Friedman, “Does 1 Corinthians Chapter 15 Teach a Physical or a Spiritual Resurrection?” (<URL: html>, 2000), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[18] Ryan Renn, “Paul and the Resurrection, Outside ICor 15” (<URL:http://members.nbci. com/ragu1997/Kplexc15.htm>, 1998), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[19] William Lane Craig, “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” (<URL:http: //>, 1980), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[20] Raymond Brown is quoted by Ryan Renn (“The Empty Tomb Revisited” <URL:http://members.nbci. com/ragu1997/ETrevis.htm>, 1998): “Our earliest ancestors in the faith proclaimed a bodily resurrection in the sense that they did not think that Jesus’ body had corrupted in the tomb. However, and this is equally important, Jesus’ risen body was no longer a body as we know bodies, bound in the dimensions of space and time. It is best to follow Paul’s description of risen bodies as spiritual, not natural or physical (psychikos–see n. 147 above); he can even imply that these bodies are no longer flesh and blood (15:50). [REB.VCBR 127-28]” Wolfhart Pannenburg is quoted by Norman Geisler (“I Believe…in the Resurrection of the Flesh” <URL: txt>, 1994): “the future body will be a different one from the present body, not a fleshly body — as he says — a ‘spiritual body.'” in “Wolfhart Pannenburg, _Jesus — God and Man,_ 2d ed., trans. Lewis L. Wilkins and Duane A. Priebe, (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1977), 75.”

[21] References to the use of the phrase “flesh and blood” are found in Mt 16:17, Gal 1:16, Eph 6:12, Heb 2:14, and Sir 14:18.

[22] Edward Lynn Bode, The First Easter Morning. The Gospel Accounts of the Women’s Visit to the Tomb of Jesus (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1970), pp. 162-163.

[23] Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 49:2-3. Quoted from the translation of R.H. Charles (<URL:http://goodnewsinc. org/othbooks/baruch2.html>, n.d.), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[24] Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch 51:3-10. Quoted from the translation of R.H. Charles (<URL:http://goodnewsinc. org/othbooks/baruch2.html>, n.d.), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[25] Van Daalen, ibid., pp. 20-21.

[26] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 21.

[27] Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), p. 75.

[28] Herman Hendrickx, The Resurrection Narratives of the Synoptic Gospels (London: G. Chapman, 1984), p. 31.

[29] Hendrickx, ibid., pp. 35-36.

[30] Perrin, ibid., p. 60.

[31] Perrin, ibid., p. 69.

[32] Hendrickx, ibid., pp. 39-46.

[33] Hendrickx, ibid., p. 46.

[34] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1991), p. 131.

[35] Bode, ibid., pp. 82-83.

[36] Fuller, ibid., p. 135.

[37] D. Moody Smith, John among the Gospels: the Relationship in Twentieth-Century Research (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 85-103.

[38] Bode, ibid., p. 5.

[39] Rev. John T. Theodore, Who was Jesus? A Historical Analysis of the Misinterpretations of His Life and Teachings (New York: Exposition Press, 1961), p. 189.

[40] Dunn, ibid., p. 66.

[41] Carnley, ibid., p. 47.

[42] Randal Helms, Gospel Fictions (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 1988), pp. 135-136.

[43] Johannes Leipoldt, translated by Eric Weinberger, published in the Journal of Higher Criticism (Fall, 1997), (<URL:>, 1998), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[44] Perrin, ibid., pp. 27-28.

[45] Fuller, ibid., p. 64. “We should like to suggest that the silence of the women, which, as we have seen, was in the tradition an expression of the biblical reaction to angelophany, has been re-interpreted by the Evangelist in connection with this special theory of the messianic secret. For, as teh crucial secrecy passage in Mark 9:9 indicates, it is not until the resurrection that the secret is fully lifted, and then it is to be proclaimed by the disciples. This is why the women may not proclaim it.”

[46] J.D.H. Amador, “Dramatic Inconclusion” (<URL:http://home.>, n.d.), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[47] Hans von Campenhausen, Translated by A. V. Littledale, Tradition and Life in the Church; Essays and Lectures in Church History (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 60.

[48] Fuller, ibid., pp. 52-53.

[49] Dov Zlotnick, The tractate “Mourning” (Semahot) (Regulations relating to death, burial, and mourning). Translated from the Hebrew, with introd. and notes (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), p. 82 (XII, 10). “A man may shroud and gird the corpse of a man, but not that of a woman. A woman may shroud and gird the corpse of a man or of a woman. A man may attend another man suffering from intestinal illness, but not a woman. A woman may attend a man or a woman suffering from intestinal illness.”

[50] Richard C. Carrier, “Craig’s Empty Tomb and Habermas on the Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus” (<URL: html>, 1999), accessed 14 Dec 00. See also the article by Amos Kloner, “Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?” (<URL:http://www.bib->, 1999), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[51] Hendrickx, ibid., p. 44.

[52] Van Campenhausen, ibid., p. 58.

[53] Gerard Stephen Sloyan, The Crucifixion of Jesus: History, Myth, Faith (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), pp. 15-16.

[54] Sloyan, ibid., p. 18.

[55] Brown, ibid., pp. 1207-1208.

[56] Brown, ibid., pp. 1209-1210.

[57] Brown, ibid., p. 1210.

[58] Brown, ibid., p. 1218.

[59] Brown, ibid., p. 1216.

[60] It is not exactly clear what the charge was against the lestai; they are described as thieves, highwaymen, or sometimes revolutionaries. In any case, the man crucified betwixt the two was not likely to receive better treatment and perhaps even less likely. Among other reasons, there was snobbery of people inJerusalem against Galileans. There were some who thought that no good could come fromGalilee, cf. Jn 1:46, Jn 8:52. But, most importantly, it would be assumed that someone who was crucified most likely deserved it unless there was some compelling reason to think otherwise. I find it hard to see how someone on the Sanhedrin would have been compelled to think otherwise of one who, if the gospel record is to be trusted here, opposed theTemple and was declared “King of the Jews.”

[61] Craig, ibid., p. 176.

[62] Brown, ibid., p. 1218.

[63] Brown, ibid., p. 1215.

[64] Brown, ibid., pp. 1232-1234.

[65] Craig, ibid., p. 176.

[66] Craig, ibid., p. 175.

[67] Brown, ibid., p. 1280.

[68] Craig, ibid., p. 356.

[69] Helmut Koester, for example, believes that the Gospel of Peter contains extracanonical traditions but disagrees with Crossan. Helmut Koester, Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development (Harrisburg: Trinity Press, 1990), pp. 219-220.

[70] Ron Cameron, ed., The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982), p. 56.

[71] Ron Cameron, ed., The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1982), p. 132.

[72] Brown, ibid., pp. 1218-1219.

[73] Fuller, ibid., p. 54.

[74] Fuller (ibid., pp. 63-64) argues against the interpretation that the disciples are to expect not an appearance but rather the coming parousia for a few reasons, including that Peter was named in particular: “But the decisive argument which proves it to be, in Mark 16:7, a resurrection rather than a parousia reference is the naming of Peter as well as the disciples, a circumstance which indicates clearly that the Evangelist is alluding to the two appearances listed in 1 Corinthians 15:5. If Mark 16:7 were pointing forward to the parousia it is hard to see why Peter should be singled out for special mention. But if it points to resurrection appearances, the reason for the mention of Peter is obvious.”

[75] The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans, ch. 3.

[76] Fuller, ibid., p. 166: “We have already agreed that this saying was circulated originally as a saying of the Risen One…The ‘Thou art Peter’ saying is thus a verbalization of the primary appearance to Peter.”

[77] Hendrickx, ibid., pp. 34-38, much of which was already quoted. See also Bode, ibid., pp. 54-56. Bode adds these arguments against the historicity of an appearance to the women (p. 56): “It seems that other arguments, together with that of the repetition of the angel’s command, rule against a historical appearance of Jesus at the tomb. First, such an appearance would seem to nullify any utility in the message of the angel – if Jesus was to repeat the message, why bother with the angel? Second, it would seem strange that the first appearance would be to the women rather than to the official witnesses. Third, of what value would the appearance to the women be, whose report would have been suspect? One cannot think that the purpose of the appearance was to assure the women themselves, as they are already reported to be going with joy to carry out quickly the task assigned to them. Thus we see and understand the appearance in 28:9-10 as a doublet for the previous command by the angel of the Lord. After all, from the angel of Yahweh speaking in the first person for the Lord it is not far to an appearance of the risen Lord of the Christians.”

[78] Bode, ibid., pp. 82-84.

[79] It is unlikely that these writers knew of an appearance of Christ to the women given the explicit silence left unbroken in Mark and the uninterrupted return of the women in Lk 24:8-9.

[80] Epistula Apostolorum, v. 9b-10, Ethiopic: “And they approached the tomb and found the stone where it had been rolled away from the tomb, and they opened the door and did not find his body. And as they were morning and weeping, the Lord appeared and said to them, ‘Do not weep; I am he whom you seek. But let one of you go to your brothers and say to them, ‘Come, our Master has risen from the dead.’ And Mary came to us and told us. And we said to her, ‘What have we to do with you, O woman? He that is dead and buried, can he then live?’ And we did not believe her, that our Saviour had risen from the dead. Then she went back to our Lord and said to him, ‘None of them believed me concerning your resurrection.’ And he said to her, ‘Let another one of you go saying this again to them.’ And Sarah came and gave us the same news, and we accused her of lying. And she returned to our Lord and spoke to him as Mary had.”

[81] Van Campenhausen, ibid., pp. 48-49.

[82] Van Campenhausen, ibid., pp. 49-50.

[83] Fuller, ibid., p. 69: “But for the strength of it [the Galilean appearance tradition], Mark might very well have transferred the apperance toJerusalem, since that is what the exigencies of the empty tomb story would naturally require. Instead, he contents himself with a slight adjustment of the earlier tradition, according to which the disciples fled at the arrest toGalilee(14:27,50, see above, ch. 1). The disciples now wait inJerusalemto receive the angel’s message from the women. In doing so, Mark re-motivates the journey of the disciples toGalilee. It is no longer a flight, but an orderly journey to see the Lord at his express pre-resurrection command (14:28) reiterated by the angel at the tomb (16:7). Mark’s procedure in joining the empty tomb narrative to Galilean appearances shows how strong for him theGalileetradition was. So we can with full confidence, despite recent arguments of W. Marxsen, follow Grass in supplementing 1 Corinthians 15 by Mark’s information to the extent of locating the two primary appearances inGalilee.”

[84] Van Daalen, ibid., pp. 32-33.

[85] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 33.

[86] Charles Guignebert, The Christ. Translated by Peter Ouzts and Phylis Cooperman. Edited and rev. by Sonia Volochova (New Hyde Park: University Books, 1968), p. 59.

[87] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 39.

[88] Van Daalen, ibid., p. 33.

[89] Craig, ibid., p. 307.

[90] Hans von Campenhausen, ibid., pp. 85-86.

[91] Charles Guignebert explains the movement to Jerusalem as follows (ibid., pp. 58-59): “This reassembly must have been very swift, and the decision to return to Jerusalem soon taken, because the feelings awakened in the disciples were not of the kind that are hesitant in giving birth to resolutions. . . So, the little flock headed forZion. What was behind the return? Was it only to convince the Jews of the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and of the authenticity of his divine mission? That has been suggested, but I do not agree. The return of the disciples toJerusalemwas presumably motivated by the same one that had attracted the Master before them: the conviction that the imminent manifestation of the Kingdom would take place inJerusalemand that the Messiah would come forward there.”


The Case For the Empty Tomb

Rebuttal to Tomb Burial by Joseph of Arimathea

In order to present the arguments for the empty tomb in a fair way and in order to comment on these arguments in full detail, I have chosen to quote and to respond to an essay by Craig in a manner made popular through Usenet and e-mail in which it is poor form to “snip” any words written by the other person. Yet in order to make the discussion comprehensible, I will begin with an outline of the logical structure of Craig’s apologetic.

To accept the empty tomb story requires that one accepts both that Jesus was buried in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea and that this tomb was discovered empty three days later. With this in mind, there are two types of argument for the historicity of the empty tomb.

  • A. Evidence for both tomb burial and subsequent discovery
  • B. Two-Step Argument
  1. Evidence for tomb burial
  2. Evidence that tomb burial implies subsequent discovery

Craig makes use of both types of argument. In order to refute these arguments, it is necessary to refute all evidence of type A. Further, it is necessary to refute either B1 or B2, but it is not necessary to refute both. I am willing to grant the existence of good evidence of type B2. However, I believe that the evidence for B1 is not good. In this way, the arguments for the empty tomb can be refuted.

In the essay that will be quoted, William Lane Craig does not provide much evidence of the type B1. For this reason, I will begin by examining the evidence specifically for the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea presented in Craig’s book Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus, pp. 352-256. Craig brings together nine considerations, each of which will be examined in turn.

(a) Paul’s testimony provides early evidence for the historicity of Jesus’s burial. We saw that in I Cor. 15:4 the pre-Pauline formula received and delivered by the apostle refers in its second line to the fact of Jesus’s burial. The four-fold oti, the chronological succession of the events, and particularly the remarkable concordance between the formula and the preaching of Acts 13 and the narrative of the gospels concerning the order of events (death–burial–resurrection–appearances) make it highly probable that the formula’s mention of the burial is not meant merely to underscore the death, but refers to the same events related in the gospels, that is, the laying of Jesus in the tomb. If this is so, then it seems very difficult to regard Jesus’s burial in the tomb as unhistorical. . .

Craig takes Paul as testimony not only to the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea but also the discovery of the empty tomb by women three days later. The issue of Paul’s testimony will be considered in more detail below.

At the present, I will state that Craig seems to fudge between burial and burial in the tomb. Paul’s statement is perfectly consonant with a dishonorable burial by enemies. Just as Paul’s ambiguous testimony should not be taken to deny the gospel narratives of tomb burial, neither should Paul’s ambiguous testimony be taken to affirm the gospel narratives of tomb burial.

Craig seems to think that the narrative in the canonical gospels should be retrojected onto the mind of Paul. Such a procedure is entirely invalid. If Paul doesn’t mention or at least imply the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea, Paul does not provide testimony to the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea. If Craig believes that the gospel narratives provide evidence for the empty tomb, that is fine, but Craig should then be considering the testimony of the evangelists instead of the testimony of Paul.

If this is not clear enough, Dan Barker explains the basic fallacy as follows: “Now, if you think he did [believe in the empty tomb], you’re committing a historical no-no here. What you are doing is you’re committing a kind of ‘Back To The Future’ kind of historical analysis. You think you know what is in Paul’s mind because you know what the later Gospel writers in the 80s and 90s, you think you know what they said. . . so you are imposing that, back in time, on to Paul’s mind because you think you know better. Paul was just kind of simple, but you know what he really meant.”[92]

Since Craig also believes Paul to provide testimony to the discovery of the empty tomb, this issue will be taken up again below.

(b) The burial story was part of the pre-Markan passion narrative story and is therefore very old. It is universally acknowledged that the burial account is part of the pre-Markan passion story, the narrative of the crucifixion and burial being a continuous unity. This gives good reason to accept the burial as historical, on grounds similar to those listed above. . .

Craig’s claim that the burial account is “universally acknowledged” to be part of a pre-Markan passion story is, quite simply, false. Marion L. Soards catalogues thirty-four different reconstructions of a pre-Markan passion narrative. Soards notes that even this list is not complete. But the following persons in this list do not include anything beyond Mark 15:40 in the pre-Markan passion narrative: Bultmann, Czerski, Dibelius, Donahue, Grant, Johnson, Klostermann, Mohn, Peddinghaus, Schneider, and Schreiber.[93]

If we cannot rely on a scholarly consensus, does Craig provide any reasons for believing the burial story to be a part of a pre-Markan passion narrative? The affirmation that the crucifixion and burial narratives are a “continuous unity” is either debatable or question-begging. In a footnote of his essay, Craig argues that the inclusion of 15:40-41 in the passion narrative makes the inclusion of later verses probable. But this argument is irrelevant to reconstructions of the pre-Markan passion narrative that stop before 15:40.

Since Craig also considers the empty tomb narrative to be a part of a pre-Markan passion story, this issue will be taken up again in the body of the refutation.

(c) The story itself is simple and in its basic elements lacks theological reflection or apologetic development. Most scholars would concur with Bultmann’s judgment in this regard. According to Bornkamm, “The report of Jesus’s burial is kept concise and matter of fact, without any bias [Tendenz].” We appear to have a primitive tradition recounting Joseph’s begging the body of Jesus and his laying it, wrapped in linen, in a tomb, a tradition which has not been significantly overlaid with either theology or apologetics. This seems to be confirmation that the story is basically a factual report of what happened.

For this argument to be effective, it would have to be argued that a person around the year 70 would not have told the story of the burial and empty tomb in the manner it is found in Mark, and thus that the “primitive” nature of the story can only be accounted if the story was cribbed from an early pre-Markan passion narrative. However, there is no reason to think that a person at the time of Mark would have invented a different story. Indeed, the reason for an apparent simplicity to the story may be that the story itself came into being recently. This would explain why there is not yet much “theological reflection” on the story or much “apologetic development” in response to objections to the story. Indeed, if the story was one that went back to history, and if the polemic about the stolen body was made early on inJerusalem(as Craig believes), then it is difficult to understand why the author of Mark would not have any apologetic details in response to such allegations. That apologetic details such as the guard at the tomb were only found later in the Gospel of Matthew may easily indicate that the polemic was recent because the empty tomb story was recent!

This issue will also be addressed in the body of the rebuttal.

(d) The person of Joseph of Arimathea is probably historical. Even the most sceptical scholars, such as Broer and Pesch, agree that it is unlikely that Joseph, as a member of the Sanhedrin, could have been a Christian invention. To this may be added the fact that the gospels’ descriptions of Joseph receive unintentional confirmation from incidental details; for example, his being rich from the type and location of the tomb. His being at least a sympathizer of Jesus is not only independently attested by Matthew and John, but seems likely in view of Mark’s description of the treatment of Jesus’s body as opposed to the body of the thieves.

It is clear to see that we have to divide the argument between evidence that there was a certain Joseph of Arimathea and evidence that this person laid Jesus in his tomb. Craig states, “It is unlikely that the Christian tradition would invent a fictional character and place him on the historical council of the Sanhedrin.”[94] This argument provides limited evidence that there was a person named Joseph from Arimathea on the Sanhedrin. But even this evidence is inconclusive if it is allowed that the narrative in the Gospel of Mark was composed over 40 years later, after the destruction of Jerusalem, possibly in a setting of diaspora Jews and Gentiles. Moreover, even if there were a considerable number of Palestinian Jews with strong traditional ties, it is difficult to suppose that their memory would be so strong that they would be able to remember the names of those on the Sanhedrin so as to be able to argue for the exclusion of any fictional name. There were about seventy people on the Sanhedrin, and forty years later most of them would died and been replaced at one point or another, not to mention that most people at the time that Jesus died would have also died, making it nearly inconceivable that the average Jew knew all the names of the Sanhedrin c. 30 well enough to spot a name that doesn’t belong. At the very least, the assumption cannot be granted that there were a considerable number of such sagacious people that would pose a threat to gospel writers. Although the analogy is not perfect, the fallacy of the argument may be understood by the comparison of expecting the average American to be able to recall the names of the senators in 1960. Perhaps a few of the most memorable ones stuck in the general consciousness. But I seriously doubt that the author of Mark would have feared that someone would have been able to produce a list of all the Sanhedrin members c. 30 or, generally, would have been able to argue that there never was a Joseph of Arimathea on the Sanhedrin. To argue that Joseph was described as “distinguished” and that this would raise eyebrows is inadequate, for who is to say that any person who is on the Sanhedrin is not a distinguished or influential member? Indeed, a natural reaction would not be to think that there was no Joseph but rather that he perhaps was not so influential as to be remembered forty years later. Besides, a translation in the sense of “prominent” is tendentious when the word can refer to wealth or nobility. However, let it be accepted on this inconclusive evidence that there was a historical Joseph of Arimathea as one of the seventy-one Sanhedrin members. If it can be argued that people may not have remembered the names of all the members, how much more so may people not have remembered the entire life and times of each member! It cannot be simply supposed that the actual activities of a certain Sanhedrin member on a certain day would be common knowledge. Thus, this is not good evidence that Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus in a tomb.

The “incidental details” that Joseph was rich and a secret disciple are most easily understood as the result of later writers reading between the lines of Mark’s story. Indeed, a laudatory picture of Joseph is not so much “incidental” as it is the progression of a legend that develops even further in the apocrypha. This is no more evidence for the historicity of the tomb burial than the story in the Acts of Pilate in which the incidental detail is related that the Jews imprisoned Joseph for the crime of burying Jesus.[95]

(e) Joseph’s laying the body in his tomb is probably historical. The consistent descriptions of the tomb as an acrosolia or bench tomb and the archaeological discoveries that such tombs were used by notables during Jesus’s day makes it likely that Jesus was placed in such a tomb. The incidental details that it was new and belonged to Joseph we have seen to be quite probable, since Joseph could not lay the body of a criminal in just any tomb, especially as this would defile the bodies of any family members also reposing there. The dovetailing of all these incidental details gives the narrative an aura of credibility.

It is no stretch of the imagination to think that legend makers or fiction writers would be aware that there were and are tombs hewn out of rock and that some of these tombs had benches. This does not make these legends or fictions into history. The only thing that might be remarkable would be if the description of the tomb matched the tombs of the early first century but not the tombs of a later period. However, there are no details about the tomb that could not be provided from the author’s experience with tombs in his own time. Indeed, when the author could have specified that the stone sealing the tomb was not round and thus demonstrate knowledge of tombs in theSecondTempleperiod, the author does not do so. The bare description of the tomb hardly improves the credibility of the story.

Once again, the idea that the tomb was new and belonged to Joseph are most easily understood as the result of later writers reading between the lines.

(f) Jesus was probably buried late on the day of Preparation. If the foregoing is probable, then the time of Jesus’s interment, given what we know from extra-biblical sources about Jewish regulations concerning the handling of executed criminals and burial procedures, must have been Friday before the evening star appeared. The body could not have been allowed to remain on the cross overnight without defiling the land, and since the sabbath was impending the body had to be buried before nightfall. With help, Joseph should have been able to complete a simple burial prior to the breaking of the sabbath, as the gospels describe.

I agree that it is likely that the body of Jesus was given some kind of burial on the day of crucifixion, assuming that Jesus was executed on a Friday near the beginning of Passover. Like the testimony of Paul, this argument can only be used to support the idea that Jesus was buried somewhere. It does not specifically support burial in a tomb by Joseph of Arimathea. It only opposes the idea that the body of Jesus was left to hang on the cross. I have already provided consideration of Roman crucifixion practices and Jewish burial customs.

(g) The observation of the burial by women is probably historical. The women are used as witnesses of the crucifixion, burial, and empty tomb. Unless they actually were the witnesses, it seems inexplicable why they should be used and not the disciples themselves (see below). Moreover, their roles in the burial and empty tomb traditions seem to be mutually confirmatory. If their role in any one of these events is historical, their role in the others becomes likely as well. For example, if they witnessed the crucifixion, they would probably have remained for the burial, in which case the grave site would have been known, making the fact of the empty tomb likely, as explained above. If they witnessed the burial, they were no doubt present at the crucifixion, since they would not suddenly show up at the entombment. And again, the grave site would have been known, making likely the fact of the empty tomb. Finally, if they discovered the empty tomb, they must have been at the burial so as to know its location. But then they were probably at the crucifixion as well. So, if any of the lists of witnesses seems reliable, the others probably are, too. That the role of the women is historical is made likely by these traditional lists of names, for it is difficult to see how the names of people known in the early Christian fellowship could be associated with such events unless this were in fact the case.

I will answer the argument concerning “mutually confirmatory” traditions first. There are at least two plausible alternatives. The first alternative is that the women historically were not at the crucifixion, the burial, or the discovery of the empty tomb. False traditions are not mutually confirmatory. The second alternative is that the women historically were at the crucifixion but were not present at the burial (and, of course, did not discover the tomb empty). If “enemies” under the approval of Pilate gave Jesus dishonorable burial, it is plausible that the women at the crucifixion did not observe the burial. It is plausible that the women were not permitted to follow and observe where Jesus was buried or that the women were simply too scared to follow and to reveal their allegience to the crucified one. It is interesting to note that the author of Mark states that the women were “looking on from a distance” (Mk 15:40), which could be understood as an indication of fear.

The second alternative would also help to make sense of why the women came to be associated with the burial and discovery of the empty tomb as well. Somebody had to be stated as being present at these events, and if the women were present at the crucifixion, then it is understandable to assume that the women were also present at the burial and subsequent events, as Craig has illustrated. If the empty tomb story came into being in the 60s or 70s after the women had passed away, then it is not difficult at all to see how their names could be associated with the so-called events. There is not sufficient evidence that the women were well-known figures in early Christianity, especially since none of them appear in any first century writings outside of the four gospels.

The argument that the testimony of women was considered worthless is closely tied to the argument that Craig later makes that the women must have been the historical witnesses of the discovery of the empty tomb (as well the burial). I will discuss this argument now, and this discussion extends to the later argument.

There are three ways to answer this argument. These involve rejection of the premises that the male disciples could easily have been used by Mark, that a woman’s testimony was worthless to Mark’s audience, and that the story about the burial and empty tomb serves as an apologetic with the women as witnesses.

In The Structure of Resurrection Belief, Peter Carnley argues that the male disciples may not have been available to Mark for use in the burial and empty tomb narrative.[96] On this view, the author of Mark was constrained by the strong tradition that the male disciples came to believe in the resurrection solely on the basis of the appearances (which were in Galilee). Thus, while the male disciples could not be used to discover the empty tomb, there may also have been a tradition that women stayed nearby Jesus during the crucifixion. The detail that the women observed the tomb burial goes hand in hand with the detail that the women found the tomb empty. In this explanation, the author of Mark could not use the men to find an empty tomb because they believed in the resurrection on another basis entirely, but the author of Mark could take the women who watched the crucifixion and have them also watch the burial so that they can find the empty tomb. The women were the best that were available in the traditions that the author of Mark reworked.

Farrell Till has pointed out that Mark’s audience may be understood as consisting of Hellenistic Jews and converted Gentiles.[97] For this reason, Till believes that the emphasis on the worthlessness of female testimony, which is usually supported on appeal to rabbinic statements, may be misplaced. Till believes that the Mark’s Hellenized audience may not have been as unilaterally dismissive of female testimony. To the end of showing that Hellenistic society did not have a simple negative view of women, Till produces several examples of goddesses and heroines revered in Greek culture including Hera, Athena, Artemis, and Aphrodite. Moreover, Till argues that the first century Hellenistic Jews who wrote the Sibylline Oracles could not have been Jews who placed no credence in the testimony of women because the sibyls were, after all, female. According to Till, it would be presumptuous to assume that the rabbinic opinion of women applies to the first century Hellenistic Jews in Mark’s audience.

I would point out that the assumption behind this argument is that the narrative of the burial and the discovery of the empty tomb has an apologetic purpose in the Gospel of Mark, that it is intended to convince people of the resurrection on the basis of the witnesses, namely the women. Certainly, some critics such as Bultmann have suggested as much. However, it is not necessary to see the story as apologetic or persuasive in purpose. Indeed, I would suggest that ending of Mark at 16:8, in which the women tell nobody, stands against such an interpretation. Regardless of whether we would see the silence as temporary or permanent, this does not accord with the view that the author of Mark is appealing to the testimony of the women. Unless it is demonstrated that the author of Mark is writing with an apologetic purpose to convince or assure people of the resurrection on the basis of the women’s testimony, this argument fails. Indeed, this argument stands in tension with the argument made by Craig that the story does not have apologetic intent.

(h) No other burial tradition exists. If the burial of Jesus in the tomb by Joseph of Arimathea is legendary, then it is very strange that conflicting traditions nowhere appear, even in Jewish polemic. That no remnant of the true story or even a conflicting false one should remain is hard to explain unless the gospel account is substantially the true account.

I do not agree with Craig’s statement that “no remnant of the true story or even a conflicting false one” appears. I have argued for the probability that there were conflicting burial traditions. Moreover, even if Craig would dispute this evidence, the sources presented should be enough to belie the claim that there is no “remnant” of a different tradition. As Raymond Brown states, “With effort all the following are capable of being explained in another way, but their wording favors a burial of Jesus by Jews condemnatory of Jesus rather than his disciples.”[98] To state categorically that there is no trace of an alternate tradition and to use this premise for an argument suggests that Craig should show not only that a harmonizing interpretation of these references is possible but also probable or necessary.

Furthermore, I don’t believe that it would be too difficult to explain. Suppose that the story of tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea is the invention of the author of Mark. Where should we expect to find the true story or a conflicting one? Because the authors of Matthew and Luke are dependent on the author of Mark, I don’t think it is reasonable to suppose that they would correct the story. Even if we would like to see the Gospel of John as literarily independent, the author could have been influenced by liturgical readings or oral traditions that have their source with the Gospel of Mark. It is well worth keeping in mind that the story of tomb burial in the Gospel of Mark is a relatively nice story, and it is not reasonable to assume that it would be contradicted with a story that is worse, such as shameful burial or nonburial. The only kind of source that should be expected to preserve a different tradition is one that is not dependent on the canonical gospels. Yet none of these sources speak of the tomb of Joseph at all.

(i) The graves of Jewish holy men were carefully preserved. During Jesus’s time there was an extraordinary interest in the graves of Jewish martyrs and holy men and these were scrupulously cared for and honored. This suggests that the grave of Jesus would have also been noted so that it too might become such a holy site. The disciples had no inkling of any pre-eschatological resurrection, and they would probably therefore not have allowed the burial site of the teacher to go unnoted. This interest makes very plausible the women’s lingering to watch the burial and their subsequent intention to anoint Jesus’s body with spices and perfumes (Lk. 23:55-56).

The necessary assumption for this argument is that the disciples had some control over the preservation of the gravesite of Jesus. This assumption is not only unproven but, as I have argued, improbable. It is not the disciples but rather those who had Jesus crucified who would have control over the burial of the body. The very fact that the disciples would have been interested in preserving the grave of Jesus is a good reason to think that those who had Jesus executed would not have allowed the burial site of the teacher/leader to be noted. At the least, if such a scenario is plausible, then this argument fails.

Two additional arguments have been made for the historicity of the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea. First, the mention of “Arimathea” tends to confirm the account because the town has no theological significance. Second, a positive story such as Joseph’s would not have been attached to a member of the Sanhedrin because it does not fit with the anti-Sanhedrin emphasis in the Gospels.

Concerning the first, there is a plausible significance to the name Arimathea. Richard Carrier speculates, “Is the word a pun on ‘best disciple,’ ari[stos] mathe[tes]? Matheia means ‘disciple town’ in Greek; Ari- is a common prefix for superiority.”[99] Since commentators have seen the burial by the outsider Joseph of Arimathea as a contrast to the failure of the disciples and intimates of Jesus, the coincidence that Arimathea can be read as “best disciple town” is staggering. Indeed, it is good evidence that Joseph of Arimathea is a fictional character and that the tomb burial story in the Gospel of Mark is also fictional.

Concerning the second, this argument has the assumptions that Mark intends to portray the Sanhedrin negatively, that Joseph is on the Sanhedrin in Mark, that Mark could have easily used another character, and that the story about Joseph does not fit with a negative portrayal of the Sanhedrin. With these assumptions, the argument asks the question, why would the burial of Jesus be attributed to a member of the Sanhedrin? The argument hinges on the premise that the author of Mark included this detail in spite of himself, because it is historical even though he would rather the truth had been otherwise. As such, this is an argument that calls for an alternative explanation of the author’s intention and for the origin of the story, one other than historical incident. If this story can be understood in a way that is aligned with the author’s motives, then this argument is defeated. Alternatively, it might be accepted that there is a traditional element in the story but rejected that the traditional element includes the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea narrated in Mark.

In The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives, Fuller accepts that there is a historical element to the burial story in Mark or at least an earlier tradition that the author of Mark is reshaping. The original tradition may have been that “the burial of Jesus was ‘the last act of the crime,’ the final insult done to him by his enemies.”[100] The original tradition may have been that those responsible for the death of Jesus were also responsible for the burial of Jesus. Thus, the author of Mark may have been embarrassed by this tradition, while at the same time keeping it of necessity, as reflected in that Joseph is a member of the council that decided for the execution of Jesus. But certainly the author of Mark is not embarrassed about the story that Jesus was properly prepared for burial and laid in a rock-hewn tomb. What we may have in Mark is not the invention of the who, as in who performed the burial, but of the how, as in how the burial was done. The earlier tradition may have stated that the burial of Jesus was an ignominious and shameful carried out by the enemies of Jesus. The author of Mark could understandably change this tradition to an honorable tomb burial while retaining the element that someone responsible for the crucifixion carried out the burial of Jesus.

This may not be the whole account, but it does help to explain why the person who buried Jesus in Mark was on the council that condemned him. There are other factors that may have played a part in the shaping narrative. One factor is that the author of Mark may have considered anyone other than someone on the council to be unable to persuade Pilate to hand over the body, given that it was the council’s decision that Jesus be crucified and that Pilate was passively in cooperation with them. Another factor is that the author of Mark may have realized that the disciples, who are from Galilee, would not have had a tomb in the vicinity ofJerusalemin which Jesus could be buried that day. Another factor is that the author of Mark may be emphasizing themes such as the failure of the disciples in that a stranger buries Jesus. If these factors are taken along with the theory that Mark was constrained by an earlier tradition of burial by enemies, the story about Joseph of Arimathea becomes nearly a narrative necessity.

Now that the arguments for the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea have been considered, an assessment of the effectiveness of any “two-step argument” for the empty tomb can be made. The arguments in (a), (b), (c), and (g) are parallel to arguments made by Craig for the historicity of the empty tomb story in general, and thus they might be more properly considered part of evidence type A, as evidence for the total story of tomb burial and discovery of the empty tomb. Yet all the arguments have been answered, and the evidence of type B1 has been found to be wanting. For this reason, any subsequent arguments that argue with the tomb burial as a premise are considered to be unsound.

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus

The essay quoted is by William Lane Craig, originally published “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.” New Testament Studies 31 (1985): 39-67. It was accessed December 14, 2000 (URL:

Until recently the empty tomb has been widely regarded as both an offense to modern intelligence and an embarrassment for Christian faith; an offense because it implies a nature miracle akin to the resuscitation of a corpse and an embarrassment because it is nevertheless almost inextricably bound up with Jesus’ resurrection, which lies at the very heart of the Christian faith. But in the last several years, a remarkable change seems to have taken place, and the scepticism that so characterized earlier treatments of this problem appears to be fast receding.{2} Though some theologians still insist with Bultmann that the resurrection is not a historical event,{3} this incident is certainly presented in the gospels as a historical event, one of the manifestations of which was that the tomb of Jesus was reputedly found empty on the first day of the week by several of his women followers; this fact, at least, is therefore in principle historically verifiable. But how credible is the evidence for the historicity of Jesus’ empty tomb?

This is the question to which William Lane Craig applies his energies in the essay, “The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus.” While Craig writes as an apologist, I write as a skeptic. Craig invites his reader to go along with the flow of opinion, and I invite my reader to stand on firmer ground. If the tide is beginning to change now, the tide may change the other way again. I hope that I am not criticized simply for refusing to go along with a trend.

In order to answer this question, we need to look first at one of the oldest traditions contained in the New Testament concerning the resurrection. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (AD 56-57) he cites what is apparently an old Christian formula (1 Cor 15. 3b-5), as is evident from the non-Pauline and Semitic characteristics it contains.{4} The fact that the formula recounts, according to Paul, the content of the earliest apostolic preaching (I Cor 15. 11), a fact confirmed by its concordance with the sermons reproduced by Luke in Acts,{5} strongly suggests that the formula originated in the Jerusalem church. We know from Paul’s own hand that three years after his conversion (AD 33-35) atDamascus, he visitedJerusalem, where he met personally Peter and James (Gal 1. 18-19). He probably received the formula in Damascus, perhaps in Christian catechesis; it is doubtful that he received it later than his Jerusalem visit, for it is improbable that he should have replaced with a formula personal information from the lips of Peter and James themselves.{6} The formula is therefore probably quite old, reaching back to within the first five years after Jesus’ crucifixion. It reads:

. . . hoti Christos apethanen huper ton hamartion hemon kata tas graphas,
kai hoti etaphe,
kai hoti egegertai te hemera te trite kata tas graphas,
kai hoti ophthe Kepha, eita tois dodeka.

Does this formula bear witness to the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb? Several questions here need to be kept carefully distinct. First we must decide: (1) does Paul accept the empty tomb, and (2) does Paul mention the empty tomb? It is clear that (1) does not imply (2), but (2) would imply (1). Or in other words, just because Paul may not mention the empty tomb, that does not mean he does not accept the empty tomb. Too many New Testament scholars have fallen prey to Bultmann’s fallacy: ‘Legenden sind die Geschichten vom leeren Grab, von dem Paulus noch nicht weiss.'{7} Paul’s citation of Jesus’ words at the Last Supper ( I Cor 11: 23-26) shows that he knew the context of the traditions he delivered; but had the Corinthians not been abusing the eucharist this knowledge would have remained lost to us. So one must not too rashly conclude from silence that Paul ‘knows nothing’ of the empty tomb. Next, if Paul does imply the empty tomb, then we must ask: (1) does Paul believe Jesus’ tomb was empty, and (2) does Paul know Jesus’ tomb was empty? Again, as Grass is quick to point out, (1) does not imply (2);{8} but (2) would imply (1). In other words, does Paul simply assume the empty tomb as a matter of course or does he have actual historical knowledge that the tomb of Jesus was empty? Thus, even if it could be proved that Paul believed in a physical resurrection of the body, that does not necessarily imply that he knew the empty tomb for a fact.

Does Craig show it to be likely that Paul believed that the tomb of Jesus was found empty on Easter Sunday? The conclusion that Craig states is that, “There can be little doubt, therefore, that Paul accepted the idea of an empty tomb as a matter of course.” On the contrary, I shall show that there can be a most reasonable amount of doubt.

Some exegetes have maintained that the statement of the formula ‘he was buried’ implies, standing as it does between the death and the resurrection, that the tomb was empty.{9} But many critics deny this, holding that the burial does not stand in relation to the resurrection, but to the death, and as such serves to underline and confirm the reality of the death.{10} The close Zusammenhang of the death and burial is said to be evident in Rom 6, where to be baptized into Christ’s death is to be baptized into his burial. Grass maintains that for the burial to imply a physical resurrection the sentence would have to read apethanen … kai hoti egegertai ek tou taphou. As it is the burial does not therefore imply that the grave was empty. Grass also points out that Paul fails to mention the empty tomb in the second half of I Cor 15, an instructive omission since the empty tomb would have been a knock-down argument against those who denied the bodily resurrection.{11} It is also often urged that the empty tomb was no part of the early kerygma and is therefore not implied in the burial.

Although these arguments can be defeated, it is instructive to note that they are here at all. Once again, I would ask, what court would accept as a witness someone whose very substance of testimony is a matter of legitimate debate? What jury would convict based on a witness who might have been saying the defendant is guilty but then again might have been saying the exact opposite? What judge would not throw out such ambiguous testimony at once?

Now while I should not want to assert that the ‘he was buried’ was included in the formula in order to prove the empty tomb, it seems to me that the empty tomb is implied in the sequence of events related in the formula. For in saying that Jesus died — was buried — was raised — appeared, one automatically implies that the empty grave has been left behind. The four-fold hoti and the chronological series of events weighs against subordinating the burial to the death. {12} In baptism the burial looks forward with confidence to the rising again (Rom 6. 4; Col. 2. 13).{13} And even if one denied the evidence of the four-fold hoti and the chronological sequence, the very fact that a dead-and-buried man was raised itself implies an empty grave.

The “evidence of the four-fold hoti and the chronological sequence” is not explained very clearly. What does a four-fold hoti and chronological sequence establish? Well, what does the Greek word mean? It is usually translated “that,” as in “that he was buried.” And what is a chronological sequence? It means nothing but that one thing happened after another. How might this be taken to mean anything more than this? Does Craig suppose that, if Paul did not believe in the empty tomb, that Paul would have thought that Christ was buried after he was raised? Or that he made the resurrection appearances before he had died? What is “the evidence of the four-fold hoti and the chronological sequence”? Craig offers us one clue, that this is evidence against “subordinating the burial to the death,” as many critics would see it. All the four things are on equal footing, as it were, each with their own hoti and none subordinate to the other. Craig provides clarification in a footnote, saying that, “The fourfold hoti serves to emphasize equally each of the chronologically successive events, thus prohibiting the subordination of one event to another.” However, the very fact that there are four statements prefaced by hoti in a chronological sequence does not imply that they are all on the same order of importance. That is one way to see it, but one can see it another way. For example, one could consider the four to be grouped as a pair of pairs in the matter of importance. The burial serves to show the reality of the death, while the appearances serve to show the reality of the resurrection. In this view, the death and the resurrection are primary and the essence of faith, the burial and the appearances are secondary and the confirmation of faith. This view would tend to explain why the more important parts, the death and the resurrection, are described as “according to the scriptures.” No, I am not arguing that this view is necessarily true, but I am offering the possibility. Another possibility, an obvious one, is that nothing is being implied about the relative importance of these events. Another possibility is indeed that Paul is emphasizing their equal importance. However, this is nothing more than a possibility, and a mere possibility cannot be used to make an argument.

Now, let us assume that Paul intends all four clauses to be taken as of equal importance. How should this be taken to imply that Paul believed in the historicity of the empty tomb? Craig implies that “the four-fold hoti and the chronological sequence” provides evidence that Paul accepted the empty tomb and that “the very fact that a dead-and-buried man was raised” provides a separate line of evidence that Paul accepted the empty tomb. But I should like to know the distinction between the two arguments. What evidence is present in the first argument that that is not also present in the second? In the first argument, in the aspect of importance, it is held that death is as important as the burial, which is as important as the resurrection, which is as important as the appearances. How should this be taken as evidence that Paul believed in the empty tomb? This is not explained. In the first argument, in the aspect of chronological order, it is held that the death happens before the burial, which happens before the resurrection, which happens before the appearances. How is this not present in the second argument about the “very fact that a dead-and-buried man was raised”? Does the second argument allow for a different chronological sequence, in which the man dies after he is buried or is raised before he dies? I would not agree that “the four-fold hoti and the chronological sequence” provides an independent line of evidence that Paul believed in the empty tomb. There is only one argument, and that is the argument that a dead-and-buried man who is raised implies an empty tomb. Craig relies on obfuscation to pretend that two separate arguments have been presented.

Grass’s assertion that the formula should read egegertai ek tou taphou is not so obvious when we reflect on the fact that in I Cor 15. 12 Paul does write ek nekron egegertai (cf. I Thess 1. 10; Rom 10. 9; Gal 1. 1;Mt.27.64; 28. 7).{14} In being raised from the dead, Christ is raised from the grave. In fact the very verbs egegertai and anistanai imply that the grave is left empty.{15} The notion of resurrection is unintelligible with regard to the spirit or soul alone. The very words imply resurrection of the body. It is the dead man in the tomb who awakens and is physically raised up to live anew. Thus the grave must be empty.{16} And really, even today were we to be told that a man who died and was buried rose from the dead and appeared to his friends, only a theologian would think to ask, ‘But was his body still in the grave?’ How much more is this true of first century Jews, who shared a much more physical conception of resurrection than we do! {17 }

Here Craig indicates that Paul could not have believed in a resurrection of Christ that left the body of flesh unstirred, that Paul would not have been able to look upon the body of Jesus wrapped up in his tomb and yet still proclaim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. I tend to agree that such a scenario is unlikely.

Grass’s argument that had Paul believed in the empty tomb, then he would have mentioned it in the second half of I Cor 15 turns back upon Grass; for if Paul did not believe in the empty tomb, as Grass contends, then why did he not mention the purely spiritual appearance of Christ to him alluded to I Cor 15. 8 as a knock-down argument for the immateriality of Christ’s resurrection body? Grass can only reply that Paul did not appeal to his vision of Jesus to prove that the resurrection body would be heavenly and glorious because the meeting ‘eluded all description’. {18} Not at all; Paul could have said he saw a heavenly light and heard a voice (Acts 22. 6-7; 26. 13-14). In fact the very ineffability of the experience would be a positive argument for immateriality, since a physical body is not beyond all description. Grass misunderstands Paul’s intention in discussing the resurrection body in I Cor 15. 35-56. Paul does not want to prove that it is physical, for that was presupposed by everyone and was perhaps what the Corinthians protested at. He wants to prove that the body is in some sense spiritual, and thus the Corinthians ought not to dissent. Hence, the mention of the empty tomb is wholly beside the point. There is thus no reason to mention the empty tomb, but good reason to appeal to Paul’s vision, which he does not do. Could it be that in the appearance to him Paul did not see a determinative answer to the nature of the resurrection body?

Yes. It is dangerous to leave one’s own rhetorical questions unanswered! I agree that this could imply that Paul did not see a determinative answer to the nature of the resurrection body in the appearance of Christ to him. Yet this is less likely under the idea that Paul had a physical encounter with Christ, as Craig would suggest, and more likely under the idea that Paul’s vision wasn’t obviously physical. This would be more explicable if Paul held to the view of Hans Grass or Wolfhart Pannenburg, the views (1) or (2) of the resurrection deliniated in my “Spiritual Resurrection” discussion. The argument that Paul would have appealed to the ineffability of the experience to disprove the materiality of the resurrection body is overly subtle. If Paul’s objectors did not hold to a material doctrine of the resurrection but rather objected to the idea of a resurrection because of its physicalistic implications, then Paul would not need to disprove the physicalism of a resurrection, which is common ground, but rather to show the philosophical plausibility of a resurrection of the physical body into a transformed spiritual, heavenly body. This is, indeed, what Paul sets out to do.

Finally as to the absence of the empty tomb in the kerygma, the statement ‘he was buried’ followed by the proclamation of the resurrection indicates that the empty tomb was implied in the kerygma. The formula is a summary statement,{19} and it could very well be that Paul was familiar with the historical context of the simple statement in the formula, which would imply that he not only accepted the empty tomb, but knew of it as well. The tomb is certainly alluded to in the preaching in Acts 2. 24-32.{20} The empty tomb is also implicit in Paul’s speech in Antioch of Pisisidia, which follows point for point the outline of the formula in 1 Cor. 15. 3-5: ‘. . . they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee toJerusalem.’ (Acts 13. 29-31). No first century Jew or pagan would be so cerebral as to wonder if the tomb was empty or not. That the empty tomb is not more explicitly mentioned may be simply because it was regarded as selbstverständlich, given the resurrection and appearances of Jesus. Or again, it may be that the evidence of the appearances so overwhelmed the testimony of legally unqualified women to the empty grave that the latter was not used as evidence. But the gospel of Mark shows that the empty tomb was important to the early church, even if it was not appealed to as evidence in evangelistic preaching. So I think it quite apparent that the formula and Paul at least accept the empty tomb, even if it is not explicitly mentioned. {21}

And it is here that Craig goes beyond the evidence of what Paul has said. Earlier Craig expressed the conclusion that one could draw from the fact of a resurrection in the words, “Thus the grave must be empty.” But now the grave has been exchanged for a tomb without even an acknowledgment of the difference.

The words that Paul used neither exclude nor imply that Jesus was buried in a tomb. I will be the first to acknowledge that the words do not exclude tomb burial. But the idea of a tomb is only possibly in the mind of Paul. And one cannot argue to a solid conclusion on the basis of mere possibility. This is because the words of Paul in his letters do not imply tomb burial. While the concept of a tomb is not denied and it may or may not be there in the mind of Paul, it is not there in his words. The word used by Paul indicates burial in a general sense and does not have the specific meaning of “entombed.” Paul’s words cannot be taken as a testimony in favor of a tomb burial. Nor, for the same reason, should they be taken as a testimony against a tomb burial. In short, Paul’s words are ambiguous.

However, if it cannot be argued that a tomb burial is found in Paul’s words, perhaps it can be argued that Paul accepted a tomb burial because a tomb burial is, in fact, what happened. For this reason, I have already examined the arguments for the historicity of the tomb burial of Jesus by Joseph of Arimathea and found them to be insufficient.

A second possible reference to the empty tomb is the phrase ‘on the third day.’ Since no one actually saw the resurrection of Jesus, how could it be dated on the third day? Some critics argue that it was on this day that the women found the tomb empty, so the resurrection came to be dated on that day. {22} Thus, the phrase ‘on the third day’ not only presupposes that a resurrection leaves an empty grave behind, but is a definite reference to the historical fact of Jesus’ empty tomb. But of course there are many other ways to interpret this phrase: (1) The third day dates the first appearance of Jesus. (2) Because Christians assembled for worship on the first day of the week, the resurrection was assigned to this day. (3) Parallels in the history of religions influenced the dating of the resurrections on the third day. (4) The dating of the third day is lifted from Old Testament scriptures. (5) The third day is a theological interpretation indicating God’s salvation, deliverance, and manifestation. Each of these needs to be examined in turn.

Craig has taken on the burden of disproving all other possible explanations for the origin of the phrase “on the third day” in order to champion his own explanation that the phrase gets its origin from the discovery of the empty tomb on the third day after the death of Jesus. However, I would maintain that at least one of these remain a possible explanation. So I will criticize the arguments made by Craig to disprove them.

I will note here that the phrase “on the third day,” outside of the Gospels and Acts, occurs only in the section of 1Cor 15:3-11 in the New Testament. As noted before, if this is considered an interpolation, then this argument cannot get off the ground.

1. The third day dates the first appearance of Jesus. {23} In favor of this view is the proximity of the statement ‘raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures’ with ‘he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve’. Because Jesus appeared on the third day, the resurrection itself was naturally dated on that day. The phrase ‘according to the scriptures’ could indicate that the Christians, having believed Christ rose on the third day, sought out appropriate proof texts. This understanding has certain plausibility, for whether the disciples remained inJerusalemor fled toGalilee, they could have seen Jesus on the third day after his death. If it can be proved, however, that the disciples returned slowly toGalileeand saw Christ only some time later, then this view would have to be rejected. A discussion of this question must be deferred until later. Against this understanding of the third day it is sometimes urged that the Easter reports do not use the expression ‘on the third day’ but prefer to speak of ‘the first day of the week’ (Mk 16. 2; Mt. 28. 1; Lk 24. 1; Jn 20. 1, 19).{24} All the ‘third day’ references are in the Easter kerygma, not the Easter reports. This is said to show not only the independence of the Easter reports from the kerygma, but also that neither the empty tomb nor the appearances of Christ can be the direct cause of the ‘third day’ motif.{25}

Craig has correctly noted that the theory that the origin of the phrase “on the third day” is due to an appearance on the third day would be disproved if the first appearance were not on the third day but instead a while later while the disciples were inGalilee.

But why could they not be the root cause? All that has been proved by the above is that the Easter reports and the Easter preaching are literarily distinct, but that cannot prove that they are not twin offshoots of an original event. The event could produce the report on the one hand; on the other hand it would set the believers a-searching in the Old Testament for fulfilled scriptures. In this search they could find and adopt the language of the third day because, according to Jewish reckoning, the first day of the week was in fact the third day after Jesus’ death.{26} Scriptures in hand, they could thus proclaim ‘he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures’. This language could then be used by the evangelists outside the Easter reports or actually interwoven with them, as by Luke. Thus the same root event could produce two different descriptions of the day of the resurrection. But was that event the first appearance of Jesus? Here one cannot exclude the empty tomb from playing a role, for the time reference ‘the first day of the week’ (= ‘on the third day’) refers primarily to it. If the appearances first occurred on the same day as the discovery of the empty tomb, then these two events together would naturally date the resurrection, and the ‘third day’ language could reflect the LXX formulation, which is found in I Cor 15. 4 and was worked into the traditions underlying the gospels. So I think it unlikely that the date ‘on the third day’ refers to the day of the first appearance alone.

Craig has only shown that it is possible that both the discovery of the empty tomb and the first appearance on “the first day of the week” or “the third day” could both play a role in the origin of the kerygmatic proclamation that Christ was raised “on the third day.” However, Craig has not in any way shown that it is unlikely that the date “on the third day” refers to the day of the first appearance alone. Certainly one cannot exclude the role of an empty tomb, but just as certainly one cannot assume it. It remains a possible theory that the first appearance, for example to Peter, occured on the third day after the death of Jesus and that this is what led to the dating of the resurrection “on the third day.”

2. Because Christians assembled on the first day of the week, the resurrection was assigned to this day. {27} Although this hypothesis once enjoyed adherents, it is now completely abandoned. Rordorf’s study Der Sonntag has demonstrated to the satisfaction of New Testament critics that the expression ‘raised on the third day’ has nothing to do with Christian Sunday worship.{28} More likely would be that because the resurrection was on the third day, Christians worshipped on that day. But even though the question of how Sunday came to be the Christian special day of worship is still debated, no theory is today propounded which would date the resurrection as a result of Sunday as a worship day.

I would agree that this explanation, if not impossible, seems unlikely.

3. Parallels in the history of religions influenced the dating of the resurrection on the third day.{29} In the hey-day of the history of religions school, all sorts of parallels in the history of other religions were adduced in order to explain the resurrection on the third day; but today critics are more sceptical concerning such alleged parallels. The myths of dying and rising gods in pagan religions are merely symbols for processes of nature and have no connection with a real historical individual like Jesus of Nazareth. {30} The three-day motif is found only in the Osiris and perhaps Adonis cults, and, in Grass’s words, it is ‘completely unthinkable’ that the early Christian community from which the formula stems could be influenced by such myths.{31} In fact there is hardly any trace of cults of dying and rising gods at all in first century Palestine.

I am not as sure as Craig that there could be no influence from pagan religions on early Christianity. How can we rationally denounce this as “completely unthinkable”? We do not know that Peter and the others had never come into contact with such cults because we do not know much at all about Peter and the others. The most that can be said, rationally, is that this is unlikely. It should certainly be considered thinkable that they had heard of some of the myths of these cults. Nevertheless, I do not consider it to be necessary to rely on this explanation, and I would also tend to prefer ones that do stay within the matrix of Judaism. If nothing else, however, the myths of Osiris and Adonis should teach us that no historical basis need be presumed for the belief to develop that an event occurred “on the third day” in some sense.

It has also been suggested that the three day motif reflects the Jewish belief that the soul did not depart decisively from the body until after three days.{32} But the belief was actually that the soul departed irrevocably on the fourth day, not the third; in which case the analogy with the resurrection is weaker. But the decisive count against this view is that the resurrection would not then be God’s act of power and deliverance from death, for the soul had not yet decisively left the body, but merely re-entered and resuscitated it. This would thus discredit the resurrection of Jesus. If this Jewish notion were in mind, the expression would have been ‘raised on the fourth day’ after the soul had forever abandoned the body and all hope was gone (cf. the raising of Lazarus).

I believe that Craig’s argument here is fair.

Some critics have thought that the third day reference is meant only to indicate, in Hebrew reckoning, ‘a short time’ or ‘a while’.{33} But when one considers the emphasis laid on this motif not only in the formula but especially in the gospels, then so indefinite a reference would not have the obvious significance which the early Christians assigned to this phrase.

I do not consider this refutation to be sound. What if the earliest Christians had no real bearings for saying when the resurrection had occurred? If this were the case, because they would not have anything definite but would know that some time had passed, the single most likely candidate would be the phrase “on the third day” to indicate a short time or a while. The significance in the phrase would not be immediate but would be drawn from repeated use of the phrase in kerygma. This explanation may be supplemented with the compatible explanations in numbers (4) and (5). Or it is indeed possible that this explanation stands on its own as the genesis of the phrase.

4. The dating of the third day is lifted from Old Testament scriptures. {34} Because the formula reads ‘on the third day in accordance with the scriptures’ many authors believe that the third day motif is drawn from the Old Testament, especially Hos 6. 2, which in the LXX reads te hemera te trite. {35} Although Metzger has asserted, with appeal to I Maccabees 7. 16-17 that the ‘according to the scriptures’ may refer to the resurrection, not the third day,{36} this view is difficult to maintain in light, not only of the parallel in I Cor 15. 3, but especially of Lk 24. 45 where the third day seems definitely in mind. Against taking the ‘on the third day’ to refer to Hos 6. 2 it has been urged that no explicit quotation of the text is found in the New Testament, or indeed anywhere until Tertullian (Adversus Judaeos 13).{37} New Testament quotations of the Old Testament usually mention the prophet’s name and are of the nature of promise-fulfillment. But nowhere do we find this for Hos 6. 2.

Craig does recognize below that Hosea 6:2 is the most likely source for “the language” used in the expression te hemera te trite. Thus, I consider the protestations conerning explicit quotation and the naming of prophets to be only so much hot air. The earliest Christians probably had Hosea 6:2 in mind, if not for the substance, at least for the language of the third day motif as expressed by Paul. With this recognized, arguments that the phrase have nothing to do with Hosea 6:2 should be seen as false by Craig himself.

And these arguments are false on their own account as well. No explicit quotation of the text needs to be made in order to make use of a text in the Jewish scriptures. No explicit mention of the prophet needs to be made in the use of Jewish scriptures. This is especially true for what Craig would stress to be a summary kerygma tradition in 1Cor 15. The expression in the formula used by Paul does say that this is found in the scriptures, without quoting or naming names, which in itself belies the premise of both arguments. Of course, it is possible that more than one part of the scriptures was thought by Christians to refer to the resurrection on the third day. But Hosea 6:2 is most likely one of them, since it is on all accounts the most clear example of one.

Grass retorts that there is indirect evidence for Christian use of Hos 6. 2 in the Targum Hosea’s dropping the reference to the number of days; the passage had to be altered because Christians had preempted the verse. Moreover, Jesus’ own ‘predictions’, written back into the gospel story by believers after the event, obviated the need to cite a scripture reference. {38} But Grass’s first point is not only speculative, but actually contradicted by the fact that later Rabbis saw no difficulty in retaining the third day reference in Hosea.{39} No conclusion can be drawn from Targum Hosea’s change in wording, for the distinctive characteristic of this Targum is its free haggadic handling of the text. And this still says nothing about New Testament practice of citing the prophet’s name. As for the second point, Matthew’s citation of Jonah (Mt.12.40) makes this rather dubious. According to Bode, Matthew’s citation is the decisive argument against Hos 6. 2, since it shows the latter was not the passage which Christians had in mind with regard to the three day motif.{40}

The arguments of both Grass and Bode are suspect here. The argument about the Targum Hosea certainly does not provide a proof that Christians were using this text; it only provides an explanation for why this particular change could have been made. The fact of its free handling would have allowed the change to be made while later rabbis would retain it for respect of the text. I think that this argument can be used only in a defensive manner by Grass, not to prove that the text was used but to cast doubt on Craig’s claim that the text wasn’t used by early Christians (which he seems to conclude because it is first explicitly cited by Tertullian). Bode’s argument actually shows that Christians more than likely had found, eventually, more than one scriptural precedent for associating three days with the date of the resurrection. The passage cannot be the primary cause of on the third day as found in Paul because, by inclusive reckoning, the passage of time of three days and three nights in Jonah would logically lead to the expression “on the fourth day.”

But to my mind the greatest difficulty with the Hos 6. 2 understanding of ‘on the third day’ is that it necessitates that the disciples without the instigation of any historically corresponding event would find and adopt such a scripture reference. For this understanding requires that no appearances occurred and no discovery of the empty tomb was made on the third day / first day of the week. Otherwise these events would be the basis for the date of the resurrection, not Hos 6. 2 alone. But if there were no such events, then it is very unlikely that the disciples should land upon Hos 6. 2 and apply it to Jesus’s resurrection. It is much more likely that such events should prompt them to search the scriptures for appropriate texts, which could then be interpreted in light of the resurrection (Jn 2. 22; 12, 16; 20. 8-9).{41}

If the passage in Hosea 6:2 were read by someone who believed that Jesus was prefigured in the words of the scriptures and who believed in the resurrection of Jesus, then the application to Jesus and the resurrection would be obvious enough. Although this may be a great difficulty to the mind of Dr. Craig, this may not be a great difficulty to the mind of Peter, James, or Paul. It should be acknowledged that the earliest Jewish-Christians could have had a great respect for the Jewish scriptures such that they had great expectations of finding information in them that was stated obliquely. Furthermore, as was stated in response to (3), if there were indeed no historical bearings, then it would not require much to settle on the expression that Christ was raised “on the third day.”

And insofar as the empty tomb tradition or appearance traditions prove accurate the understanding in question is undermined. For if the empty tomb was discovered on the first day of the week or Peter saw Jesus on the third day, then the view that ‘the third day’ was derived solely from scripture is untenable. At most one could say that the language of the LXX was applied to these events. The falsity of the gospel traditions concerning both the discovery of the empty tomb and the day of the first appearance is thus a sine qua non for the Hos 6. 2 understanding, and hence should either of these traditions prove accurate, the appeal to Hos 6. 2 as the basis (as opposed to the language) for the date of the resurrection must be rejected.

This argument is correct in itself. However, it is an argument that Craig should not use. This is because it involves a circular argument in the larger context of Craig’s essay. The final conclusion that Craig is trying to establish is that the empty tomb was discovered on the first day of the week after the crucifixion. In order to establish this conclusion, Craig has been arguing that the expression “on the third day” in Paul can only have been used if an empty tomb were discovered on the third day. In order to establish this conclusion, Craig has been arguing that other explanations for the expression cannot be the case. Yet this particular argument that has been put forward in order to disprove this explanation depends on the assumption that the empty tomb was discovered on the first day of the week after the crucifixion. This is arguing in a circle.

If it be objected that Craig also states that this argument could instead use the assumption that the first appearance was on the third day, I maintain that there is still a fallacy. As I argued above, it is plausible in itself that only an appearance and not an empty tomb gave rise to the expression “on the third day.” Thus, if the assumption is granted that the first appearance occurred on the third day, there would still be an explanation for the expression that does not involve the discovery of an empty tomb.

5. The third day is a theological interpretation indicating God’s salvation, deliverance, and manifestation. {42} This understanding is, I think, the only serious alternative to regarding the third day motif as based on the historical events of the resurrection, and it has been eloquently expounded by Lehmann and supported by Bode and McArthur as well. To begin with, there are nearly 30 passages in the LXX that use the phrase te hemera te trite to describe events that happened on the third day.{43} On the third day Abraham offered Isaac (Gen. 22. 4; cf. Gen. 34. 25; 40. 20). On the third day Joseph released his brothers from prison (Gen. 42. 18). After three days God made a covenant with his people and gave the law (Ex 19. 11, 16; cf. Lev 8. 18; Num. 7. 24; 19. 12, 19; Judg 19. 8; 20. 30). On the third day David came to Ziklag to fight the Amalekites (I Sam 30. 1) and on the third day thereafter heard the news of Saul and Jonathan’s death (2 Sam 1, 2). On the third day the kingdom was divided (I Kings 12. 24; cf. 2 Chron 10. 12). On the third day King Hezekiah went to the House of the Lord after which he was miraculously healed (2 Kings 20. 5, 8). On the third day Esther began her plan to save her people (Esther 5. 1; cf. 2 Mace II. 18). The only passage in the prophets mentioning the third day is Hos 6. 2. Thus, the third day is a theologically determined time at which God acts to bring about the new and the better, a time of life, salvation, and victory. On the third day comes resolution of a difficulty through God’s act.

A second step is to consider the interpretation given to such passages in Jewish Midrash (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis [Mikketz] 91. 7; Midrash Rabbah, Esther 9. 2; Midrash Rabbah, Deuteronomy [Ki Thabo] 7. 6; Midrash on Psalms 22. 5).{44} From Jewish Midrash it is evident that the third day was the day when God delivered the righteous from distress or when events reached their climax. It is also evident that Hos 6. 2 was interpreted in terms of resurrection, albeit at the end of history. The mention of the offering of Isaac on the third day is thought to have had a special influence on Christian thought, as we shall see.

A third step in the argument is comparison of other Rabbinical literature concerning the third day with regard to the resurrection (Targum Hosea 6. 2; B. Sanhedrin 97a; B. Rosh Hashanah 3 la; P. Berakoth S. 2; P. Sanhedrin 11. 6; Pirkê de Rabbi Eliezer 51. 73b-74a; Tanna de-be Ehyyahu, p. 29).{45} These passages make it evident that the rabbis were interpreting Hos 6. 2 in the sense of an eschatological resurrection.

Now according to Lehmann, when one brings together the testimonies of the Midrash Rabbah, the rabbinic writings, and the passages from the LXX, then it becomes highly probable that I Cor 15. 4 can be illuminated by these texts and their theology. Of particular importance here is the sacrifice of Isaac, which grew to have a great meaning for Jewish theology.{46} In pre-Christian Judaism the sacrifice of Isaac was already brought into connection with the Passover. He became a symbol of submission and self-sacrifice to God. The offering of Isaac was conceived to have salvific worth. In the blood of the sacrifices, God saw and remembered the sacrifice of Isaac and so continued His blessing ofIsrael. This exegesis of Gen. 22 leaves traces in Rom 4. 17, 25; 8. 32 and Heb 11. 17-19. This last text particularly relates the resurrection of Jesus to the sacrifice of Isaac. When we consider the formula in I Cor 15, with its Semitic background, then it is much more probable that the expression ‘on the third day’ reflects the influence of Jewish traditions that later came to be written in the Talmud and Midrash than that it refers to Hos 6. 2 alone as a proof text. Thus, ‘on the third day’ does not mark the discovery of the empty tomb or the first appearance, nor is it indeed any time indicator at all, but rather it is the day of God’s deliverance and victory. It tells us that God did not leave the Righteous One in distress, but raised him up and so ushered in a new eon.

Although I would consider other explanations to be possible, and although a part of explanations (3) and (4) could be incorporated into the thesis of (5), the basic explanation for the expression “on the third day” is this: It can most easily be seen to have everything to do with scriptural precedent and Jewish tradition. In short, if there were no historical basis for dating the resurrection event, we would almost expect the expression to be formed that it happened “on the third day.” If it were instead the second or the fourth or the fifth, then a reference to that day would tend to support Craig’s position that something historical happened on that particular day after the death of Jesus. This would be true for almost any day other than “the third day.” Indeed, in that we might expect that a historical event could happen on any day but that there is only a limited repertoire of symbolic themes, the fact that the expression is “on the third day” serves as a confirmation of the theory, when it might otherwise have been falsified, that the dating of the resurrection is mythically, figuratively, scripturally, or theologically based instead of based in history.

In any case, the burden is on Craig to demonstrate that the explanation offered by Lehmann is known to be false. After all, Craig has offered no arguments for his theory that “on the third day” derives from the discovery of the empty tomb other than that he believes that the other proposed explanations are false. If the other explanations remain plausible, if not proven, then Craig’s argument is undone.

Lehmann’s case is well-documented and very persuasive; but doubt begins to arise when we consider the dates of the citations from Talmud and Midrash.{47} For all of them are hundreds of years later than the New Testament period. Midrash Rabbah, which forms the backbone of Lehmann’s case, is a collection from the fourth to the sixth centuries. Pirkê de Rabbi Eliezer is a collection from the outgoing eighth century. The Midrash on Psalm 22 contains the opinions of the Amoraim, rabbinical teachers of the third to the fifth centuries. The Babylonian Talmud and the so-called Jerusalem Talmud are the fruit of the discussions and elaborations of these Amoraim on the Mishnah, which was redacted, arranged, and revised by RabbiJudahha-Nasi about the beginning of the third century. The Mishnah itself, despite its length, never once quotes Hos 6. 2; Gen. 22. 4; 42. 17; Jonah 2. 1; or any other of the passages in question which mention the third day. The Targum on Hosea, says McArthur, is associated with Jonathan b. Uzziel of the first century; but this ascription is quite uncertain and in any case tells us nothing concerning Hos 6. 2 in particular, since the Targum as a whole involves a confluence of early and late material. Thus all the citations concerning the significance of the third day and interpreting Hos 6. 2 in terms of an eschatological resurrection may well stem from literature centuries removed from the New Testament period,

Craig askes us to “consider the dates of the citations from Talmud and Midrash.” However, it would be accurate to say that we should consider the dates of the Talmud and Midrash in general. It is recognized that the Talmud and most related Jewish writings that comment on the scriptures did not begin to be compiled at all until the third century. It is also recognized that a great deal of the traditions contained in them do go back for centuries. So while the existence of these traditions in the Talmud does not prove the existence of these traditions in the first century, it certainly does make it plausible that these traditions existed in the first century. For Craig to satisfy the burden undertaken of disproving Lehmann’s thesis, Craig will need to do more than to cast doubt.

Moreover, it should be recognized that the sole value of the citations from the Talmud and the Midrash is not in demonstrating the existence of oral traditions that may go back to the first century. They are also useful simply to demonstrate that there are certain theological ideas that are latent in the Jewish scriptures, that exegesis which associates resurrection with the third day would not be alien to the Jewish scriptures, and thus that we need look no further than the Jewish scriptures for the idea that Christ “was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” It does not matter very much if the connections in the Jewish scriptures were worked out by pre-Christian Jews or by the early Jewish-Christians so long as the connections in the Jewish scriptures are there.

Lehmann believes that these citations embody traditions that go back orally prior to the Christian era. But if that is the case then should not we expect to confront these motifs in Jewish literature contemporaneous with the New Testament times, namely, the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha? One would especially expect to confront the third day motif in the apocalyptic works. In fact, it is conspicuously absent. The book of I Enoch, which is quoted in Jude, had more influence on the New Testament writers than any other apocryphal or pseudepigraphic work and is a valuable source of information concerning Judaism from 200 BC to AD 100. In this work the eschatological resurrection is associated with the number seven, not three (91. 15-16; 93). Similarly in 4 Ezra, a first century compilation, the eschatological resurrection takes place after seven days (7. 26-44). A related work from the second half of the first century and a good representative of Jewish thought contemporaneous with the New Testament, 2 Baruch gives no indication of the day of the resurrection at history’s end (50-5 1). Neither does 2 Macc 7. 9- 42; 12. 43-45 or the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (Judah) 25. 1, 4; (Zebulun) 10. 2; (Benjamin) 10. 6-18. All these works, which stem from intertestamental or New Testament times, have a doctrine of eschatological resurrection, but not one of them knows of the third day motif. Evidently the number seven was thought to have greater divine import than the number three (cf. Rev 1. 20; 6. 1; 8. 2; 15. 1, 7). In 2 Macc 5. 14; 11. 18 we find ‘three days’ and ‘third day’ mentioned in another context, but their meaning is wholly non-theological, indicating only ‘a short time’ or ‘the day after tomorrow’. Lehmann’s case would be on firmer ground if he were able to find passages in Jewish literature contemporary with the New Testament which employ the third day motif or associate the resurrection with the third day. It appears that this interpretation is a peculiarity of later rabbinical exegesis of the Talmudic period.

It is true that Lehmann’s case would be on firmer ground if he had such passages establishing a first century association of the third day and eschatological resurrection. However, I do not believe that the absence of such passages is effective disproof. Indeed, it might be objected that what is now called the New Testament has been excluded from examination, although a three day motif is present in some of the Jewish writings there (if Judaism is taken in a broad sense to include early Christianity). While it would be wrong to argue from the presence of the motif in the NT to the presence of the motif in pre-Christian circles, this fact might be used defensively against Craig’s argument that it is not found anywhere in the first century, along with the fact that we do not have anything near comprehensive material on contemporary Judaism.

Also, it would hardly be fatal to the total explanation if it were granted that pre-Christian Jews did not associate the third day and eschatological resurrection. This is only the “third step” in Lehmann’s argument as outlined by Craig. There remains the strong association in the first two steps between the third day and the day of God’s deliverance.

Moreover, there is no indication that the New Testament writers were aware of such exegesis. Lehmann states that the conception of the offering of Isaac as a salvific event is characteristic of the New Testament. But this is not the question; the issue is whether the interpretation of the offering of Isaac on the third day plays a role in the New Testament. Here the evidence is precisely to the contrary: Rom 4. 17, 25 not only have nothing to do with the offering of Isaac (it is to Gen. 15, not 22 that Paul turns for his doctrine of justification by faith), but refer to Jesus’s resurrection without mentioning the third day; Rom 8. 32 makes no explicit mention of Isaac and no mention, implicit or explicit, of the resurrection, not to speak of the third day; Heb 11. 17-19 does not in fact explicitly use Isaac as a type of Christ, but more importantly does not in any way mention the third day. This latter passage seems to be crucial, for in this passage, of all places, one would expect the mention of the third day theme in connection with the resurrection. But it does not appear. This suggests that the connection of the sacrifice of Isaac with a third day motif was not yet known. In the other passage in which the offering of Isaac is employed (Jas 2. 21-23), there is also no mention of the third day motif. (And James even goes on to use the illustration of Rahab the harlot and the spies, again without mentioning the three day theme, as did later Rabbinic exegesis.) Hence, the appeal to the offering of Isaac as evidence that the New Testament knows of the rabbinic exegesis concerning the theological significance of the third day is counter- productive.

As I said before, the phrase “on the third day” is indeed only found in the passage in 1Cor 15 outside of the Gospels and Acts in the New Testament. Thus, Craig’s arguments here will apply to almost any proposed explanation for the third day motif because the Pauline epistles do not provide the key to understanding the third day motif (other than the somewhat cryptic “according to the scriptures”). Given its scarcity of appearnce, it does not necessarily seem to be all-pervasive in early Christian thought, and this may be the reason that no explicit connection is made with the third day in the passages concerning Isaac. The association of Isaac as a type of Christ in itself may have been stronger than any third day motif in early Christianity, so it is sensible to mention Isaac but not the little emphasized “third day” association. This does not imply, when the third day is mentioned in a formula as according to the scriptures, that the offering of Isaac played no role in the origin of the third day formula. Moreover, the general theme of God’s deliverance on the third day may be the source of the phrase without any particular emphasis on Isaac as the source of this association.

Finally, Lehmann’s interpretation labors under the same difficulty as did the appeal to Hos 6. 2 alone; namely, in order for this interpretation to be true, the traditions of the discovery of the empty tomb and of the time of the first appearances must be false. For if these events did occur on the third day/first day of the week, this would undoubtedly have affected the early believers’ dating of those events. But then the dating cannot be wholly ascribed to theological motifs.

Craig has made the same circular argument again.

If we say that the traditions are false, the question then becomes whether the disciples would have adopted the language of the third day. For suppose the first appearance of Christ was to Peter, say, a week later as he was fishing in Galilee. Would the believers then say that Jesus was raised on the third day rather than the seventh? Lehmann says yes; for the ‘third day’ is not meant in any sense as a time indicator, but is a purely theological concept. But were the disciples so speculative?

Craig has offered an ingenious example, for the number seven also has theological significance. In such a case, we might expect that the disciples would proclaim that Jesus had risen on the seventh day. But suppose instead that the first appearance of Christ was to Peter, say, nineteen days later as he was fishing inGalilee. Would the disciples see that appearance as determinative of the day that Christ was raised or simply as an indication that Christ was raised? It would be quite plausible that they did not attach any particular significance to the nineteenth day. Now with the belief in the resurrection and without any firm historical basis for dating it, I would say that it is quite plausible that at some point the kerygma would include the expression that Christ was raised “on the third day according to the scriptures.” I don’t think the disciples would have believed themselves to be “speculative” for doing so. In my opinion, they would think that what they preached had the approval of God.

Certainly Luke understands the third day as a time indicator, for he writes ‘But on the first day of the week … That very day … it is now the third day … the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead’ (Lk 24. 1, 13, 21, 46). Lehmann and Bode’s response is that Luke as a Gentile did not understand the theological significance of the third day, which would have been clear to his Jewish contemporaries, and so mistook it as a time indicator.{48} This cannot but make one feel rather uneasy about Lehmann’s hypothesis, for it involves isolating Luke from all his Jewish contemporaries. And I suspect that this dichotomy between historical understanding and theological significance is an import from the twentieth century. The Rabbis cited in the Talmud and Midrash no doubt believed both that the events in question really happened on the third day and that they were theologically significant, for they include in their lists of events that occurred on the third day not only events in which the third day was important theologically (as in the giving of the law) but also events in which the third day was not charged with theological significance (as in Rahab and the spies). There is no reason to think that the New Testament writers did not think Jesus actually rose on the third day; John, for example, certainly seems to take the three day figure as a time indicator by contrasting it with the 46 years it took to build the temple (Jn 2. 20). But in this case, it is doubtful that they would have adopted the language of the third day unless the Easter events really did take place on the third day.

I would not adopt the same response here as the one made by Lehmann and Bode. I would answer that, under this explanation, the expression “on the third day” began because of its theological significance. Although the cause is theological, it is not necessarily the case that the theological meaning was ever divorced from a literal meaning. Yet even if it were, there is no general prohibition on the evolution of ideas, especially such a relatively subtle one, so it is plausible that this phrase came to take on both theological and literal meaning within the Christian community at large, whether of Jewish or Gentile background. There is reason to think that the gospel writers thought Jesus rose on the third day in some literal sense that may have been connected to the discovery of the empty tomb. But this literal sense need not imply the belief in the empty tomb in Christians earlier than the gospel writers, so long as the origin of the phrase was not a historical happening. There is no reason to assume that the understanding of the evangelists applied to Paul and the early Christians. That is, indeed, the very point that has been under contention this whole time.

This suggests that while the LXX may have provided the language for the dating of the resurrection, the historical events of Easter provided the basis for dating the resurrection. The events of Easter happened on ‘the first day of the week’, but the language of ‘the third day’ was adopted because (1) the first day of the week was in fact the third day subsequent to the crucifixion, and (2) the third day in the LXX was a day of climax and of God’s deliverance.

I think this is the most likely account of the matter. This means that the phrase ‘on the third day’ in the formula of I Cor 15 is a time indicator for the events of Easter, including the empty tomb, employing the language of the Old Testament concerning God’s acts of deliverance and victory on the third day, perhaps with texts like Jonah 2. 11 and Hos 6. 2 especially in mind. The phrase is, inLiechtenstein’s words, a fusion of historical facts plus theological tradition.{49}

As Craig has mentioned, Edward Lynn Bode is among those who do not accept the argument that Paul must have believed in the empty tomb because of the formula that Christ was raised on the third day. It is important to note that Bode does adduce a number of the arguments to affirm the historicity of the empty tomb, yet he does not see fit to use this one. It is for this reason that I will quote his statement on the matter:

Rather the source of the resurrection on the third day according to the scriptures is to be explained through the general Old Testamant motif, which is enforced by midrash and targum, that the third day is the day of divine salvation, deliverance and manifestation. This motif is well illustrated in such events as: Abraham’s intended sacrifice of Isaac, the appearance of Yahweh on Mount Sinai, the crossing of the Jordanby Joshua and his companions, Ezra’s departure with the exiles in Babylon, the delierance of the exiled Jews at the time of Esther. The notion is summed up in Genesis Rabba: God does not leave the just man in distress longer than three days. It would be natural for the earliest Christians, embued as they were with a sense of the fulfillment of scipture, to see in the resurrection the salvation, deliverance and manifestation of Jesus as the Lord and thus to designate it in accordance with the recognized scriptural motif as taking place on the third day after the apparent defeat of death and burial. Thus, one cannot appeal to the third day as implying the empty tomb.[101]

Craig’s criticism of such an interpretation has been limited to arguing that (1) rabbinic oral traditions may not go back to the first century, (2) pre-Christian Jews did not associate three days with the eschatological resurrection, and (3) early Christians did not associate Isaac particularly with the resurrection on the third day. However, there remains the plausible general explanation that the source of the formula that Christ “was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures” is the scriptural motif of God’s deliverance on the third day.

It is a little sad if Paul did actually believe in the empty tomb but just failed to mention it in his letters. What could have been decisively settled in a few words from Paul must be doubtfully argued in over 5000 words from Craig in his essay. The great bulk of that argumentation does not really point directly to the conclusion that Paul believed in the empty tomb. Most is dedicated to discrediting different ideas which other scholars have proposed, particularly when Craig discusses the nuances of the five enumerated explanations for the origin of the simple phrase “on the third day.” Yet the point has not been made more certain through these efforts, and all this speculation does not add up to plain historical fact. There remains reasonable doubt, and based on the testimony of Paul himself, it remains plausible that Paul did not believe in the empty tomb story.

There can be little doubt, therefore, that Paul accepted the idea of an empty tomb as a matter of course. But did he know the empty tomb of Jesus? Here we must go outside the confines of I Cor 15 and take a larger view of the historical context in which Paul moved. We know from Paul’s own letters that Paul was inJerusalemthree years after his conversion, and that he stayed with Peter two weeks and also spoke with James (Gal 1. 18-19). We know that fourteen years later he was again inJerusalemand that he ministered with Barnabas inAntioch(Gal 2. 1, I 1). We know that he again was later traveling toJerusalemwith financial relief for the brethren there (Rom 15. 25; 1 Cor 16. 3; 2 Cor 8-9). Furthermore, his letters testify to his correspondence with his various churches, and his personal references make it clear that he had a team of fellow workers like Titus, Timothy, Silas, Aristarchus, Justus, and others who kept him well-informed on the situation in the churches; he also received personal reports from other believers, such as Chloe’s people (I Cor 1. 11). Paul knew well not only the aberrations of the churches (Gal; I Cor 15. 29), but also the context of the traditions he delivered (I Cor 11. 23-26). Therefore, if the gospel accounts of the empty tomb embody old traditions concerning its discovery, it is unthinkable that Paul would not know of it. If Mark’s narrative contains an old tradition coming out of theJerusalemcommunity, then Paul would have had to be a recluse not to know of it. This point seems so elementary, but it is somehow usually overlooked by even those who hold that Mark embodies old traditions. If the tradition of the empty tomb is old then somebody would have told Paul about it. But even apart from the Markan tradition, Paul must have known the empty tomb. Paul certainly believed that the grave was empty. Therefore Peter, with whom Paul spoke during those two weeks inJerusalem, must also have believed the tomb was empty. A Jew could not think otherwise. Therefore, the Christian community also, of which Peter was the leader, must have believed in the empty tomb. But that can only mean that the tomb was empty. For not only would the disciples not believe in a resurrection if the corpse were still in the grave, but they could never have proclaimed the resurrection either under such circumstances. But if the tomb was empty, then it is unthinkable that Paul, being in the city for two weeks six years later and after that often in contact with the Christian community there, should never hear a thing about the empty tomb. Indeed, is it too much to imagine that during his two week stay Paul would want to visit the place where the Lord lay? Ordinary human feelings would suggest such a thing.{50} So I think that it is highly probable that Paul not only accepted the empty tomb, but that he also knew that the actual grave of Jesus was empty.

With his essay on “The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” and his comments above, I think the most that Craig may have demonstrated is that Paul most likely did believe that the physical body of Jesus would have been transformed in the resurrection of Jesus. I do not think that we can infer from Paul’s testimony that he was aware of any traditions to the effect that the tomb of Jesus was discovered empty on Easter Sunday. The ignorance of Paul and other early Christians of any empty tomb story would be plausible if the gravesite of Jesus were unknown to early Christians. If the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea in a well-known location is not a reliable tradition, then this argument fails. For this reason, I have already discussed the arguments for the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea and found them to be inadequate.

With this conclusion in hand, we may now proceed to the gospel accounts of the discovery of the empty tomb to see if they supply us with any additional reliable information. Found in all four gospels, the empty tomb narrative shows sure evidence of traditional material in the agreement between the Synoptics and John. It is certain that traditions included that on the first day of the week women, at least Mary Magdalene, came to the tomb early and found the stone taken away; that they saw an angelic appearance; that they informed the disciples, at least Peter, who went, found the tomb empty with the grave clothes lying still in the grave, and returned home puzzled; that the women saw a physical appearance of Jesus shortly thereafter; and that Jesus gave them certain instructions for the disciples. Not all the Synoptics record all these traditions; but John does, and at least one Synoptic confirms each incident; thus, given John’s independence from the Synoptics, these incidents are traditional. That is not to say they are historical.

It is important to note that many scholars would disagree with the assumption that the Gospel of John is literarily independent of the Synoptics.[102] Moreover, the oral traditions that are found in John may have had their origin in the stories found in the Synoptics. In other words, the story may still have been invented by Mark even if it was found in oral tradition by John because oral tradition can surely be affected by the gospels that are read liturgically. Thus, the question of the historicity of the empty tomb narrative can be reduced to the question of the historicity of the empty tomb narrative in the Gospel of Mark. As Peter Carnley states, “the empty tomb story has a single toehold in the tradition.”[103]

The story of the discovery of the empty tomb was in all likelihood the conclusion or at least part of the pre-Markan passion story.{51} About the only argument against this is the juxtaposition of the lists in Mk 15. 47 and 16. 1, which really affords no grounds for such a conclusion at all.{52} At the very most, this could only force one to explain one or the other as an editorial addition; it would not serve to break off the empty tomb story from the passion narrative.{53} The most telling argument in favor of 16. 1-8’s belonging to the passion story is that it is unthinkable that the passion story could end in defeat and death with no mention of the empty tomb or resurrection. As Wilckens has urged, the passion story is incomplete without victory at the end.{54}

I am doubtful about the existence of a pre-Markan passion story. The assumption of a pre-Markan passion narrative has been undermined by studies that show the final three chapters of Mark to contain themes developed throughout the Gospel. In The Passion in Mark, Donahue, Robbins, Kelber, Perrin, Dewey, Weeden, and Crossan interpret the passion narrative with the use of “hermeneutical clues” provided in the first thirteen chapters.[104] Kelber states the conclusion to be drawn: “The understanding of Mk 14-16 as a theologically integral part of the Mkan Gospel calls into question the classic form critical thesis concerning an independent and coherent Passion Narrative prior to Mk. Thematically, it is difficult to identify a major non-Mkan thrust or theme in Mk 14-16, let alone extrapolate a coherent pre-Mkan source.”[105] For this reason, I do not share Craig’s undefended assumption that there is a pre-Markan passion narrative.

However, let it be granted that there was a pre-Markan passion story. Can we know that its extent included the empty tomb story? The argument that the author would include “the victory at the end” of the empty tomb presupposes that the empty tomb story was in circulation at the time of writing the pre-Markan passion narrative. What if “the victory at the end” was seen in different terms? I will mention two such suggestions. Some suggest that the pre-Markan passion narrative ended at 15:39. The victory then would be seen as achieved on the cross itself. This is not necessarily an un-Christian thought. A different suggestion is made by Reginald Fuller. He suggests that, “Mark had received a passion narrative which concluded not with a story of the discovery of the empty tomb, but with a narrative of the two first appearances to Peter and the disciples.”[106] It is worth noting that, on either of these suggestions, there may not be a mention of the women at all in the pre-Markan passion narrative. Thus, Craig’s arguments in one footnote that the inclusion of 15:40-41 in the passion narrative makes the inclusion of later verses probable is irrelevant to these possible reconstructions of a pre-Markan passion narrative. There are plausible proposals for a pre-Markan passion narrative without the empty tomb story.

Confirmation of the inclusion of 16. 1-8 in the pre-Markan passion story is the remarkable correspondence to the course of events described in I Cor 15: died — was buried — rose — appeared; all these elements appear in the pre-Markan passion story, including Christ’s appearance (v. 7). Thus, there are strong reasons for taking the empty tomb account as part of the pre-Markan passion story.

It is non sequitur to argue from 1Cor 15 to a pre-Markan passion narrative. What if one has nothing to do with another? Besides, perhaps it was only the author of Mark who wrote with the aim of corresponding to the course of events in 1Cor 15. Perhaps the pre-Markan passion narrative followed a different outline. It’s not as though Paul states that his creed is found in detail in a written narrative. There’s no evidence to make a connection.

Like the burial story, the account of the discovery of the empty tomb is remarkably restrained. Bultmann states, ‘. . . Mark’s presentation is extremely reserved, in so far as the resurrection and the appearance of the risen Lord are not recounted.’ {55}

Why should the fictional style employed by Mark or the legend’s originator be required to include flights of fancy? Many of the best stories are stated in simple terms. The historicity of the account cannot be determined merely from the narrative style of the author. It should be noted here that not all legends and certainly not all fictions involve flagrantly extravagant descriptions of completely off-the-wall events. The presence of such elements may be a sufficient condition but are not a necessary condition of classifying a story as non-factual.

With this sentence, Bultmann has endeared himself to several defenders of the historicity of the empty tomb. Yet Bultmann does not believe in the historicity of the empty tomb story. Is it not fair to ask, if Bultmann holds this opinion, why does he not believe it to provide the support that apologists see in it? In order to understand why, one need look little further than the two sentences following the declaration from Bultmann: “Yet Mark’s presentation is extremely reserved, in so far as the Resurrection and the appearance of the risen Lord are not recounted. His construction is impressive: the wondering of the women v. 3, the surprised sight of the rolled-away stone and the appearance of the angel vv. 4f., the masterly formulated angelic message v. 6 and the shattering impression in v. 8. In Matthew and Luke the legend has already developed further.”[107] It seems clear, then, that Bultmann is describing the nature of Mark’s presentation, Mark’s legend, as an impressive if understated fictional construction.

If the account in Mark is judged to be relatively simple, that can be understood on the theory that the story is relatively recent at the time of Mark’s writing. Sometimes the Gospel of Mark is played off the later canonical Gospels or the Gospel of Peter to emphasize the simplicity of the Markan narrative. However, this is fundamentally an error. It is to presume that a legendary story must be born fully grown. If the empty tomb story is a Markan fiction or even a legend that grew up recently in the 60s or 70s, the story may have started simple. Legendary expansion by later writers hardly speaks for the historicity of the narrative.

Nauck observes that many theological motifs that might be expected are lacking in the story: (1) the proof from prophecy, (2) the in-breaking of the new eon, (3) the ascension of Jesus’ Spirit or his descent into hell, (4) the nature of the risen body, and (5) the use of Christological titles.{56} Although kerygmatic speech appears in the mouth of the angel, the fact of the discovery of the empty tomb is not kerygmatically colored. All these factors point to a very old tradition concerning the discovery of the empty tomb.

This argument would have force only if it could be shown that these specific theological motifs are to be expected from a Markan creation or anything other than very ancient tradition. Yet some of the motifs that Nauck mentions might actually be expected not to appear in a Markan fiction because they are not part of Markan theology at all. For example, concerning “the in-breaking of the new eon,” critic Norman Perrin holds that Markan theology has no sense of a period between the resurrection and the parousia as an important age in its own right.[108] The concept of “the ascension of Jesus’ Spirit” likewise may not be a part of Markan theology, which may see any “ascension” as synonymous with the resurrection. The concept of “his descent into hell” is not found in any of the four gospels and thus doesn’t indicate that Mark’s narrative is particularly early. If the author of Mark held the same view of “the nature of the risen body” as his predecessors, if there was not yet the concept of appearances in the flesh to the disciples, then we should likewise expect the author of Mark to be silent on this count. One element of the proof from prophecy is explicit in 16:7, where the man in the tomb states that Jesus is going before the disciples and Peter toGalilee”as he told you” (cf. Mk 14:28). The angelophany at the tomb cannot be artificially separated from the discovery of the empty tomb in order to claim that the whole is not kerygmatically colored. After all, the angelophany takes up three of the eight verses (16:5-7) or even four if the reaction of the women is included. That’s about half of the whole empty tomb story. The proof from prophecy is also implicit in the resurrection itself, which Jesus predicted three times as part of what must happen to the Son of Man (Mk 8:31, Mk 9:31, Mk 10:34). The only element above that is of substance for Markan theology but that isn’t explicit is christological appelation. However, the very ommission of christological titles can be seen as a typically Markan device. The author may have ommitted them to imply a lack of understanding on the part of the women.

Mark begins the story by relating that when the Sabbath was past (Saturday night), the women bought spices to anoint the body. The next morning they went to the tomb. The women’s intention to anoint the body has caused no end of controversy. It is often assumed that the women were coming to finish the rushed job done by Joseph on Friday evening; John, who has a thorough burial, mentions no intention of anointing. It is often said that the ‘Eastern climate’ would make it impossible to anoint a corpse after three days. And it would not have violated Sabbath law to anoint a body on the Sabbath, instead of waiting until Sunday (Mishnah Shabbat 23. 5). Besides, the body had been already anointed in advance (Mk 14. 8). And why do the women think of the stone over the entrance only after they are underway? They should have realized the venture was futile.

But what in fact were the women about? There is no indication that they were going to complete a task poorly done. Mark gives no hint of hurry or incompleteness in the burial. That Luke says the women saw ‘how’ the body was laid (Lk 29. 55) does not imply that the women saw a lack which they wished to remedy; it could mean merely they saw that it was laid in a tomb, not buried, thus making possible a visit to anoint the body. The fact that John does not mention the intention of anointing proves little, since Matthew does not mention it either. So there seems to be no indication that the women were going to complete Jesus’ burial. In fact what the women were probably doing is precisely that described in the Mishnah, namely the use of aromatic oils and perfumes that could be rubbed on or simply poured over the body.{57} Even if the corpse had begun to decay, that would not prevent this simple act of devotion by these women. This same devotion could have induced them to go together to open the tomb, despite the stone. (That Mark only mentions the stone here does not mean they had not thought of it before; it serves a literary purpose here to prepare for v. 4). The opening of tombs to allow late visitors to view the body or to check against apparent death was Jewish practice,{58} so the women’s intention was not extraordinary. It is true that anointing could be done on the Sabbath, but this was only for a person lying on the death bed in his home, not for a body already wrapped and entombed in a sealed grave outside the city. Blinzler points out that, odd as it may seem, it would have been against the Jewish law even to carry the aromata to the grave site, for this was ‘work’ (Jer 17. 21-22; Shabbath 8. 1)!{59} Thus, Luke’s comment that the women rested on the Sabbath would probably be a correct description. Sometimes it is asserted that Matthew leaves out the anointing motif because he realized one could not anoint a corpse after three days in that climate. But Mark himself, who lived in the Mediterranean climate, would surely also realize this fact, if indeed it be true.{60} Actually, Jerusalem, being 700 metres above sea level, can be quite cool in April; interesting is the entirely incidental detail mentioned by John that at night in Jerusalem at that time it was cold, so much so that the servants and officers of the Jews had made a fire and were standing around it wanning themselves (Jn 18. 18). Add to this the facts that the body, interred Friday evening, had been in the tomb only a night, a day, and a night when the women came to anoint it early Sunday morning, that a rock-hewn tomb in a cliff side would stay naturally cool, and that the body may have already been packed around with aromatic spices, and one can see that the intention to anoint the body cannot in any way be ruled out.{61}

I have already stated my stance on these issues. It should be noted that these arguments properly comprise part of the alleged evidence against the empty tomb rather than part of the alleged evidence for the empty tomb.

The argument that it had been anointed in advance is actually a point in favor of the historicity of this intention, for after 14. 8 Mark would never invent such a superfluous and almost contradictory intention for the women.

A good explanation for this almost contradictory intention is that the author of Mark intentionally contrasted the misunderstanding of these women, who go to anoint the body of Jesus after his burial, with the faith of the unnamed woman in 14:8, who knew that the body of Jesus must be anointed before burial.

The gospels all agree that around dawn the women visited the tomb. Which women? Mark says the two Maries and Salome; Matthew mentions only the two Maries; Luke says the two Maries, Joanna, and other women; John mentions only Mary Magdalene. There seems to be no difficulty in imagining a handful of women going to the tomb. Even John records Mary’s words as ‘we do not know where they have laid him'(Jn 20. 2). It is true that Semitic usage could permit the first person plural to mean simply ‘I’ (cf. Jn 3. 11, 32), but not only does this seem rather artificial in this context, but then we would expect the plural as well in v. 13.{62} In any case, this ignores the Synoptic tradition and makes only an isolated grammatical point. When we have independent traditions that women visited the tomb, then the weight of probability falls decisively in favor of Mary’s ‘we’ being the remnant of a tradition of more than one woman. John has perhaps focused on her for dramatic effect.

Unless Craig can provide evidence that Matthew and Luke utilized different traditions for their lists of women, only the Gospel of John might provide an independent tradition. Thus, to argue that independent traditions support the idea that John’s “we” is understood to refer to multiple women seems to beg the question. In any case, Craig’s statements here do not support or undermine the historicity of the empty tomb.

Arriving at the tomb the women find the stone rolled away. According to the Synoptics the women actually enter the tomb and see an angelic vision. John, however, says Mary Magdalene runs to find Peter and the Beloved Disciple, and only after they come and go from the tomb does she see the angels. Mark’s young man is clearly intended to be an angel, as is evident from his white robe and the women’s reaction.{63} Although some critics want to regard the angel as a Markan redaction, the exclusion of the angelophany from the pre-Markan passion story is arbitrary, since the earliest Christians certainly believed in the reality of angels and demons and would not hesitate to relate such an account as embodied in vs. 5- 8.{64} And John confirms that there was a tradition of the women’s seeing angels at the tomb, especially in light of the fact that he keeps the angels in his account even though their role is oddly superfluous. {65}

The idea that the angelophany should not be separated from the earliest narrative seems to undermine Craig’s earlier statement that the narrative is not kerygmatically colored. Earlier Craig stated, “Although kerygmatic speech appears in the mouth of the angel, the fact of the discovery of the empty tomb is not kerygmatically colored.” Yet, according to Craig here, these two elements of the story can be separated only arbitrarily.

Many scholars wish to see v. 7 as a Markan interpolation into the pre-Markan tradition.{66} But the evidence for this seems remarkably weak, in my opinion.{67} The fundamental reason for taking 16. 7 as an insertion is the belief that 14. 28 is an insertion, to which 16. 7 refers. But what is the evidence that 14. 28 is an interpolation? The basic argument is that vs. 27 and 29 read smoothly without it.{68} This, however, is the weakest of reasons for suspecting an insertion (especially since the verses read just as smoothly when v. 28 is left in!), for the fact that a sentence can be dropped out of a context without destroying its flow may be entirely coincidental and no indication that the sentence was not originally part of that context. In fact there are positive reasons for believing 14. 28 is not an insertion.{69} It is futile to object that in 14. 29 Peter only takes offense at v. 27, not v. 28, for of course he objects only to Jesus’ telling him they will all fall away, and not to Jesus’ promise to go before them (cf. the same pattern in 8. 31-32). On this logic one would have to leave out not only the prediction of the resurrection, but also the striking of the shepherd, since Peter jumps over that as well. There thus seem to be no good reasons to regard 14. 28 as a redactional insertion and positive reasons to see it as firmly welded in place.{70} This means that 16. 7 is also in place in the pre- Markan tradition of the passion story. The content of the verse reveals the knowledge of a resurrection appearance of Christ to the disciples and Peter inGalilee.

Craig does provide references but does not actually discuss here the positive evidence for believing that 14:28 and 16:7 are not insertions. In any case, I would allow that 16:7 is not an insertion if it is allowed that the surrounding verses are also Markan creation. In other words, 16:7 would not be an insertion if the entire empty tomb narrative were seen as a Markan creation. Since the specific inclusion or exclusion of 16:7 from the surrounding narrative does not seem to affect the historicity of the empty tomb, these arguments do not seem to have much relevance to the main point under consideration.

Mk 16. 8 has caused a great deal of consternation, not only because it seems to be a very odd note on which to end a book, but also because all the other gospels agree that the women did report to the disciples. But the reaction of fear and awe in the presence of the divine is a typical Markan characteristic.{71} The silence of the women was surely meant just to be temporary,{72} otherwise the account itself could not be part of the pre-Markan passion story.

I have provided my own analysis of this issue.

According to Luke the disciples do not believe the women’s report (Lk 24. 11). But Luke and John agree that Peter and at least one other disciple rise and run to the tomb to check it out (Lk 24. 12, 24; Jn 20. 2-10). Although Lk 24. 12 was regarded by Westcott and Hort as a Western noninterpolation, its presence in the later discovered P75 has convinced an increasing number of scholars of its authenticity. That Luke and John share the same tradition is evident not only from the close similarity of Lk 24. 12 to John’s account, but also from the fact that Jn 20. 1 most nearly resembles Luke in the number, selection, and order of the elements narrated than any other gospel.{73}

Craig is building a foundation on sand if he needs the premise that Lk 24:12 is authentic. It is often regarded as an interpolation for several reasons.[109] Even if these arguments can be overcome, it is not wise to base an argument on the authenticity of this verse.

Lk 24. 24 makes it clear that Peter did not go to the tomb alone; John names his companion as the Beloved Disciple. This would suggest that John intends this disciple to be a historical person, and his identification could be correct.{74} The authority of the Beloved Disciple stands behind the gospel as the witness to the accuracy of what is written therein (Jn 21. 24; the verse certainly applies to the gospel as a whole, not just the epilogue, for the whole gospel enjoys the authentication of this revered disciple, not merely a single chapter{75} ), and the identification of his role in the disciples’ visit to the empty tomb could be the reminiscence of an eyewitness.

Even if it is granted that the writer knew of the beloved disciple and that this person knew Jesus, Craig does not offer any particular argument here for believing that the beloved disciple approved of this particular story. Simply stating that this “could be the reminiscence of an eyewitness” does not provide evidence. It could just as easily be the creation of the author.

Reginald H. Fuller seems to regard it as pretty secure that this is not the reminiscence of an eyewitness: “The resurrection narratives in John 20 are the product of a long process of transmission, not an eye-witness testimony.”[110] Now while Fuller may be wrong in this assessment, a good argument should be presented to establish Craig’s opinion that this story was written with the benefit of eyewitness testimony.

So although only Peter was named in the tradition, accompanied by an anonymous disciple, the author of the fourth gospel claimed to know who this unnamed disciple was and identifies him. The Beloved Disciple is portrayed as a real historical person who went with Peter to the empty tomb and whose memories stand behind the fourth gospel as their authentication. If the Beloved Disciple in chap. 20 is then conceived as a historical person, is his presence an unhistorical, redactional addition? Schnackenburg thinks that few words need to be said to prove that he is an unhistorical addition: in vs. 2, 3 he is easily set aside, the competitive race to the tomb is redactional, v. 9 is in style and content from the evangelist, and v. 9 refers in reality to Mary and Peter.{76} But these considerations do not prove that the Beloved Disciple was not historically present, but only that he was not mentioned in the particular tradition. That could have been proved from Lk 24. 12 alone. What I am suggesting is that the reminiscences of the Beloved Disciple are employed by the evangelist to supplement and fill out his tradition.

It is somewhat curious that the writer makes reference to hearsay traditions when he has the testimony of the beloved disciple himself available to him. Either the writer did not feel constrained to write only what was authenticated by the beloved disciple or the writer did not know an eyewitness.

The mention of the beloved disciple does not have to be the result of textual redaction in order to be unhistorical.

Thus the first three considerations ought not to surprise us. Indeed, the third consideration supports the fact that the Beloved Disciple’s role here was not added later to the gospel by any supposed editor who tacked on chap. 21. That hon ephilei instead of hon egapa is used in v. 2 also indicates that the evangelist himself wrote these words and not a later redactor. In fact the unity and continuity of vs. 2-10 preclude that the evangelist wrote only of Peter and Mary’s visit and that the Beloved Disciple was artfully inserted by a later editor. Lk 24. 24 reveals that Peter did not go to the tomb alone, so one cannot exclude that the Beloved Disciple went with him. As for v. 9, it plainly refers to the disciples in v. 10 (Mary is not even mentioned after v. 2) and is not part of the pre- Johannine tradition, being typical for John (cf. 2. 22; 12. 16). Thus, the evangelist, who knew the Beloved Disciple and wrote on the basis of his memories, includes his part in these events.

Craig has defended the possibility that the beloved disciple provided testimony to this event: against the objection that the beloved disciple was not a historical witness to anything at all, against the objection that the part of the beloved disciple here was added to the text by a later redactor, and against the objection that the use of traditional material tells against the use of an eyewitness. I will agree that Craig is successful in overcoming these objections, which would otherwise render Craig’s opinion false. However, I do not believe this to be sufficient to establish Craig’s opinion to be true that this actually is based on the testimony of the beloved disciple.

If it be said that the evangelist simply invented the figure of the Beloved Disciple, 21. 24 becomes a deliberate falsehood, the close affinities between chaps. 1-20 and 21 are ignored, it becomes difficult to explain how then the person of the Beloved Disciple should come to exist and why he is inserted in the narratives, and the widespread concern over his death becomes unintelligible. The evangelist and the gospel certainly stem out of the same circle that appended chap. 21 and adds its signature in 21. 24c. Therefore, it seems to me, the role of the Beloved Disciple in 20. 2-10 can only be that of a historical participant whose memories fill out the tradition received. There seems to be no plausible way of denying the historicity of the Beloved Disciple’s role in the visit to the empty tomb.{77}

I will accept the evidence of the concern over the death of the beloved disciple to make it likely that there was some kind of historical person here.

One possible explanation is that there may have been a “beloved disciple” in the community that produced this gospel, indeed possibly the very writer of most of the first twenty chapters, yet that the author was writing himself into the gospel stories as an entirely fictional device, without actually being present at any of them.

Although it seems possible to me that the beloved disciple was not historically present in the ministry of Jesus at all, it is most definitely plausible that the evangelist was a separate person from the beloved disciple and wrote the beloved disciple into this particular narrative without depending on his testimony.

It might be urged against the historicity of the disciples’ visit to the tomb that the disciples had fled Friday night to Galilee and so were not present inJerusalem. But not only does Mk 14. 50 not contemplate this, but it seems unreasonable to think that the disciples, fleeing from the garden, would return to where they were staying, grab their things, and keep on going all the way back to Galilee. And scholars who support such a flight must prove that the denial of Peter is unhistorical, since it presupposes the presence of the disciples inJerusalem. But there is no reason to regard this tradition, attested in all four gospels, as unhistorical.{78} In its favor is the fact that it is improbable that the early Christians should invent a tale concerning the apostasy of the man who was their leader.

Sometimes it is said that the disciples could not have been inJerusalem, since they are not mentioned in the trial, execution, or burial stories. But could it not be that the disciples were hiding for fear of the Jews, just as the gospels indicate? There is no reason why the passion story would want to portray the church’s leaders as cowering in seclusion while only the women dared to venture about openly, were this not historical; the disciples could have been made to flee toGalileewhile the women stayed behind. This would even have had the advantage of making the appearances unexpected by keeping the empty tomb unknown to the disciples. But, no, the pre-Markan passion story says, ‘But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you toGalilee; there you will see him . . .'(Mk 16. 7). So the disciples were probably inJerusalem, but lying low. Besides this, it is not true that the disciples are missing entirely from the scene. All the gospels record the denial of Peter while the trial of Jesus was proceeding; John adds that there was another disciple with him, perhaps the Beloved Disciple (Jn 18. 15). According to Luke, at the execution of Jesus, ‘all his acquaintances … stood at a distance and saw these things’ (Lk 23. 49). John says that the Beloved Disciple was at the cross with Jesus’ mother and bore witness to what happened there (Jn 19. 26-27, 35). Attempts to interpret the Beloved Disciple as a symbol here or to lend a purely theological meaning to the passage are less than convincing. So it is not true that the disciples are completely absent during the low point in the course of events prior to the resurrection. There are therefore a good number of traditions that the disciples were inJerusalemduring the weekend; that at least two of them visited the tomb cannot therefore be excluded.

I do not make this objection to the historicity of the empty tomb because I think it is plausible that the disciples remained inJerusalemduring Passover. Of course, this neither supports nor undermines the empty tomb story.

It is often asserted that the story of the disciples’ visit to the tomb is an apologetic development designed to shore up the weak witness of the women. Not only does there seem to be no proof for this, but against it stand the traditions that the disciples were inJerusalem. For if the women did find the tomb empty on Sunday morning, and reported this to the disciples, then it is implausible that the disciples would sit idly by not caring to check out the women’s news. That one or two of them should run back to the tomb with the women, even if only to satisfy their doubts that the women were mistaken, is very likely. Hence, attempts to dismiss the empty tomb narratives as unhistorical legends are not only insufficiently supported by the evidence, but contain positive implausibilities.

This argument is effective only if it is assumed that the women discovered the empty tomb. This argument shows absolutely no implausibility in the idea that the empty tomb narratives were unhistorical.

Having examined the testimony of Paul and the gospels concerning the empty tomb of Jesus, what is the evidence in favor of its historicity?

1. Paul’s testimony implies the historicity of the empty tomb. Few facts could be more certain than that Paul at least believed in the empty tomb. But the question now presses, how is it historically possible for the apostle Paul to have presupposed so confidently the empty tomb of Jesus if in fact the tomb were not empty? Paul was inJerusalemsix years after the events themselves. The tomb must have been empty by then. But more than that, Peter, James, and the other Christians inJerusalemwith whom Paul spoke must have also accepted that the tomb was found empty at the resurrection. It would have been impossible for the resurrection faith to survive in face of a tomb containing the corpse of Jesus. The disciples could not have adhered to the resurrection; even if they had, scarcely any one would have believed them; and their Jewish opponents could have exposed the whole affair as a poor joke by displaying the body of Jesus. Moreover, all this aside, had the tomb not been empty, then Christian theology would have taken an entirely different route than it did, trying to explain how resurrection could still be possible, though the body remained in the grave. But neither Christian theology nor apologetics ever had to face such a problem. It seems inconceivable that Pauline theology concerning the bodily resurrection could have taken the direction that it did had the tomb not been empty from the start. But furthermore, we have observed that the ‘he was raised’ in the formula corresponds to the empty tomb periocope in the gospels, the egegertai mirroring the egerthe. This makes it likely that the empty tomb tradition stands behind the third element of the formula, just as the burial tradition stands behind the second. Two conclusions follow. First, the tradition that the tomb was found empty must be reliable. For time was insufficient for legend to accrue, and the presence of the women witnesses in the Urgemeinde would prevent it. Second, Paul no doubt knew the tradition of the empty tomb and thus lends his testimony to its reliability. If the discovery of the empty tomb is not historical then it seems virtually inexplicable how both Paul and the early formula could accept it.

These arguments have been addressed.

2. The presence of the empty tomb pericope in the pre-Markan passion story supports its historicity. The empty tomb story was part of, perhaps the close of, the pre-Markan passion story. According to Pesch,{79} geographical references, personal names, and the use of Galilee as a horizon all point toJerusalemas the fount of the pre-Markan passion story. As to its age, Paul’s Last Supper tradition (I Cor 11. 23-25) presupposes the pre-Markan passion account; therefore, the latter must have originated in the first years of existence of the Jerusalem Urgemeinde. Confirmation of this is found in the fact that the pre-Markan passion story speaks of the ‘high priest’ without using his name (14. 53, 54, 60, 61, 63). This implies (nearly necessitates, according to Pesch) that Caiaphas was still the high priest when the pre-Markan passion story was being told, since then there would be no need to mention his name. Since Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-37, the terminus ante quem for the origin of the tradition is A.D. 37.

Against these arguments, it could be held that, even if 1Cor 11:23-25 is a tradition, it does not necessitate the existence of a written document such as a pre-Markan passion narrative. This is a non sequiter. Against the second argument, it has been suggested by Robert Price that the author could have been unaware of who the high priest was at the time.[111] Price has been criticized on the grounds that it would be impossible for anyone not to know that Caiaphas was high priest, given his high stature.[112] If this is the case, I would suggest that, perhaps, it is not necessary to mention the high priest’s name because the author would have assumed it was known as common knowledge. That the account was written when Caiaphas was high priest is only one possible explanation for the vague reference. I consider the arguments for an ancient pre-Markan passion narrative to be unpersuasive.

Now if this is the case, then any attempt to construe the empty tomb account as an unhistorical legend is doomed to failure. It is astounding that Pesch himself can try to convince us that the pre-Markan empty tomb story is a fusion of three Gattungen from the history of religions: door-opening miracles, epiphany stories, and stories of seeking but not finding persons who have been raised from the dead!{80} On the contrary: given the age (even if not as old as Pesch argues) and the vicinity of origin of the pre-Markan passion story, it seems more plausible to regard the empty tomb story as substantially accurate historically.

However, unlike Pesch, I do not believe that there was a pre-Markan passion story with the empty tomb narrative in the 30s. So this argument does not concern me.

3. The use of ‘the first day of the week’ instead of ‘on the third day’ points to the primitiveness of the tradition. The tradition of the discovery of the empty tomb must be very old and very primitive because it lacks altogether the third day motif prominent in the kerygma, which is itself extremely old, as evident by its appearance in I Cor 15. 4. If the empty tomb narrative were a late and legendary account, then it could hardly have avoided being cast in the prominent, ancient, and accepted third day motif.{81} This can only mean that the empty tomb tradition ante-dates the third day motif itself. Again, the proximity of the tradition to the events themselves makes it idle to regard the empty tomb as a legend. It makes it highly probable that on the first day of the week the tomb was indeed found empty.

This is a specious argument indeed. It is argued that the third day motif is prominent, ancient, and accepted. It is noted that a different phrase occurs in the Gospel of Mark. On this basis, it is argued that the phrase in Mark must have existed before the ancient motif. But why should it not provide the opposite conclusion? Normally, when a certain belief or phrase is common at one time and when a different belief or phrase finds its first attestation later, it is assumed that the latter developed out of the former. Craig would like to have the cart before the horse in arguing that the relationship is indeed the opposite, that the latter must have existed before the former or else it wouldn’t ever have been able to overcome the overwhelming force that the former exerted. At the very least, such an argument is not sound, for it presupposes that ideas do not evolve and that expressions do not change.

Furthermore, this argument seems to confuse two different types of references, as Farrell Till has observed.[113] The third day or three day motif is consistently used in the gospels whenever referring to the resurrection itself (Mt 16:21, 20:19; Mk 9:31; Lk 9:22). The references to “the first day of the week” refer to the day of the visitation to the tomb (Mt 28:1, Mk 16:2, Lk 24:1, Jn 20:1). The introduction of this new phrase may very well parallel the introduction of the new idea that women visited an empty tomb. In Mark, the phrase may serve to provide an implicit explanation of why the women went when they did, an implication that Luke states explicitly, namely that the women rested on the Sabbath (Lk 23:56). Mark may be alluding to the practice of worship on the first day of the week (1Cor 16:2, Acts 20:7), especially if such worship occurred in the early morning. In any case, the phrase is not tied to the resurrection but to the visitation of the tomb. Indeed, the only verse in the present New Testament that ties the resurrection to the first day of the week is Mark 16:9. When it is admitted that this is a second century addition, it would seem most likely that the connection is indeed a later evolution and that the third day motif is primary.

Craig mentions in a footnote “that te mia ton sabbaton is probably a Semitism.” However, this cannot be taken as evidence that the empty tomb narrative is ancient. Richard Carrier comments as follows:

What Craig forgets to mention here is that this is the exact same language spoken by Paul and by numerous Christian converts throughout the first century, thus it does not entail an origin with the first disciples. Moreover, Craig’s contention that “on the first day of the week” is “very awkward in the Greek” is not relevant–it is a Hebraic form commonly used by Greek-speaking Jews in Hellenistic times. It was not awkward to them. Indeed, the exact same phrase, sometimes a very similar one, appears in Luke 18:12, Acts 20:7, and 1 Corinthians 16:2, none of which pertain to the resurrection. In fact, the last passage is advice Paul is giving to the Corinthians, which shows this phrase to be perfectly ordinary in written Greek among Paul’s correspondents, having no connection with some sort of “early tradition.”[114]

There are other reasons that the author might have used this turn of the phrase for Sunday. Richard Carrier explains that the phrase may be a Septuagintalism.

I suspect that “first day” is a literary cue for Mark. The phrase is identical to that which begins the Sept. version of Psalm 24, just as Jesus’ cry on the cross is identical to that which begins Psalm 22. When we look at these three Psalms (22-24) we see a very logical three-day liturgy: on Friday would be read Psalm 22 (note how many parallels there are there with the crucifixion scene in Mark), on Saturday would be read the funeral Psalm 23 (Saturday corresponds to the Last Day of Creation, and thus the death of the old world; as a funeral liturgy, it also fits Jesus’s day of rest in the tomb), and on Sunday would be read Psalm 24, which is about the coming of God’s kingdom (it refers to the new age of salvation, and Sunday is the First Day of the New Creation in Jewish lore, and also in other Christian texts like Barnabas, which was in the NT canon until the 4th century, and the first defenses of Christianity (e.g. Justin).[115]

Another possibility is that the author of Mark is alluding to the commonly used “Semitism” for the Christian day of worship, seeing that 1Cor 16:2 has the same expression as Mark 16:2. The assumption that any “Semitism” implies an ancient source is an error.

4. The nature of the narrative itself is theologically unadorned and nonapologetic. The resurrection is not described, and we have noted the lack of later theological motifs that a late legend might be expected to contain. This suggests the account is primitive and factual, even if dramatization occurs in the role of the angel. Very often contemporary theologians urge that the empty tomb is not a historical proof for the resurrection because for the disciples it was in itself ambiguous and not a proof. But that is precisely why the empty tomb story is today so credible: because it was not an apologetic device of early Christians; it was, as Wilckens nicely puts it, ‘a trophy of God’s victory’. {82} The very fact that they saw in it no proof ensures that the narrative is substantially uncolored by apologetic motifs and in its primitive form.

This assumes that a fiction or a legend must be apologetic. On the contrary, it is plausible to see the empty tomb narrative as a nonapologetic fiction. The argument concerning the absence of “later theological motifs” has also been addressed.

5. The discovery of the tomb by women is highly probable. Given the low status of women in Jewish society and their lack of qualification to serve as legal witnesses,{83} the most plausible explanation, in light of the gospels’ conviction that the disciples were in Jerusalem over the weekend, why women and not the male disciples were made discoverers of the empty tomb is that the women were in fact the ones who made this discovery. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that there is no reason why the later Christian church should wish to humiliate its leaders by having them hiding in cowardice in Jerusalem, while the women boldly carry out their last devotions to Jesus’ body, unless this were in fact the truth. Their motive of anointing the body by pouring oils over it is entirely plausible; indeed, its apparent conflict with Mk 14. 8 makes it historically probable that this was the reason why the women went to the tomb. Furthermore, the listing of the women’s names again precludes unhistorical legend at the story’s core, for these persons were known in the Urgemeinde and so could not be associated with a false account.

These arguments have been addressed.

Ben Witherington III presents a more nuanced argument of this kind.

One issue in particular I would want to press with Crossan on the ‘Easter never happened’ front is the substance of the stories of the women’s visit to the tomb and the subsequent appearances of Jesus to them. Crossan’s dismissal of the essential historical substance of these narratives located at the tomb is especially surprising in view of how the testimony of women was evaluated in patriarchal cultures in the first century A.D. C.H. Dodd once suggested that the story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb is one of the most self-authenticating stories in all the Gospels. In his view, it has all the elements of the personal testimony of an eyewitness. First of all, given what the tradition said about Mary Magdalene’s past (Luke 8:2), it is hardly credible that the earliest Christians would have made up a story about Jesus’ appearing first to her. Second, it is not credible that a later Christian hagiographer would have had her suggest that perhaps Jesus’ body had been stolen from the tomb. Third, it is not believable that later reverential Christians would have suggested that the first eyewitness mistook Jesus for a gardener! The portrait of Mary and her spiritual perceptiveness is hardly flattering here. Fourth, it is not believable that the early Christians would have created the idea that Jesus comissioned Mary to go proclaim the Easter message to the Eleven. On this last point we have the clear support of 1 Corinthians 15, where we see that the testimony of women to the risen Lord, if not totally eliminated in the official witness list (they might be alluded to in the reference to the appearance to the five hundred), is clearly sublimated.[116]

Witherington’s argument also fails. On the first point, the tradition about Mary’s past (that she was possessed by demons) is found in Luke and may not have been known to the author of John, which is the only one of the four gospels to narrate an appearance specifically to Mary Magdelene. For the remaining points, it is not explained why the author of John should not have written the story the way he did on the assumption that it is fiction. On the second point, it is credible that the author would have placed this suggestion on the lips of Mary Magdalene if it were a rumor that was circulating among the Jews (as the author of Matthew tells us). On the third, the suggestion that Mary mistook Jesus for a gardener is a literary device, not necessarily historical reminiscence. It creates suspense in the narrative. On the last point, it is a natural conclusion of Mary’s encounter with Jesus that Jesus comission her to tell the disciples. The author of John may have belonged to an element of early Christianity that did not suppress the role of women. In the same tradition stands the Epistula Apostolorum, in which the legend is related that two times women were commissioned to tell the apostles of the resurrection and two times they were not believed.[117]

6. The investigation of the empty tomb by the disciples is historically probable. Behind the fourth gospel stands the Beloved Disciple, whose reminiscences fill out the traditions employed. The visit of the disciples to the empty tomb is therefore attested not only in tradition but by this disciple. His testimony has therefore the same first hand character as Paul’s and ought to be accepted as equally reliable.

This argument loses force if we do not believe that the beloved disciple attested to this particular account given in the Gospel of John. The testimony does not have the same first hand character as Paul’s unless a disciple of Jesus literally wrote the passage, or, at the very least, the evangelist noted that the disciple testified to this particular incident.

The historicity of the disciples’ visit is also made likely by the plausibility of the denial of Peter tradition, for if he was inJerusalem, then having heard the women’s report he would quite likely check it out. The inherent implausibility of and absence of any evidence for the disciples’ flight to Galilee render it highly likely that they were inJerusalem, which fact makes the visit to the tomb also likely.

This argument assumes that the women went to the empty tomb and reported back to the men. If we reject the arguments for the visit of the women of the tomb, as most who doubt the historicity of the empty tomb are likely to do, this argument cannot get off the ground. The mere presence of the disciples inJerusalemduring the Passover festival does not make a visit to the tomb likely unless it is first assumed that there was a known tomb. Peter could have made the denials, the disciples could have remained inJerusalemduring Passover, and perhaps only then might they have returned home toGalileealong with the rest of the Passover crowd. Thus, it is not necessary to assume that the disciples leftJerusalemin a hurry between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in order to doubt the empty tomb story.

7. It would have been impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection inJerusalemhad the tomb not been empty. The empty tomb is a sine qua non of the resurrection. The notion that Jesus rose from the dead with a new body while his old body lay in the grave is a purely modern conception. Jewish mentality would never have accepted a division of two bodies, one in the tomb and one in the risen life.{84} When therefore the disciples began to preach the resurrection in Jerusalem, and people responded, and the religious authorities stood helplessly by, the tomb must have been empty. The fact that the Christian fellowship, founded on belief in Jesus’ resurrection, could come into existence and flourish in the very city where he was executed and buried seems to be compelling evidence for the historicity of the empty tomb.

Craig argues in a similar manner in one of his books:

The idea that Jesus rose from the dead with a new body while the old body lay in the grave is a purely modern conception. As Bode points out, Jewish mentality would never have accepted the division of two bodies, one in the tomb and one in the risen life. Therefore, the disciples’ belief in Jesus’s resurrection could not have survived in the face of Jesus’s closed tomb. The tomb was therefore probably empty. About the only way to resist this conclusion is to deny the historicity of the burial tradition and maintain that Jesus’s burial place was unknown or lost. This, however, is very difficult to carry through plausibly, since the burial tradition is widely recognized to be one of the most reliable traditions about Jesus.[118]

It is at this point that Craig places a footnote giving arguments for the historicity of the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea, which if true would tend to imply that the gravesite were generally known. However, I have found these arguments to be inadequate. Therefore, it remains plausible that Jesus was not buried in a tomb known to all involved and thus that such a tomb need not have been discovered empty.

Peter Carnley maintains a similar response:

Apart from this argument’s reliance on the presupposition that the early proclamation cannot be conceived, except anachronistically, without implicit acceptance of the empty tomb, it relies on the additional pre-supposition that the proclamation of the Easter message ‘not long after Jesus’ death’ was in fact soon enough after his death to allow for the possibility of finding and positively identifying a tomb as one in which Jesus’ body had been placed. It would also have had to be soon enough to allow for the positive identification of a body as certainly that of the dead Jesus. Even if the content of the early proclamation was of such a kind that the production of the body in the tomb would have been an ultimately devastating factor, the success of the early proclamation may possibly have been guaranteed by the fact that, by the time that the Easter message got from Galilee to Jerusalem, the exact location of the tomb could not be traced.[119]

Although I would agree with Craig that such a resurrection of the spirit does seem on the unlikely side, I would agree with Carnley that this argument fails if the burial place of Jesus were not known. If the body of Jesus was disposed in a common plot along with the thieves by unsympathetic hands, there is no reason to suppose that anyone would be able to locate the body as late as half a year later, if that is when the resurrection began to be preached inJerusalem. For example, it is possible that a Roman guard who was responsible for disposing of the bodies was no longer inJerusalem. Or perhaps he just did not remember because he did not give it much notice at the time. Also, while it may be supposed that the disciples could not preach the resurrection if it were general knowledge where the body laid, it may not be supposed that there were people in Jerusalem who cared enough to want to engage in active measures to discourage incipient Christianity. Unless it is successfully argued that early Christianity was seen as a truly feared force rather than a slightly annoying gadfly or even less toJerusalemleaders in the 30s, this argument does not work. Finally, there remains the possibility that the body was buried in a shallow grave and then eaten by dogs or even interred in some tomb but taken by body-snatchers. That is, if the resurrection were not preached inJerusalemuntil several months later, there are several possibilities for the apparent disappearance of the body over that great course of time.

8. The Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb. From Matthew’s story of the guard at the tomb (Mt.27.62-66; 28. 11-15), which was aimed at refuting the widespread Jewish allegation that the disciples had stolen Jesus’ body, we know that the disciples’ Jewish opponents did not deny that Jesus’ tomb was empty. When the disciples began to preach that Jesus was risen, the Jews responded with the charge that the disciples had taken away his body, to which the Christians retorted that the guard would have prevented any such theft. The Jews then asserted that the guard had fallen asleep and that the disciples stole the body while the guard slept. The Christian answer was that the Jews had bribed the guard to say this, and so the controversy stood at the time of Matthew’s writing. The whole polemic presupposes the empty tomb. Mahoney’s objection, that the Matthaean narrative presupposes only the preaching of the resurrection, and that the Jews argued as they did only because it would have been ‘colorless’ to say the tomb was unknown or lost, fails to perceive the true force of the argument.{85} The point is that the Jews did not respond to the preaching of the resurrection by pointing to the tomb of Jesus or exhibiting his corpse, but entangled themselves in a hopeless series of absurdities trying to explain away his empty tomb. The fact that the enemies of Christianity felt obliged to explain away the empty tomb by the theft hypothesis shows not only that the tomb was known (confirmation of the burial story), but that it was empty. (Oddly enough, Mahoney contradicts himself when he later asserts that it was more promising for the Jews to make fools of the disciples through the gardener-misplaced-the-body theory than to make them clever hoaxers through the theft hypothesis.{86} So it was not apparently the fear of being ‘colorless’ that induced the Jewish authorities to resort to the desperate expedient of the theft hypothesis.) The proclamation ‘He is risen from the dead’ (Mt.27.64) prompted the Jews to respond, ‘His disciples … stole him away’ (Mt.28.13). Why? The most probable answer is that they could not deny that his tomb was empty and had to come up with an alternative explanation. So they said the disciples stole the body, and from there the polemic began. Even the gardener hypothesis is an attempt to explain away the empty tomb. The fact that the Jewish polemic never denied that Jesus’ tomb was empty, but only tried to explain it away is compelling evidence that the tomb was in fact empty.

This argument would have force if two premises were established. First, that the tomb of Jesus was well-known in the 30s. This is because, if the tomb were not well-known, then the Jewish polemic could hardly provide attestation to the emptiness of the tomb. Second, that the Jewish polemic originated in the 30s. This is because, if the Jewish polemic originated later such as in the 70s or 80s, then those who made the polemic could hardly provide attestation to the emptiness of the tomb. I have already noted that I do not accept the first premise. But granting that premise, does Craig provide any evidence for the second?

No, he does not. This is despite the fact that Craig’s objection presupposes that the Jews who created the polemic could have instead pointed to the tomb or exhumed the corpse, which would be true only if the polemic were of earlyJerusalemprovenance. Mahoney’s suggestion is best understood as an explanation for why Jews in the 70s or 80s in the Matthean community might provide a polemic suggesting that the disciples stole the body. At this time, the Jews who heard of the empty tomb story would have no idea if it were true or not. However, it is a common polemical practice to assume the story presented as basically true but to reject the conclusion drawn. This template for polemic is seen from two other common Jewish polemics. The story of the virgin birth may have been countered with the story of the Roman soldier Panthera,[120] a story that grants that the father of Jesus was not Joseph. The miracle stories were countered with the allegation that the feats were wraught by demons, and Celsus goes so far as to suggest that Jesus learned the magical arts while in Egypt.[121] That this is the template for polemic is seen in the further evolution of the polemic in Matthew. When Christians retort that the guard would not have permitted the body to be stolen, the Jews respond not by disputing the existence of the guard but by charging him with being asleep. I know that Craig believes in the historicity of Matthew’s guard, but that is not the point. The point is that we have no case of polemic where the basic claims of the Christian story were denied (as opposed to the theological interpretation). This does not mean that these claims were true, for even if they were true they could be disputed by later generations of Jews. But this suggests that the polemics may have no basis in fact and may assume the Christian story as basically true as part of the give-and-take of the polemical game staged in the late first century. At the very least, Craig has not shown such an explanation of the polemic to be wrong.

If somehow the second premise is substantiated but the first is rejected, then the argument is subject to this objection made by Carnley:

The absence of any Jewish polemic in which it was held that the grave was found not to be empty but, contrary to alleged early Christian preaching, to contain the corpse of Jesus, could however also be explained if the location of the tomb had long been forgotten or if it was never really known to Jewish authorities, thus preventing the possibility of settling the issue either way. If the precise location of Jesus’ grave could not be determined, or if the body of Jesus could not be identified by the time Christian preaching reached Jerusalem, there would have been no alternative for Jewish polemicists than to concede the possibility of the bare fact of the grave’s emptiness and then go on to point out that, in any event, the emptiness of a grave, even if it could be demonstrated, would not prove anything more than that the body had been stolen or deliberately removed by the followers of Jesus themselves.[122]

Of course, if both premises are false, if the location of the gravesite were not known inJerusalemin the 30s and if the Jewish polemic originated in the late first century, then this argument fails completely.

Taken together these eight considerations furnish powerful evidence that the tomb of Jesus was actually found empty on Sunday morning by a small group of his women followers. As a plain historical fact this seems to be amply attested. As Van Daalen has remarked, it is extremely difficult to object to the fact of the empty tomb on historical grounds; most objectors do so on the basis of theological or philosophical considerations.{87} But these, of course, cannot change historical fact. And, interestingly, more and more New Testament scholars seem to be realizing this fact; for today, many, if not most, exegetes would defend the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus, and their number continues to increase.{88}

I have provided reasoning for why someone may consider these considerations to be less than “powerful evidence” for the “plain historical fact” of the empty tomb.

I have also shown that one certainly can object to the empty tomb story on grounds other than “theological or philosophical considerations.” This statement is as true as the statement that one can support the empty tomb story on grounds other than “theological or philosophical considerations.” The historical merit of the grounds is a matter for debate in each case, but they are indeed grounds. Van Daalen only wrote against the argument from the silence of Paul and the argument from Mark 16:8 in his book, when there are indeed other arguments that can be made.[123] Thus, van Daalen’s remark can be dismissed as it is based on insufficient evidence. However, even in this case, van Daalen was aware of historical objections, if inadequate ones, to the empty tomb story. Indeed, perhaps this false statement itself was motivated by “theological or philosophical considerations” opposite to the ones that are impugned to others. Or perhaps we should not engage in rhetoric bordering on ad hominem.

In the final section of this essay, I will turn to a total assessment of the evidence.


[92] Dan Barker and Michael Horner, “Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead?” (<URL: html>, 1996), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[93] Published in Brown, ibid., pp. 1516-1517.

[94] William Lane Craig, The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist Controversy (Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press, 1985), p. 674.

[95] The Acts of Pilate, ch. 12: “When the Jews heard that Joseph had asked for the body, they sought for him and the twelve men who said that Jesus was not born of fornication, and for Nicodemus and for many others, who had come forward before Pilate and made known his good works. But they all hid themselves, and only Nicodemus was seen by them, because he was a ruler of the Jews. And Nicodemus said to them: ‘How did you enter into the synagogue?’ The Jews answered him: ‘How did you enter into the synagogue? You are an accomplice of his, and his portion shall be in the world to come.” Nicodemus said: ‘Amen, amen.’ Likewise also Joseph came forth (from his concealment?) and said to them: ‘Why are you angry with me, because I asked for the body of Jesus? See, I have placed it in my new tomb, having wrapped it in clean linen, and I rolled a stone before the doore of the cave. And you have not done well with the righteous one, for you did not repent of having crucified him, but also pierced him with a spear.’ Then the Jews seized Joseph and commanded him to be secured until the first day of the week.”

[96] Carnley, ibid., p. 60.

[97] Farrell Till, “Still Standing on Sinking Sand” (<URL: html>, 1997), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[98] Craig, ibid., pp. 1218-1219.

[99] Richard C. Carrier, private correspondence.

[100] Fuller, ibid., p. 54.

[101] Bode, ibid., p. 181.

[102] For an excellent readable survey of the opinions on the problem of the relationship of John and the synoptics, see D. Moody Smith, John Among the Gospels: The Relationship in Twentieth-Century Research (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

[103] Carnley, ibid., p. 47.

[104] Ed. Werner H. Kelber. The Passion in Mark: Studies on Mark 14-16 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976), p. 153.

[105] Kelber, ibid., p. 157.

[106] Fuller, ibid., p. 51.

[107] Rudolf Bultmann, translated by John Marsh. The History of the Synoptic Tradition (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963), p. 286.

[108] Perrin, ibid., p. 33.

[109] Steven Carr has indicated some of these reasons in “The Resurrection of Jesus” (<URL:http://www.bowness.demon.>, n.d.), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[110] Fuller, ibid., p. 131.

[111] Robert M. Price, “By This Time He Stinketh: The Attempts of William Lane Craig to Exhume Jesus” (<URL: html>, 1997), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[112] J.P. Holding, “Squalling to Raise the Dead” (<URL:http://www.>, n.d.), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[113] Till, ibid.

[114] Richard C. Carrier, “Craig’s Empty Tomb and Habermas on the Post-Resurrection Appearances of Jesus” (<URL: html>, 1999), accessed 14 Dec 00.

[115] Richard C. Carrier, private correspondence.

[116] Ben Witherington III in ed. Paul Copan, _Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan_ (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1998), pp. 141-142.

[117] Epistula Apostolorum 10. Translated by Montague Rhode James in The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1924), p. 487. “And as they mourned and wept, the Lord showed himself unto them and said to them: For whom weep ye? weep no more. I am he whom ye seek. But let one of you go to your brethren and say: Come ye, the Master is risen from the dead. Martha (Mary, Eth.) came and told us. We said unto her: What have we to do with thee, woman ? He that is dead and buried, is it possible that he should live? And we believed her not that the Saviour was risen from the dead. Then she returned unto the Lord and said unto him: None of them hath believed me, that thou livest. He said: Let another of you go unto them and tell them again. Mary (Sarrha, Eth.) came and told us again, and we believed her not; and she returned unto the Lord and she also told him.”

[118] William Lane Craig, The Historical Argument for the Resurrection of Jesus during the Deist Controversy (Lewiston: E. Mellen Press, 1989), p. 529.

[119] Carnley, ibid., p. 55.

[120] Origen, Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter XXXII.

[121] Origen, Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter XXVIII.

[122] Carnley, ibid., p. 56.

[123] Van Daalen, ibid., pp. 40-41.

Assessment of the Evidence

As the postmodernists would urge us all to do, I will begin with a confession of my interest in this matter, of biases that operate on levels seen and unseen, from the motivation to make my efforts in writing appear worthwhile to my general disbelief in the Christian religion.

There are three things that prevent these biases from making my assessment a futile effort. The first thing is that I have identified them in order to correct them consciously if possible. The second thing is that it is not necessary to believe in Christianity in order to believe in the historicity of the empty tomb; or, contrarily, that it is not necessary to disbelieve the empty tomb in order to disbelieve Christianity. The third thing is that the reader is permitted to take my assessment with a very large grain of salt. Hopefully, I have been fair enough in the preceding arguments that the reader may come to his or her own informed conclusion.

I follow the method laid down by Benjamin Franklin in coming to a reasonable decision.Franklinrecommended that a list of the “pros” be set on one side of a paper, while a list of “cons” be set on the other. I am adapting that method and placing a value from 0 to 5 to represent my opinion of the strength of each argument. The value 0 represents an argument that is totally vacuous, and the value 5 represents an argument that is very powerful, nigh conclusive.

I will make two more notes. In my assessment, the values for the “Arguments Against the Empty Tomb” are relative to the values for the “Arguments For the Empty Tomb” and vice-versa. In other words, when I assign a “3” to an argument on one side and a “3” to an argument on the other, the most important thing that I am stating is that these arguments are equal in weight. So it would be misleading for someone to substitute their own values in one column but leave my values in the other column as something that I would readily agree to. (In other words, please don’t decide to run 0’s down one column and suppose you’ve done something meaningful.) The other thing is that, again, I do not ask anyone to accept this assessment uncritically. In other words, you can play along at home.

I will grant to Craig a probability that the tomb burial by Joseph of Arimathea implies the discovery of an empty tomb. Thus, my assessment of his evidence will lie in the evidence that supports either the tomb burial in particular or both the burial by Joseph of Arimathea and the discovery of the empty tomb. By converting what is just a probability of the implication of tomb burial to empty tomb into a virtual certainty in my assessment, I am in effect giving Craig a handicap. (Which is only fair since, after all, I’m making up the numbers.) In any case, if an argument is not mentioned, it is because I saw its only intent as establishing an implication from the burial by Joseph of Arimathea to the discovery of the empty tomb.

Arguments Against the Empty Tomb

1 The Silence of Early Christians
3 No Early, Known Interest in the Tomb
1 Testimony of Paul
0 Dependence/Expansion on Mark
1 Parallels to Lion’s Den
0 Pre-Christian Empty Tomb Stories
1 Theme of Discipleship
3 The Ending of Mark in 16:8
0 Anointing Possible on Sabbath
0 Decomposition in Eastern Climate
0 Only Men Prepare Bodies of Men
0 Can’t Buy Cloth on a Holiday
0 Not Enough Time for Burial
1 The Women and the Stone
1 Anachronism of the Round Stone
2 No Second/Late Anointings
2 Crucifiers Wouldn’t Allow Honorable Burial
2 The Enigma of the Pious Jew/Secret Admirer
2 Alternative Burial Traditions
3 Primacy of Galilean Appearances
1 Arimathea = Best Disciple Town

Arguments For the Empty Tomb

0 Paul’s Testimony
0 Part of Pre-Markan Passion Story
2 Relatively Theologically Unadorned Story
1 Story Relatively Nonapologetic
0 Unlikely to Pin False Story on Famous Sanhedrenist
1 Unlikely to Pin Nice Story on Despised Sanhedrenist
0 Details About Tomb Confirmed Archaeologically
0 Incidental Details Dovetail One Another
0 Burial Had to Happen before Sundown
3 Only Women Named As Witnesses in Mark
0 Almost Contradictory Intention of Anointing
1 Present at Crucifixion, Present at Burial
0 Unlikely to Pin False Story on Well-known Women
0 No Traces of Conflicting Burial Traditions
0 Graves of Holy Men Preserved
0 Primitiveness of “The First Day of the Week”
0 The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple
0 Men Would Check Out the Empty Tomb Too
1 Body Would Be Known/Produced by Authorities
1 The Jewish Polemic Presupposes the Empty Tomb

Sum of Points Against the Empty Tomb: 24 Points

Sum of Points For the Empty Tomb: 10 Points

With that done, I will make a few comments that I consider to be more objective, or at least, that I believe both Christians and non-Christians can accept. Indeed, Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth, Australiareached very similar conclusions in his own assessment of the historical evidence.[124]

There is no conclusive historical argument that will prove or disprove the historicity of the empty tomb of Jesus.

There are a few historical considerations, evidence, or argumentation that tend to make the historicity of the empty tomb somewhat more likely. However, these are no stronger than the historical considerations, evidence, or argumentation that tend to make the historicity of the empty tomb less likely.

The balance of the evidence is not “overwhelming” either way. It is historically rational to doubt the statement that the empty tomb story is false, just as it is historically rational to doubt the statement that that the empty tomb story is true.

Since this essay is limited in scope to the assessment of the historical evidence concerning the empty tomb of Jesus, I will not be considering any of the ramifications of these conclusions on the larger debate concerning the resurrection of Jesus or the veracity of Christianity. I will leave those implications to be explored elsewhere.


[124] Carnley, ibid., pp. 60-61: “For, try as we may, and with all the positive good will in the world, we simply do not have sufficient evidence to say for certain whether the tomb is a very primitive story whose kernel is factual, or whether in fact it is a later development, the product of faith, given a particular set of theoretical presuppositions about what might necessarily be involved in resurrection belief. Given the meagreness of the evidence it is difficult to see that the logical shortfall can be overcome by purely rational argument, using only the critical techniques of scientific historiography.”


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