Question: Was Jesus's body tossed in a shallow grave or buried in a tomb?

Understanding the Question

If the four canonical Gospels were written by their traditional namesakes then the evidence in favor of burial in a tomb is extremely strong. Having four independent sources mention this event in close proximity to when it happened is a mountain of historical evidence. It would be hard to explain how burial by a member of the Sanhedrin was created and propoagted in that scenario. The problem is none of the Gospels identify their respective authors and most critical scholarship considers all four to be anonymous documents with Mark being the earliest, written ca. 70CE, roughly forty-years after Jesus died. What is more, the authors of Matthew and Luke clearly copied the text of Mark in writing their own Gospels and therefore do not serve as indepednent witnesses of the tomb story. The most common solution to the "synoptic problem" is Markan priority and it is accepted by even very conservative scholars today. Scholarship is strongly divided on the question of Johannine dependence. For some we then have two sources mentioning burial in a tomb independently with some matching details but for others, it is possible there is only one independent source for the burial of Jesus in a tomb and the earliest account tells us the disciples all fled (Mark 14:50) and the original account which ends at 16:8 records the women running away frieghtened, telling no one anything (16:8). As the argument goes, crucified criminals were denied proper burial and unceremoniously dumped in shallow graves. Thus some claim the entire tomb story in Mark is a fabrication. This article is broken down into the following sections:

Is the Tomb Story a Necessity?

For many apologists who attempt to argue that we can "prove" the resurrection of Jesus, the empty tomb might be a theological necessity. Personally, I do not find an ancient witness or group of them to be strong enough evidence to "prove" a man rose from the dead. I think that is trying to squeeze too much belief out of a source or sources that are not capable of giving us what we want. It also would be diffuclt to overturn the general obervation confirmed time and again that dead people don't rise or explain how a corpse reanimated after a host of irreversible chemcical and physical reactions occured, In the end it is a miracle and an extraordinary claim that would require extraordinary evidence. As improbable as the claim that necromancers might have stolen the body of a prominent holy teacher to use for its powers, is that intrinsically less likely than death reversing and a human coming back to live after several days being dead? History attempts to reconstruct what is most probable and miracles by definition are the most improbable of events conceivable. I just don't see how the information in an almost 2,000 year agenda-driven Gospel could ever be construed as strong historical evidence a man actually rose from the dead. I think there is a bit of confimation bias going on here in historical apologetics. I say this believing full well that Jesus did rise from the dead as a matter of my Christian faith. What we can say with extreme confidence is that Jesus's earliest followers believed he rose bodily from the dead and that he received a burial. These appearances and these beliefs were strong enough for Paul to do a complete turn around and go from persecuting the faith to preaching it. Likewise, at least three of Jesus's original followers seem to have been willing to die for this belief (Peter and the sons of Zebedee). History gets us no closer to affirming a miracle occurred than this.

Lindars calls it a "remarkable observation . . . that the fact of the empty tomb is never appealed to by any New Testament writer in order to prove the resurrection, outside the stories themselves. The emptiness of the tomb may be assumed, but it is not made the grounds for inviting belief in the resurrection." [Jesus Risen: Bodily Resurrection but no Empty Tomb pg 91]

While it is true the majority of the New Testament writers never engage in the emoty tomb rhetoric of some modern aplogists, these works were written at a time when the "miraculous" was not nearly as miraculous and many of these works are generally written to Christian believers many of whom would already accept the resurection of Jesus. Though it must be admitted that the burial stories in the gospels do contain apologetics. Nonetheless, even if Mark invented the tomb story, this does not change the fact that Jesus's earliest followers thought he rose from the dead without an elaborate tomb story. It is a brute fact of history that the church before Mark believed in the resurrection of Jesus. In fact, we could agree with Lindars that their belief that Jesus died, was buried, and rose bodily is what would have prompted the creation of the tomb story, not the other way around. Mark certainly did not invent belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. We know this because this belief predates the Gospel of Mark by decades and goes back to the very inception of the post-Easter Jesus movement (see just below). So even if the tomb story involved creative fiction meant to teach didactic truths (e.g. contrasting Jesus's own followers didn't bury him while an enemy did), or serve as theological fabric softerner giving Jesus an honorable burial, the bodily resurrection is still there in our old surviving material. If Mark did invent the tomb story, we clearly know that large numbers of Christians who lived before the first Gospel was written, including Paul, did believe Jesus rose from the dead. If Mark fabricated the tomb story then they didn't possess it but still believed in Jesus's bodily resurrection. If the tomb story is largely fiction, Christianity did fine without it. With this being said, what do we learn from the earliest sources we have?

Earliest Evidence: The Apostle Paul and Burial (1 Cor 15:3-8)

The brunt of Paul's Letters come the 50s and were written before any of our New Testement Gospels. Any historical informaton they relay is of particular value because it is earlier, Paul must have known something about the movement he persecuted and most importantly, Paul has known assocoiations with some of Jesus's original followers based on his own autobiographical testimony. In Galatians 1:18-19 he speaks of spending 15 days with Cephas and metting James, the brother of the Lord in Jerusalem. He meets with Peter again years later as they have a dispute in Antioch (Gal 2:11). Paul does not mention Joseph of Arimathea or the empty tomb. He does, however, relay a tradition that Jesus was buried:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8: 3 For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures 4 and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
Theissen and Merz write:
The analysis of the formula tradition about the resurrection of Jesus allows the following conclusion: a tradition in 1 Cor 15.3b-5, which goes back very close to the events themselves, attests appearances to both individuals and groups. The credibility of this tradition is enhanced, because it is in part confirmed by the narrative tradition, which is independent, and because in the case of Paulwe have the personal testimony of an eye-wtiness who knew many of the other witnesses. There is no doubt about the subjective authenticity of these testimonies; they come from people who attest an overwhelming experience in good faith." [The Hitorial Jesus A Comprehensive Guide, pg 490]
Joseph Fitzmyer writes:
Because Paul cites a bit of the early Christian kerygma about the risen Christ, this passage is usually regarded as preserving the oldest record of the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Along with 1 Thess 1:10 and Rom 4:25; 6:3–4, which echo the same pre-Pauline kerygma, it is older than any of the reports in the four Gospels, and for that reason is highly esteemed. [Anchor Bible, 1 Corinthians]
Paul provides contemporary-primary date that predates the Corinthian community (he is handing it on and) that goes back to the earliest days of the church and to Jesus's original followers. One thing that is very curious as well, if we are allowd to peak at some later narrative details, is that of all the individuals listed, Paul persectued Jesus, Peter denied him and fled and James may have been unbelieving at first. Dale Allison tells us the verb bury
"would hardly be used of the unceremonious dumping of a criminal into an unmarked trench as dog food: that was not burial but its denial. Now whether or not 1 Cor 15:4 summarizes an early form of the story about Joseph of Arimathea, "it would be strange," as Barnabas Lindars observed, "to include this detail in the statement if the burial of Jesus was in fact unknown." [Resurrecting Jesus]
It seems then that we have strong evidence for the belief that Jesus was in fact buried in the earliest church. Unfortunately, Paul doesn't tell us anything specific so we cannot use him as evidence to validate the details of empty tomb story first found in the Gospel of Mark. For example, Paul doesn't help us decide if it was an expensive tomb -- hewn in rock with a fancy, expensive and uncommon rolling stone, or a common tomb Jewish leaders would use for executed criminals? Was Jesus given an honorable burial or simply wrapped in linen and put in a tomb to satisfy Jewish piety and the commands of God? Paul doesn't help us resolve that issue.

Why doesn't Paul mention the empty tomb?

Much ado has been made about nothing here. Fitzmyer writes:
There is no mention of the empty tomb in this kerygmatic fragment, and its absence has often been used to question the Gospel accounts of it or to maintain that it was an item that was only added to the primitive preaching at a later date. What is usually overlooked, however, is the stereotyped four-part formulation of the tradition cited here, which presents the essentials of death, burial, resurrection, and appearance in a well-established enumerative mode of expression, but not with all the details. It presumes that Christ's risen body (unmentioned) was no longer where it was laid in burial. [Anchor Bible Commentary,1 Corinthians]
Paul was not actually making a historical argument for the resurrection of Jesus. Gordon Fee writes:
Although the enumeration of appearances might suggest otherwise, Paul is not here setting out to prove the resurrection of Jesus. Rather, he is reasserting the commonly held ground from which he will argue against their assertion that there is no resurrection of the dead. To do so he appeals to "the tradition" of the whole church, which he preached and they believed, namely that Christ died, was buried, and was raised on the third day. The emphasis is threefold: First, he reiterates both at the beginning (vv. 1-2) and the end (v. 11) that this tradition is something they have indeed believed. Two points are made here: (a) In keeping with the emphasis at the end of the preceding argument (14:33,36), what Paul preached and they believed is the common ground of the whole church (cf. vv. 3-5, 11). (b) Alongside that emphasis is the reminder that their very existence as believers is at stake on this matter. That is, any deviation from this gospel which "saved them" and "in which they stand" puts them in danger of "believing for naught." [New International Commentary, 1 Corinthians]
We have good reason to believe this very early tradition Paul hands on is but a summary statement. Dale Allison writes: "Surely no one would ever have been satisfied with the shorn assertions, "Jesus appeared to Cephas" and "Jesus appeared to five hundred people at once." This is no more plausible than urging that Christians at first said things such as "Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38) and only much later enjoyed telling miracle stories about him; or that while Paul and others preached Christ crucified, no supposed particulars about Jesus' martyrdom emerged until decades after the fact, when interest unaccountably set in; or that "he appeared to Cephas" was ever proclaimed without explaining who Cephas was if the audience knew nothing about him. (Later Christian creeds omit the appearances altogether, probably in part because the witnesses were no longer alive.)" [Resurrecting Jesus] On 1 Cor 15:3-8, Hengel wrote:
"A Jew or Gentile God-fearer, hearing this formal, extremely abbreviated report for the first time, would have difficulty understanding it; at the least a number of questions would certainly occur to him, which Paul could only answer through the narration and explanation of events. Without clarifying delineation, the whole thing would surely sound enigmatic to ancient ears, even absurd." [Hengel, "Begrabnis," 127. Cf. Marco Frenschkowski, Offenbarung und Epipbanie^ vol. 2, Die verborgene Epipbanie in Spatantike und frubem Christentum (WUNT2.80; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 229]
So we know there was much more to the story at this point. Since Paul does not give us further details we cannot be certain of exactly what they were or were not. But we can certainly use this to raise a very wary eye at the dubious claim "Paul invented Christianity." Gordon Fee writes:
"and that he was buried," functions to verify the reality of the death. In the present context it emphasizes the fact that a dead corpse was laid in the grave, so that the resurrection that follows will be recognized as an objective reality, not merely a "spiritual" phenom- enon. Therefore, even though the point is incidental to Paul's own concern, this very early expression of Christian faith also verifies the reality of the empty tomb stories.6 1 It is common in some quarters of NT scholarship to deny this latter;62 but that seems to be a case of special pleading. The combined emphasis on death, burial, and third-day resurrection would have had an empty tomb as its natural concomitant, even if not expressed in that way. Given this language, embedded in the heart of the earliest tradition, the early Christians and Paul would find it unthinkable that some would deny that they believed that the tomb was also empty, or that those stories were the creation of a later generation that needed "objective verification" of the resurrection. One may not believe that Jesus rose and that the tomb was therefore empty; but one may scarcely on good historical grounds deny that they so believed/ [New International Commentary, 1 Corinthians]

Would Romans Have Allowed Jesus's burial?

Many scholars seem to possess a lot of certainty about the Roman practice of crucifixion in first century Palestine. They argue the Romans would not have allowed Jesus's burial because that was the usual fate of crucifixion victims. It was a shameful act and meant as a deterrent. For all we can tell, the lack of a proper burial in the ancient world was a a very mortifying prospect. It is believed that Jesus would have been left on the cross or tossed in a shallow grave--his body serving as food for wild animals.

The earliest stratum of Christian belief doesn't object to burial

Denying the possibility of Roman burial to Jesus is odd when we just saw Paul reminding the Corinthians in the early 50s of the ancient tradition that he handed on to them stating precisely this. Jesus was buried accourding 1 Cor 15:4 and this was received tradtiion. The earliest followers of Jesus behind parts of that pre-Pauline tradition had no issues with thiniking Jesus was buried, Paul doesn't seem to think it was unlikely that Jesus was buried and he certainly does not address or forestall any objects to the contrary from his Corinthian audience. Note above that Dale Allison mentions behind dumoed in a shallow grave is not burial but the opposite of it! In fact, their shared belief is used as a starting point for Paul. The Corinthians don't seem to be rejecting the resurrection of Jesus, but the resurrection of the dead meaning everyone else. Paul appeals to their belief in the resurrection of Jsus using a reductio ad absurdom argument ("If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised . . . and your faith is in vain."). So Paul relays an early Christian creed expressing the beliefs of some the earliest followers of Jesus in the Jerusalem church and it explicitly says he was buried So while some modern scholars living 2,000 years later find the burial of Jesus incredulous, it appears that his closest followers in the 30s and 40s--shortly after he was actually crucified-- did not. While either group could be wrong, I at least hope this early belief fosters a sense of humility and helps sober up some overly confident scholarly certitude.

We Know a Crucified Victim Was Buried

The remains of a crucified victim were found in 1968 in Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Is this an exception to the rule since we only found one? Ropes were sometimes used. Nails being expensive were pulled out of the victims to be reused. Criminals were often denied proper burial. All three of these factors explain the lack of significant aracheological remains for crucifiction victims. Hermeneia The harsh practices of exposure of the body to ani- mals and the refusal of burial were sometimes mitigated. Philo stated that he knew cases in which, on the eve of a holiday such as the birthday of an emperor, the bodies of those who had been crucified were taken down and given to their relatives for burial and the usual rites. He complained that Flaccus did not make this humane con- cession with respect to the Jews whom he had crucified near the birthday of Gaius (Flacc. 10 §§81–83).34 The practice of leaving the corpse on the cross for days or even longer was in tension with the command- ment of Deut 21:22-23, as it was interpreted in the time of Jesus.35 Josephus criticized the Idumeans for denying burial to the bodies of the high priest Ananus and Jesus, another chief priest, after they had killed them: They actually went so far in their impiety as to cast out the corpses without burial, although the Jews are so careful about funeral rites that even malefactors who have been sentenced to crucifixion are taken down and buried before sunset (proh'lqon de; eij" tosou'ton ajsebeiva", w{ste kai; ajtavfou" rJi'yai, kaiv- toi tosauvthn ÆIoudaivwn peri; ta;" tafa;" provnoian poioumevnwn, w{ste kai; tou;" ejk katadivkh" ajnestau- rwmevnou" pro; duvnto" hJlivou kaqelei'n te kai; qavptein). (Bell. 4.5.2 §317)36 Josephus’s remark makes clear that the request of Joseph of Arimathea for the body of Jesus in order to bury it may be interpreted as an act of piety in obedience to the law.37 Brown 1207 Burial John Nollan [NIGTC] On the basis of evidence of Roman refusal of burial for those crucified, with the bodies either left on the cross to decay and be carrion for the birds or thrown into a pile on the ground,517 scholars sometimes deny the historicity of Jesus’ burial, and therefore of Joseph’s request or at least its success. But this Roman practice is far from uniform;518 since Jesus was not a Roman citizen, Pilate would have had considerable personal discretion as to how he treated Jesus’ case; concessions to Jewish sensibilities are not unlikely in Judea; and we have already had reason to see that Pilate had no conviction that Jesus represented a threat or even deserved his sentence. The Jewish concern for providing a proper burial even for executed criminals, noted above in connection with Dt. 21:23, is reflected in a statement in Josephus about Jewish practice519 and probably lies behind the initiative taken by the Jews in Jn. 19:31 to have the bodies removed from the cross.520 There is nothing intrinsically unlikely about the Gospel report. FN: Only when capital punishment was for treason was the denial of burial at all consistent; in all other cases a request for the body was to be honoured, according to The Digest of Justinian 48.24. Philo, Flacc. 10.83–84, reports a custom in Roman Egypt on the eve of a Roman holiday of delivering crucified bodies to their relatives for burial (which the governor Flaccus failed to honour). Jos., War 4.317; Ant. 4.264–65. Cf. War 3.377, which mentions the practice of burying the bodies of enemies. As with Mk. 15:41, Jn. 19:31 treats the fact that the sabbath would begin that evening as heightening the concern to remove the bodies. There is no specific biblical background for such a heightening, but it makes good general sense that on the day set apart to honour God all that pertains to obedience to the Law should become yet more pressing. See Suetonius, Aug. 13.1–2 (with reference to those who fought for Brutus); Tac., Ann. 6.29 (Tiberius’s practice in the terrible period following the fall of Sejanus); Petronius, Sat. 111–112 (reporting an exception to what is taken as a general practice); Horace, Ep. 1.16.48 (a general statement about feeding the crows); The Digest of Justinian, ed. T. Mommsen (4 vols.; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1985), 48.24 (only in the case of treason); Euseb., HE 5.1.61–62 (Christians in Lyons).

Joseph of Arimathea:

Mark may adapt some tradition to his needs but he doesn't appear to make up names wholesale. This would seeimingly apply to "Joseph" and "Arimathea," a name with no known theological significance.
Although Crossan considers Joseph of Arimathea "to be a total Markan creation in name, in place, and in function,"605 fictional names do not seem to be standard fare either in Mark or his tradition. Surely most of the named characters must on any reading be historical persons, and Joseph of Arimathea is, apart from late legend, known only as the one who buried Jesus. The person and place are both obscure, occur- ring outside the four canonical gospels only in late, apocryphal sources, and they have no obvious biblical or theological or apologetical significance. So one might suppose that "Joseph of Arimathea" is historical memory, like other names in Mark, such as John the Baptist, Peter, Andrew, James, John, Judas, James the brother of Jesus, Mary the mother of Jesus, Herod Antipas, Pilate.
There is not gurantee Mark doesn't do this here or that he cannot use names so creatively any history behind the details could be lost. Brown thinks Mark has no reason to invent a bold and couragous membr of the Sanhedrin who is described as eagerly anticipating the arrival of God's kingdom. Mark makes it clear all the Sanhedrin have just falsely condemned Jesus as deserving of death. Raymond Brown wrote:
That Mark created such an identification is most unlikely since it runs counter to his hostile generalizations casting blame on all the members of the Sanhedrin for the injustice of sentencing Jesus to death (14:55,64; 15: I).
I share Brown's sentiments that Mark does not present Jospeh as a disciple of Jesus and he argues for the antiquity of the burial tradition on the following grounds:
The contention that Mark was presenting Joseph as a pious Sanhedrist but not as a disciple of Jesus makes sense of a detail that is the Achilles' heel of the disciple interpretation. 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 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?32 Lack of cooperation between the women followers of Jesus and a Sanhedrist responsible for the death of Jesus whose only wish was to get the criminal's corpse buried is quite intelligible. He would not have allowed them near precisely because they were followers of Jesus. GPet 12:50 dramatizes what Mark implies by specifying that (on the day of death) the Jews had prevented Mary Magdalene from rendering at the tomb the customary burial services to the beloved.

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 by his disciples.) A sermon in Acts 13:27-29 reports: "Those who lived in Jerusalem and 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 the "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 Sanhedrist responsible for sentencing Jesus and acting in fidelity to the deuteronomic law of burying before sunset those hanged (crucified) on a tree. [Death of the Messiah V2 pg 1218]
Joel Marcus (Mark Anchor Bible V2) summarizes Dale Allison's arguments for historicity in Resurrecting Jesus:
Allison cites in favor of its historicity, among other points, its conflict with the overall tendency of the Gospels to depict the Sanhedrin negatively; its linkage of Joseph with Arimathea, an obscure and unimportant place; the pre-Pauline reference to Jesus' buria in 1 Cor 15:4; the evidence that Roman bodies sometimes released the bodies of eecuted criminals, including the crucified, to their families and friends; and the likelihood that the earliest Christians knew where Jesus had been buried, since his death had occurred in public nd had generated enormous interest. In Allison's opinion, moreover, if Jesus' corpse had been dumped by his enemies into a mass grave for criminals, early Christian authors would probably have interpreted this action as a fulfillment of Isa 53:9 ("They made his grave with the wicked").
It must also be noted that Mark's account is far less adorned than the three authors that came after him but it also shows some signs of apologetical embellishment. It seems to presuppose a very expensive tomb for crucified criminal but more on that below. No one can definitively say that Jesus was not buried in a wealthy sympathizers tomb but in my estimation, but even if this is denied, the evidence is against wholsale creation. Jesus was buried in a tomb by the Jewish leaders, including one named Joseph or Arimathea, after his death in accordance with Deut 21:23.

Comparing the Gospel Accounts: Creative Embellishments

Remember that Mark was written first and that Matthew and Luke certainly, and John possibly, depend on his written narrative. We can view extra details they supply as history remembered, developments in a story being retold over time or the specific redaction of each author in accordance with their theological programs.
Mark 15:42-47 Matthew Luke 23:50-56 John 19:38-42
42 When evening had come, and since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council who was also himself waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Then Pilate wondered if he were already dead, and summoning the centurion he asked him whether he had been dead for some time. 45 When he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the body to Joseph. 46 Then Joseph bought a linen cloth and, taking down the body, wrapped it in the linen cloth and laid it in a tomb that had been hewn out of rock. He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid. 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who also was himself a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb. 50 Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph who, though a member of the council, 51 had not agreed to their plan and action. He came from the Jewish town of Arimathea, and he was waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God. 52 This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took it down, wrapped it in a linen cloth, and laid it in a rock-hewn tomb where no one had ever been laid. 54 It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. 55 The women who had come with him from Galilee followed, and they saw the tomb and how his body was laid. 56 Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. 38 After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he came and removed his body. 39 Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40 They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42 And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
Matthew intentionally changes Mark's "member of the Sanhedrin" to "rich man" and he is no longer merely "waiting expectantly for the kingdom of God" but is now a full blown disciple of Jesus. Harmonizing "rich person" and "member of the Sanhedrin" is rather is easy considering the type of tomb described in Mark and the status of Joseph both indicate such. The identity of Joseph as a full fledged follower of Jesus is not found in Mark. He also claims, Joseph of Arimathea, is the owner of the newtomb just outside Jerusalem. Craig A Evan's writes:
"Matthew adds important details, noting that the linen cloth was “clean” and that the tomb was Joseph’s (i.e., “his own”) and was “new.” These details mitigate the shame of a dishonorable burial. The newness of the tomb probably means that the tomb had not been used before, which is exactly how the evangelist Luke understands it (cf. Luke 23:53, “where no one had ever been laid”). If the tomb had not been used, then no criminals had been buried in it. Thus the tomb was not yet a “place of dishonor”. But because no righteous person had been buried in it, it was not yet a “place of honor,” in which an executed person like Jesus could not be buried. The tomb of Joseph was, in a sense, a neutral place – neither dishonorable nor honorable."
Matthew also adds in a guard story as well and the very strange scene most commentators quickly brush over where corpses of the many dead saints are said to come out of their tombs: "The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many." Some refer to this less reverently as "Matthew's zombies" who curiously wait inside their tombs until after Jesus's resurrection. Why do they do this? Matthew may be putting out an eschatological fire of his own making: they preceed Jesus in rising from the dead. Did Matthew, who is probably drawing off of Ezek 37, think Jesus was the "fruit-fruits" as Paul relays (1 Cor 15:20-23) if a bunch of dead saints rose before him?

John has Nicodemus show up and bring 100lbs of myrrh and aloes and they wrap Jesus with them. Now we know Joseph or whoever buried Jesus did not do it alone. Getting the body down, moving it, putting it in the tomb and wrapping it and closing it with a heavy stone would most likely have been done by several people. Joseph is a follower of Jesus in John just like in Matthew.
Luke calls Joseph a righteous man to smooth out Markan hyperbole (compare Mark 14:53-64 with 15:43) and notes that the woman followed and saw how the body was laid. The the 100lbs of spices and ointements in the Gospel of John brought by Nicoedmus wasn't enough so they went to prepare more despite seeing where they layed him. While the Roman pound was 12oz at the time and this only ammounts to 75 lbs, the terms used suggest powders so that is a heck of a lot of material. Large ammounts of spice were used in regal burials and the kings of Judah were buried in garden tombs (Kings 21). Brown writes:
From the LXX of Neh 3:16 we learn that the sepulcher of King David was in a garden, and Acts 2:29 shows that David's tomb was popularly familiar in NT times. Was the garden burial of Jesus remembered because it was seen as symbolically appropriate for the Son of David? Was the tradition recalled by John in particular because of his emphasis that Jesus of Nazareth on the cross was triumphantly pro- claimed as "the King of the Jews"? The evidence for this thesis is not sufficient to establish proof, but such a symbolism would be a most appropriate conclusion to John's PN.
Curiously, Luke adds the same detail Matthew does and claims the tomb had never been used. History remembered, evidence of Luke's usage of Matthew or coming up with the same apologetic regarding Jesus's burial? Mark Goodacre wrote an article, How Empty Was the Tomb? [JSNT 2022] and said:
The difficulty with standard approaches to these narratives is that scholars seldom discipline their imaginations by looking at real first-century tombs in Jerusalem. It is in some ways unsurprising given that the majority of excavations of tombs in Jerusalem have happened since 1945, many over the last 30 to 40 years, and a good number of these are simply accidental discoveries that have resulted from new building projects, like the discovery of the Talpiot Tombs in 1980 and 1981. Moreover, the indispensable study of Jerusalem’s necropolis by Amos Kloner and Boaz Zissu appeared as recently as 2007 (Kloner and Zissu 2007), and Rachel Hachlili’s definitive work on Jewish funerary customs, practices and rites was published just two years earlier (Hachlili 2005), and New Testament scholars are still catching up. . . .The key point that emerges from the study of Jerusalem’s necropolis is that rock-cut tombs of the kind mentioned in the gospels are always multi-person tombs. The tombs house families. They contain multiple bodies and multiple ossuaries. They never appear to have been built to contain just one body.
Goodacre says, "Apologetic anxiety leads to the characterization of the tomb as ‘new’ (Matthew and John), ‘in which no one had been laid’ (Luke and John), but it is possible that the appearance of Mark’s young man ‘on the right’ is significant." We wouldn't want Jesus's body confused with somone elses and hence the "newness" of the tomb being introduced to Mark's version.

A great deal of mental gymnastics would be needed to reconcile all these accounts. In Mark, Joseph also is only recorded as doing the bare minimum for the corpse of Jesus (tying up his body in the linen) and placing it in a tomb. Nothing about washing the body, annointing, etc. We could surmise the account is abbreviated or time constraints didn't allow it but this appears assumed and explained by an earlier scene. Brown writes:
At Bethany Mark 14:8 had Jesus' body anointed by a woman beforehand for burial, and this was proleptic precisely because Mark had no tradition of an anointing (or of other kind acts) done for Jesus' body after his death. The anointing at Bethany before the passion was the only item appropriate to an honorable burial that the Marcan Jesus is said to have received; and Mark's audience would have been expected to remember it since '''Wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her."
.Brown writes:
By the little they narrate about Joseph's actions, the evangelists (even those who make him a disciple of Jesus) give an impression of an expeditious burial without frills. Joseph requests the body of Jesus from Pilate; the request is granted; Joseph takes the body, wraps it with cloth(s), and places it in a tomb (nearby). No mention is made of washing the body or anointing it immediately before burial. Only as the basic account is modified in the later Gospels under the impact of the increasing ennoblement of Joseph is it stated that the cloth was clean white, that the body was washed (GPet), that there were spices (John: but even then, no anointing), and that the tomb was new and even Joseph's own. While the need for haste was certainly a motive for the frugality of the burial in the basic account, such a burial also matches the account's portrait of Joseph: one who was motivated by God's rule (kingdom) expressed in the law that the crucified should be taken down and buried before sunset, but one who at this stage had no reason to honor the condemned criminal.
Brown further lays out arguments for historicity:
How much of that is history? That Jesus was buried is historically certain. That Jewish sensitivity would have wanted this done before the oncoming Sabbath (which may also have been a feast day) is also certain, and our records give us no reason to think that this sensitivity was not honored. That the burial was done by Joseph from Arimathea is very probable, since a Christian fictional creation from nothing of a Jewish Sanhedrist who does what is right is almost inexplicable, granted the hostility in early Christian writings toward the Jewish authorities responsible for the death of Jesus. Moreover, the fixed designation of such a character as "from Arimathea," a town very difficult to identify and reminiscent of no scriptural symbolism, makes a thesis of invention even more implausible. The very fact that the later Gospels had to ennoble Joseph and to increase the reverence of the burial given to Jesus shows that Christian instincts would not have freely shaped what I have posited for the basic account. While high probability is not certitude, there is nothing in the basic preGos- pel account of Jesus' burial by Joseph that could not plausibly be deemed historical.
Once we remove all the bells and whistles of the later accounts, and get past the "rolling stone." the basic details behind Mark's narrative are likely historical. Jesus was buried by pious Jews --the same ones partly responsible for his death--shortly after. This would have outside the walls of Jerusalem and possibly in a place reserved for the burial of criminals.

Was Jesus Buried Alone?

Luke and John tell us no one had previously used Jesus's tomb and Matthew calls it new. Does Mark share this opinion? Mark Goodacre suggests it is a possibility: But there is one intriguing detail in Mark that is worth exploring. Why does the narrator take care to tell the reader that Mary, Mary and Salone saw the young man 'sitting on the right side' (Mk 16.5)? For Jerome Murphy O'Connor, the detail is Markan redaction, introducing 'a developed Christologial dimension' (Murphy-O'Connor 2010: 63). For Joel Marcus, it represents 'a position traditionally associated with power, victory, and auspiciousness' (Marcus 2009: 565). There is a more practial possibility, however, however, about the curious stage direction, a possibility that may hint that Mark too, like Matthew, Luke and John, is depicting a new tomb. There is some evidence that the hewing of loculi in tombs began on the right of the tomb's entrance and proceeded anti-clockwise through the chamber. Rachel hchlili claims that 'After the chamber and the standing pit were hewn, the loculi were cutin a counterclockwise direction, from right to left' (Hachlili 2005: 56). She also suggests that 'The process of burial and reburial was evidently also followed from right to left' (Hachlili 2005: 56). Goodacre calls this detail "tantalizing" but he also notes we cannot be sure of any interpretation here. Maybe Matthew and the other evangelists connected Mark's dots and added a "new" tomb, or maybe this is our imagination. Maybe it was history remembered, maybe it wasn't. It is hard to deny its potential apologetic motivation in any scenario. Just as Matthew may post a guard to guard (pun intended) against and forestall the objection that the discples stole the body, the idea that Christians were confused by where or which body belongded to Jesus is easy to see behind the newness of the tomb and the Markan narrators comments which make it explicit the women know where the body was. Mark 15:47: "Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where the body was laid." Whether this is history as told, apologetics, both or has a core (based on the role of women at the time).

Why Did Joseph not request the bodies of the two criminals crucified with Jesus?

We do not know that he did or didn't. Jesus is the focus of the account and after their narrative usefulness, the two criminals beside him fade from view. Raymond Brown writes:
"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. Craig, Assessing 176 raises the possibility that if Joseph were both a delegate of the Sanhedrin and a secret disciple, he obtained all three bodies but disposed of the criminals' bodies in a common grave." [Death of the Messiah pg 1216]
John Nolland writes:
None of the Evangelists has any interest in the fate of the bodies of the two criminals. But Jewish sensibilities would have been as much concerned about the disposal of their own bodies as of that of Jesus.[NIGTC: Matthew]
We must also contend with the notion that the tomb story and burial may be historical whereas details about the two individual on the Cross with Jesus are largely fictional. It may also be true that all three "criminals" were buried in a commons tomb reserved for such persons by the Jewish authorities and that while Jesus's burial is very secure historically, our earliest acount may have already embellished it. He may have been buried with the two criminals in the same tomb by the Jewish athorities.

Was the Empty Tomb Story made Up Because Jesus was Buried in a Shallow Grave?

Since Paul and the early church has Jesus "buried" much earlier this is impossible but a better question ask is whether or not Mark made up some of the details of the tomb story?
To this one could retort that the imaginations of Jesus' adherents transferred Jesus from a criminal's pile to a tomb in order to spare him dishonor. But if so, such a move must have been taken quite early in- deed, before the tradition in 1 Cor 15:4, and the suggestion misses a blindingly obvious point. Christians did not save Jesus from the fact of crucifixion but rather redeemed the cursed cross. In their own way they even gloried in it. People capable of that incredible and unprecedented theological move could surely have redeemed burial in a trench or a corpse on a cross if circumstances had presented them that lesser challenge. Are we to believe that Christians who acknowledged the hu- miliation of crucifixion were somehow unable to allow that Jesus was denied a decent burial, as though the latter were so more dreadful than the former?
If Jesus was buried in a mass grave Christians would probaly have appealed to Isaiah 53:9: "They made his grave with the wicked. . .". With that being said, we cannot confirm that Mark's details about a huge tomb hewn out of rock being sealed with a rolling stone are necessarily historical. In the same way Allison suggests Christians "redeemed the cursed cross" they may have redeemed a less honorable burial. I am not suggesting Jesus was tossed in a mass grave but that he was simply wrapped in linen and and placed in a common tomb. Washing his bloody body and annointing it as John suggests with 100lbs (75 in modern measuring systems) would have been an honorable Jewish burial. Jesus may have had a no-frills Jewish burial by those who condemned him of death and handed him over to the Romans. We cannot rule this out on historical grounds. While Mark did not invent Joseph of Arimathea, if we have single attestation for details that appear 40 years after Jesus's death, we cannot axiomatically grant them all historicity. Jesus could have been buried in a common tomb Jewish leaders used for executed criminals, possibly like those two crucified along side of him. Rolling stones were extremely uncommon at the time and a sign of being very weathy and that detail does not immediately commend itself as history.

Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus's tomb?

Mark 15:46: "He then rolled a stone against the door of the tomb." Many modern readers don't realize the problems associated with this simple statement. First to state the obvious, Joseph most likely would have had help moving the body of Jesus to the tomb and with the stone. That is not at all what I mean. The angel in Mark 16:6 gives away what is otherwise assumed: "Look, there is the place they laid him. Joseph was not working alone and the narrative knows this. The problem is on the rarity of a rolling stone and Matthew's odd description of the angel sitting on it. Joel Marcus writes:
Most Second Temple cave-tombs in and around Jerusaoem are sealed with square or rectangular stones; only four of the nine hundred-plus tombs so far discovered are sealed with circular stones, and those tombs apparently belonged to rich and prominent people (most famously, the Herodian family and Queen Helena of Adiabene). The rectangular stones, weighing roughly five hundred pounds, are chiseled to fit like stoppers into the tombs' openings and would have been difficult to maneuver into position (see Kloner, "Rolling Stone"; McCane, "Stone, 33). The round disk-shaped stones, though much more massive, (some fiteen hundred to three thousand pounds, by Kloner's estimate), are set upright in transverse channels, which would have afacilitated their rolling into plac with the aid of levers (cf. Finnegan, Arhcaeology, 202).
Matthew has the stone rolled back in front of the women, contradicting what Mark narrates, and he seems to presumes a boulder as the angel sits on it. But round stones which were rare in antiquity would commonly be rolled into a recess in the wall. The image to the left depicts this but this was not universal. Nothing is impossinle in this scenario but we have two unlikely situations compounded together. Kloner poses a solution:
But we must remember that "rolled" is a translation of the Greek word kulio, which can also mean "dislodge," "move back" or simply "move." THis ambiguity in the test, combined with the archaeological evidence, leads me to agree with the scholar Gustave Dalman, who, as early as 1935, suggested that Matthew 27 does not refer to a round blocking stone. In Matthew 28 and angel sit on the stone afer "rolling" it back. If the stone had been rolled back between two walls, as was the case with Second Temple period round stones, it would have been impossible to sit on it. Indeed, it would be difficult to sit on the edge of a disk-shaped stone even if it had been pulled back from the tomb entrance. A square blocking stone would make a much better perch. Of course, with angels anything can happen, but it seems likely that the human author of the Gospel would have described the angel sitting on a squae stone. It may be worthwhile returning for a moment to the Hebrew word for these blocking stones, both round and square: golal or golel (plural, golalim). The root means "to roll" as well as "to move." [BAR, 1999, Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus' Tomb?]
There are three options here. 1) Joseph of Arimathea is very rich (see Matthew) and has one of these extremely rare and exotic tombs in Jerusalem. The strength of this will probably depend on whether Joseph is viewed as a follower of Jesus or not. In that case burial in this tomb makes sense but if he were simply burying a criminal to satisfy Jewish piety, this is much less likely unless it was out of extreme necesseity. 2) The description could mean moving a rounded object. While referencing Kloner's article Dale Allison says "This seems plausible; cf. Josh 10:18 LXX; 2 Kgs 9:33 LXX; Diodorus Siculus 17.68.2." Markus is critical of such an interpretation and thinks a round, rolling stone with an ornate tomb is meant. 3) The final option is the round stone is a legendary development and part of Mark's otherwise sober narrative aimed at drammatizing Jesus's burial. He gives him a kingly tomb. Note that John avoids this issue and simply states the stone was "taken away" and we know Mary has to look down to see in.

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