Could the Body of Jesus Have Been Stolen?

Oldest of the challenges against the Resurrection is the charge that the crucified body of Jesus of Nazareth was stolen from the tomb. Could the Body of Jesus Have Been Stolen? An unbroken chain of custody over his body would make the stolen body charge difficult to overcome.

Procurator Pilate granted the mutilated body of Jesus to Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish council. He was joined by Nicodemus, another prominent member of the Jewish council, both taking the body to Joseph’s own unused tomb.

The pair quickly prepared the body for burial witnessed by women from Galilee, two identified by name – Mary the mother of Joseph (aka Jose) and http://theodds.website/could-the-body-of-jesus-have-been-stolen/.[ii] Joseph then rolled a stone in front of the tomb entrance – confirmation by the two Jewish Council members that Jesus was indeed dead and buried.

What did or didn’t happen between the time Jesus was laid in the tomb before dusk on Friday, Nissan 14, until the Sabbath morning of Nissan 15, is a complete gap in the timeline of the Gospels. It offers an opening for skeptics to say the body was stolen from the tomb that first night, although it is not the same alleged body theft in the timeline described by Matthew before sunrise Sunday, Nissan 16 – there are two possible opportunities when the body could have been stolen.

Those who most certainly would not have wanted to be corroborating witnesses of the Resurrection became just that. The Jewish leadership declared to the Roman government that the body of Jesus was still in the tomb Saturday morning, Nissan 15, according to Jewish day reckoning at dusk… 

MT 27:62-64 The next day (which is after the day of preparation) the chief priests and the Pharisees assembled before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember that while that deceiver was still alive he said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give orders to secure the tomb until the third day. Otherwise his disciples may come and steal his body and say to the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception will be worse than the first.”(NET)

Top level Jewish leadership approached Rome’s jurisdictional authority of Judea – Pilate – to state their concern implying it could also be a problem for him. As a Roman Procurator whose governing capacity included serving as a judge, Pilate had to weigh the truthfulness of their claim as well as the potential political consequences.

First was the declaration that the corpse of Jesus was lying in a tomb that Saturday morning, then their stated concern the body could be stolen. Unusual from a Roman perspective, but not for the Jews. Rome had little regard for crucified victims according to Josephus; however, Rome did allow the Jews’ custom to bury their crucified dead:[iii]

“Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified , and buried them before the going down of the sun.” – Josephus, Wars  [iv]

Pilate most likely considered other factors, too. False witness in the Roman Empire was a capital offense so how likely was it the Jews would risk lying to him? [v] Would the Jews take the risk that the corpse had already been stolen and then have it turned up later proving them to be liars? Making their claim even stronger, the last thing the Jewish leadership would want to have happen is for the body to actually be stolen body which would in turn be the basis for validating Jesus’ claim he would rise again in 3 days.

Weighing the credibility, truthfulness and motive of their testimony and concluding they were telling the truth that the body of Jesus was still in the tomb, an irritated Pilate issued a terse decision:

MT 27:65-66 “Pilate said to them, “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone.”(NASB) 

Pilate issued what was, in essence, a Roman court order to station koustodia, a company of guards, at the tomb and secure it they best way they knew how. Together, the Jewish leadership and the koustodia placed a seal on the tomb as an additional security measure.

Pilate’s Roman authority was required to deploy the koustodia making them accountable to him; however, because some of the guards later ran to the chief priests after the events at the tomb on Sunday morning, it suggests at least some koustodia also had a form of accountability to the Jewish council. Was there such a thing as a joint Roman-Jewish military squad?

Josephus described a “seal” process involving a combined Jewish-Roman military style squad led by a “Roman captain of the temple guards.” The Roman captain, who resided in the Tower of Antonia adjacent to the Temple, was assigned to a contingent of armed Temple guards.[vi]

It was this Roman captain’s role to match his seal ring with a matching seal ring possessed by the Temple leadership to verify the integrity of the seal, in this case, used to secure the Chief Priest’s vestments worn at the Jewish festal sacrifices. This seal process was temporarily in place only from the death of King Herod until Vitellius became president of Syria in 35 AD – the period of years virtually coinciding with the lifetime of Jesus of Nazareth.[vii]

Placed at the scene of the tomb holding the body of Jesus or Nazareth that Sabbath morning are the contingent of chief priests and Pharisees (probably including stealth followers, Joseph and Nicodemus) to witness the seal being placed on the tomb and the posting of the koustodia. Jewish leadership left with full confidence the sealed tomb would remain secure alleviating their anxiety that someone might steal the body of Jesus.[viii]

Archenemies of Jesus obtained a Roman judgement confirming that the chain of custody over the body of Jesus was legally established from the Roman crucifixion, to his burial, until the incredible events at the tomb at sunrise Sunday morning when the koustodia were still stationed at their post with the seal intact. With an unbroken chain of custody over the body of Jesus, what is the possibility his body was stolen?

 

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REFERENCES:

NET = NetBible translation; NASB = New American Standard Bible translation
Gospel references: Matthew 27-28, Mark 15, Luke 23, John 19.

[i] Pearce, Jonathan MS. “Matthew and the guards at the tomb.” 2012. <http://www.debunking-christianity.com/2012/06/matthew-and-guards-at-tomb.html rel=”nofollow”> “Gospel Disproof #38: The guards at the tomb.” FreeThoughtBlogs.com. 2014. <http://freethoughtblogs.com/alethianworldview/2012/02/27/gospel-disproof-38-the-guards-at-the-tomb rel=”nofollow”>
[ii]  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V. 1883. Philogos.org. n.d. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
[iii] Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book IV, Chapter VIII;
Google Books. n.d. <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
[iv] Josephus.  Wars. Book IV, Chapter V.
[v] Jahnige, Joan. “The Roman Legal System.” KET Distance Learning. 2017. http://www.dl.ket.org/latin2/mores/legallatin/legal01.htm>  Adams, John Paul. “The Twelve Tables.” 2009. California State University – Northridge. <https://www.csun.edu/~hcfll004/12tables.html>
[vi] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI; Book XX, Chapter I.  Wars.  Book II, Chapter XVII; Book V, Chapter VI.
[vii] Josephus.  Antiquities. Book XV, Chapter XI; Book XX, Chapter I.  Smith William. Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. 1857. “L. Vitellius” (#5); “C. Cassius Longinus” (#18), and “L. Cassius Longinus” (#19). OpenLibrary.org. n.d. <https://archive.org/stream/schooldictionary00smituoft#page/n9/mode/2up>  Smith, Mahlon H.  “Lucius Vitellius.” VirtualReligion.net. 2008.   <http://virtualreligion.net/iho/vitellius_1.html>  “Lucius Vitellius.”  Livius.org. Ed. Jona Lendering.  20John Simkin14.  <http://www.livius.org/person/vitellius-lucius>
[viii] “koustodia”, G2892l (Strong) “#2892 κουστωδία koustodia;” “strategos <4755> and “speira <4686>” Lexicon-Concordance Online Bible.  n.d.  <http://lexiconcordance.com>

Preparation Day – Is There a Bible Contradiction?

A confusing Jewish tradition is the Preparation Day – is there a Bible contradiction between John and the other Gospels? Some critics point to John’s Preparation Day references to claim a Gospel contraction thereby casting doubt on their integrity and their accounts about Jesus of Nazareth.[1] In the setting of when Pilate was judging Jesus, John wrote:

JN 19:14 “Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold your King!”” (NKJV)

John seems to suggest that Jesus was judged by Pilate on the Thursday before Passover which would indeed create a Gospel conflict. In fact, it would be inconsistent with his own second reference a few verses later:

JN 19:31 “Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.” (NKJV)

Occam’s Razor theory suggests that the simplest explanation is usually the right one. John seems to clearly reveal his definition for the “Preparation Day” in this verse as being the day leading into the Sabbath – a Friday – not the Thursday before the Passover.

For some, this may not completely address the apparent conflict posed by verse 14 obliging the longer explanation. A big clue is found in John’s parenthetical comment “for that Sabbath was a high day” or, depending on the translation, a “high Sabbath” or a “special Sabbath.”[2]

All Festival holy days, according the Law of Moses, were to be regarded as a Sabbath, “an appointed time.”[3] Bookend holy day were designated for Passover week, the first and last days of Passover.[4] When Nissan 15, the first holy day of the Passover, fell on a Friday it created back-to-back Sabbaths.

God’s commandment defined the weekly Sabbath as the holy day prohibiting “all manner of work.[5] The Jewish Talmud legal opinion expounded on this Law defining what was or was not considered work – rules notoriously enforced by the Pharisees in the Gospels.

Work prohibitions ran the gambit from cooking, drawing water, walking, carrying, making fires, feeding livestock, harvesting, etc. To avoid such violations, preparatory work for these tasks had to be completed before sunset Friday evening – the day of preparation for the Sabbath.[6]

On the typical Nissan 15 first holy day of Passover, the people were customarily busy with other required and traditional activities. In the morning was the Chagigah sacrifice where the meat from it was to be prepared and eaten toward the end of the day. That evening was the traditional ritual of a barley reaping in preparation for the Wave Sheaf or the Omer offering the second day of Passover to celebrate the Feast of First Fruits of the harvest.[7]

When Nissan 15 Passover fell on a Friday, it presented a legal conundrum. According to the Talmud interpretation of the Law, people were meant to “enjoy” the Passover Festival. The enjoyment factor was confounded by the strict Passover meal limitations further complicated by the legal work restrictions imposed by the two consecutive day Sabbaths.

A common sense solution would be to use Thursday, Nissan 14, as the preparation day for the back-to-back Sabbaths. After all, there was also a preparation day in advance of any designated holy day.  For this high Sabbath Passover, it was not that simple.

Double food preparations on Nissan 14 to cover two days was not an option because of the Passover commandment that said all food from the Feast of Unleavened Bread had to be consumed by midnight or else burned – no leftovers.[8] Requiring the people to go without cooked meals for two days (all day Friday and Saturday) due to work restrictions, not to mention work responsibilities piling up especially for farming activities, would be a negative experience rather than a positive one.

Rabbis were interpreters of the Law, Jewish lawyers, and they found some legal wiggle room. Festival Sabbath language in the Law of Leviticus and Numbers used the Hebrew word abodah meaning “labor” interpreted by Rabbi Sages to be a more lenient work restriction than the weekly Sabbath “all manner of work. [9] English translations reflect the difference saying “servile work,” “laborious work,” “regular work,” “occupations” and “customary work.”[10]

In the spirit of the Passover being a celebratory festival and with this legal flexibility, work exceptions were allowed by the Rabbis for a Friday, Nissan 15, Passover holy day to prepare for the weekly Sabbath. JewishEncyclopedia.com explains the Passover holy day work restriction leniency:[11]

“The general purpose underlying these laws is to enhance the joy of the festival, and therefore the Rabbis permitted all work necessary to that end, while guarding against turning it into a working-day.”

Wading through all the Jewish legalities, it boils down to John having made references in verses 14 and 31 to two different times of the same “preparation day” based on different scenarios. Verse 14 is in the context of the Friday morning of Passover when the full day of High Sabbath preparation activities were still ahead – “the Preparation Day of the Passover.”

Verse 31 is in the narrower context of the very same Friday where the imminent sunset would begin the weekly Sabbath and its much stricter rules – “because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath.” This is why Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were in a hurry to bury the body of Jesus before sunset, the beginning of a new Jewish day.

Does John’s reference to the preparation day create a Bible contradiction with the other Gospels?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

NKJV = New King James Version translation
Gospel references:  Matthew 28, Mark 16; Luke 24, John 20

[1] Wells, Steve.  The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified?”  http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html rel=”nofollow”</a>  “101 Bible Contradictions.”  Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. <http://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html rel=”nofollow”</a>
[2] NIV, NASB, NLT, NKJV.  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V, Chapter 15. <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
[3] Exodus 31:12-17; Leviticus 23:1-44.  The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson.  1918. Book 1, Sabbath, Chapter I; Book 2, Tract Erubin; Book 3, Tract Pesachim, Book 3, Chapter IV. <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>   Soncino Babylonian Talmud.  “Shabbath.” <https://israelect.com/Come-and-Hear/shabbath/index.html>  “Shabbat” and “Festivals.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. < http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[4] Exodus 12; Numbers 28.
[5] Exodus 23; 31; Leviticus 23.
[6] Exodus 16.
[7] Edersheim. The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Book V, Chapter 14.  “’Omer (= “sheaf”).”  JewishEncyclopedia.com.
[8] Deuteronomy 16.  Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826 -1889.  The NTSLibrary. 2016. <http://www.ntslibrary.com/PDF%20Books/The%20Temple%20by%20Alfred%20Edersheim.pdf>
[9] Leviticus 23; Numbers 28.
[10] KJV, NET, NIV, NASB, NLT, NRSV, NKJV. Net.Bible.org. Hebrew text, footnote #20 for Numbers 28:18.  Strong.  “`abodah <5656>.”  The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
[11] The Babylonian Talmud.  Rodkinson.  Book 3, Tracts Pesachim, Chapter IV and Book 4, Tract Betzah (Yom Tob).  “Holy Days” and “Festivals.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011.

Easter Good Friday – or is it Good Thursday?

Tradition says that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday. Not everyone agrees – some say that Jesus was on a Thursday, the day before the Passover.[i] Others argue there is a conflict in the Gospels serving to invalidate its credibility and its claim that Jesus is the Son of God.[ii] Was it Good Friday or Good Thursday? Easter and Passover Traditions are called into question by a verse in the Gospel of John that says:

JN 18:28 Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.(NRSV)

John seems to attribute the timing of the crucifixion before the first day of Passover by saying the priests were worried about becoming defiled thus disqualifying them from eating the Passover meal.[iii]It is easy to conclude “to eat the Passover” refers to the Feast of Unleavened Bread being observed at its appointed time. If true, it would mean John was saying Jesus was crucified on Thursday, Nissan 14, before the Passover Feast of Unleavened Bread, a contradiction with the other Gospels saying he was crucified on the first day of Passover, a Friday that particular year.

All may not be what it appears to be. What if there was another separate Passover meal that concerned the priests on Friday, the first day of Passover, after the Feast of Leavened Bread the previous evening ? There was…and it involved a legally required Passover sacrifice.[iv]

Jewish Talmud differentiates between the first two Passover meals. First was the Feast of Unleavened Bread at the beginning of Nissan 15 to be taken from the paschal sacrifice offering earlier that day on Nissan 14 and consumed entirely that evening before midnight. The second Passover meal was to be taken from the festal sacrificial offering on the first day of Passover, Nissan 15, to be consumed over the course of two days and one night.[v]

Chagigah, as the first day of Passover meal later came to be called, was a sacrifice offered by an individual at the Temple earlier in the day with the assistance of a priest who became a beneficiary to it.[vi] Jewish Law stipulated that a portion of the sacrifice was to be given to the priest for his own Chagigah Passover meal while the remaining meat was to be taken home by the offeror for his personal Chagigah meal.[vii] 

Defilement worries? Priests were held to a higher Rabbinical standard with special rules that did not apply to the general populace. Entering Pilate’s headquarters, the Praetorium, was one of those things that would place the priests in a state of ritual defilement.[viii]Disqualification from performing their Chagigah sacrificial duty on the first day of Passover meant the priests would not have received their lawful portion of the sacrificial meat – no meat for their Chagigah Passover meal that evening.[ix]

Jewish legalities also rule out the Feast of Unleavened Bread as the one referenced in John 18:28. Jewish Law provided two remedies for a ritually defiled priest to partake of the evening Feast or any other. Rabbinic ritual defilement could be absolved after sunset by means of a ritualistic purification bath. Since the Feast began after sunset, the purified priest could then partake of it. Additionally, the Law designated a make-up day called the “second Passover” for those who could not participate in the first Feast of Unleavened Bread.

There are much bigger, logical reasons why the defilement concern of John 18:28 does not refer to the crucifixion of Jesus on Thursday, Nissan 14, preceding the Feast of Unleavened Bread that evening. Earlier in the afternoon of Nissan 14, shortly after midday, upwards of a quarter million paschal sacrifices had to be performed! It was an all-hands on deck scenarios where all the Priests served a vitally important role at the Temple requiring massive preparations with a packed and rigid schedule involving the sacred sacrificial rituals for the most popular annual Festival in all the land that drew crowds of about 3 million.[x] 

With this in mind, how illogical is the scenario where high level priests pursued their vendetta against Jesus beginning after the evening dinner of Wednesday, Nissan 13, throughout the night into Nissan 14 with an inquisition and a trial; Roman hearings the next morning; and ending with the crucifixion of Jesus at 3pm on Nissan 14 … at the same time tens of thousands of pascal lamb sacrifices were being performed at the Temple? It would be like NFL Super Bowl event managers taking the day off on Super Bowl Sunday to attend to personal business.

Consider, too, the Roman factor – Passover was the one Jewish festival where the troublesome crowd of millions of pilgrims worried the Romans more than any other.[xI] How likely is it that Roman authorities would risk triggering a riot by crucifying Jews on the same day as their sacred paschal sacrifices at the Temple? On the next day, the first day of Passover, Nissan 15; however, by Jewish Law the crowds were all dispersed to their local housing accommodations celebrating the Passover Festival with very minimal activity.

Did John’s reference to the priest’s Passover meal defilement concern actually pose a credibility issue with the other Gospels saying Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover?

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

REFERENCES:

NRSV = New Revised Standard Version translation

[i]  Doig, Kenneth F. New Testament Chronology.  Chapter 18.  <http://nowoezone.com/NTC18.htm>  Edersheim, Alfred.  The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. 1883. Book V.  <http://philologos.org/__eb-lat/default.htm>
[ii] Wells, Steve.  The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. 2017. “423. When was Jesus crucified?” http://skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/passover_meal.html> “101 Bible Contradictions.”  Islamic Awareness. n.d. Contradiction #69. https://www.islamawareness.net/Christianity/bible_contra_101.html>
[iii] Edersheim, Alfred. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. 1826-1889. Chapter 11. <http://philologos.org/__eb-ttms/temple11.htm>
[iv] Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapter 11.  “Ablution.”  Jewish Encyclopedia.  2011. <http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com>
[v] The Babylonian Talmud. Trans. Michael L. Rodkinson.  1918.  Book 3, Tract Pesachim.  <http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/talmud.htm>   Streane, A. W, ed. A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  1891. Chagigah 7b.  <http://www.archive.org/stream/translationoftre00streuoft/translationoftre00streuoft_djvu.txt>
[vi] Leviticus 3.
[vii] Leviticus 7:29-32.  Edersheim. The Temple – Its Ministry and Services. Chapters 5 & 11.  Streane.  A Translation of the Treatise Chagigah from the Babylonian Talmud.  Glossary:  “Chagigah.”
[viii] Leviticus 22.
[ix] Leviticus 22;  Numbers 9. Josephus, Flavius.  Antiquities of the Jews. Book III, Chapter X. Google Books.  n.d <http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[x] Josephus, Flavius.  Wars of the Jews. Book VI.. < http://books.google.com/books?id=e0dAAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false>
[xi] Antiquities. Book XI, Chapter IV; Book XX, Chapter V. Josephus. Wars. Book V, Chapter V.