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Did the AD 30 Jerusalem church know Jesus's burial location?

  • Clarifying the question

    Jesus was reportedly crucified and had his corpse was placed in rock-hewn tomb in Jerusalem. Shortly after, those who had been Jesus's disciples came to believe that Jesus had appeared to them alive from the dead, and that his tomb was empty. Led by the apostles, they formed "The Jerusalem church." We mean to ask here whether the Jerusalem Church knew well where Jesus's corpse had been placed after crucifixion. Could they point people to the alleged empty tomb?

  • Experts say YES

    There seems to be a general agreement among scholars of early Christianity that Christians in Jerusalem would have known the location of Jesus's burial, and those who didn't could easily find out.

    • Dale Allison (NT professor at Princeton): “It is instead quite likely that people, friendly, hostile, and indifferent, witnessed Jesus' end and its immediate aftermath, and that his crucifixion and burial became immediately the stuff of street gossip, so that anyone who wanted to learn what happened could have just asked around.” [Resurrecting Jesus (Continuum Int., 2005), 362.]
    • Ernest Hermitage Day (c. 1946): “The facts of the Passion, the report of the Resurrection, were known to all the Jews of Jerusalem.” [On the Evidence for the Resurrection (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1906), 29.]
“Yes, after all…
  • The church wanted to know where it was buried

    In AD 30, The Jerusalem Church willed to know where Jesus was buried/laid.1

    But, so what? Couldn't it simply be that they couldn't locate Jesus's grave, despite desiring to?2

    1. This should be granted for two reasons:
      FIRST: Between Friday (crucifixion) and Easter, they willed to know where the corpse was buried in order to do three things:
      • To know/preserve Jesus-biography (Gospel-history),
      • To know where to eventually collect Jesus' bones from (to put in an ossuary), ~1 year later,
      • To remember/preserve/venerate Jesus' grave/bones. (After all, Jews normally remembered/preserved the tombs of their loved ones, and even venerated, the grave/bones of their saints/heroes [See footnotes #2 and #3 here])
        SECOND: On/after Easter, they willed to know where Jesus's tomb was in order to check whether it was empty (and/or point inquirers to it). After all…
      • The women reported that it was empty, and
      • Soon enough, they were proclaiming that Jesus resurrected.
    2. No, this is unlikely for four reasons.
      FIRST: For them, it wasn't hard to know where Jesus's grave was. As an example, Mary Magdalene was a member of the Jerusalem church[Forthcoming]. She would have been plenty accessible and she would have known, at least during the months/years when people were most interested. (After all, she both witnessed Jesus's burial and properly returned to the tomb on Easter with “spices, [to] anoint Him” [Mk 16:1-3]).

      Stephen Davis (Philosophy & Religion professor at Claremont): “The crucial point here is that the Gospels all claim that the location of Jesus' tomb was known to the women and to the disciples (Mark 15:47; Matt. 27:61; Luke 23:35; John 20:1). This claim is embedded in the story of the burial of Jesus -- which is considered historically credible by the vast majority of scholars…” [Risen Indeed (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993) 74.]

      SECOND: For them, it wasn't hard to know where via the testimony of Jesus' buriers/corpse-handlers. (After all, they were plenty accessible). For example…
        ◦ Joseph of Arimathea was involved in Jesus's entombment and he was plenty accessible, especially since he was likely a member of the Jerusalem church (Note: Joseph used servants to entomb Jesus, and they were presumably available as well). Joseph's family, friends, and colleagues also did or could easily know.
        ◦ Similarly, Nicodemus was reportedly also involved in Jesus's burial (See Jn 19:39), and as a member of the Jerusalem church itself he too would have been especially accessible to them.
      Geza Vermes ([Jewish] Jewish Studies professor at Oxford): “…the fact that the organizer(s) of the burial was/were well known and could have easily been asked for” [The Resurrection (Doubleday, 2008), 143.]
      THIRD: For them, knowing where via the testimony of AD 30 Jerusalem Jews wasn't elusive (after all, they knew where Jesus was laid).
      FOURTH: For them, in general, knowing such details (Jesus-biography) was not elusive Consider, for example, the plethora of other accurate and precise details concerning Jesus' death and burial which are reported by Christian sources and which scholars don't dispute (e.g. Mark 15).

  • In AD 40, they said “We learned it in AD 30”

    By AD 40, the Jerusalem Church publicly maintained that “We learned Jesus' grave-location back in AD 30”1

    But so what? Couldn't it simply be that…

    1. This should be granted for two reasons:
      FIRST: In AD 40-70, they were publicly maintaining that some of their existing community members learned the location via having personally witnessed Jesus's burial For example, we know Mary Magdalene was a member We also know the church maintained that she witnessed Jesus's burial.[Forthcoming] After all, their teachings were generally identical to those of the gospels (this is true of Mk, Mt, Lk, and Jn) and Mary's role as witness was reported in each of them (See Mk 15; Mt 28; Lk 24; Jn 20). So, for example, consider Mark 15's burial report (which dates back to AD 30-40): In discussing just one reason to grant that this report reflected the Jerusalem church's report.

      William Lane Craig: “…we’re talking about… when Jesus’ younger brother James was still head of the church in Jerusalem and the apostles were active there.… If James had said that Jesus’ burial place was unknown and his tomb never found, would Mark [and/or Mark's source] have invented his story in opposition to the apostolic testimony?” [Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment, Ed. Copan & Tacelli (IVP, 2000), 173.]

      SECOND: In AD 30, they were also publicly maintaing that other community members (specifically others who were deemed authorities on the subject) learned Jesus's burial location via testimony from the aforementioned witnesses. For example, they maintained that Peter learned the grave-location from the aforementioned Mary Magdalene and her companions. We know they maintained this because it's reported in both Lk (24:12) and Jn (20:2ff), and in general the church's teachings matched Lk's and Jn's. In fact, it was from earlier sources that Lk and Jn inherited their respective reports of this. If that wasn't enough, the most natural candidate source of their information is the Jerusalem church itself.

    2. No, that is unlikely. In general, the Jerusalem church's gospel history was honest/sincere.
    3. In other words, accepting that Mary saw Jesus's tomb empty, simply via accepting her erroneous belief/testimony that the empty tomb in question was Jesus's.
“No, after all…
  • No tomb location was celebrated

    Christians never celebrated/preserved any Jerusalem tomb as the miraculous/sacred site of Jesus's resurrection.1

    But so what? Couldn't it simply be that they didn't/wouldn't care to?2

    1. For examples of scholars using this argument:
      • Maurice Casey (NT prof., Early Chr. at Nottingham): “[Why wouldn't they] celebrate the known site of the event at the centre of their faith, Jesus' Resurrection from the dead.” [Jesus of Nazareth (T&T Clark, 2010), 461.]
      • Richard Carrier (Outspoken atheist & Chr.;], Classicist): “…this place would certainly have been venerated. It would have been the place believers would most want to see, to touch, in the whole world. Consider the throngs who gather and camp out to see unwashed windows with a vague hint of Christ's face in them even today, and realize that this is a modern world--in the ancient world, such superstitious passions were even more powerful and prevalent.” [_Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story_ 6th ed. (2006): [online]
      • A.J.M. Weddernburn (NT prof. at Munich): “Was [the miracle which occurred there] not in itself reason enough to note and remember and cherish the site, regardless of whether it contained Jesus' remains or not?” [Beyond Resurrection (Hendrickson, 1999), 64.]
      • J.M.G. Barclay: “…the tomb would not have to contain Jesus' bones for it to be venerated (cf. the Holy Sepulcher) and, indeed, the lack of veneration might support the case that the whereabouts of Jesus' burial was simply unknown.” [The Resurrection in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship, in Resurrection Reconsidered ed. D'Costa (Oxford, 1996), 13-30 (23).]
    2. This should be granted for two reasons:
      FIRST: Christians naturally expected the tomb to soon enough be occupied by a different corpse (which would deter them from venerating it).
      SECOND: Christians didn't much care to celebrate/preserve the locations of miraculous events.
      (a) They felt that such miracles were commonplace in the church (and rarely venerated the locales/objects involved); similarly they didn't venerate the locales of Jesus's ministry miracles.
      (b) They didn't venerate any of the locations where the resurrected Jesus allegedly appeared to them.
      (c) In the end, these Christians were just Jews who believed that Jesus was messiah. That's relevant because Jews in general didn't care much about venerating sites of miracle
      • J.P. Holding (Christian apologist, researcher): “…we do not hear of tour groups in the 1st century traveling to Mt. Sinai to see where Moses got the covenant; nor do we hear of special visits to the valley where the sun stood still for Joshua, or to Jericho where the Jews' greatest ancient military victory occurred, or to the place where Ahab got his just desserts, or where the patriarchs were buried, or where Elijah raised the widow's son. Such places were certainly known (e.g., Jacob's well) and visited on pilgrimages (highly sacred experiences not intended for common conversation), but the idea that there would be some sort of monument or desire to take the grand tour and visit these places comes of a purely 20th century notion of the sacred attached to the material.” ["The 20 Pound Gorilla" at online]
  • No tomb location was preserved

    Christians never celebrated/preserved any Jerusalem tomb as the location where Jesus was buried.1

    But so what? Couldn't it simply be that they didn't/wouldn't care to?2

      • Gerd Lüdemann (NT scholar; Early Christian history & literature professor): “…given the significance of tombs of saints in the time of Jesus, it can be presupposed that had Jesus' tomb been known, the early Christians would have venerated it, and traditions about it would have been preserved.” [What really happened to Jesus, Trans. by Bowden (Westminster, 1995), 24.]; Note: 1st century did Jews preserve/venerate the tombs/bones of their buried saints.
    1. Two scholars woh point this out include:
      • Robert Gundry (NT professor at Westmont): “Tombs as such were not venerated. It was tombs containing remains of the deceased that were venerated.” [Resurrection: Fact or Figment? (IVP, 2000), 111.]
      • Richard Swinburne (Philosophy professor at Oxford]): “The obvious traditional explanation of the absence of a cult of the tomb of Jesus is that the very early Christians thought that Jesus was risen, and so no special significance would attach to a tomb. Tombs are only venerated because of what they contain (bones).” [The Resurrection of God Incarnate (Clarendon, 2003), 177.]