Was the AD 30 Jerusalem church saying “Jesus's body is gone”?

  • Clarifying the question

    In c. AD 30, did the Jerusalem Church publicly maintain that that Jesus had died and that his body was currently missing from any and all burial locations.

“Yes, after all…
  • They were saying “Jesus's tomb is empty!”

    In AD 30, the Jerusalem church was saying that Jesus's tomb was empty. This is relevant because that tomb was where they expected Jesus's corpse to be.

  • They were saying Jesus was “buried,” then “raised”

    A building with a speech bubble coming out of it.

    The 1 Corinthians 15 creed (“He was buried... raised” ) was affirmed, and likely even formed, by the Jerusalem church.

    See this page to explore these arguments:

    • Around AD 30 it was already circulating.
    • Its creators adeptly formed it for Jews.
    • Its creators were or knew the apostles.
    • Its creators often mentioned “the twelve” apostles.
    • Paul only related traditions from Jerusalem.
    • Jerusalem was at least circulating the creed’s facts.

    This helps show that the Jerusalem church affirmed Jesus's missing body because, the language of the creed implies that Jesus's body went missing from its grave.

  • They weren't venerating Jesus' grave

    In c. AD. 30, The Jerusalem Church was not preserving/venerating any alleged location of Jesus's bones (as a hero/saint).1

    But so what, couldn't it simply be that…

    • …they didn't care to venerate the graves of their buried saints?”2, 3
    • …they felt Jesus's grave-site was too unpleasant to venerate?”4
    • …they couldn't find Jesus's grave?”5
    1. Byron McCane (Religion professor at Wofford): “…an historical fact which has long been puzzling to [non-Christian] historians of early Christianity: why did the primitive church not venerate the tomb of Jesus?… the earliest hints of Christian veneration of Jesus' tomb do not surface until the early fourth century CE.” (Eusebius, Vita Constantini 3.25-32.) [“Where No one had yet been laid”, in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, eds. Chilton & Evans (E.J. Brill, 1998), 452.; Reproduced in The Historical Jesus, Vol 3, ed. Evans, (Routledge, 2004), 268.]
      Robert Gundry (NT professor at Westmont): “Jewish Christians would have venerated the tomb had they thought it contained Jesus' remains… The lack of evidence that they did favors that from the start they knew it to be empty.” [Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000), 995.]
      James Dunn (NT professor at Durham): “But we find absolutely no trace of any interest in the place of Jesus' burial within earliest Christianity - a surprising fact if Jesus' tomb remained undisturbed or if his body had been removed and buried elsewhere, but not if the tomb was found empty.” [Jesus and the Spirit (SCM Press, 1997), 120.]
    2. Would Christians care to visit the grave of Jesus, if he hadn't resurrected? Probably:
      FIRST, The Jerusalem Church in AD 30 consisted of Jews, who just so happened to also believe Jesus was messiah. There is relevant because Jews in general willed to preserve/venerate the bones of their buried saints (For example, consider Mt 23:29 -- “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous”. Other Biblical examples include Gen. 35:20, 1 Sam. 10:2, Neh. 3:16, Lk 11:47-49. For just two extra Biblical examples, see Josephus's Jewish War 4.531–32 and Antiquities of the Jews 16.179–82). So:

      James Dunn: “[The lack of veneration] is indeed striking, because within contemporary Judaism, as in other religions, the desire to honour the memory of the revered dead by constructing appropriate tombs and (by implication) by veneration of the site is well attested.” [Jesus Remembered (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 837.]
      Gerd Lüdemann (Outspoken atheist, Early Christian history & literature professor): “Given the significance of the tombs of saints at 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.” [The Resurrection of Jesus (Fortress, 1994), 45.]
      William Lane Craig “[Jews] had an extraordinary interest in preserving the tombs of Jewish martyrs, prophets, and other saints by honoring them as shrines.” [Knowing the Truth about the Resurrection (Ann Arbor, 1988), 57.]
      Joachim Jeremias: “This world of sacred tombs was a real element of the environment in which the earliest community lived. It is inconceivable that, living in this world, it could have allowed the tomb of Jesus to be forgotten. That is all the more the case since for it the one who had lain in the tomb was more than one of those just men, martyrs and prophets.” [Heiligengräber in Jesu Umwelt (Mt 23, 29; Luke 11,47): Eine Untersuchung zur Volksreligion der Zeit Jesu (Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1958), 145.] (As cited by Lüdemann)
      Edwin Yamauchi (Ancient History prof. at Miami): “J. Jeremias has demonstrated that about fifty tombs were venerated by the Jews before the time of Jesus. In the view of such interest in the tombs of holy men, J. Delorme asks: 'In these circumstances, is it possible that the original community of Jerusalem could have been completely uninterested in the tomb where Jesus was laid after his death?… Can the existence of this tradition at Jerusalem, centered around a specific place, in a relatively short lapse of time after the events, be explained as a pure legendary creation? Could one show an ordinary tomb as being the tomb of Jesus?'.” [“Easter: Myth, Hallucination, or History?” in Christianity Today 10, no 12 & 13 (1974)].
      Murray Harris (NT professor at TIU Div., Cambridge Div.): “In the light of Jewish veneration for the burial places of prophets and other holy persons such as righteous martyrs (Mt 23:29), it is remarkable that the early Christians gave no particular attention to the tomb of Jesus. Remarkable, that is, unless his tomb were empty.” [Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983), 40.]

    3. SECOND In general, ancients in the Mediterranean willed to venerate the grave-sites, esp. of their heroes or holy men. See:

      Craig Keener (NT professor at Asbury): “In the broader culture of Mediterranean antiquity, tombs were sacred and hence often linked with temples. See Plutarch, Themistocles 9.4 and 32.3. Tombs of famous persons were, like temples, tourist attractions. See Pausanias, Description of Greece 2.7.2 and 8.41.1. Veneration of holy persons’ and ancestral tombs is an ancient practice in the Middle East. See Diodorus Siculus, Historical Library 17.17.3; Dionysius Halicarnasus, Roman Antiquities 8.24.6 and 11.10.1.”
      Craig Blomberg (NT professor at Denver): “…there is no evidence that early Christians ever venerated any tomb of Jesus, as was the custom among mourners at the graves of other revered leaders in the ancient Mediterranean world and as has been the case with founders of religions in countless parts of the world over the millennia.” [The Historical Reliability of the Gospels 2nd ed. (IVP, 2007), 144-45.]

    4. For example, McCain thinks the grave was too shameful to remember:

      Byron McCain (Religion professor at Wofford): “…the tomb of Jesus was not venerated until it was no longer remembered as a place of shame.” [“Where No one had yet been laid”, Authenticating the Activities of Jesus, eds. Chilton & Evans (E.J. Brill, 1998), 452.; Reproduced in The Historical Jesus, Vol 3, ed. Evans (Routledge, 2004), 268.] But it is very unlikely that Christians found the site too unpleasant to venerate. Consider three reasons: • First, remember the cross: James Dunn: “Christians soon venerated a cross, of all things!” [Jesus Remembered (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2003), 837.]; a fortiori they would be willing to venerate an unseemly grave. • Second, Jesus was buried privately in a rock-hewn tomb. [Forthcoming] (Specifically, in Joseph's family tomb [Forthcoming]). There was nothing unpleasant about that.
      • Third, Jesus's loved ones could have entombed his bones wherever they wanted after about 6-12 months (during his “secondary burial”).

    5. For example, Carnely thinks they simply couldn't find the grave:

      Peter Carnley: “…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 Structure of Resurrection Belief (Oxford, 1987), 58.]

  • Their stance on the issue never changed

    Regarding whether Jesus's body was gone, the Jerusalem church's public stance in AD 30 and AD 70 matched.1 This is relevant because, in AD 70, the public stance of the Jerusalem church was that Jesus's tomb was empty.2

    1. This should be granted for two reasons: • There would sooner/plausibly be evidence/traces of an alternative pre-AD 70 stance, if one existed. That said, no such traces exists. • The Jerusalem church persistently willed to not change from their AD 30 stance, whatever it was. [Forthcoming]
    2. This should be granted for two reasons: • Mark and his community were affirming that “Mary saw Jesus's tomb empty” in AD 70. (We know this because the Gospel of Mark dates to/before AD 70[Forthcoming], and report of Mary's discovery is made explicitly in Mk 15:1-8). Mark's gospel-history teachings in AD 70 are relevant because they entirely or almost entirely matched chose of the Jerusalem church [Forthcoming]). • Most Christians in AD 70 were affirming that “Jesus's tomb was empty.” (After all, the diverse extant 1st century reports are all in unanimous agreement on this point. Notably, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were affirming it, and their reports matched what contemporary Christian's at large were affirming [Forthcoming]). This is relevant because the teachings of the Jerusalem church and the Christians at large, or at least the most popular teachings, generally matched.[Forthcoming]
  • They were affirming the truth of the matter.

    Regarding whether Jesus's tomb was empty, the AD 30 Jerusalem church's public stance matched the truth.1 This is relevant because the truth of the matter is that Jesus's tomb was empty

    1. This should be granted because the Jerusalem church visually saw whether Jesus's body was gone from the tomb, and they reported their knowledge of the fact honestly. (After all, the Jerusalem church was generally honest, and had little motive to invent the empty tomb as a proof for Jesus's resurrection.)
  • They were saying that “Jesus resurrected!”

    In AD 30, the Jerusalem church was saying that Jesus eschatologically resurrected.[Forthcoming] This is relevant because one cannot believe that Jesus resurrected and simultaneously believe his body lay dead where it was left.

    But wait, couldn't it simply be that, for early Christians, “resurrection” meant non-physical resurrection?[Forthcoming]

“No, after all…
  • [Paul wasn't affirming it]

    The main argument here, as articulated by, Uta Ranke-Heinemann (NT Scholar, Hist. of Rel. Chair at Essen U.) is: “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.”1

    But this argument is very confused.[Forthcoming]

    1. Putting Away Childish Things (Harper, 1994), 131.