Does corpse-decomposition explain why Jesus's body wasn't used to falsify Christianity?

Reasons given for answering "No"
  • Identifiable by its location

      Jesus's corpse would've been identifiable simply by its location1 (Note: They knew were Jesus's tomb was.) This is relevant because it renders corpse decomposition irrelevant.

      1. As noted by a few different sources:
        Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels: “When Jesus' resurrection was first proclaimed, why did the authorities not exhume the corpse? Even if it had decayed beyond recognition, its presence in Joseph's tomb --- a detail with strong historical credentials --- would have been damning.” [Joel Green, Scot McKnight, I. Howard Marshall, (IVP Academic, 1992), 558.]
        Robert Gundry (NT professor at Westmont): “But you would see something, at least the skeleton; and you would see that the tomb was occupied, not empty. So [the question remains]: Why did the enemies of Jesus not squelch the message of resurrection by exposing his remains?” [Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? eds. Copan & Tacelli (IVP, 2000), 111.]
        Or more broadly, if the corpse was not buried in a tomb, Jesus's corpse would have been identifiable simply by knowing the location of its grave.
        William Lane Craig: “Even if Joseph (or the Jewish authorities) only gave Jesus a dishonorable burial, why did they not point to his burial place as the easiest answer to the disciples’ proclamation of the resurrection?" [Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann's Hallucination Hypothesis (Edwin Mellen Press): online]
        Wolfhart Pannenberg (Theology professor at Harvard etc.): “How could Jesus' disciples in Jerusalem have proclaimed his resurrection if they could be constantly refuted merely by viewing the grave in which the body was interred?” [Jesus - God and Man (Westminster, 1983), 100.]
        Gary Habermas (NT professor at Liberty) & Mike Licona (NT professor at Southern Evangelical): “…regardless of the condition of his body, the enemies of Jesus would still have found benefit in producing the corpse. Even a barely recognizable corpse could have dissuaded some believers, possibly weakening and ultimately toppling the entire movement.… This exodus would presumably have required the attention of the Christian apologists of the second and third centuries…” [The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregal Publications, 2004), 70-71.]
  • Identifiable by its scars etc.

      The combination of these durably recognizable features were dead giveaways for identifying Jesus's corpse:

      Fleshly lacerations/holes in his…
        • …head (from thorn-crown),
        • …back (from scourging),
        • …side (from spear thrust),
        • …and feet and wrists (nail holes),

      And more generally…
        • …Jesus's height and stature, hair, and teeth (a surprisingly recognizable feature to friends/family).

      The corpse's environment was also very preservation-friendly:
        • It was chilly/cool, likely well-below the º70 F proposed by Lüdemann.1
        • It was arid.2 This is relevant because a corpse can avert decay for decades in a sufficiently arid environment.3

      This holds all especially true in first few weeks following Jesus's death, when Christians were already upsetting the Jews and winning converts (e.g. see Acts 1-2).

      1. We know this for two reasons:
        (a): Because it is reported that it was very cold.
        Jn 18:15-18, 25 -- “[Just before Jesus' crucifixion, one disciple] entered with Jesus into the court of the high priest, but Peter was standing at the door outside [the disciple] spoke to the doorkeeper, and brought Peter in… Now the slaves and the officers were standing there, having made a charcoal fire, for it was cold and they were warming themselves; and Peter was also with them, standing and warming himself. …, Simon Peter was standing and warming himself.
        (b) Contemporary investigations suggest that it would have been cold:
        Robert Gundry (NT scholar, professor at Westmont): “…the high elevation of Jerusalem can make it cold at Passovertide. …” [Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Eerdmans, 2000), 997.]
        Raymond Brown (NT professor at New York [d. 1998]): "Actually, it can be quite cool in mountainous Jerusalem in early spring;” [The Gospel according to John XII-XXI (Doubleday, 1970), 982.]
        William Lane Craig (NT scholar, specialist in the Jesus-resurrection debate: “Jerusalem, being 700 meters above sea level, can be quite cool in April.” [Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus (Edwin Mellen, 1989) 204.]
      2. Gary Habermas (NT scholar at Liberty) & Michael Licona (NT professor at Southern Ev.): “…in the arid climate of Jerusalem, a corpse's hair, stature, and distinctive wounds would have been identifiable, even after fifty days (This information was obtained from the Medical Examiner's Office for the Commonwealth of Virginia. The physician in charge said that even in Virginia, which has a climate warm and damp enough to promote quick decomposition, an unprepared corpse undergoing a normal rate of decomposition should still after fifty days have its hair and an identifying stature. The wounds would “definitely” be identifiable. Thus, a corpse in a much worse state than what would be expected for arid Jerusalem would still be identifiable after fifty days.).” [The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Kregal Pub., 2004), 70-71.]
      3. For example, the corpse of Medger Evers was found 30+ years after death, and remained well preserved for this reason. See Christine Quigley, Modern Mummies (McFarland, 1998), 213-214.
  • TOGGLE MENU