Did Joseph of Arimathea place Jesus's body in a tomb?
Clarifying the question
Jesus is a real historical figure who was crucified in AD 30, Jerusalem. After Jesus was crucified, did a figure named Joseph of Arimathea place Jesus’s body in a tomb? It doesn't matter whether Jesus was actually alive or not, nor whether this entombment was a burial or temporary storage. The question is only whether Jesus was laid in a tomb after crucifixion by this individual who the gospels credit with performing the task.
- Raymond Brown (New Testament professor at New York): “It is virtually certain that he [Joseph of Arimathea] was not a figment of Christian imagination, that he was remembered precisely because he had a prominent role in the burial of Jesus, and thus there was someone who knew exactly where Jesus had been buried.” [The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection (Paulist Press, 1972), 113-114.]
- William Lane Craig (Philosopher, NT Historian): “…scarcely any of those critics deny that Joseph of Arimathea was responsible for laying Jesus in the tomb.” [Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment? (IVP Academic, 2000), 170.] (Craig notes that “In personal conversations with O'Collins..., [he] confirmed my judgement that only a small minority of scholars who have published on the subject would deny the historicity of Jesus' interment by Joseph of Arimathea.”)
The church at that time and place said so
The AD 30 Jerusalem Church’s official position was that Joseph entombed Jesus.
- They affirmed that “Joseph buried Jesus in a tomb.”
So? Couldn’t it simply be that…
- They were lying?
- Their belief was unjustified; they were endorsing a lie they had fallen for.
The report was uncontested
The belief that Joseph entombed Jesus remained uncontested.
- Jewish enemies acknowledged the story of Jesus’s burial.1
This is relevant because competing accounts would flourish if the story were false.2
- Competing reports say non-disciples buried Jesus (Acts 13:29; Jn 19:31; Dialogue with Trypho 97:1).
- The Mk 12:6-8 parable says the corpse [=Jesus!] of the vineyard owner's son was “thrown out”.
- The Gospel of Peter 21 says the Romans left Jesus' crucified corpse on the ground to rot.
- After all, they maintained that Jesus’s body was stolen from the tomb Joseph buried it in[?]
- • William Craig: “[If Joseph didn’t really entomb Jesus], then it is odd that we find no trace of alternative, competing legendary accounts, not to speak of traces of what really happened to the corpse. One might profitably contrast here the competing myths/legends about what happened to the bodies of such pagan figures as Osiris and Empedocles. In the absence of any check by historical facts, alternative legendary accounts can arise simultaneously and independently. If the burial narrative is purely legendary, why is there no competing account of Jesus's burial, say, by some faithful disciple(s) of Jesus or by his family or by Romans at the direction of a sympathetic Pilate? Whence the unanimity of the tradition in the absence of a historical core?” [Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann's Hallucination Hypothesis, online]
Joseph buried Jesus in a tomb
Joseph formally buried Jesus in a tomb. (We will have a full page on this.) If true, it would help answer our question because it entails that he therefore placed Jesus's body in a tomb.
Non-disciples dealt with Jesus' body
Non-disciples oversaw and dealt-with Jesus's corpse.
- Joseph of Arimathea was not a disciple or anything.
- Acts 13:29 says Jesus's accusers buried him.
- Jn 19:31 suggests Romans gave it to the Jews.
- Dialogue with Trypho 97:1 says “they” buried him.
This is relevant because Joseph of Arimathea was a disciple.
So? Perhaps Joseph of Arimathea was a non-disciple and yet placed it in a tomb.
Jesus was not entombed
Tombs were for loved ones
Tomb-type burials were almost always love-motivated (done by friends/family/disciples).
- Burials in general were normally love-motivated.
- Tomb-type burial would tend to be gratuitously expensive if not motivated by love.
- Tomb-type burials in Jerusalem were cheaper and easier.1
- Joseph sufficiently respected Jesus.2
- Joseph sufficiently cared for Jesus; he was a follower.
- Joseph was in a rush [See above]
- Joseph felt it would be easier (instead of digging a trench grave).
- Consider these propositions:
<(a): Joseph provided his own unoccupied & nearby family tomb for Jesus's formal burial>.
<(b): Joseph buried Jesus strictly out of duty/piety [not love]>.
One might think the likelihood of If Joseph was just burying Jesus out of duty, then it may seem unlikely that he would provide his family tomb for Jesus. After all, -First, burial in one's family tomb was costly (Joseph would have to carve out more space now to make up for what was lost).
-Second, it would plausibly be irksome/improper to have a stranger/intruder 'sleeping' alongside your ancestors in your family tomb.
However, in Joseph's case, the problem wouldn't exist unless,
<(c): Joseph planned to keep Jesus' body there even upon secondary burial>.
Without this assumption, the argument breaks down. After all, getting Jesus's body to the nearby[?] tomb would've been significantly easier (it being much closer than any appropriate location for trench-burial[?]), and no human-sized trench grave would ever need to be dug. Joseph could just let the (~175 lb) body dissolve in his unused tomb and forget about it for a year (or as long as he liked), knowing that giving-away or relocating the bones (~12 lb) at his convenience would be a comparative breeze. So then, if we cut out the already unjustified assumption (c), then even assuming (b) it seems that primary burial in his family tomb ironically would've been a preferable convenience from Joseph's perpective; we consequently should sooner expect him to do it (because that's what we would do). [The Footnotes' footnotes]
Human body composition, Vol. 918: As a percentage of body mass, the dry, fat-free skeleton comprises about 3% of the body weight in the fetus and newborn and about 6% to 7% of body mass in the adult. [Human body composition, Vol. 918, by Steven Heymsfield, Timothy Lohman, ZiMian Wang, and Scott Going p. 291] Many non-Christian Jews would’ve been sufficiently impressed with Jesus to feel he deserved nice grave.