Would a theft attempt on Jesus's corpse be seen as risky and difficult?

  • Clarifying the question

    Question: Would any would-be thieves of Jesus's corpse see the successful theft of his corpse as a sort of mission impossible, both in terms of its riskiness and difficulty in pulling it off ?

    Relevance: This question affects other debates, notably…

“No, after all…
  • …needed a full team

    The theft of Jesus's corpse would straightforwardly require a team of coordinated and qualified men to be pulled off successfully.1 This is relevant because the assembly of a team of men with the right qualifications (see below) would seem extraordiarily difficulty and risky to pull off to any would-be organizer or even pair of organizers thinking about it.2

    1. This corpse theft required a group because…
      • …the tomb was sealed by a blocking stone [a “golel”] (i.e., “a great stone” [Mt], “exceedingly great” [Mk]) which was designed to mitigate against theft from man and beast alike. All sources agree that it would take several coordinated men to move it.
      • …Jesus's blocking-stone was more likely cube-shaped, and yet still had to be “rolled” [Grk. kyliein] out of the way.
    2. The thing to keep in mind is that as hard as it is to assemble a team of people motivated to acquire Jesus's corpse by theft, it would be even harder to assemble a team which would meet all of the qualifications in this article. Among other complications, they would also have to be trusting of the others' competence, allegiance, and the allegiance of any existing accomplices' relations who would know (e.g., wives), which is prima facie unlikely. The risk would seem too high.
  • …needed to be super immoral

    In addition to being immoral enough to steal, the thieves needed to be dishonorable enough to steal a corpse. This is relevant because few would consider themselves dishonorable enough to participate in corpse theft. It was far more reprehensible in an honor-shame society with a high value on corpses.

    Craig Keener: “…carrying off the body was so rare that it would shock those who heard of it.” [The Historical Jesus of the Gospels (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2009), 341.]

  • …needed to be willing to super-risk their life

    Any would-be thieves planning on stealing Jesus's corpse would have needed to be willing to risk their lives to retrieve it (receiving capital punishment).1 This is relevant because few would feel the risk was worth it, and they would have known that the danger of getting caught was extremely high.2

    1. For most, it would seem de-motivatingly foolhardy. Romans did not take corpse theft lightly, and we even have an official decree threatening capital punishment. “The form of the letters suggests that the inscription belongs to the earlier half of the first century A.D.” [F.F. Bruce, “Christianity Under Claudius,” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 44 (March 1962): 309-326.]:

      Decree of Caesar: “It is my pleasure that sepulchers and tοmbs, which have been erected as solemn memorials of ancestors or children or relatives, shall remain undisturbed in perpetuity. If it be shown that anyone has either destroyed them or otherwise thrown out the bodies which have been buried there or removed them with malicious intent to another place, thus committing a crime against those buried there, or removed the headstones or other stones, I command that against such person the same sentence be passed in respect of solemn memorials of men as is laid down in respect of the gods. Much rather must one pay respect to those who are buried. Let no one disturb them on any account. Otherwise it is my will that capital sentence be passed upon such person for the crime of tοmb-spoilation.” [Eric M. Myers and James F. Strange, Archaeology, the Rabbis, and Early Christianity (Abingdon, 1981), 84.]

    2. The risk of being caught was very high. It required the organizer(s)…
      • …to assemble a team and ask people who might betray you or turn you in.
      • …to carry a corpse for a significant distance, which would be putrid and possibly unwieldy.
      • …to do it all in or near Jerusalem during Passover (whence the city's population swells three-fold with pilgrimaging Jews, and whence Roman soldiers multiplied and were doubly alert).
      • …to do it knowing there has been little time for preparation.
      • …to do it when, in fact, soldiers were at the tomb. Notice that the soldiers here would not start their shift without ensuring the body they were guarding was there, so it's not as if Jesus's corpse was stolen beforehand.